The journey for Tim and Vaughan Pearson to producing their own wine began, as all good wine journeys should, with a passion for the fermented juice of the grape. After holidays in South Africa in the 1990s, Tim and Vaughan returned in 2005 for their 25th wedding anniversary, but also to explore for land suitable to start a vineyard. This eventually led them to the Hemel en Aarde valley, which seemed the perfect place.
Back in the UK, Tim searched the internet; it wasn’t long before he found land for sale a few kilometres beyond the valley on the road to Caledon. Soil analysis proved the vine-growing potential, contact was made with the sellers and on return to South Africa in 2006, Tim and Vaughan bought 12 hectares overlooked by Shaws Mountain to the north and Teslaarsdal range to the south.
The vineyards and Frantoio olive trees for olive oil, took shape over the next four years.
Four varieties only were planted: sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah; the range too has been kept to a neat quintet – chardonnay coming in both unoaked and oaked versions – though I do see a Syrah Rosé is destined to join them in 2018.
A test harvest planned for 2010 prompted the appointment of Riana van der Merwe as winemaker, a role she continues to hold, growing in knowledge and confidence with the vineyards themselves.
Until 2017, the wines were vinified at Iona then Almenkerk; 2018 is the first in their own cellar, a re-furbished nearby warehouse the Pearsons were offered as it was unused.
My initial interest in Seven Springs Vineyards arose from an article by Professor Damien Wilson, wine marketing and business specialist, about the Pearson’s marketing focus on social media; they were among the early ones to use this method.
As that test harvest was coming in, so they launched their website (www.7springs.co.za), the Seven Springs Vineyard Facebook site and Twitter handle @7springsWine. The use of these social media outlets has been ongoing and regular, covering much else of the Pearson’s life, apart from Seven Springs. Partly because of this, it doesn’t come across as hard sell, rather creates awareness, especially as Tim and Vaughan spend a relatively short time here each year. Much of this is taken up with visits to hotels and restaurants, introducing their wines at tastings or dinners.
Screwcaps have been used from day one; now the same bottle throughout the range but one change they have made is to the labels, where the vintage is on the back. ‘This has a twofold advantage,’ notes Vaughan Pearson; ‘first, we can use the same front label every year, also people become less focused on vintage, more on the variety and our name.’ As the current release sauvignon blanc is 2015, when the obsession for many winelovers is still the youngest vintage possible, this diminishes the chance of immediate rejection by a potential customer.
They would be silly to reject it too; it’s a splendid sauvignon still full of vitality at its core but now with an elegance in its riper tropical, figgy flavours, though more vinous than fruity.
The Pearsons kindly gave me a sample of each of their wines, as well as maiden vintages of Oaked Chardonnay 2011 and Syrah 2010. Tim James tasted them with me.
If the older chardonnay is anything to go by, the pair of 2015s should benefit from further ageing, their creaminess trimmed of some puppy fat. Chardonnay is such a large, competitive field today.
Pinot Noir remains niche, so is even more exposed when mis-treated. This is definitely not the case with Seven Springs Pinot Noir 2014; a ripe enough mix of cherries and spice, supple texture, finished with rounded savouriness, it offers most enjoyable drinking now and value: R145 ex-cellar. A great effort, given the lighter vintage for pinots in this area.
The several evenings I spent sipping the Syrah 2014 (R152) would encourage keeping the wine a few more years, when it should pull together to great benefit. Fruit was the main sensation when first opened, encouraged no doubt by the thankfully subtle oaking. Denser in texture than the pinot, the wine evolved with the same agreeable flow. Oak was more evident in the maiden 2010 but, of course, the vines were mere babes.
Progress since I last tasted in wines, especially in the sauvignon and two reds, is most encouraging.
May the journey for the Pearson’s, Riana van der Merwe and Seven Springs Vineyard continue as positively as it has to date.