Just savvy juice

Friday, 5 March, 2004
Graham Howe
The freshly-squeezed fruits of 2004
Everywhere you go, the harvest is running at least a fortnight late in the Cape. At least a leap year gives everyone an extra day to catch up on the big squeeze. It's strange to visit wineries at this time of year - and find winemakers entertaining in the cellar. It's not often you get to taste the juice of Sauvignon Blanc grapes harvested that very morning. For intensity of aroma and flavour, I've discovered it beats one of those beetroot, carrot, celery and wheat-grass health drinks hands down - with a bright green tinge to match.

Judging from our close encounter with the freshly-pressed fruits of the new vintage at Zorgvliet in late February, there might be a market for a single varietal grape juice called Just Savvy Juice. Two glasses of two clones - the intense fig flavours of a terraced bloc at 650m and the fruit salad flavours of a vineyard on the lower slopes of the Banhoek Valley - amply demonstrated the versatility of Sauvignon au naturelle. Who needs artificial additives?

On a tour of Zorgvliet's new winery, by the time we reached the fermentation tanks the Savvy grapes on the sorting table had undergone a metamorphosis into the green pulp pulsing through serpentine 10-metre long tubes. If the way to a winery's heart is through its stomach, we were deep in the intestines of the cellar Bruwer Raats proclaims ‘the most advanced winery in South Africa.’ They were still putting the finishing touches to it the day we visited - down to disabled-friendly facilities in the cellar.

The essence of simplicity, he says the cellar lives up to his maxim, ‘The winemaker dictates what the cellar can do - not the cellar.’ In the blink of an eye, he can turn it around from a white to a red cellar with its factory of conveyor belts, a total capacity of 500 tons, robotic punch-downs and the open fermentation tanks he favours for Shiraz. (Plus a braai on a stoep with a view for those long days when the harvest is running late.)

The maiden white crop from Zorgvliet's own fruit is rolling into the cellar after completion of a massive 18-month expansion. After learning how to operate the new press in France, Bruwer Raats comments, ‘Green pepper was a swear word at the cellar where I worked in France. My intention is to make a 'ripe green' Sauvignon Blanc with fig and tropical kiwi/melon flavours’ - and to concentrate on the Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc recently released in Zorgvliet's new Silvermyn range.

On the trail of the elusive 2004 harvest over in the Constantia Valley, I asked Steenberg's new assistant winemaker if we could repeat the Just Savvy Juice test. John Loubser, Diner's Club Winemaker of the Year, declared, ‘2004 is going to be a great year for Sauvignon’ before running off to fix the solenoids on his cooling system - but then, that's what winemakers say every year. No one ever says, ‘It's going to be a sorry year for Savvy’, do they?

Armed with two glasses, we sampled the kiwi flavours of the Savvy from neighbouring Constantia Uitsig and the ‘green bean/cabbage’ character of the Savvy from Steenberg itself. Some of the Savvy juice will go into making the base wine for Steenberg's Brut MCC. Harvested from vineyards with completely different aspects from elevation to soil, the two samples were a study in contrast - and illustrate how Loubser won first place and second place in the Diner's Club with the Semillon he made from the two terroirs.

After tasting some more unusual flavours in the cellar - the Nebbiolo, Merlot and Cabernet from earlier vintages - the winemaker demonstrated the different flavours of the Loire clone and the South African clone that make up Steenberg's two styles of Savvy (the standard label and the signature reserve). It all goes to show you need at least two glasses for a single varietal tasting these days - though at the bigger wineries some winemakers say you need a dozen to do the flavours of every bloc of Savvy justice.

Graham Howe

Graham Howe is a well-known gourmet travel writer based in Cape Town. One of South Africa's most experienced lifestyle journalists, he has contributed hundreds of food, wine and travel features to South African and British publications over the last 25 years.

He is wine and food contributor for Eat Out and WINE.CO.ZA, which is possibly the longest continuous wine column in the world, having published over 400 articles on this extensive South African Wine Portal.

When not exploring the Cape winelands, this adventurous globetrotter reports on exotic destinations around the world as a travel correspondent for the Intrepid Explorer and www.blog.getaway.co.za - and for the weekly travel show on SAFM radio.

Over the last decade, he has visited over fifty countries on travel assignments from the Aran Islands and the Arctic to Borneo and Tristan da Cunha - and entertained readers with his adventures through the winelands of the world from the Mosel to the Yarra ."