Beating the revival drum

If you hear the thunder of hooves and think that the horsemen of the apocalypse are presaging the end of days, fear not. It might just be the latest headline grabbing wine launch in the south-western corner of the Cape!

A release which caused a stir and made headlines in Afrikaans newspapers was that of former clergyman Bertus van Niekerk, a garagiste from Somerset West who makes wine in his spare time. He took a page out of the Bible – and launched his Revelations 6:4 by taking the verse literally – and having a naked bareback rider astride a horse and smiting a mighty sword!

Other than the fact that it was a white horse and not a red one and a woman rather than a man as the good book stated, the other noteworthy thing was that the wine itself is a Cinsaut, the humble grape once crossed with Pinot Noir to create Pinotage.

“You can’t buy the sort of publicity that he got,” said Teddy Hall, a winemaker renowned for his love of Chenin Blanc who attended the launch. “He’s got me rethinking Cinsaut!” So what’s the wine like? “Honestly? I thought it was like the old Hamilton Russell Pinot Noirs when they were made with the BK5 clone – super-juicy and delicious. If you gave that wine to me in a blind tasting I would have said it was an old-style South African Pinot Noir.”

Hall said he had no idea whether the wine would last two years or 10. “But if I had a case or two of it, it wouldn’t last more than a month! It’s so yummy and delicious that I’d be hard-pressed to keep any!”

Interestingly, the link to Pinot Noir and ageability is what kick-started one of the Cape Winemakers Guild’s first protégés, Howard Booysen’s, Cinsaut search too. “I was looking for Pinot Noir fruit to vinify and couldn’t get the quality I wanted – so I decided to go with Cinsaut since it was one of the ‘parents’ of Pinotage.” His first 6 500 bottles of 2011 has almost sold out and it’s been so well received that he’s upped production in 2012.

Viticulturist Rosa Kruger pronounces herself “highly excited” by the grape. “Some of our oldest vineyards are Cinsaut and if cropped at the right levels and with good attention to viticulture, they are capable of producing outstanding wines. But it’s essential you get it right in the vineyards.”

In her opinion, Cinsaut provides the best expression of South Africa’s climate. She warned, however, that it was a grape not suited to cool climate areas. It needs heat to bring out the best fruit expression. Eben Sadie echoed her sentiments. “It’s the grape which has adapted best to the local conditions but the farming of Cinsaut is critical. It’s always a challenge as a young vine and takes a few years before it starts producing at its best – but then that young vine fruit can be used for rosé.”

Sadie’s 100% Cinsaut from 47 year old vines, Pofadder, which forms part of his Ouwingerdreeks is especially close to his heart and he said it’s the most challenging to work with. “I made a lot of Cinsaut in my early days as a winemaker because those days Cabernet and Merlot weren’t as common as they are now. Also it’s got such a fantastic history in South African wine, having been used in old Rustenbergs and other fantastic blends. Swartland Co-op used to make an unbelievable Cinsaut – and these wines aged incredibly well. The grape’s got a very interesting tannin structure – even though it doesn’t necessarily deliver that deep colour of other grapes – but those tannins mean it can last and age very well.” Most of his fellow Swartland revivalists believe in the grape and use it in their red blends. “Nobody here talks about it any more because it’s just such an automatic inclusion because of what it adds to a blend,” Sadie said.

Booysen’s view mirrors that of Sadie. He paid tribute to Vergenoegd and the KWV for making good Cinsaut “back in the day”. “I had some old bottles of their wines from the 80’s that had aged incredibly well and were still drinking nicely – so it’s obvious that it’s capable of ageing. “Everyone thinks that Cinsaut equals Tassies (Tassenberg) and plonk but ultimately I want to change that thinking so that people realise it’s got the potential to make good quality and age well.”

Expressive fruit was one of the primary criteria for Booysen’s wine. “I’ve tried to make it fruit forward and very accessible – which is fairly easy with Cinsaut – and the bonus is that it is only 12.5% alcohol. It’s so drinkable and customers love it! It’s sad that almost no-one bottles Cinsaut anymore.”

The Howard Booysen Cinsaut sells for R55 a bottle while Van Niekerk’s Revelation, being made in minute volumes, is R200 and the Pofadder is part of the Ouwingerdreeks which sells for around R3 500.

  • In an interesting      footnote: Van Niekerk specified in his invitation that places were limited      to the first 20 folk to respond positively. Reports from those there were      that many wanted to attend but were somewhat scared off by the fact that      it took place at a ‘clothing optional’ naturist resort!
  • The Cambridge edition of      the King James Bible relates that the Revelations 6:4 verse reads as      follows: “And there went out another horse that was red: and power was      given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they      should kill one another: and there was given unto him a mighty sword.”


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