‘25 years of Stellenbosch Wine’, with Ken Forrester

Wednesday, 5 June, 2019
Dave March CWM
The second of four public presentations in Ken’s wine journey over the last 25 years saw yet more fantastic wines, some strong opinions and a few memorable stories.

Each of the four nights will have “different wines and different stories”, says Ken, each showing successes and lots of failures (“not sure which is most” he says) along the way.

Ken began making wine in 1994, with help and advice from others, having persuaded wife Teresa to “buy 50 hectares of land we can’t afford”. His intention was, “to make the best wine in the world within three years”. Martin Meinert pointed out that that might not be possible, and told him to slow down.

At the request of a major retailer, Martin Meinert was asked to produce a Cabernet to mark the new millennium.  At the time Ken was making wine in Martin’s Devon Valley cellar and assisted with the project.  The task of selecting 100 barrels of the very best they could find from Stellenbosch and divided the wines bought from some 70 producers into five styles, to blend and mature into one spectacular wine. “It turned into a nightmare; we would never do that again”. Criss-crossing Stellenbosch searching for great Cabernet was “more of a death wish than an opportunity”. The result was the 1997 Trillenium ‘Cabernet of the Century’ tasted by all during Ken’s story and at age 22 it was still bright with a mint hint and poised clean fruit.

Ken also used Grenache from 1955 plantings in Stellenbosch at Devon Valley and Mourvèdre from his plantings, the very first plantings in Stellenbosch, and had Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc on the farm (‘no good here’ he was told), and soon realised that Chenin Blanc would thrive here.

Already a white wine had the guests intrigued, quite rich, deep straw coloured, full and with dried yellow fruits and lanolin hint. An oak fermented Sauvignon Blanc from 2006 – 13 years old and going strong. “At that time, one of the best things on the farm”.

Ken Forrester and family

Of course, there had to be the FMC, Ken’s world class Chenin Blanc. What made these so interesting, though, tasted blind, was the difference between those under cork and the same vintage with screwcap. The 2008 under screwcap just had the edge for me and some others, it was golden with honeycomb, caramel and dried apricot, clean and linear. The cork version was fuller, richer and seemed sweeter. Similarly with the 2004 Gypsy red, the screwcap won, just, with silky currant intensity, the cork version had better colour but seemed a tad funkier. “I was one of the first to commit to screwcap, and I got crucified for it,” he says. Screwcaps can get less than half the Sulphur needed under cork, and “no-one ever wants Sulphur”. Ken’s attitude to cork (“I don’t want the unreliability, accepting even a 2% failure rate is madness”) is almost as strong as his feelings toward Sulphur (“why put a boy into the girl’s dorm if you don’t want…”)

To get six of the wines he showed from an era when South Africa was “the dumping ground for the world’s poorest corks” he had to open nine.

Over a nineteen year old Noble Late Harvest Ken told us that it was a victim of climate change, only four of the last ten years have seen sufficient botrytis (“one million mushrooms on each berry” he calls it). It was lovely, though, and truly “one summer in a sip”.

Finding wines for these evenings proved difficult. “We have a consumption problem at home, there’s not much left of anything”, says Ken. “We were surprised to find three bottles of anything” and to select the twelve wines for this evening Ken and his team considered more than 60 choices.

There are two more evenings planned, with all proceeds going to charity, the next is sold out  and only a few places available for the last. “It has been the most amazing journey”, says Ken, “and the story hasn’t ended”.

For more details click here.