Capensis – of the Cape

It was bound to happen and less than 24 hours after the launch of Capensis, social media was alive with comment, not so much about the wine itself but – surprise, surprise – the price: around R935 retail.

Love the label; ultra heavy bottle less so.
Love the label; ultra heavy bottle less so.

Frankly, even with maiden vintages, we should be over this sort of reaction now. I well remember the gasps of horror at the first wine to be given a three-figure price tag (but I can’t remember whether it was from Rustenberg or Hamilton-Russell; can anyone help?). Today, in many instances, R100 is considered good value. Capensis might be the highest priced chardonnay, but it’s certainly not the most expensive South African wine on the local market.

Value is a very movable and personal opinion, not related to price alone. With the right sort of marketing, which I’m sure it’ll receive, Capensis will be the chardonnay to be seen drinking. Of course, with its high price tag, it also announces ‘I can afford it.’

But this discourse does no favour to the wine itself and the people behind it, who are serious about the project and approaching it professionally.

This is a joint venture between Barbara Banke of California-based Jackson Family Wines and Antony Beck, son of the late Graham Beck and the eponymous South African winery. Their friendship, although linked through their love of wine, is cemented via thoroughbred racehorses, which they own and breed in Kentucky, home to Beck and his family. Breeding thoroughbreds is an expensive business, demanding attention to detail: they bring their enthusiasm and success in that field to this latest venture.

Rosa Kruger
Rosa Kruger

Responsibility for the wine is in the hands of Rosa Kruger as consulting vineyard manager and Graham Weerts, winemaker. Many may not remember Weerts, who left South Africa 11 years ago, after being head-hunted by Jess Jackson (Banke’s late husband). At the time, he worked for Douglas Green at Bellingham; I met him long before that when he was assistant winemaker to Mike Dobrovic at Mulderbosch. For me, he was the original Young Gun and I’d earmarked him as a winemaker to watch in future. I didn’t anticipate then that the watching would stretch all the way to California, but he hasn’t disappointed.

Capensis winemaker, Graham Weerts (well, just part of his face!)
Capensis winemaker, Graham Weerts (well, just part of his face!)

The wine was vinified in the Beck Robertson cellar, the fruit – this vintage – being drawn from three different sites and regions. The majority, 60%, came from Fijnbosch, the Banghoek, Stellenbosch farm now owned by Banke and Beck. It’s interesting how these slopes (Bartinney and Oldenburg are neighbours) are now attracting more attention; altitude is again the attraction, the vineyards sitting at 500-plus metres with great exposure and clay soils.

Kaaimansgat – put on the map by Bouchard Finlayson and Newton Johnson – even higher and cooler at 757 metres, accounts for 20% of the final blend, while the lime-rich soils of Ernst Bruwer’s Robertson farm make up the balance

Will this mix-‘n-match of fruit, rather than single vineyard, be a deterrent to those purists who seek a sense of place in wine? It shouldn’t; after all the name Capensis means ‘of the Cape’ but of more importance is that, apart from Fijnbosch, fruit for future vintages may be sourced from other vineyards, the idea being to make the best wine possible. This also means not all the barrels will make the final cut; what doesn’t is channelled into a Graham Beck wine.

Confidence in their wine saw the team put it up, blind, against Olivier Leflaive GC Corton Charlemagne 2012 – its class suppressed by its still angular, reductive youth. Corton for me is the slowest to get out of the blocks of any white Burgundy. I liked the Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay 2011 more, although it too was unevolved, intense but less awkward. I think we all recognised the Capensis 2013 as being South African with its slightly riper colour and flavours. But coming from this great chardonnay vintage, with its terrific balance and structure, this wine has the legs to mature as well as any more established chardonnay. I kept going back to my glass and finding more. I shall be cellaring for quite a few years the bottle I was kindly given.

Expectations can be overly high for a new wine; big impact is anticipated, especially when a high price tag is involved. In many cases, such impact is all up front but drops off in the glass and with age. That is not the case with Capensis; I do hope some bottles will be given the chance to show with age just what a classy wine it is.

With Margot Janse's excellent lunch we enjoyed Capensis & these two pinots; Beck's Oregon Angela Estate, named for his wife & the best Oregon pinot I've had,  & Jackson Family Wines Cambria Estate Barbara's Clone 667 from Santa Maria
With Margot Janse’s excellent lunch we enjoyed Capensis & these two pinots; Beck’s Oregon Angela Estate, named for his wife & the best Oregon pinot I’ve had, & Jackson Family Wines Cambria Estate Barbara’s Clone 667 from Santa Maria
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