A glass of wine is just a glass of wine; a story brings it to life, a story that interweaves the people behind it as well as the wine itself. The more unusual or seemingly ridiculous the story, the more it’s likely to catch the attention and remain in the memory.
Unusual? Yes. Ridiculous? Yes, initially. Perhaps not so much now.
The script of Draaiboek Wines incorporates some of both. It all started in 2005 when friends, Pieter Lemmer, Francois Viviers and Thian Fick were in res together at Stellenbosch University. As do so many of the students, they enjoyed going around to wine farms tasting; from a consumer point-of-view, they were enthusiastic.
Their diverse careers led them to write their own stories, while remaining friends and continuing to add to the investment club they had started. At some point, another idea, a break-out idea for that money, was needed. What’s the most irrational thing we can do? Those student visits to wine farms has much to answer for; producing wine was their totally irrational – yet potentially wonderful – idea. It rings of ‘how to make a small fortune in the wine industry’ – start with a large one!
Once the decision to go into wine was made, the next question was, what? That decision took a year before they settled on chardonnay, but chardonnay from where? Experiments ensued with grapes from all over, but their Eureka moment came from a block in Hemel en Aarde Ridge. It fitted the style they were after, a fresher, tighter wine, subtly oaked. A style interpreted by their highly-regarded winemaker, Stephanie Wiid of Thistle and Weed; a tie-up thanks to her husband being in res with the Draaiboek trio.
Onskuld Chardonnay 2019 was the first chapter in this new story. It must’ve felt as though fate was against this new team when launching a new wine in 2020 during the chaos of Covid. Reaching this point after many years, they were not to be deterred: friends, contacts and a good review or two ensured all 1300 bottles sold.
The opportunity to taste this, as well as the two younger vintages of innocence (Onskuld in English) provided their own story of progress when enjoyed by a small group of us last week at the most popular venue in town these days, Culture Club.
Like a taut spring, full of energy, freshness, mouth-watering citrus riding on a wave of creamy lees, the cool Hemel en Aarde Ridge shines through each vintage. Progress and vintage variation are what one hopes to find, indeed we did; 2019, which will benefit greater harmony with a few years, was surpassed by 2020’s greater refinement and complexity, with smooth harmony linking creamy waves and toasty, lemony zest. That’s not the end of the story; Chapter 3, 2021, lives up to the vintage’s stellar reputation. Riper, fuller yet bright and intense – is this the point Onskuld loses innocence? Oak in all is a subtle background amplifier. The best news is quantity has increased to 3670 bottles; the price, a not-over-the-top R390.
Draaiboek isn’t proving to be such a ridiculous break-away idea. In fact, courage has emboldened a dip into experiments with pinot. But that’s another story.