Top winemakers have many attributes, some learned, others intuitive. Being a member of a family with an enviable winemaking heritage is no hindrance either, though first choice of study was philosophy rather than wine for Peter-Allan Finlayson (son of Peter/Bouchard Finlayson, nephew of Walter founder of Glen Carlou and responsible for those wonderful early Blaauwklippen cabernets, and cousin of David/Edgebaston, Carolyn/Creation).
It also struck me, after last week’s long overdue visit to Gabriëlskloof to taste his own Crystallum wines as well as Gabriëlskloof flagship Landscape range, a top winemaker can produce quality beyond any particular comfort zone. (It is actually now three weeks, thanks to Telkom taking just over two weeks to repair and re-connect my landline and ADSL; apologies. Now everything’s up and running again, expect more blog activity!)
For the past ten years, Finlayson has been associated almost exclusively with chardonnay and pinot noir, the two varieties variously explored in his seven-wine Crystallum range. A few early vintages included sauvignon blanc, probably a cash-flow necessity but it was soon discontinued.
The move to expand his repertoire arrived mid-2014, when Finlayson added Gabriëlskloof winemaker to his portfolio; this property, just outside Bot River, is owned by his father-in-law, Bernhard Heyns with a handful of shareholders (including Finlayson and his wife, Nicolene).
On my first visit, many before Finlayson took over, I was sufficiently impressed by Magdalena, a sauvignon/semillon blend, named for Heyns teetotal sister (!), to purchase a few bottles. Finlayson’s 2016, showed at another level, a seamless integration of fresh and silky textures in its home-grown sauvignon with Franschhoek semillon melded in larger and older oak; the yellow citrus and honey flavours so subtle yet convincing.
Like his father, Finlayson gives the impression of being permanently laid-back; it’s a different matter when it comes to his wines, where he shows absolute focus and intent. Sensitivity to the fruit and its origins is further evident in Elodie, a Swartland chenin blanc, naturally fermented also in older oak. Both whites went through the acid softening malolactic process, inducing breadth but retaining a good drive of freshness and persuasive individuality.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by Finlayson’s first two syrahs, both homegrown 2015s, one from Sandstone, the other, Shale (they are so labelled); the former dark flavoured and denser, the latter all bright red fruit, spice with lovely, fine-grained tannin. So often winemakers with an understanding of pinot transmit it so well to syrah. And these are just the start: 2016s and 17s tasted from barrel promise even better.
We had, of course, enjoyed a few Crystallum Cuvée Cinema pinots to start: 2013 through to the new, Whole Bunch 2016, that’s 100% whole bunch as opposed to smaller percentages in 2015 and a separate bottling of 2016. Spending six weeks on the skins in a single topped 500L barrel, Whole Bunch is an energetic succulent youngster, worth waiting until it grows up. In the meantime, the black cherry perfumed 2014 charms with its elegance and freshness.
Both Marelise Niemann and John Seccombe (Momento Wines and Thorne & Daughters respectively), who make their wines in the Gabriëlskloof cellar, add to the general luster. Unfortunately, John was ill, but what a pleasure to get up to date with Niemann’s wines, styled with finesse and fruit purity, but never overtly fruity. From the regular Chenin Blanc-Verdelho, Grenache and Tinta Barocca, fruit for the last ex Beaumont, where she worked prior to going on her own; curious to think this lively, dry wine with its fruit cake fragrance is also majorly responsible for Beaumont’s Starboard, Platter’s Fortified Dessert Wine of the Year!
Niemann also introduced us to her new skin contact grenache gris from the Paardeberg. Given her wines’ general restraint, this was an intriguing move; would it be in a very different style? Not at all; the pinky/beige tinge and tannin squeeze on the 2017 barrel sample derive from three days pre-ferment on skins rather than fermentation. It falls in line with her other Momento wines, and should make an equally compatible partner with food.
Niemann is also responsible for the new Anysbos wines, a neighbouring farm belonging to Heyns’ brother. He, apparently, prefers wines with a little more flourish; I’m sure Niemann will move out of her comfort zone with as much competence and success as Finlayson.
Gabriëlskloof is a rising star and should soon be as sought-after and appreciated as the other wines being created in this Overberg cellar.