The Wine of Origin Scheme, introduced in 1973, not only met export requirements but also put South Africa a step ahead of other countries outside of traditional Europe. From the start demarcations included Regions, Districts and Wards, like a Russian doll, fitting within each other in descending order of size; there was then an even smaller WO, the Estate, but let’s not unnecessarily complicate things. Some 20 years later, Geographical Units, not strictly regarded as WOs were introduced; Northern Cape was one of these.
Within this GU, there are three Wards (no Districts or Regions); WO Prieska the latest, declared in 2016. Any Prieska grapes vinified prior to 2016 have to take the GU Northern Cape.
This is all a prelude to the story behind Landzicht Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, made by Ian Sieg, who’s been at this Free State cellar since 1984. The wine caused gasps of amazement (and no doubt ruffled many a Stellenbosch producer’s feathers!) when announced as Cabernet Trophy winner at last week’s Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show awards.
The grapes were grown on Hennie and son, Bertie Coetzee’s farm, Lowerland, just north of Prieska (yes, I also had to look it up on a map) and vinified at Douglas Wine Cellar, which shares an owner, agribusiness GWK, with Landzicht. It also shares access to the Orange River, irrigation playing an essential role in growing vines in these parts.
This Northern Cape farm intrigued me, especially after learning of its interesting and very decent wines via Platter. Bertie was more than enthusiastic to answer my questions.
Hennie Coetzee, a director of GWK, planted the vineyards in 2000, ‘With the mission to prove there is no reason why we shouldn’t make good wines in Northern Cape,’ Bertie explains.
Soils in this area vary from Hutton/Clovelly to River Silt and the Red Kalahari sand where the cabernet was planted in 2001. New sites are being explored.
Being so far from the Western Cape, conditions are different; Bertie lists the biggest positive as the very low disease pressure, so organic is easy, but; ‘We get late frost, so are moving from earlier ripening varieties or planting them higher, further away from the river. Distances from cellars, laboratories and barrels are also issues but I think our biggest problem is the negative perception of Northern Cape – perhaps also our biggest attribute, now consumers are looking for interesting wines from weird sites.’
When he came back to the farm in 2013, Bertie believed his Dad was getting despondent and ready to return some of vineyards to pastures for their Bonsmara cattle. Coetzee jnr was more optimistic; not only did he retain the 14 hectares of vineyard, but, inspired by visits to Longridge, he turned them organic.
There has been quite a trail of winemakers from Alex Milner for the maiden 2006, Nikey van Zyl to Johnnie Calitz (then Anura, now at Glen Carlou), more recently JD Pretorius at Steenberg and Lukas van Loggerenberg. The wines too are a wealth of varieties and blends: viognier, shiraz, cabernet, merlot, petit verdot and tannat, Bertie believing the last two do best on the farm.
This is the short version of a much longer story, but enough I hope to give a picture of the Coetzee’s innovation and persistence.
Ian Sieg’s winemaking details are more succinct, but as enthusiastic as Coetzee’s. Both agree 2015 was an exceptional year, ‘especially Prieska fruit,’ adds Sieg; ‘The pips were ripe, nice grassy taste,’ which he likes. He notes that 2015 is only the second year this Reserve Cabernet has been made. With a potential 13% alcohol, the small berries fermented at a relatively low 16-22C, ‘But so alive, such nice flavours’ Sieg remembers; press juice was added back for structure and the wine aged for 14 months in 300 litre Seguin Moreau barrels.
This is not the first trophy on the show for Landzicht, which also has its own vineyards in the Free State; the White Muscadel 2015 won best Fortified Dessert Wine last year. Sieg did point out to OMTWS Chair, Michael Fridjhon, at the awards’ ceremony that his journey from Landzicht to Cape Town is nearly 1000 kms and hoped he wasn’t making it for nothing. Indeed, he wasn’t!
Whether Geographical Unit Northern Cape or, after 2016, WO Prieska, Lowerland and Landzicht wines sound sufficiently interesting from a decidedly different site to be worth seeking out.
I hope the Coetzees will use the new WO Prieska; the use of Wards on labels is controversial, many believing South Africa is as far as most consumers can relate to.
I think a little differently. For me, the aim of a Ward is sufficiently specific to encourage more distinctive wines, even if the larger District is more commonly used (eg WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch Ward vs Stellenbosch District), especially for marketing.
Marketing is undoubtedly the reason behind the new WO Cape Town, a District, which encompasses the Wards of Constantia, Durbanville (both declared Districts in 1972, Wards in 1989), Philadelphia (Ward status 2004) and Hout Bay (Ward status 2008). I doubt the now repealed Cape Peninsula or Tygerberg Districts came trippingly off the tongue. Constantia and Durbanville on the other hand are so long established, each with a relatively few number of wineries, for any to drop the smaller WO for Cape Town, such as Meerendal (registered to produce estate wine too!) has already done, does a dis-service to the other producers.
As I wrote above, a Ward WO might not be so significant to consumers, but it should be a message of pride and distinctive wines to those who grow vines and make wines within it.