Shannon Vineyards releases the Macushla Pinot Noir Noble Late Harvest

Monday, 30 September, 2013
Shannon Vineyards
A unique ‘darling’ of a wine

Situated in the lush, plentiful Elgin Valley, nestled between majestic mountains on the western boundary and the Palmiet River flowing on the east, Shannon Vineyards, owned by brothers Stuart and James Downes, has released a limited production of its 2012 Pinot Noir Noble Late Harvest, named ‘Macushla’.

The name

The word ‘Macushla’ is an Irish term of affection meaning 'my darling', derived from the Gaelic a chuisle mo chroí (translated as ‘pulse of my heart’), often shortened to the more endearing ‘mo chuisle’ (my pulse). In perfect synchronicity with its name, the delightful Macushla promises to ‘up the pulse rate’ and ‘make the heart skip a beat’.

Both the name of the farm and this novel, innovative ‘darling’ of a wine, pay homage to the Downes brothers’ Irish ancestry in that the significance of the name ‘Shannon’ is two-fold: it eponymously alludes to both the owners’ forefathers (the Shannon and Downes families), who hailed from Ireland’s County Cork, and it also carries the prestigious name of the ‘Emerald isle’s’ longest and widest river, the River Shannon.

The story

Besides encapsulating the family’s rich Irish legacy, the seductively charming Shannon Macushla also tells another story of a fortuitous and serendipitous discovery. Two rows of Shannon Vineyards’ pinot noir, allocated for cap classique, were not harvested, and rendered forgotten. To his pleasant surprise, James Downes chanced upon these vines laden with perfectly botrytised grapes. In true James Downes style, he began extensive and meticulous research on the potential for producing an innovative creation, that of making a noble late harvest wine from pinot noir grapes. Two years later, 22 rows of pinot noir at Shannon Vineyards were dedicated to making a sweet pinot, and the maiden Macushla 2009 was born.

This delicious Pinot Noir Noble Late Harvest is not produced every year – in fact, 2012 is only the second vintage release of this distinctive dessert wine. A proud James Downes, who affectionately refers to this wine as ‘the pink sticky’, comments, “the Shannon Macushla is most likely the first ever noble late harvest to be made from pinot noir in South Africa – and perhaps even the world?”

The tasting notes

This botrytised pinot noir dessert wine, with a delicate salmon pink hue, beguiling fragrance and temptingly moreish fruity acids, re-defines this particular style of wine. The sugar and acidity are in seamless, intricate balance, the fresh red berry fruit is in perfect keeping with pinot noir, the palate has a beautifully creamy strawberry character with a touch of spice, and the wine finishes with a lingering acidity that delivers a refreshing, invigorating lift. Macushla, with its dried fruit and candied flavours and velvety viscosity, is the perfectly indulgent finale to a delectable dinner, and is the ideal complement to a red berry pudding or a cheese platter.

This limited edition Macushla 2012 (with only three 3 barrels produced), packaged in 375ml bottles, is drinking beautifully now and will do so for another 10 years. It retails for approximately R185.

Winemaker’s Comments

Expounding on why he selected="true"="true" this curious choice of dessert wine, James Downes explains, “Although pinot noir is an unusual choice for this dessert wine, the thin-skinned characteristic of the grape lends itself well to this method of winemaking, being conducive to the influence of botrytis. And the Elgin Valley has some of the best growing conditions for pinot noir noble late harvest wines.” He went on to say, “After having worked with pinot noir for more than 14 years, I have found an affinity for the grape and am curious as to why there hasn’t been further experimentation with pinot in the production of these dessert wines.”

The Elgin Valley

This bountiful valley, which has long been regarded as the apple and pear centre of South Africa, is developing a noteworthy reputation for the production of outstanding wines. These cool-climate wines are characterised by their rich mineral undertones and complemented by good natural acidity, displaying an elegance that has its origins in the uniquely cool terroir. Some of the country's most highly regarded winemakers have established vineyards in the Elgin Valley, which is testament to its obvious winemaking potential.


The vineyards and the cellar

Situated against the Koeël Mountains, the Shannon vineyards are situated in the ‘table cloth’ zone of the ‘Black Southeaster’, which blows relentlessly in the summer months, lowering day and night-time temperatures. The Palmiet River, the farm’s eastern boundary, creates the cooling ‘morning mist effect’ caused by cold mountain water flowing in overnight. This effect is aesthetically portrayed on the Shannon Vineyards Macushla label, and reflected by the swirling design of their logo.

In Elgin, the tendency is to harvest pinot noir in late February and early March, but James and his team took the opportunity to let the grapes hang for the remainder of March and into the first week of April, gaining the extra concentration from botrytis. The grapes were harvested in 12kg picking crates, with an average sugar level of 38.2°B, and then chilled for 12 hours at 3°C. They were then transferred by hand into a pneumatic press and whole-bunch pressed over a period of three hours. The juice was then allowed to settle for 48-72 hours and then racked into 225-litre French oak barriques. Fermentation occurred naturally and no addition was made to the wine except for the necessary sulphur dioxide. The fermentation stopped spontaneously after approximately six weeks. The wine was matured in barrel for 10 months.

Shannon Vineyards and the team

What sets Shannon Vineyards’ wines apart is the combination of an exceptional setting in the Elgin Valley as the coolest wine-growing area along South Africa's south coast, the high quality of its vineyards, meticulous viticulture, and dedicated artisanal winemaking. The focus on adhering to sound viticulture principles reflects the Downes brothers’ commitment to winemaking being an expression of terroir. Making fine wines is their ongoing aspiration, and, to that end, they have assembled a talented team who share their passion and deliver on excellence. James Downes runs the farm with conscientious attention to detail and his brother Stuart is the very experienced marketing arm of the Shannon team. Winemaking is in the very capable hands of Gordon Newton Johnson and his wife Nadia, of Newton Johnson Vineyards’ fame, with whom the Downes have had a relationship spanning eight harvests. The multi-level Newton Johnson cellar in the Upper-Hemel-en-Aarde Valley makes use of all the latest gravitational engineering principles and grape-sorting techniques, ensuring that the grapes benefit from minimal handling throughout the winemaking process.

Shannon Vineyards’ Wines

Shannon Vineyards has also recently released new vintages of its three other highly acclaimed site-specific wines:

= Shannon Vineyards Sanctuary Peak Sauvignon Blanc 2013, retailing for around R105;

= Shannon Vineyards Mount Bullet 2011, retailing at approximately R275. The Mount Bullet 2008 was awarded 5 Stars in the 2011 Platter’s Wine Guide, becoming one of very few merlots ever to have achieved this pinnacle recognition;

= Shannon Vineyards Rockview Ridge Pinot Noir 2012, retailing for about R250.

Shannon Vineyards is open for wine-tasting by appointment only:

Tel: 021 859 2491 = Email: = Website: