Saxenburg revisited

It’s a sad truth that the sheer proliferation of wineries today means one rarely gets to visit those that were regulars in years gone by.

When Vincent Buhrer, who with his sister, Fiona, now run Saxenburg, asked on my visit last week, when I was last on the farm, I could only answer ‘eons ago’. It was certainly long before these siblings took over around 2018 and when their parents, Adrian and Birgit Buhrer, still lived there – they still own the farm.

One thing I had never done on any of those long-ago visits was drive around the farm; Vincent’s offer was eagerly accepted. A brief orientation of the vineyards on a 2-dimensional map and we’re bumping along the multi-dimensional pot-holed tracks in his basic 4-wheel vehicle. Heading up the hill, we pass vineyards, blocks soon to be re-planted and, significantly, generous patches of fynbos. Diversity, sustainability and regenerative farming are an important focus for the young Buhrers. Vincent confidently reels off soils and the vineyard lay-out with changes to be made. He also hastens to assure that changes are incremental, ‘Fiona and I respect what our parents have done; we’re not a second generation coming in to do everything differently.’

Vincent Burher with Helderberg in background, Jordan vines other side of the fence
View over Cape Flats with False Bay to left

He comes to the farm wearing this confidence after starting and running a constructions company and, with a partner, setting up the successful Port2Port.

Pause at the top of the hill to appreciate the many vistas: Table Mountain and Table Bay to the west, the less-attractive spread of the populated Cape Flats passes by in front with False Bay shimmering in the south-east. Heading round the hill, the familiar memorable view of Stellenbosch Kloof, with Jordan the other side of the fence, and DeMorgenzon, lies before us.

Sailing down the hill by a less roller-coaster route, we head to the cellar and a tasting of Dirk van Zyl’s first vintage. Dirk, I knew from his time at DeMorgenzon, but now learned of his informative stage at Kleine Zalze; two valuable, quality learning experiences.

Vincent had told me that after long-time winemaker, Nico van der Merwe left, his assistant since 2005, Edwin Grace took over. His amicable departure in 2019 drew a raft of applications to take his place; a usual scenario in this ‘buyer’s’ market. It took only one short meeting with Dirk for Vincent to know he’d found the right person to take Saxenburg forward.

With 2020 his maiden vintage, there were only a few wines ready to taste. Of all the white wines I remember from earlier Saxenburg vintages, a joyous tropical-fruited, zesty sauvignon blanc stands out. Those features remain at the core but with added interest, compelling the drinker to look deeper than just for fruit. Some skin contact introduces a pleasing tactile sensation, as does time on lees. We can expect to see further skin contact on whites, ‘something I experienced a lot at Kleine Zalze,’ Dirk remarks. For a wine of such quality and interest, R120 is excellent value.

Socially-distanced Dirk van Zyl (l) and Vincent Buhrer

Sauvignon blanc often gets a raw deal, but the tide is now turning more rapidly thanks to winemakers’ rejuvenated interest in innovative techniques and a wider variety of vinification vessels.

There is also the traditional sauvignon/semillon blend under the Saxenburg Private Collection label. This pair are like ying and yang; sauvignon’s natural vivacity contrasted by its partner’s silky swirl, ageing in older oak here fuses the two. Cool-climate lemon grass and tangerine fragrance, some fresh honey flavours finishing crisp and clean, there’s much to enjoy now, with future potential recognised in this partnership. R185 ex-cellar is another offering super value.

There are only 526 bottles of Dirk’s third white, Winemaker’s Blend; it combines all four varieties grown on the farm, led by chenin blanc, for which Dirk has notable affection, especially since his stint at DeMorgenzon. Tanks, older oak and natural fermentation were in the vinification mix.

These three wines show a new face of Saxenburg: a face that’s lighter, brighter with greater dimension in both flavour and structure.

Dirk blended though didn’t vinify the Private Collection Chardonnay 2019; here too the idea is to lighten, brighten but also increase complexity. Less new oak (just 15%), larger format and light toasting of the staves and, as in other above wines, lees enrichment create a chardonnay with ripe nectarine, creamy richness energised by a riveting acid backbone.

Reds currently selling range from 2019 back to 2015 but I had a sneak peak at a new 2020 project. The variety probably most associated with Saxenburg is shiraz, or syrah as it is now to be known with more of a nod to Rhône than Australia; ‘not something that’ll be popular with all our long-time customers,’ Vincent Buhrer admits.  Already American oak on the Flagship SSS Syrah 2015 has given way to French oak only. Syrah might be Saxenburg for many but, strangely, the farm’s cabernet has enjoyed many important awards.

The team took great delight in showing me syrah from one vineyard with grapes from upper sandy and lower clay and cooler sections, both vinified in exactly the same way with two completely different results. To make a point, a further batch from the lower part was vinified in another way; the result, yet again different from either of the others. As Vincent had explained that new syrah vineyards are to be established on cooler, lower sites, which will provide yet another profile, the variety has an exciting future in store.

The work-in-progress project also features syrah.  But that is a story for later this year.

I can guarantee my next visit to Saxenburg will not involve eons!

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