Caption: Willem Blou gets to grips with the sauvignon blanc arriving at Diemersdal for the 2016 Durbanville Twelve.
Photograph: Neels Kleynhans.
Caption: Brunch in a cellar
Dedicated, determined – and delicious. The first two adjectives apply to the winemakers and owners of the string of wine farms that lies across the Durbanville valley. The last applies to the sauvignon blanc that is a blend of the grapes of a dozen cellars – and it could also be ascribed to the more appealing of the valley winemakers.
The 2016 Durbanville Twelve sauvignon blanc will be the third vintage of this collaborative effort, likely to be launched before the valley's annual sauvignon fest. Soon after the 11 farms each delivered one ton of just-harvested grapes to Diemersdal, which has been the host cellar from the start, the media gathered in the cool cellar of this 17th century farm to find out more about the challenging 2016 harvest.
That the valley’s marketing and PR person Angela Fourie managed to get several of the Durbanville winemakers to come to the brunch midway during the busiest week of the harvest was no mean feat. After a sociable start over bubbly from a trio of cellars, we trooped through the cool cellars to taste the sweet juices of the crushed sauvignon before settling at two long tables for a bountiful brunch.
During the many imaginative courses that were served we heard from Charles Hopkins of De Grendel who described the current harvest as the trickiest he has ever experienced, adding that the yield was down by one-third from last year. Both he and host Thys Louw of Diemersdal recently returned from New Zealand and are now experimenting with harvesting the sauvignon blanc at a higher temperature than before, as are the wine farmers from down under. Liza Goodwin of Meerendal, marking her 18th year in the Durbanville valley, commented on the camaraderie that flourishes between the farms. Charles confirmed this spirit of co-operation that comes to the fore if disaster strikes one cellar, also remarking that nearly half the winemakers in the valley are now women. Veteran cellarmaster Martin Moore of Durbanville Hills remains confident about the quality of the vintage, particularly as the berries on their west coast vineyards were too green to be adversely affected by the recent heatwaves. Etienne Louw of Altydgedacht agreed, saying that they were crushing the components of their cap classique that day. Bernhard Veller of Nitida added that this was a unusual harvest as they had already been picking grapes for four weeks, whereas in other years, they usually only started after the middle of February.
It was also interesting to listen to Bernhard’s views on the future of wine farming in Durbanville; how, as surburb sprawl had reached the boundaries of many farms, he saw the necessity of farmers considering putting a portion – perhaps up to one third – of their land aside for controlled residential development. Survival tactics, this could be called. He also feels strongly that the valley wines are over-delivering on quality and are very under-priced: he thinks that a combined effort on the part of the Twelve could help alter this, which would raise the status of the valley’s wines at the same time.
If anyone still has bottles left of the 2013 Twelve, open a couple and enjoy – we sipped this with our meal and the sauvignon has developed beautifully, acquiring mellow minerality, with delicious Durbanville verdancy and fruit upfront.