South Africa: Day 2

Mar 9, 2007

Today started off with a tour of L’Ormarins estate, where Johann Rupert has taken charge of his family’s wine business, following after his late father and brother.

Nestled in the warm Franschhoek valley, L’Ormarins sits beneath the majestic Drakenstein mountains, with sprawling horse pastures at the bottom part of the estate and vineyards carved out of the hillsides further up. Rupert is sparing no expense to produce the best wine he can—L’Ormarins’ wines have been out of the market while his team has torn out vineyards, planted new vine material and changed the winery’s focus to reds. It’s an amazing transformation, and the soon-to-be ‘05s—varietal bottlings of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot—are impressive, modern-styled wines.

The long-term plan is to produce a red from a blend of varietals, but Rupert and his winemaker Thierry Haberer want to learn their new vineyards bit by bit, so they’ll bottle the component parts for a while (which still only represent the top 30 percent of the estate’s production) before merging them into a blend in the coming years.

My afternoon visits were with Martin Meinert and Ken Forrester, two longtime pals who have their own eponymous wineries. Each of them has taken the road less traveled: Forrester is one of the country’s biggest proponents of Chenin Blanc, while Meinert produces Merlot and Cabernet blends in the small Devon Valley, located next door to the better-known Stellenbosch area.

 
The horses and vineyards of L'Ormarins  
While Meinert and Forrester trade barbs at each other non-stop, they’re both very serious when it comes to their wines. Forrester’s Chenins deliver textbook ginger, persimmon and fig notes, and his top FMC Chenin is a big, round powerful wine backed by terrific acidity.

Meinert’s reds are focused and pure, with taut structure and long, tangy finishes. The Synchronicity blend stands out for its extra spicy note, thanks to the dash of Pinotage it has in the blend. (While I'm not a huge fan of Pinotage as a stand-alone varietal, it does add to a blend).

Today was unusually hot again, topping 90 degrees for the second day in a row. It was easy to work up a sweat walking in the vineyards, but I’m not complaining knowing how cold it is back in NYC.

There had been a cool stretch of weather since a heat wave in mid-January, and the harvest in most parts was running a little late. But the weather has been mostly dry, and the heat is not expected to last, so winemakers are looking forward to bringing in most of their red crop in the next week or two. (Whites are typically harvested in January.)

More tomorrow...

South Africa

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