Monday, October 29, 2012

Cape Point Winery & Chapman’s Peak, South Africa

Thursday, Sept. 27 – I awoke to sunshine, which was nice because we were driving to Cape Point that morning. The winding mountain road from downtown Capetown to the ocean road passing along the large rock buttresses of the 12 Apostles was breathtaking. As we passed Clifton beaches number 4 and 5, our leader explained that these are the most famous as more celebreties can be found at these two white sand areas than the other three.

Chapman’s Peak – Famous View of Capetown

After driving about 30 minutes along the winding ocean view road, the van stopped at Chapman’s Peak Lookout (see photo above). This is a world-famous view of the surging waves, cliffs, unique mountain formations and Capetown with its beaches in the distance. After a group photo, we continued down the narrow cliff road – which reminded me very much of Highway 1 along Big Sur in California – until we came to the town of Noordhoek, which is known for its long white beach known for surfing.

Cape Point Vineyards

In addition to surfing, Noordhoek is also known as the home of Cape Point Winery, the southern most winery in the Cape area. It should be noted that Cape Point is not really the most southern tip of Africa, as many people believe. That point is about a 3 hour drive south from Capetown and is where the cold Atlantic and warm Indian oceans meet.

Cape Point Winery is situated in the foothills above Noordhoek with a sweeping view of the ocean and beach below. Their motto is “surf and wine,” and their hillside vineyards are a good example of extreme viticulture because the vines are battered by “southeasterners” – rough wind and salt-laden rain. This causes the skins to toughen up, creating more flavor and character in the wine. They only grow sauvignon blanc, semillion and chardonnay. Duncan, the winemaker said they planted pinot noir, but it did not fair well in the rough environment.

Production is 30,000 cases, but this includes a negotiant brand called “Splattered Toad” – rather clever name. ( I accidently called it “Squished Frog.”) They source the grapes from other places around the Cape. The wine is named after the leopard frogs that congregate in the evenings outside the front gate of the winery. It is a sauvignon blanc and is fresh, approachable with an herbal nose, lime on the palate and a semi-sweet finish.

We tasted through 8 wines, and I was most impressed by the 2010 and 2011 sauvignon/semillon blends. Earlier vintages had a lot of the green herbal charactertistics that are popular in South Africa, but the later vintages were perfumed with floral, grapefruit and even some pineapple notes. My favorite was the 2010 Cape Point Reserve which was a 90% sauvignon blanc and 10% semillion blend aged in 600 liter neutral barrel for 14 months. It has a ripe pineapple/grapefruit nose with lemon the palate and a crisp acid with very long finish. Other favorites were the 2010 Cape Point Isliedh Vineyard and the 2011 Cape Point Sauvignon Blanc.

The “Dribble Test” for Wine Acid Levels

While there, one British MW showed us the “dribble test” which he uses to determine the acid level of a wine. You taste the wine, spit it out, then lean over and see how much “dribble” come out of your mouth. The more dribble, the higher the acid. An interesting party trick.

Use of Amphora at Cape Point Vineyards

Duncan primarily ferments his wines in stainless steel and 600 liter barrels, but recently he has added amphora made of South African clay. It is necessary to place the amphora in a refrigerated crates to maintain cooler temperatures. In general, he inoculates with commercial yeast, and will use battonage if the acids are very high and the wine needs more texture.

The Hillside Vineyards of Cape Point
After the tasting, we drove to the vineyard blocks to learn about farming practices. The soil is a mixture of sandstone and clay. Average temperature in summer is only 21 (70 F), so it is quite a cool climate. They have 20 hectares of vineyards that were planted in 2000 on 8 x 4 spacing. They use a short VSP trellis, which is spur pruned with double cordon and a kicker cane on the sauvignon blanc to help deflect vigor. De-leafing is performed to insure the clusters get enough sun and heat to prevent green notes in the wine. Tonnage averages 4.5 per hectare.

Sustainable farming is used with some Round-up applied to combat weeds. Rocks are also placed under the vines to help keep them warm. Fava beans and mustard are planted as cover crops, and there were plenty of spring flowers to be seen. They do not have baboons in the vineyard here, but a leopard was recently sighted in a neighboring vineyard. The main pests are beetles and mealy. Birds are not a threat so they don’t need to net the vines.

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