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!”
Nina-Mari and ErnstBruwer
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 023 626 4052.