Growing together Part 2

Would it be a surprise to learn there are 92 grape varieties permitted for the production of wine? These 2021 figures do not include assyrtiko, made by Gary & Kathy Jordan this year, and may be more by now.

The possibilities for field blends are extensive and local, innovative winemakers are making the most of them.

Still thinking of Larry Jacobs as a local (!), I received an excited note from this founder of Mulderbosch and now, long crafting classy wines at Hahndorf Hill in the Adelaide Hills; he told me of the first field blend, Brother Nature, he and partner, Marc, are releasing later this year. The interplanted mix of gruner veltliner, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, savagnin, pinot blanc, chenin blanc, welsch riesling, riesling, harslevelu with a little gewürztraminer, muscat blanc and muscadel is unoaked ‘to emphasise what that patch of dirt represents in the bottle.’ Like others, Larry hopes ripening will eventually harmonise; for the first vintage his imagined ideal saw earlier varieties harvested ripe, the others when ‘potentially making different contributions.’

Brookdale’s field blend vineyard

The field blend movement isn’t contained to whites.  Brookdale’s Field Blend Twenty, a red partner to the white, should be released sometime during the coming year.

Going a step further, encouraged by viticulturist, Jaco Engelbrecht, The Blacksmith owner/winemaker Tremayne Smith, is producing one white and two red field blends. Harvesting in all is decided by taste and balance. Winemaking is kept simple with whole bunch pressing, ferment and aging in older, neutral French oak.

A 1977-established Voor Paardeberg bush-vine block, compromises around 10 to 13 varieties, mainly chenin, semillon, crouchen blanc and palomino. Labelled as The Blacksmith These Old Bones, it’s simply described as Dry White Wine. Tremayne and Jaco surmise the farmer thought ‘waste not, want not’, inter-planting these vines left over from other projects.

Both red blocks also hail from Voor Paardeberg and were custom-planted in 2017 and 2019 respectively.

Tremayne chose carignan, cinsault and grenache, planted as bush vines ‘for a Mediterranean style red’. Old oak and olive trees and granite boulders share space with the vines, planted in different sections but each variety occasionally merges with others in The Vine Garden block. Destemmed whole bunch fermentation, around 14 days on skins is followed by nearly  a year in large French oak. Named Third Sight, with Dry Red Wine on the back label, there’s no reference to field blend.

In the third and youngest vineyard the bush vines are head trained, except for syrah, which is grown en echelas, or one vine to one pole. Carignan, grenache noir, durif, mourvèdre and zinfandel complete the varietal sextet. Huge granite boulders dominate the centre of the block, hence The Rock Garden. A first vintage Rosé Méthode Ancestrale has yet to be named.

Tremayne is hoping: ‘to capture the essence of both vintage and terroir, rather than blending across regions.’

Alan Cook’s baker’s dozen field blend on his Riebeek’s River Road property was established in 2017 with the hope of making ‘something resembling a Chateauneuf du Pape in a Swartland style’. His Aspoestertjie Red is mainly grenache with small amounts of cinsault, mourvèdre, shiraz & a sprinkle of Alicante bouchet, bastardo, counoise, carignan, tinta amarela, tempranillo, touriga nacional, souzao. Concrete tank ferment, with small amount of stems, is followed by ageing in large Stockinger foudres.

Field blends come from cooler climates too. Wanderlust suggests a desire to break away from the everyday and undertake an exciting, new challenge. It pretty well sums up Craig and Anne Wessels Wanderlust label, which annually features something new in style or variety.  

The story behind Wanderlust 2020 is unique. The Bosman clone garden was established in 2006 on a 22ha block of the family farm in the Upper Hemel en Aarde, the same Ward as Restless River. Today, after consolidation and focus on varieties preferring cooler climes, there still remain 37 varieties, with many clones; all are grouped together in rows.

‘I could not ignore this vineyard, knowing that some was going to be pulled out the following year; this was my one opportunity to make a field blend from a selection of these grapes.’ Later this year, Craig Wessels’ determination will see Restless River Wanderlust 2020 (the name yet to be revealed) released and unique for several reasons.

The tricky decision of when to harvest due to varying ripening times was solved in a practical way by Craig: he decided on a day that would suit him in the cellar, then pick everything that seemed to be close to similar ripeness. That’s how Wanderlust 2020 came to be harvested on 6th March, a blend of cinsault, malbec, petit verdot cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, ruby cabernet, alicante bouchet, barbera, sangiovese and, one white, roussanne.

Co-fermentation with spontaneous yeast in an open-top oak vat, four weeks on skins, then basket pressed into older small and larger oak for 18 months was followed by six months in tank, before bottling.

To briefly complete the circle; Leon Coetzee and Margaux Nel have a Stellenbosch red Field Blend under The Fledge & Co brand; Neil & Warren Ellis do a field blend in conjunction with Alex Volkwyn.

What can field blends offer, apart from ‘something new’? It’s been suggested they spread the risk, any problems in a single varietal vineyard leaves all your eggs in one basket. Climate change is always front of mind; the sizable mix in some of the above vineyards, albeit selected on the area’s natural aptitude for certain varieties, could offer help in finding those that could perform even better under heat and drought conditions.

David Trafford has some cogent thoughts on reasons why field blends might not be such a good idea, but those will have to wait for another time and, maybe the further research and study this topic deserves.

There will be discussion as to what constitutes a true field blend, but it’s early days and vine lay-out may change over time. I, for one, would be against any legislation for the Field Blend certification. Get consumers excited about them first and foremost, bearing in mind varietal wine is still king.


2 thoughts on “Growing together Part 2

  1. In the case of Wanderlust (or any others for that matter) what happens to the grapes that aren’t ripe on the designated picking day(s)

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