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Just when I thought I was getting to know most corners of the fair Breede  River valley, I discover another vista as a mountainous green landscape unfolds before me, timeless, beautiful and secluded.

This makes the setting for a tasting of world-class wines on an historic Robertson farm. Created by a highly talented and exuberant winemaker and her hospitable supportive man - current curators of no less than three wine-grape farms - the recently released range is already making its mark among connoisseurs.   

Welcome to Mont Blois!

A scant six kilometres from the suburban boundary of Robertson lies a different world. De Hoop road winds upwards to the foothills of the Langeberg mountains, and, near its end, the signpost for Mont Blois indicates a rustic path threading past stores and outbuildings to reveal a wonderful old silo, a venerable cellar, and two farmsteads on different levels. Immaculately maintained, the mid-19th century gabled home stares east over a  patchwork of vineyards to a series of conical hills. They’re densely cloaked with indigenous bush, interspersed with dark ,deep, dank kloofs, where forestation is reminiscent of the Tsitsikamma, and little sunshine penetrates. Shy baboons forage, keeping clear of human habitation and the Cape leopard stalks the tracks, only the camera trap occasionally recording his presence.

Taking the eye further, the  layer beyond  is the blue-grey ripple of the Langeberg, today pale and somewhat amorphous under a cloudless azure sky.

Nodding in agreement as I exclaim over the beauty, Nina-Mari Bruwer adds: “I said to Ernst that I hope never to wake up to any other view than this!” Well said...

Nina-Mari and ErnstBruwer

 

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The first Bruwer to settle in the broad river valley would surely be amazed at the extent of his family that inhabit the farms, several  of whom make enjoyable wine. Ernst, a sixth-generation descendant, met Nina-Mari at Stellenbosch university, where they both studied oenology and viticulture . Nina-Mari hails from Pretoria, started a BSc, then moved to wine studies in her second  year. After graduating this CWM  enjoyed working stints in a series of top cellars – Boekenhoutskloof, Thelema and a harvest in Bordeaux -, before marrying and settling on Mont Blois, a farm which had a history of producing fine muscadels in the 1980’s before a family tragedy saw production cease.

Ernst  sells grapes to cellars near and far for both bulk and fine wine production,including Franschhoek. Between producing two daughters, Nina-Mari did the farm admin, but made time to experiment in a corner of the old cellar, using its venerable basket press and old French oak barrels. Here she started fulfilling an ambition to  make excellent wine simply in the traditional way, with minimal interference, using mostly natural yeasts. She is lucky enough to have distinctly different terroirs from which to source her harvests; including  limestone, gravel, alluvial clay near the Breede river,and red Karoo clay on Mont Blois. The soils are distributed between Mont Blois, neighbouring farm La Fontaine and Goedemoed near the Breede river.

The wines

 

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Nina-Mari  has released a pair of charming chardonnays, both 2016 single vineyard wines, both having matured in second and third-fill French oak and both unfiltered. They also share hues of pale gold, unusually for young chardonnay, but on the nose and palate differences emerge. Simple traditional winemaking was used, including an old manual basket press.

Kweekamp, sourced from vines rooted in limestone, is the more elegant of the two. Aromas of orange and sweet rough-skin lemon along with flint  are followed by an effortless blend of minerality and fruit on the palate. Making a delightful spring aperitif, it would require delicate fare of gourmet standards not to overwhelm it.

Hoog & Laag,  sourced from vines in red  Karoo clay, has a brisker character, presenting citrus and nuts on the nose, more nuttiness backed by fresh, almost frisky notes on the palate. With alcohol levels of 13,5%, it should make a lively companion to a range of summery fare ,from complex salads to white meat classics.

Nina-Mari’s complex chenin is named, simply Groot Steen 2016, another single vineyard wine from 30-year-old vines planted in riverside alluvial clay.  A powerful, rich chenin,  with a nose that’s almost bewildering in its multitude of aromas, Spices predominate slightly, cardamom is there, a little cinnamon, and a few robust herbs – particularly bay leaves. A little unfashionably high in alcohol levels at 14%, but these are not evident.

 On re-tasting the following morning, this chenin revealed its chameleon character, with flavours developing to offer  spiced preserved fruit beautifully balanced by discernible backbone. It could make a fine match for several Cape Malay classics, along with North African tagines. Up there with the best from any region!

The tasting ended with the Mont Blois single vineyard Pomphuis Muscadel 2016, 500ml of dessert pleasure produced from 26-year-old vines sited on a hot rocky gravel slope. Unfiltered, having spent a year in old French oak it’s packed with  stone fruit, melon, raisins and more, yet also fresh and sprightly. Delightful in youth, but will gain character and offer more syrupy enjoyment as the years tick on.

The whites retail at R295, the muscadel at R250. These are connoisseur products that raise the Robertson bar to new and exciting heights.

Looking back, looking forward

Winemaker Bruwer has several reds up her sleeve, - a pinotage, cab, shiraz and petit verdot are all maturing in second and third-fill barrel. They may be released singly, they may end up in a fine blend – that’s a decision for the future.  And she’s contemplating a dry muscat, among other ideas

Mont Blois – which enjoyed a fine reputation for superior muscadels back in the 1980’s – is back on the Robertson wine map in a significant way. The venerable silo, with its warm patina of age, is set to play a new role as the farm’s tasting centre – simple  renovations,  just installing electricity and running water, nothing glitzy, I am happy to hear.

Curious to find out about the original Blois, I went to Wikipedia which  reveals that it’s an ancient city on the banks of the Loire,  regional capital of Loir-et-Cher, between Orléans and Tours. Chenin country, I surmise. No sign of vineyards there today, Nina-Mari tells me, when she and Ernst visited recently. And – in the town museum – no visible record of a Bruwer either! Ah well, maybe it took travel to a new continent to establish his legacy. He could hardly hope for a better one than that which the owners of Mont Blois are providing.

Where to find them

The Mont Blois quartet is stocked by some good wine boutiques in Cape Town. Winelovers are welcome to contact the farm for tastings and more info. Email info@montblois.co.za or call 023 626 4052.

                        

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Cannot remember ever being disappointed in a bottle from Rickety Bridge over the last several years. Cellarmaster Wynand Grobler recently released the new vintages of his intriguing Mediterranean-style blends, a voguish and captivating range named The Foundation Stone and sporting labels as trendy as the contents of the bottles.

 Previous vintages  have attracted a steady list of  awards from local competitions as well as from UK’s Tim Atkin and the Far East. Each year the blends evolve as Grobler tweaks varietals and quantities, and  brings in grapes from regions other than Franschhoek.

The Foundation Stone Rosé 2017 offers just what most discerning  winelovers expect in current pinks: this blend of 48% Grenache Noir with 34% Shiraz, 15% Mourvèdre and a splash of Viognier presents Provencal-style wine that’s dry, fresh, and full of berry flavours . Grobler matured just 10% in small French oak, which adds a little spice to a summer wine for every al fresco occasion. Selling at around R80.

Tops of the trio for me is The Foundation Stone White 2016, a Chenin-led (46%) meld with 22% Roussanne, 18% Grenache Blanc, 11% Viognier and a splash of Nouvelle – unusual add-on. The components spent 10 months in separate barrels before blending, which has help to produce a delicious wine, restrained blossom and stone fruit on the nose, presenting rich, well-balanced flavours on the palate, that can be enjoyed as an aperitif, but will come into its own with gourmet poultry dishes, and some Asian creations. Selling for around R100.

The Foundation Stone Red 2014 is comprised of grapes sourced from Franschhoek, Swartland and the Breede river, consisting of 41% Shiraz, 25% Mourvèdre, 23%Grenache Noir. 6% Cinsaut and 5% Tannat. An interesting mix and a fascinating wine, barrel-matured for 18 months ahead of blending. Along with berry flavours, pepper and tobacco is present on the nose, and layers of flavour follow one another on the palate. Enjoyable already, but could impress further after a couple of years’ cellaring. This will make a fine companion to any red meat, along with ostrich dishes. Selling for around R100.

Hopefuly  these will be available for tasting at the forthcoming Franschhoek Uncorked fest in mid-September. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

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When you havekingfor a surname and those who celebrate your 17th century winemaking tradition produce a patrician rosé in your name, the whole concept of provincial Provençal wines is elevated to premium status. This is emphasised by a beautiful bottle embossed with the founders initials – JR – which encloses a delectable pale coppery blend. It presents an unique Cape tribute from Franschhoek to a feisty pioneer from the village of Lourmarin in southern France.

Jean Roi Cap Provincial Rosé  2016  flows from the lovely L'Ormarins estate, where the creators of Anthonij Rupert Wyne have added this new limited edition maiden release -  a blend of 70% Cinsaut, 28%Grenache and 2% Shiraz -  to their ranges. 

 

The nose  offers delicate  wafts of blossom and and melon, preceding flavours of stone fruit and melon and a citrussy friskiness. But this is no fruit salad - on the palate is  a medium-bodied  wine, its backbone presenting quiet characteristics of the trio of components, led by the gentler cinsaut rather than either of the others.. Moderate alcohol levels of 13,5% are in keeping with current trends, although higher than some consumers are demanding. 

Honouring their  founder  is not the sole reason for its production: Good rosés are part of an increasing international trend in the USA as well as the UK as the favourite aperitif and food wines among enthusiasts, gourmets and connoisseurs. High summer there, so the right time for opening Jean Roi morning, noon and night...

Here in South Africa midwinter days that are sun-drenched, windless, with cloudless skies are frequent enough, so no need to wait until spring to open a bottle of this patrician blend to toast the weekend. Or to pair with seafood and salads,  poultry and perfumed creations from Persia, Turkey and Iran. It could also well complement a Cape Malay bobotie that includes dried fruit. You will need a corkscrew, however, something to bear in mind if taking it on a gourmet picnic.

At R300 this rosé announces its intentions to be right on top of its class, with good reason. Available from the farm, online and at select wine shops.

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Jason’s Hill, like the neighbouring Slanghoek cellars, enjoys the benefit of occupying one of the Boland’s most beautiful sites, the secluded valley that produces great wine and fruit with little fanfare.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Jaons-Hill.jpg  Along with a hiking trail and a function facility, the farm offers a range of wines both affordable and enjoyable. Winemaker Ivy du Toit has headed the cellar for many years, and her latest release is in keeping with her individual style: its a new version of her Cape Blend, named Jason’s Creek, sporting a revamped label and two award stickers. The 2015 vintage is made up of half pinotage with 35% petit verdot and finished with 15% tannat. The wine spent 10 months in French oak and offers plenty to chew on, juicy with berry fruit, a touch of spice, tannins quite prominent. If kept these should soften and the results should be smooth and savoury, but its fine for autumn braais, potjies and casseroles right now. Well-priced at R70 from the farm, also available at various city outlets.  For more info, log onto their website at www.jasonshill.co.za  and a plan a trip to this enchanting valley..

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Last year the Griers decided that their venerable bush vine (unirrigated) sauvignon blanc vineyard, renowned for  berries that produce an unique, intense wine, was worthy of special treatment. Barrel maturation would allow the intensity to feature, while the trendy egg-shaped tank would be used for partial skin fermentation. French oak – half new wood, half old – was used to complete fermentation, and batonage occurred weekly. The wine was stabilised and bottled after three months.

The result – Villiera Bush vine Blanc Fumé 2016 - a delicious wine that b2ap3_thumbnail_Villiera-Bush-Vine-Blanc-Fume-2016.jpgfascinates while it impresses: Harking back to the era when blanc fumes were much in vogue, yet presenting a thoroughly modern version, where frisky freshness nicely complements the structure and figgy and green notes are mellowed by gentle oaking.  It is certain to age with grace and should partner a range of white meat dishes and autumnal vegetarian combos with panache, including various fungi.  Alcohol levels of 13% and residual sugar of 2,5g/l are, I  am sure, accompanied by a minimal use of sulphites as I experienced no problem in relishing it. It sells for R144 and is pithily described by Jeff Grier as “Grown on old bush vine vineyards. Hatched from an egg. Matured in a barrel.”

 

What other updates from this family farm that does much to conserve the environment without being certified organic? Most winelovers know that the cellar is solar-powered and that both the Owethu clinic and The Pebbles Project,  are  centred at  Villiera: these important facilities continue to progress, while the Early Childhood Development Centre has enjoyed a renovation.

 

New additions to the estate, both four- and two-legged include kudu, waterbuck and wildebeest, with game drives in demand at least twice daily in season.

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The two-legged newcomers are a pair of youthful winemakers, being Nathan Valentine, whose childhood in the Stellenbosch winelands led him to complete a BAgric degree at Elsenburg while spending vacations working in the Villiera tasting centre. He followed this with stints at DeMorgenzon and Chandon in California  before returning to Villiera. A vintage at Domaine Grier in southern France preceded his appointment at the home farm.

Nathan will be joined by another member of the Grier family, namely Xander, sonb2ap3_thumbnail_Villiera-Xander-and-Bianca---DG.jpg of David Grier, known to South Africans as an extraordinary adventurer for worthy causes. Xander has already notched up cellar and viticultural experience in Napa Valley, Australia, France, Tasmania and Elgin before returning to the Cape where he worked at Villiera and at la Vierge in the Hemel-en-Aarde.

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We wish them well with their careers at an estate where  visits and vision, value and versatility  feature as major attractions.

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