Elgin – coastal cool climate gems from the Cape
A southerly view from the vineyards of the Iona Wine Farm
Elgin WO (Wine of Origin) is one of the smaller wine districts in South Africa’s Cape wine lands and is now a part of the Cape South Coast region, which includes a number of cooler climate winegrowing areas. Located around an hour’s drive east of Cape Town the vineyards are moderated by cooling breezes from the ocean and planted at altitude in sandstone soils in the shadow of the Hottentot Holland Mountains.
As you might expect cool climate varieties Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are successful here. In some of the warmer plots Rhône and other later ripening red varieties are also providing some elegant and intense examples. The key though in this marginal climate is a successful, full ripening of the fruit. The wines covered here are among highlights from my Spring tastings. It is also worth noting the great value all offer.
The Iona Wine Farm has vineyards planted on a plateau at an altitude of over 400 metres despite its close proximity to the sea and these are farmed biodynamically. The site has proved particularly suitable for varietally pure and intense Sauvignon Blanc and the 2015 is no exception. Elegant and youthfully restrained the wine has an edgy minerality. With 60% of the vineyard planted to the variety and a number of clones this is commercially the most important of the small Iona range. Vinified block, by block, a small proportion of Semillon is included and the wine gets a short period on stirred lees, both adding weight and texture.
As well as their excellent Pinot Noir of real interest is the red 2010 One Man Band a fascinating combination of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Mourvèdre. Spicy black fruits are underpinned with a hint of pepper and cedar. All the varieties come from the warmest sites on the property. Readers should also be aware of Iona’s classy, elegant Burgundian styled barrel-fermented Chardonnay.
Owner and winemaker Richard Kershaw (Richard Kershaw Wines) produces some very impressive Chardonnay and Syrah. He is a rarity; a Master of Wine and a winemaker. The property is very young, established only in 2012. The 2014 Clonal Selection Chardonnay comes from vineyards planted to low yielding Dijon clones. The result is a subtly barrel-fermented wine with a restrained mineral, citrus and white fruits quality.
The 2013 Clonal Selection Syrah is very much in the fresh, elegant style of the variety but offering real depth and intensity. Not dissimilar to a fine Côte Rôtie, it is a style marked by restrained black fruits and pepper and underpinned by supple, polished tannins. The wine is vinified by gravity without any pumping and is bottled free of additives.
Highlands Road Estate make a small range of well crafted reds and particularly whites. 2013 Sine Cera is their most striking wine, a characterful Graves styled blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. There is minimal intervention in the vinification and the wine offers an attractive mix of green fruits and citrus with an impressive flint and mineral depth and intensity. Expect it to develop well for another couple of years.
A number of wineries based outside Elgin also produce excellent wines from the region. The Stellenbosch based Winery of Good Hope produce a very fine, elegant Pinot Noir under their Radford Dale label. The 2014 Freedom Pinot Noir follows the approach taken by owner Alex Dale in producing elegant wines with drinkability and restrained alcohol levels. It is fresh, aromatic and full of red fruits coming from three separate vineyards.
Pieter Walser makes an extensive range of really fine small lot wines from across the Cape at his small Somerset West base. His 2015 BLANKbottle Im Hinterhofkabuff is a stylish, crisp impressively intense single vineyard Riesling with a fine mix of green fruits, citrus and a mineral core. Vinification is minimal intervention, no sulphur prior to fermentation, which is in larger old wooden barrels. A second Blankbottle Elgin white is also worth noting, Dok, a blend of Riesling, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.
A number of other successful wineries are based in the WO. Paul Cluver produces excellent Riesling and Chardonnay as well as a very fine Pinot Noir, Seven Flags. Catherine Marshall is also a source of fine Pinot Noir as well as a Syrah/Mouvèdre/Grenache from vineyard sources in Paarl and Malmesbury. Oak Valley are notable for their striking fresh and zesty Chardonnay.
Iona Wine Farm
Richard Kershaw Wines
Highlands Road Estate
Winery of Good Hope