Reyneke Wines: A South African Biodynamic Pioneer

Johan ReynekeJohan Reyneke has gone one step beyond organic and created South Africa’s very first (and still the only) biodynamic vineyard and winery. The still youthful Johan is a keen surfer who recently narrowly missed being lunch for white sharks, and he won the Masters category of the 2009 Vintners Surf Classic. He’s also an owner with a social conscience who was honored by the news network CNN for his Cornerstone program to encourage home ownership and education for his workers and their families. The first farm child to attend university will do so next year under this program. This is pretty amazing considering most vineyard workers are borderline literate.

Editor Don Winkler recently met with Johan and winemaker Rudiger Gretschel in one of several visits to outstanding winemakers in the Stellenbosch Wine District. Johan began converting the family farm to organic in 1992, and today it is fully certified as organic and biodynamic by Demeter. Surprisingly, it is the only biodynamic vineyard in all of South Africa.

ax headsLocated adjacent to the famous (and famously expensive) De Toren Cellar just off the M12, the Reyneke vineyards are located on rolling hills about 6 km from the sea, which gives them cool afternoon breezes even on hot summer days. The soils are sandy loam on degraded granite and clay. These are very old soils, which have been the home of old civilizations. Johan frequently uncovers axe-heads thousands of years old lying in the vineyard.

Johan is an explorer at heart, constantly experimenting, both in the vineyard and in the winery. He finds the biodynamic vineyard has soil of higher organic content and lower acidity yielding smaller bunches and smaller grapes with a higher skin to pulp ratio. The fruit also has higher natural acidity. It also forces the vine to live from the soil, rather than chemical fertilizers, so one finds greater heterogeneity of plants and fruit within the vineyard. He even finds a lower incidence of leaf roll virus as the mealy bug, which is the vector of the virus, prefers the African dandelion growing in the untilled rows rather than the vine.

Cement TankIn partnership with winemaker Rudiger Gretschel, Johan also experiments in the winery, using untoasted oak for his Reserve White Sauvignon Blanc and employing one of Marc Nomblot’s oval cement tanks (patterned after the Roman wine urn) for making Chenin Blanc with extended skin contact. But he uses only natural yeasts and basically lets the wine make itself.

And the wines? Unique and terroir driven. There’s a house style here—purity of fruit, perfect balance, soft natural acidity, integration of oak and fruit, and a true expression of place. All the fruit for these wines come from Uitzicht, the Reyneke family farm. The Indigo Wine Group of Venice, FL,will soon begin importing Reyneke wines; they should have a hit on their hands. [The wines will carry the USDA QCS organic certification for 2010 and later vintages, but rest assured earlier vintages are also definitely organic.]

Reyneke 2009 Sauvignon Blanc ($28) 90

Sourced from a small vineyard with four clones on four different rootstocks, the minerality, muted lime citrus fruit, bracing but gentle acidity, and full texture are reminiscent of Sancerre or Monetou-Salon. [See our Wines of the Loire Report #17 of June 2009.]

Reyneke 2008 Chenin Blanc ($35) 89

Made from the fruit of 60+ year old vines, this is a harmonious, fun to drink wine. Aromas of honey and ripe melon give way to a round, lush lanolin-like palate of moderate acidity. The percentage of wine going through malo will decrease beginning with the 2010 vintage.

Reyneke 2008 Reserve White ($50) 91

This is a serious, wooded Sauvigon Blanc that is in a class all its own. It’s 100 percent fermented in oak, 50 percent of it new, and oak aromas and flavors are present but not dominant. The oak barrels are untoasted, with the staves bent by hot water instead of fire. The result is gentle oak notes in the wine with none of the assertive toast flavors that often dominates wooded Sauvignon Blanc. One finds minerals, orchard fruit, and oak on both the nose and the lanolin-like palate.

Reyneke 2008 Cornerstone ($28) 90

The 2008 Cornerstone red blend (35% Syrah, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc) has a fresh, fruity nose with a nutmeg accent. Fresh red berry and plum flavors carry over to the beautifully balanced, medium weight, multi-layered palate. Finishes long with fine, sweet tannins. Spends 16 months in 40 percent new oak. A great food wine!

Reyneke 2008 Pinotage ($35) 89

The medium ruby 2008 Pinotage shows red plum and brambly berries with a light leather note. Fresh dark red fruit shows on the palate with nicely integrated light notes of coconut and mocha. A very refreshing contrast to the coffee-Pinotage style currently in vogue.

Reyneke 2007 Red Reserve ($75) 91

The 2007 Red Reserve is predominantly Syrah with 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a dark ruby beauty with black cherry and dark plum fruit and violets showing on the nose. The richly textured palate is juicy and beautifully integrated with good acidity and sweet tannins. Great structure and refinement. Aged 22 months in 85% new oak, but it’s so well integrated one would never know.

For more on Johan’s shark escape, see Neil Pendock’s Sunday Times article: http://blogs.timeslive.co.za/pendock/tag/johan-reyneke/

Reyneke Wines are also featured in Ethical Fine Wines, the website created by Master of Wine Susan McCraith to promote organic and sustainable wines.

Johan’s wife Mila is a seriously talented and accomplished artist. You can see her work at SouthAfricanArtists.com. Just type in Mila Reyneke.

Written by Don Winkler, April 2010