Exciting new viticultural site in South Africa

Friday, 24 May, 2013
Jessica Saurwein
Ever heard anyone say: “This wine is a “Sijnn”?
I was witness to this sort of statement recently. Debating how appropriate a wine is in terms of its quality or its label is common, it is rare however that a wine would actually carry this name.
Perhaps somewhat misleading, the word “Sijnn” has nothing to do with the sound of the word indicating “an act violating the will of God”. No, here the word could be interpreted to mean exactly the opposite:It is the original Khoisan name for the Breede River and refers to the exciting location of this relatively new vineyard. It is located in the quaint hamlet called Malgas, where the Breede River meanders past the Lemoentuin farm, which David and Rita Trafford from De Trafford Wines in Stellenbosch established in 2004 and today produce an unusual white, a rosé and a red blend from this special vineyard site. The nearest coastal town, 15km as the crow flies, is the small fishing village 230 km East from Cape Town called Infanta.

Chenin blanc, Viognier, Roussanne, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre, Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira are some of the cultivars David chose to plant on this unique terroir.

Previously occupied by cattle, this stoney terroir hardly managed to accommodate a grazing function and when Trafford mentioned to his friends and neighbours that he was to plant a vineyard there,he harvested most every adverse response. Stones the size of rugby balls, make the walk through the Touriga Nacional bushvine vineyard a challenge. In between this “koffieklip” (known as pudding stone in English), there are large quartz crystals and then here and there even larger rocks, that create the impression the vineyard was once a meteorite-landing site.
If the stoney plateau of the Lemoentuin farm dotted with healthy bush vines does not leave one gasping with visions of the famous soils of Chateau-neuf du Pape, then the lower layers of the soil, which are clay shale-based, will make any winegrower ecstatic.

Some may ask if there is truly a connection between the soil and the wine’s potential. The fact is, vines love growing in rock and when the sub-soil layers are made up of friable shale, which can easily be penetrated by the vine roots and which retains water well, then a type of “dream-soil” situation is born in which vines can express their aromatics best.

A weekend visit to this mind-blowing vineyard site with the Wine Cellar team, an importer of Fine Wine into South Africa, with a strong interest in the unusual local wines, afforded me the opportunity to taste through an array of vintages produced here. The appealing Sijnn White 2011 blend is made up of mostly Chenin blanc (73%) and the rest is Viognier. Sijnn Red 2009 is 46%Shiraz, 29% Mourvèdre, 13% Touriga Nacional, 6% of each Trincadeira and Cabernet Sauvignon. The rosé is made from Mourvèdre, Shiraz and Tricadeira is tremendously quaffable, darker than usual with aromas of dusty strawberry and spice.
The two wines that left me truly mesmerized were single varietals Shiraz and Touriga Nacional, due for release in July. Embodying the true sense of place and dressed in a label which looks like an image of the soils, these wines speak of their birthplace: concentrated fruit, complex mineral character with lots of spice and richly textured with accessible juicy tannins. What surprised me is that the Syrah wine was more like some of the great Rhone wines I enjoyed in France, than any South African Shiraz I had sampled before. Beguiling natural acidity and great length made me reach for my glass to indulge in some more of this unusual and brilliant “Sijnn”. I have no regrets and can only recommend you lay your hands on some of these limited release wines in July! This will be your excuse to commit an innocent “Sijnn” this winter!