Fruits of a purer vine

When you sit down to enjoy a glass of wine, do you ever stop to think about what goes into it?

Discovering that wine is not just a product of nature’s bounty can be quite a shock.

Firstly, there are all the fertilisers and chemicals used in the vineyard to control pests and disease. It’s no better in the winery — the list of permitted substances that can be used reads like a mad scientist’s handbook. A spot of copper oxychloride (to control mildew), ammonium sulphate (to kick-start fermentation) or PVPP (to reduce bitterness) anyone?

Of course these additives are not dangerous to human health. But growing public interest in the benefits of more naturally produced food is spreading to wine, with a steady increase in the number of farmers going down the organic route. In many countries around the world sales of organic wine have exploded, and the trend is catching on here in South Africa.

Just a decade ago, organic often equalled lousy quality and many of us felt you needed to wear a woolly beany to drink the stuff. But there are now around 10 certified organic farms, including Reyneke, Avondale, Waverley Hills, Laibach, Lazanou, Upland, Stellar, Org de Rac and Bon Cap, with many more about to get the official stamp. Other producers and retailers such as Tukulu, Rooiberg and Woolworths have organic, no sulphur-added or sustainable-specific ranges.

Organic in South Africa means wine that has been made with organically-produced grapes. This means it affects more to what happens in the vineyard than the winery, and preservatives such as sulphur dioxide can still be used. It’s a way of farming that views the vineyard as a living ecological system, rejecting the use of herbicides,

While organic farming is definitely better for the environment, is it better for quality?

Delicious by design
Organic and biodynamic producer Johan Reyneke certainly believes so after his wines went on to win a whole clutch of awards and 5-star Platter status after he converted his vineyards. “I believe it is a synergy between respect for nature and respect for people that will help you improve the quality of your product”, he says. “But there is no use being organic or biodynamic by neglect — you have to do it by design.”

He compares the taste differences to Dolly Parton (conventional wine) versus French actress Juliette Binoche (organic/biodynamic wine) — one is more immediately big and blousy but fades quickly, while the other is more elegant, reserved and long-lasting. Corne Marais, winemaker at organic farm Avondale, believes organic wine is a more natural expression of where it comes from. “The wine is more of a true expression of the region because of less interference, and there is a wider range of flavours”, he says.

In order to test the theory, I tasted through 19 organic wines with a group of friends and experts. I also sampled the organic wines at WineX in Joburg. We were interested to see if there was a common stylistic thread. While these may have nothing to do with them being organic, we noticed all the wines were gentle and harmonious, with no greenness of flavour and good structure.

Upland Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Most of us had never heard of this tiny Wellington estate but this was an outright winner. Aromas of aniseed, blackberry, cloves and tea leaves, beautifully structured with a velvety texture. (R110, organicwine.co.za)

Bon Cap The Perfect Blend 2009

This blend of cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and pinotage is jam-packed with notes of sweet spice, mocha, savoury stew and is quite Rhône-like. Very easy to drink! (R70, Checkers or cellar door)

Reyneke Reserve Red 2008

70% shiraz and 30% cabernet sauvignon. Fantastic intensity of flavour and elegance with warming spice, plum and mineral notes. A comforting and tranquil wine — like a hug on a cold night. (R320, [email protected])

Bon Cap The Ruins Pinotage 2009

This is quite light and zesty for a pinotage. Lots of red fruit character, a hint of toasted nuts. Feminine, floral, joyous and very good value! (R45 cellar, R39.99 Checkers where it is sold under the Green House label)

Upland Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

This is more of an excitable child compared to its older sibling. Loads of bright fruit, tannins and a chunky structure. (R80)

Bon Cap Cap Classique 2006
We couldn’t believe how fresh this was considering its age. Honeysuckle and grapefruit notes with a hint of yeasty brioche. Delicious. (R110 cellar, R99 Checkers)

Waverley Hills Shiraz Mourvèdre Viognier 2009
Packed with notes of juicy plums, stewed prunes and the viognier adds a hint of floral perfume. Also, Peppermint Crisp on the nose! An honest, well-made wine. (R72)

Bon Cap The Ruins Chardonnay/Viognier 2011

Unashamedly girly nose of tutti-frutti ice-cream, violet sweets, candied pineapple and tinned pears. But there are hidden depths, layers of flavour and a lingering finish.(R45 cellar, R39.99 Checkers where it is sold under the Green House label)

Waverley Hills Semillon/Chardonnay 2009
There is a green herbal note, which gives way to a fresh, fruity and rounded white. A soft and pleasing wine. (R45)

Stellar Organics Chenin Blanc/Sauvignon 2011
Would be ideal for a (cheap) girls’ night in or as a braai wine. Sherbet, greengage, peach notes with a hint of tropical weight. Not exactly complex but at that price who’s complaining? (R22, cellar door only)

I also tasted the organic wines at WineX and my favourites were the Avondale Cyclus 2009 (R200), Avondale Samsara Syrah 2006 (R280) and Reyneke Chenin Blanc 2010 (R100).


Go to www.eatout.co.za for more restaurant listings and reviews.

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertisting

SABC sued over ‘bad’ clip of Ramaphosa

A senior employee at the public broadcaster wants compensation for claims of ‘sabotage’

Soundtrack to a pandemic: Africa’s best coronavirus songs

Drawing on lessons from Ebola, African artists are using music to convey public health messaging. And they are doing it in style

In East Africa, the locusts are coming back for more

In February the devastating locust swarms were the biggest seen in East Africa for 70 years. Now they’re even bigger

Western Cape Judge Mushtak Parker faces second misconduct complaint

The Cape Bar Council says his conduct is ‘unbecoming the holding of judicial office’

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories