Elgin Vintners launches with its Sauvignon Blanc 2005

Elgin Vintners, a partnership of six Elgin grape growers, have launched their first wine, the Elgin Vintners Sauvignon Blanc 2005.
The wine was made by Ross Gower at his Elgin cellar but future vintages of Elgin Vintners’ wines will be made by a selection of winemakers, as Ross wants to commit himself fulltime to his own brand. In line with their quality mantra, Elgin Vintners have released the Sauvignon Blanc 2005 in screwcap, the first winery in Elgin to do so, to eliminate the threat of cork taint. For nearly two decades now there has been talk of Elgin being the next big thing, because of its ideal growing conditions - cool climate, good soils, above-average rainfall (±1 250mm per annum), varying aspects and high altitudes. Yet, although wine was made in Elgin a century ago and more recently a few wineries, using Elgin grapes, acknowledged their origin, there are still only a handful of wineries in Elgin. Perhaps the price of land was historically too high or the deciduous fruit farmers of the area were reluctant to diversify. But some did and five of the Elgin Vintners are among those. The entire team believes in the excellence of the Elgin terroir and, with the diversity of their vineyards, is confident that Elgin Vintners can make wines of the highest quality. The Elgin Vintners team The viticultural skills of Paul Wallace are pivotal to the Elgin Vintners team in that he is the viticultural consultant to all partners, including his own farm Wallovale Vineyards. None of the partners had planned a cellar in the near future and with grape prices coming down it made sense to team up to make wine, with partners bringing a variety of individual skills to the partnership. Paul’s larger-than-life enthusiasm has been the catalyst that now has the team talking passionately about wines and less about Pink Ladies and Granny Smiths. It is probable that in the not too distant future some of the partners will make wine under their own labels. This will not necessarily mean the demise of the partnership as this occurrence was acknowledged in the original business plan. The team, in alphabetical order, are:
  • Derek Corder.Grew up on the pear and apple farm Beaulieu, which he took over in 1981. Vice Chairman of Two-A-Day Group, a large fruit-marketing co-op. Started planting grapes in 2002; sauvignon blanc, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and viognier. Elgin Vintners’ tasting room is in a recently-renovated labourer’s cottage on Beaulieu farm. Meticulous farmer and nicknamed ‘Mayor of Elgin’. Confidante and helper of one and all. Also, Mr mechanical/fixit.
  • Max Hahn. Only non-resident. Runs a mining supply company in Johannesburg. Purchased Elgin Orchards, one of the model farms in the district, in 2000 and started planting pinot noir immediately – will have 45 hectares under vine by end of 2008. Geologist and medical doctor by training. Adds business skills to partnership. Brims with enthusiasm.
  • Alastair Moodie.Owner and CEO of the Melsetter Group, situated on Eikenhof farm. Involved in deciduous fruit farming, fruit packaging and cold storage, fruit marketing, berries and poultry. Planting of merlot and sauvignon blanc vineyards started in 2000. The financial brain of the partnership and ever the diplomat. His farm is a member of the Biodiversity Wine Initiative.
  • James Rawbone-Viljoen.Apple and pear farmer on two farms in Elgin, Blauwkrans and Helderfontein and Green Oaks in Villiersdorp. Presently has 10 hectares planted to vines - merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Civic minded and community spirited. Sits on all the local councils and keeps the Grabouw mayor focussed. Party animal of note and could charm grapes off a vine.
  • Rob Semple. Born and bred in the Eastern Cape. Brought up in the hotel industry until his wife’s family bought a fruit farm, Whitehall, in Elgin. Presently manages a number of farms in Elgin, both fruit and vineyards. Will soon start planting sauvignon blanc on his own 16-hectare farm in Elgin. Highly regarded farmer and viticulturist. Aka Crocodile Dundee because of his love of snakes, birds, plants, and the wide outdoors.
  • Paul and Nicky Wallace. Paul has been a viticulturist in the wine industry for 25 years and an independent viticultural consultant for the past 10 years. He is a larger-than-life people’s person with a passion for all things vinous. Over the last 5 years he has helped all the team members to establish their vineyards. In 2003 Paul and his wife, Nicky, purchased a 25-hectare farm, named Wallovale Vineyards, in Elgin and joined the Elgin Vintners in 2004. To date they have planted 5 hectares of sauvignon blanc and further plantings of sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, malbec, shiraz and viognier are planned. Nicky Wallace, although not officially a partner, is business manager and the glue that holds the Elgin Vintners team together and their “mother hen”. She too has wine in her veins - her great grandfather was the Sedgwick of Old Brown Sherry fame, while the other side of her family owned hotels and liquor stores. Previously Nicky worked at Woolworths as national grocery and wine buyer and at Simonsig Wine Estate in exports and marketing. After ‘retiring’ as director and shareholder of a printing company, she and Paul moved to Elgin when they bought Wallovale Vineyards.
  • The Elgin Vintners Sauvignon Blanc 2005 The wine was made by Ross Gower in his Elgin cellar. The wine was made from three parcels of grapes from three farms, two of which are owned by partners - 10 tons (5 tons/ha) from Alastair Moodie’s Eikenhof farm; 7,8 tons (9 tons/ha) from Derek Corder’s Beaulieu farm and a third parcel of 11,5 tons (7,2 tons/ha) from Vuki farm, which was previously owned by the Hall family (Rob Semple’s in-laws). 2 000 cases (of 6) were made. The wine will be sold from Elgin Vintners’ tasting room, situated on Beaulieu farm, just off the N2, behind the Peregrine Farmstall. The wine will be distributed to hotels, restaurants and specialist wine stores in the Western Cape (by Morvino the new arm of Siris Vintners) and in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape (by Siris Vintners) and will retail between R55 and R65 (incl. VAT). Team viticulturist, Paul Wallace says, ‘The partners are delighted with the wine, which, despite its youth is already showing fruitiness, crisp acidity, depth of character and rare complexity. ‘ Ross Gower also made an Elgin Vintners Sauvignon Blanc in 2004 but for a multitude of reasons the wine wasn’t up to the high standards set by the partners, so the wine was never released. The vineyards and viticulture Although the Elgin Valley is still in its infancy as a wine growing area, the few sauvignon blancs that are now on the market have already shown the distinctive qualities of cool-climate sauvignon blanc - minerally, with savoury acid, freshness and, after some bottle maturation, fruitiness. The Elgin Valley is a high inland plateau completely surrounded by mountains, situated approximately 70 kilometres east of Cape Town. The N2 bisects the valley. Vineyard altitudes range from 210 metres to over 600 metres above sea level. The vine-growing areas are typified by folds of rolling hills. Paul Wallace believes that Elgin Vintners’ single biggest advantage is that their vineyards, spread over a radius of five kilometres, encompass the full spectrum of terroir diversity in the Elgin Valley – the various soils, derived from Table Mountain Sandstone and Bokkeveld Shale, aspects, altitudes and meso-climates. These differences offer the opportunity for the wines to express variations in character and style for the same cultivar. Viticulturally Paul has played a big role in the planning of all Elgin Vintners’ vineyards. He has developed a viticultural roadmap for each of the partners’ vineyards and they have all been meticulous in its implementation. Site selection was/is performed with the aid of the most modern viticultural technology, such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS), which provides crucial information on aspect, radiation, sunshine hours, the curvature of slopes, etc. Combined with the results of detailed soil surveys, Paul has been able to ensure that best long-term viticultural techniques are in place from the outset. These include cultivar and rootstock selection; soil preparation; plant density, trellising and irrigation systems. Various trellising and training systems are chosen according to the site’s growth-vigour potential. These include the standard vertical shoot position (VSP), the Smart-Dyson system and the high-level head-trained systems. Many of the partners’ vineyards have been established with the US-designed Smart-Dyson training system. It is not commonly used in the Cape winelands but has been specifically used in Elgin as a way to manage excessive vine vigour but at the same time ensuring good ventilation. Also, thin vine canopies caused by wide in-row spacing, together with judicious canopy management, are other tools used to prevent diseases such as powdery and downy mildew. Elgin vineyards are at botrytis risk because of the above-average incidence of rain during the fruit’s ripening phase. The Smart-Dyson system also ensures optimum leaf and fruit exposure, which results in full bunches and even-fruit ripeness. Soil management, by way of annual cover crops such as oats, triticale and rye, as well as permanent cover crops, creates optimum microbial activity and earthworm preservation in the soil. Vineyard row direction for the majority of vineyards is aligned in the direction of the prevailing winds (SE and NW). This, coupled with a metre-high cordon, improves vineyard aeration, which is crucial in reducing disease, especially botrytis. Elgin is fairly well protected from the howling South-Easter that often buffets the rest of the Western Cape. ‘Regulated Deficit Irrigation’ (a New World viticultural buzzword) has been implemented and water stress is monitored in the vineyards, during the growing and ripening periods, with the aid of the neutron probe. In summary, Elgin Vintners aim to make wines that reflect the natural growing process in the vineyards - vines that are in perfect balance, with the ideal crop load to leaf ratio, yielding grapes that, because of the cool climate, reach physiological and phenolic ripeness simultaneously, enabling harvesting before sugar levels are too high. These grapes should produce wines that display pronounced aromas and flavours, are complex in style, are fruit driven and show finesse and elegance. The other wines and the winemakers The Elgin Vintners Pinot Noir 2005 will be bottled this year but, because the group felt it is not up to scratch, the wine will be bottled as a non-cultivar easy drinker under the Elgin Vintners label and released in Dec 2005. This wine will only be sold from the tasting room. In August 2006 Elgin Vintners will release three further reds, all from the 2005 vintage - Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot blend. 500 cases (of 6) of each wine will be released. Ross Gower made all these wines on behalf of Elgin Vintners in his cellar in Elgin. The 2006 harvest will see the pressing of more sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, merlot and cabernet sauvignon and the first harvest of shiraz. Down the line chardonnay and viognier will be added to the mix. From the 2006 vintage the Elgin Vintners’ wines will be made by a selection of experienced Cape winemakers. They have been chosen because of their affinity and skills in working with the respective varieties. In all cases each farm’s grapes will be vinified separately, to continue the process of assessing the quality of each vineyard block. The other wines and winemakers
  • Jeff Grier. Villiera winemaker and co-owner, who will make the Sauvignon Blanc at the Villiera cellar in Stellenbosch from 2006 onwards.
  • Niels Verburg. Owner and winemaker of Luddite Wines, who will vinify the Elgin Vintners Shiraz at the Iona cellar in Elgin, in 2006.
  • Clive Torr and Alex Dale.Winemakers with strong Burgundian influences, who will make the Pinot Noir at The Winery, Alex Dale’s cellar in the Helderberg, from 2006 onwards.
  • Justin Hoy. Consultant winemaker who will oversee Elgin Vintners’ barrel cellar (in an unused fruit packshed) and will blend, with Paul Wallace, the 2005 vintage of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cab/Merlot blend, that are presently in barrel and are due for release in August next year.
  • Tasting room Situated on Beaulieu farm, Viljoenshoop Rd - just off the N2 behind the Peregrine Farmstall. The tasting room is presently open for tastings by appointment only. They are hoping to open it daily during the festive season.