Saving vineyards; telling stories

Where to start? Not so long ago. Just 2013 for Mick and Jeanine Craven, 2016 for Lukas and Roxanne van Loggerenberg; those years mark the maiden vintages of Craven Wines and van Loggerenberg Wines respectively.

In these few years, both couples have made their mark, through their individual winemaking philosophies and skill in realising such individuality in their wines. They have much else in common: neither own vineyards, rather forging relationships with the farmers; visitors won’t find packets of yeast, enzymes or new oak in either cellar – less is more being the general approach. Even so, Mick Craven noted early on that 2017 ‘was the laziest winemaking year in history’. Another great year, so soon after the hype of 2015?

That’s what the Craven’s suggest; Lukas van Loggerenberg, who focuses on capturing the difference in vintages, also commented that 2016 and 2017 ‘were like black and white’. Skill apart, the 13 wines, all 2017s, presented by these two producers at the launch, show it’s an excellent vintage. I can’t think when – or if – I’ve ever enjoyed so much every single wine in a winemaker’s range, or two, in this case.

Mick and Jeanine Craven with their range of wines

Of course, each has an individual style. Acid is crucial for the Cravens; their Stellenbosch vineyards, all single blocks but unregistered, are picked earlier than most to retain as much natural acid as possible. Time on the lees provides girth and balance. Alcohol levels, 12%-12.5%, are low in today’s terms but, quite frankly these wines have more vinosity and flavour than many bigger Stellenbosch wines; they are also bone dry. The area is no one-trick pony.

I’ve been fascinated by the clairette blanche since the first 2014. Determined to see what they could make of this humble and disappearing variety, the Craven’s experiments with blending skin- and tank-fermented portions have resulted in a particularly concentrated 50/50 partnership this year. A partnership with tannin grip, a variety of textures and vinosity, all a brilliant answer for a grape not well-endowed with obvious fruit.

Mainstream consumers would rightly think pinot gris (or probably pinot grigio) is also a boringly neutral, white wine. They’d also be rightly confused to see the glimmering ruby, smell and taste the redcurrant and fragrant florals of the Craven’s version. The answer lies in (this case, nine days on) the skins, as it does with most grapes. It’s more red than rosé thanks to flavour and breadth, but with the refreshment of a white. A must for those who diss the variety.

If only wine politics wouldn’t interfere, the Cravens believe Faure, where their cinsaut, pinot noir and one syrah come from, would make a cohesive Ward. Close to False Bay, the wines show fruit purity with depth and freshness. I hope pinot lovers are open-minded about where good South African pinot comes from; this is a charming example, all gentle waves of dark cherries and savoury undergrowth, balanced by the grape’s natural freshness.

If it were necessary to illustrate the cooling effects of False Bay in the wines, then compare the Craven’s still embryonic Faure Syrah with its bright, red fruit character to their Firs Syrah from Devon Valley, with its expressive dark spice and breadth of texture. My money’s on the Faure in a few years.

Lukas van Loggerenberg (Roxanne elsewhere) with his range of wines

I’m loathe to write about a wine that isn’t available here, but that’s a good excuse to badger local retailers to book Van Loggerenberg Break a Leg Blanc de Noir 2018; 2017 was snapped up in the UK by The Harrow’s Roger Jones. From a 32 year old block of Paarl cinsaut, the blush hue belies the wine’s expressive fruit, depth derived from natural fermentation in old oak and eight months’ lees enrichment. Just 12% alcohol completes a thoroughly attractive, refreshing drink.

The vineyard used to supply a co-op, the farmer receiving precious little in return; now, after van Loggerenberg’s viticultural directions, to farmer’s astonishment but much better recompense, the vineyard is saved with van Loggerenberg able to take more fruit in future. He also includes 40% of this vineyard in the red Geronimo Cinsaut, a complexity of spice, herbs and red fruits well highlighted by both flesh and structure.

I have wondered before, with the multitude of classy chenin blancs, whether it is still possible to stand out from the crowd. I shouldn’t have: Kameraderie Chenin Blanc from a 57-year-old Paarl vineyard, is outstanding. Precision, abundance of concentrated ripe flavours, tweek of viscosity, uplifting freshness, lingeringly memorable. I have a feeling 2017 will be an exceptional chenin vintage generally.

Breton, the old name for cabernet franc in the Loire, should give an idea of what to expect from this wine. Van Loggerenberg’s inspiration came from a 1988 he drank in the area; ‘I was sold’ he remembers. I’m sold on his. Earlier picked (from two Stellenbosch vineyards) than many of the fuller, still excellent, cab francs, Breton has vigour, fragrance (spice, wild herbs), flesh and a freshness balanced by fine tannins, and harmonised by 10 months in barrel. It might jolt those who know only the other style, but they should become converts in no time.

There isn’t one wine from Craven and van Loggerenberg I wouldn’t want to buy (I haven’t mentioned them all); the labels would be an initial temptation. The Craven’s colour, wrap-around labels depict their vineyards and surrounding vegetation; the van Loggerenberg’s are a collage, each item reflecting something of the name: Kameraderie – sharing moments with friends, cameraderie between farmers, workers and the vines; South African heritage is also mirrored. Both producers’ labels deserve a close look; needless to say, their wines do too.

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