The Chenin Blancs of Breedekloof Wine Valley

Village of Rawsonville in the Breede River Valley

While Chenin Blanc originated in the Anjou area of the Loire, today it can be said to be South Africa’s grape. South Africa produces more of the grape than any other country and has double the plantings of France. Chenin Blanc is also the most widely planted (18 thousand hectares) variety in South Africa.  The Breede River Valley and especially its Breedekloof appellation have long been a center of Chenin Blanc production. But until recently most of its special, old bush vine Chenin was sold in bulk or distilled. Now, many of Breedekloof’s growers are also making wine from their best parcels. In 2016, the wineries of Breedekloof decided to recognize their Chenin Blanc heritage and formed a group called Breedekloof Makers, the members of which make a special Chenin Blanc from selected vineyard parcels in each vintage. The group has 12 members (soon to be 15) out of the total of 24 wine growers in the region.  We review some of their wines below.

This review is just the latest of the International Wine Review’s many publications on South Africa and Chenin Blanc. They include the following:

Report #30 The Wines of South Africa {a major, in depth and comprehensive look at South African wine regions, producers, and wines}

Special Report: South African Chenin Blanc

Report #55 Wines of South Africa: White Blends & Old Vines

The Sweet Wines of South Africa 

Mullineux’s Rapidly Rising Star

Raat’s Wine: The Loire in Stellenbosch

Established in 2006, the Breedekloof Wine Region lies in the Breede River Valley (see map below).  It’s a major wine grape producing region with 13 thousand hectares (32 thousand acres) of grapes, about the same as California’s Paso Robles (San Luis Obispo County) AVA.  Chenin Blanc represents over a quarter of the grapes harvested, which makes Breedekloof the largest Chenin Blanc producer among the major wine regions of South Africa.  Chenin Blanc also represents over half the 35+ year old vines in Breedekloof registered under South Africa’s Old Vine Project.

Slanghoek Valley Vista

The Wines

Badsberg 2016 Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc Breedekloof 89 Honeyed vanilla oak and stone fruit bouquet. Also honeyed on the palate with rich toast, shortbread, and yellow fruit flavors underpinned by late arriving acidity that energizes the finish.  Fermented in a mix of new and used American oak and aged on the lees for 5 months. Trellised vines. Badsberg farms about 1300 ha of vines.

Botha Kelder 2017 Barrel Fermented Bush Vine Chenin Blanc Breedekloof  90 Meyer lemon, acacia, and frangiopane scents. Melange of yellow stone fruit, citrus, and lightly honeyed oak with vibrant lemony acidity. Fresh and bright with good richness on the finish.  Fruit from 29 year old, dry farmed bush vines is handpicked, destemmed, and fermented in barrel (35% new) and aged on the lees for 10 months.

Daschbosch 2017 Steen Breedekloof 88  This is a straightforward Chenin showing touches of lemony citrus and lychee. It’s soft with a glycerin like texture and a clean finish.  Easy drinking. Sourced from 25 year old vines, cold soaked, fermented in used oak and matured in barrel for 8 months with 6 months on the lees. 14.2% alc. Daschbosch’s 50 members farm 2050 ha of vineyards.

Deetlefs 2017 Reserve Chenin Blanc  92  Flint, honeysuckle, and peach scents give way to densely flavored palate with a firm backbone and fresh acidity. It all comes together in this opulent and expressive wine. Made from vines planted in 1987 and 1993 and fermented in barrel (22% in new 500L) and a small amount fermented in concrete egg.  4% Viognier blended in, half skin fermented and half oxidized. Ferdi Visser makes the wine.

Winemaker Ivy du Toit of Jason’s Hill

Jason’s Hill 2018 Chenin Blanc Breedekloof  88  Showing quince and citrus aromas, this is light and fresh Chenin, not complex but impressive in its purity and perfectly integrated acidity. Lingers nicely in the mouth.  Jason’s Hill 2017 Beatrix Chenin Blanc Breedekloof 90  Intricate aromas recall flint-tinged white peach. The palate has a firm backbone with fruit forward flavors of stone fruit and minerals underpinned by smoky oak and finishing with dry tannins.  This is a youthful, well oaked (13 months in all new, tight grained oak) wine that needs time to open up. All new Hungarian oak was used as this is the first vintage of the wine; future editions should have more nuanced oak treatment.

Lateganskop 2017 The Zahir Chenin Blanc Breedekloof 89 Excellent depth and character to this old bush vine Chenin Blanc.  A strong mineral backbone is complemented by ripe citrus and white stone fruit notes and even a dash of white pepper on the finish.  The minerality of the wine persists on the finish. From densely planted (1×1) 24 year old bush vines hand cultivated and hand harvested. The grapes are cold soaked for two days and then fermented using native yeast in small oak barriques and matured for 13 months.  Heinrich Lategan is winemaker. The estate has 238 ha of vines and sells most the wine in bulk.  The Zahir is named after the book written by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho.

Merwida 2017 Chenin Blanc Breedekloof 88  Clean but reticent aromas of citrus and white stone fruit. Crisp and refreshing with sweet fruit balanced by bright acidity. Easy, pleasant drinking. All estate fruit from a single block of 15 year old vines, given 12 hours skin contact, fermented in stainless steel, and matured for 9 months in oak barrels of diverse ages and sizes with regular battonage.

Opstal 2017 Carl Everson Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc Slanghoek 93 Highly complex, perfumed bouquet of yellow flowers, acacia, peach and beeswax. Soft on entry and creamy smooth palate with well integrated stone fruit, marzipan, and honeycomb.  Acidity gracefully supersedes sweet fruit on a prolonged finish.  From a 1982 single vineyard that’s part of the Old Vine Project; spontaneously fermented in barrel over a 4 month period and aged another 6 months in large format French oak barrels.  Attie Louw is the winemaker.

Slanghoek Cellar 2016 Legends Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc Slanghoek 89  Lemon curd, green mango and beeswax aromas offer a graceful introduction to the Slanghoek Cellar Legends Chenin Blanc. It offers a creamy rich mouthfeel with nicely integrated fruit accented by toasted hazelnut, finishing with lingering rich extract.  This wine is packed with flavor but could use more freshness. Surprisingly soft considering the oak regime. Sourced from 35 year old vines grown in Slanghoek Valley; fermented and aged in French oak, 50% new, for 20 months.

Stofberg Estate 2017 Border Stone Chenin Blanc Breedekloof 89 An appealing wine with emphatic lemon zest and flint like notes on the nose. The palate is full and round and densely flavored with just enough balancing acidity to keep the wine bright and lively. Finishes with good persistence.  Just the right amount of oaking, too. Sourced from 30 year old vines grown on sandy loam alluvial soils and fermented in lined concrete tanks. After 2 months lees contact, wines from free-run and pressed juice are blended and aged 4 months in 225L French barriques for 4 months. Pieter Stofberg is the winemaker.

Stofberg Family Vineyards 2017 Mariëtte Chenin Blanc Breedekloof 91 Honeysuckle and toasted hazelnut scents give way to a bright attack of lemon curd and fresh apricot.  Richly oaked but well integrated on the palate and densely flavored with scintillating citrus acidity and a long, lingering finish. Very well done. From 34 year old vines grown on rocky sandstone soils, hand picked, 40% whole bunch pressed and fermented in 225L barrels, 20% new.  Mariëtte Stofberg Coetzee is the winemaker.

 

 

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