Home > Travel, Wine > First Sighting 2009 Anders Sparrman Pinot Noir – a tribute to our history

First Sighting 2009 Anders Sparrman Pinot Noir – a tribute to our history

 

The starkly beautiful cellar at Strandveld Vineyards, the southern most vineyard on the African continent

 

When Bartholomew Dias’ expedition rounded the Cape of Good Hope in January 1488, he was completely unaware of it. Adverse winds had pushed his three tiny ships far south, and after sailing east for some time without sighting land, he realised that he had probably rounded the southern tip of the Prasum Promontorium (Green Promontory) postulated centuries before by the Egyptian geographer, Ptolemy.

He then sailed north for a few days, until the featureless tip of the continent, where Africa tumbles into the South Atlantic was sighted, and he named it Cape Agulhas (the Cape of the Needles).

Legend has it that on or about May 16, 1488, Bartholomew Dias set foot on shore at Cape Agulhas. He climbed the low hill, all of 260m high, behind and between what is today L’Agulhas and Arniston, and looking down towards the sea, his eye would have fallen for the first time, on the land which is today the home of Strandveld Vineyards, and more specifically, the vineyard blocks from which comes the First Sighting “Anders Sparrman” 2009 Pinot Noir.

 

The idyllic courtyard at the Cape Courtyard Hotel in Observatory, Cape Town

 

On a lovely spring afternoon last week, at the charming old Cape Courtyard Hotel in Observatory, this enchanting tale unfolded as Strandveld Vineyards chairman Nick Diemont introduced the third vintage of Pinot Noir grown and made at the southern most vineyard on the African continent.

In his keynote address immediately thereafter, Dr John Rourke, retired director of the Compton Herbarium at Kirstenbosch, rather brusquely debunked the myth as he described Dias’ voyage of discovery in greater detail, pointing out that Dias’ sighting of Cape Agulhas happened on the return journey westwards and before his “first sighting” of Cape Point which he named Cabo Tormentosa (Cape of Storms), and took to be the southern most tip of Africa. The significance of the bleak wind blasted point, the Agulhas Plain, had escaped him.

Nonetheless, the foundation range of Strandveld Vineyards, First Sighting, is named in honour of Bartholomew Dias and his epic voyage which resulted in the opening of the much sought after trade route to the east.

The vineyards grow in a variety of soil types, including shale, “koffieklip” conglomerate and white quartzite, with red and yellow iron feroxides evident in many blocks.

Winemaker Conrad Vlok notes that Pinot Noir is what he calls “a real terroir-ist”, since it is unforgiving in its expectations. The art he says, is to choose the right slope, soil type and climate, rather than the actual winemaking. He sees his role in the cellar as one of guiding the fruit to reach its fullest possible potential, rather than to push it any direction. “The fruit knows where it wants go,” he says. “I’m just there to help it along the way to its true expression of terroir.”

 

Strandveld Vineyards winemaker, Conrad Vlok on the "whale chair" outside the cellar.

 

A notoriously recalcitrant varietal, Pinto Noir commands respect. Conrad recounts a marvelous tale about the 2006 vintage, in which he learned this lesson. Fellow winemaker Kevin Grant had arrived for a visit from his Ataraxia Vineyards in the Hemel en Aarde Valley above Walker Bay, and Conrad was lamenting the state of his Pinot Noir, which was undergoing malo-lactic fermentation.

“Ek het baie lelike vloekwoorde gebruik,” he says. (I used some very bad language). “Kevin grabbed me by the arm and said ‘Never use language like that in the presence of Pinot Noir. You will live to regret it!’”. He ruefully concluded that Kevin Grant’s words were prescient, because the 2006 vintage never found its way into a First Sighting bottle.

After four years of careful observation of the various Pinot Noir clones on their soil types, it became evident to Conrad that the 2009 vintage was about to deliver something special.

The 2009 “Anders Sparrman” Pinot Noir – named for the adventurous 18th century Swedish explorer – comes from a vineyard growing on a South East slope on white quartzite gravel with a kaolin clay under-layer. Hand harvested in mid-February 2009 – a cool dry month – the yield was a meagre 2.4 tons/ha. The harsh conditions (wind is a significant factor), nutrient poor soils, and cool climate result in smaller berries, but with greater fruit concentrations.

 

Dr John Rourke delivering his keynote address at the 2009 First Sighting Anders Sparrman Pinot Noir launch

 

Dr John Rourke in his keynote address noted that “Most viticulturists use controlled leaf canopy reduction and pruning to concentrate flavours. In the Strandveld, nature does it on her own terms!”

After fermentation, the wine was racked and pressed and then matured in 300 litre French oak barrels (40% first-fill) from Burgundian cooperages for 10 months.

Bottled January 20, 2010 and still very much in its youth, the wine shows a surprisingly rich darkness.

Suffused with delicate earthiness on a cherry, raspberry and cranberry nose, in the mouth it yields a moist earthiness, underpinned by sour cherries and strawberry notes.

The tannins are complex and velvety, lingering through the elegant finish.

The starkly beautiful solitude of the Cape of Needles has rendered an elegant, complex and balanced wine. It is an outstanding example of what can be achieved with this capricious varietal, if vital factors such as soil, slope, aspect, clone, climate and winemaking practice judiciously intersect.

Since the wine is a special barrel selection, only 220 twelve bottle cases were bottled, of which 90 have already been taken up en primeur. The en primeur offer at R2941.20 per 12 bottle case (R245.10/bottle) remains in effect until October 31, 2010.  En primeur orders will be kept in safe-keeping at Strandveld Vineyards until the release date of July 1, 2011.

The release price will be R3967.20 per case (R330.60/bottle).

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