Vergelegen is one of South Africa’s finest producers of premium wines. It’s located in an idyllic setting just 6 km from the sea with sloping mountainside vineyards, and winemaker André Van Rensburg is one of South Africa’s most passionate winemakers. In 2013 in an effort to take quality even higher, André asked Michel Rolland, whose he knew from his time at Napa’s Harlan Estate, to come in as consulting winemaker with a principal focus on overall strategy and blending. We stopped by Vergelegen in Somerset West a couple of weeks ago to revisit the winery and to taste current releases with André. Our reviews follow.
Vergelegen is an especially beautiful and scenic, estate with expansive views of mountains and False Bay from the hilltop winery where we tasted. It’s also an historic estate, having been granted to Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel in 1700 by the Dutch East India Company. Van der Stel turned the wilderness into orchard and vineyards with Semillon reputedly the most planted variety. His original homestead survives today, framed by the 300 year old Camphor trees that he planted. Anglo-American PLC, one of the world’s largest global mining groups, purchased the estate in 1987, replanted the vineyards, and took out alien vegetation so that today the 3 thousand ha estate is home only to the native Fynbos. Nature took a nasty turn in early 2017 with fires that destroyed 15 hectares of Vergelegen’s oldest vineyard parcels.
While part of the Stellenbosch appellation, Vergelegen’s proximity to and direct exposure to the sea gives it a very different climate. Cooler than the Stellenbosch vineyards to the north, harvests begin later and end later at Vergelegen, finishing with Cabernet Sauvignon which in cooler years isn’t picked until early May, giving the fruit longer hang time than most other growing areas. The virus-free vineyards at Vergelegen total 120 hectares, about 60% Cabernet Sauvignon. Total production is 40 thousand cases, about half exported with the UK being the principal foreign market. The US importer is Black Hawk Imports.
Vergelegen 2014 MMV Brut Reserve Stellenbosch 91 Incisive aromas of toasted grain and citrus. Fresh and focused with good textural finesse and a fine mousse. Finishes bright and long. One of South Africa’s better Blanc de Blancs, in our opinion, but only sold at the winery. About 400 cs produced. Made from old vine Chardonnay grown on the estate, pressed gently in a small wood basket press, fermented and aged 12 months in neutral oak with frequent battonage before going through a second fermentation and 3+ years on the lees. 7 g/L RS Disgorged April 20, 2018
Vergelegen 2017 Sauvignon Blanc Stellenbosch 90Tropical citrus and light herbal aromas. Round and full on a medium weight palate with nuanced flavors of ripe fruit balanced by racy acidity. A blend of fruit from Vergelegen’s 16 blocks (40 ha) of Sauvignon Blanc, all hand picked and small portion barrel fermented. Excellent value from a very good vintage.
Vergelegen 2017 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve Schaapenberg Vineyard 92 Richly aromatic with whiffs of exotic tropical and passion fruit and hints of herbs. Creamy, full mouth feel with complex notes of passion fruit, citrus rind, and gooseberry. Excellent balancing acidity. Sourced from the dry farmed, south facing, wind exposed Schaapenberg Vineyard at 320m altitude with decomposed granite soils. Gently pressed after 24 hours skin contact, then settled and fermented and aged in 25hl wooden vats of Austrian oak.
Vergelegen 2017 Semillon Reserve Stellenbosch 93 Shows citrus with hints of rose petal and bay leaf aromas. Good density of primary citrus flavors on a firmly structured palate. Delicious now but Andre says secondary and tertiary components will add complexity and interest with time, and the wine will peak at 5-7 years of age. Sourced from a 35 year old, direct south facing, low yielding (3.5 tons/ha) vineyard called Koorhans after the Southern Black Korhaans bird that used to be common in this part of the Western Cape. Whole bunch pressed, settled overnight and then put straight into lightly toasted oak barrels, about 35% new, where it spends about 10 months on the lees before blending. A superb Semillon from an excellent vintage.
Vergelegen 2015 GVB White Stellenbosch 94 Vibrant, effusive bouquet with suggestions of honey and herbs. Creamy and full in the mouth with beautiful fruit seamlessly integrated with honeyed oak. Tropical notes late-arriving acidity appear on a prolonged finish. A 60/40 blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, this is the first GVB vintage with Michel Rolland’s touch, which includes raising the percentage of Semillon. It was also one of South Africa’s best vintages in recent memory. The Semillon is fermented in 225L barriques, about half new with no malo. The Sauvignon Blanc is fermented in 500L light toasted barrels, 20% new. Blended about a month before bottling and then given 2 years in bottle before release.
Vergelegen 2017 Chardonnay Stellenbosch 91 Light yellow straw. Delightful, fresh orchard fruit and honeyed lemon drop on the nose. Full on the palate with fresh minerality and nuanced flavors in and easy drinking style. Like all the Vergelegen wines, the oak is beautifully integrated. About 1/3 malo. Matured in lightly toasted barriques.
Vergelegen 2016 Chardonnay Reserve Stellenbosch 93 Medium yellow straw. Sumptuous, highly complex bouquet with lifted floral notes. Admirable weight and concentration with sizzling freshness and pronounced minerality. Outstanding depth and seamless integration with flinty notes. About 40% malo; matured 12+ months in 40% new French oak. About 600 cs produced.
Vergelegen 2016 Shiraz Stellenbosch 90 Medium dark red. Spicy crushed dark plum and mulberry nose aromas. Nice depth on the palate with hints of green tobacco complementing ripe fruit with fresh acidity, fine grained tannins, and a long back end. Sourced form one of Vergelegen’s warmer sites with northwest exposure at just 100m above sea level. Matured 16 months in barrel, 25% new. 1 thousand cs produced.
Vergelegen 2015 Shiraz Reserve Stellenbosch 92 Enticing scents of ripe red fruit give way to a full bodied palate of opulent fruit lifted by bright red berry notes. A generous, richly flavored wine showing good breadth, seamless tannins, and a persistent aftertaste. Aged in 20% new oak for 17 months.
Vergelegen 2013 DNA Stellenbosch 91 Semi-opaque. Cabernet Franc asserts itself on the richly aromatic nose of the 2013 DNA. It’s seamless and rich with Cabernet Franc’s tobacco leaf character, good backbone and fine firm tannins. A blend of 75% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon from Vergelegen’s Kopland and Rooiland vineyards matured in new French 225L barriques for 16 months.
Vergelegen 2013 Merlot Reserve Stellenbosch 90 Gamey, dark fruit on the nose is mirrored on the suave, seamless palate with additional licorice and plum nuances. Finishes long with round tannins. Easy drinking but the gaminess may not be for everyone. 100% Merlot matured in 225L French oak barriques for 16 months.
Vergelegen 2014 The Mistake Merlot Stellenbosch 92 Semi-opaque. Sourced from a special, single vineyard, this is a step up from the Merlot Reserve. An elegant wine with saturated aromas and flavors of dark fruit with a seamless, silky palate. Dense and firmly tannic. 100% Merlot matured 2 years in barrel, 75% new. 250 cs.
Vergelegen 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Stellenbosch 92 Beautiful nose of sweet currant and plum accented by spice and dried herbs. Astounding purity and refinement on a silky, harmonious palate. Finishes very long with supple, compact tannins. A blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot sourced from Vergelegen’s Rooiland Vineyards. Aged 22 months in barrel, 35% new. Excellent but doesn’t quite match up to the richer 2012 vintage.
Vergelegen 2013 GVB Red Blend Stellenbosch 93 Semi-opaque. Complex nose of tobacco and cedar accented, earthy black currant. Rich and dense on a very fine, silky palate with well integrated toasty oak. Elegantly textured with fine firm tannins. A blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot from Rondekop Vineyards and matured 2 years in all new oak.
Vergelegen 2012 V Stellenbosch 94 Aromas recall spicy, cedar inflected cassis and plum. A supremely polished, dark fruited wine showing dense flavors and silky refinement. Firmly structured with rich extract, this is a wine with a long life ahead of it. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the relatively sheltered, warmer Stone Pine IV vineyard with west-northwest exposure. Matured 2 years in all new French oak and 3 years in bottle before release.