Announcing the arrival of six stunning direct imports from Waterkloof, now in stock at K&L!
In 2011, I spent ten months travelling the world in search of good waves, great wines, and to see what else this little planet of ours has to offer. Everywhere my wife and I went offered incredible experiences, from the fish markets of Vietnam to the coral reefs of Western Australia, the glaciers of New Zealand, and the ancient walled cities of Umbria. However, one place really blew us away us with its undeniable beauty, stunning landscapes, fantastic wine and food and magnificent wildlife: South Africa.
During our four (way too short) weeks in South Africa, we visited dozens of producers and tasted more excellent wine than I can recall. As a staff member at K&L, I taste anywhere between 50-100 new wines each week. That's a lot of wine to remember...and forget! Yet the producers and wines that make the biggest impact on me will always stand out in my memory while the others fade into oblivion. Waterkloof Estate in Stellenbosch is one such standout producer.
Visiting any major wine region in the world can be a daunting experience. The decision about whom to visit and where to start is a tough one to make. I normally try to find a wine industry map and then do some background research into producers that sound interesting, or with whom I am unfamiliar. Generally speaking, I gravitate toward small producers with the following criteria:
1) A special site. Be it a certain geographic location, specific soils, steep or dramatic aspect, I like to visit producers who believe they have something truly unique special and take risks in order to be able to share it with the world. If someone is planting grapes in a place that is borderline too cold, too steep, or too rocky, I want to know why, and I want to try the wines. I admire their dedication and drive. These people aren't following a proven recipe for success, rather they are striving for something new and interesting.
2) Organic/Biodynamic practices. I do not think organic/biodynamic wines are inherently better, but in my experience, the most careful, detail-orientated viticulturalists and winemakers tend to farm according to these practices. I do believe natural, minimal intervention winemaking techniques are often the most successful in allowing the expression of place in the wine. This ties back to my first point about producers who seek unique terroirs and strive to let that character shine through in their wines.
Waterkloof met all of the above criteria, and so on one rainy winter's day in July we snaked our way up the long driveway past bare vines that had long dropped their leaves. The winery sits on top of a wind-swept ridge almost 1,000 feet in elevation in the Schapenberg Hills, on the southern edge of the Helderberg region. (Map) It has magnificent views overlooking the dramatic False Bay and the wild Southern Ocean just a couple miles to the south.
The vineyards are planted in an amphitheater-like bowl behind the winery and on adjacent slopes. This is a very cool sub-region of Stellenbosch. The ocean in this part of the world makes the Central California coast look and feel like Florida. It is bitterly cold and intensely stormy, conditions that define the growing season. The wind is also a major factor at Waterkloof; their logo is designed in honor of Boreas, the God of wind.
During the growing season, cool ocean breezes and the south-facing aspect of the vineyards result in much slower ripening and a longer hang time for the grapes. This produces intense flavor development while preserving freshness and acidity in the fruit. Soils on the property are diverse, ranging between shale- derived soils, rugged sandstone and decomposed granite. These low fertility soils reduce vine vigor, keeping yields naturally low.
Half of all the land at Waterkloof Estate has been set aside to preserve the natural flora and fauna of the region. Waterkloof also operates a fully functional farm to provide all of the compost and biodynamic preps needed for the vineyards. Vineyards are plowed by horse, and the estate has plenty of in-house horse power too! This operation is truly focused on creating wines of integrity, balance and encapsulating the essence of this remarkable place.
The main winery building, that which houses the production facility, tasting room and restaurant, looks more like a modern art museum than a winery! It is a stark contrast from the traditional Dutch style buildings that most Stellenbosch wineries inhabit. The barrel room is the first thing you see entering the premises on a suspended walkway, high above the hibernating wines below. From the tasting bar one can watch operations in the cellar through floor-to-ceiling glass walls. I was amazed by the array of oak foudres lined up in immaculate fashion. The restaurant is all glass construction, cantilevered out from the side of the building providing uninterrupted (if a little unnerving) views over False Bay.
With all this sophisticated, dazzling architecture and design, I really hoped that the wines would show as good as they appeared on paper....and thankfully they did not disappoint! Which is why, eighteen months later, I am very excited to bring you the Waterkloof "Circumstance" wines exclusive to K&L!
Quoting Waterkloof's winemaker: "Circumstance is a range of wines, each defined by a single grape varietal and a unique symphony of fortuitous circumstances (soil, aspect and altitude) in which that given varietal is grown."
From a rugged, rocky, wind swept slope looking directly out over the ocean. The wine is bright, concentrated and fresh. Soft, fleshy stone fruit notes are sharpened by a citrus and mineral finish. This wine has many layers of flavor, great persistence on the palate and immaculate balance.
Fom old bush vine Chenin Blanc. Whole cluster pressed, settled for 24 hours then racked to 600-liter French oak barrels called Puncheons. The wine is fermented with naturally occuring yeast. The wine's flavors are dominated by orchard fruits, especially pear and quince. On the finish more savory notes come through with a bit of added texture and richness from the Puncheon fermentation.
By the proprietor's own admission, he believes there is only one place in the world that truly excels with Viognier, and that’s Condrieu. However, we were very impressed by this Waterkloof effort. Perfumed and alluring, but somewhat restrained. Not a big, oily Viognier. More bright and lithe in character. A nice freshness to the acidity works well with this grape's natural richness and weight. It really think that this windy, cool site is well-suited to produce balanced Viognier; a very pleasant surprise from the line up!
Aromas of apple pie pastry crust with spices from the oak. this is a broad, rich, toasty wine, with ample freshness and lively acidity. Apparent but well-integrated use of French oak. More focused on the finish than the dense mid-palate might suggest, with intriguing mineral aspects and good length.
Great Cab! A lovely balanced between rich, soft, saturated fruit and some smoky cedar and mint nuances. Many South African reds can be overtly smoky (something I attribute to the unique flora and fauna of the country), but this wine has subtly complex smoke that doesn't dominate the flavor profile. The wine has some grippy tannins that help lengthen the inky concentration of fruit on the palate. Very good.
A very low-yielding (1.25 tons per acre) vineyard block produces this fascinating Syrah. Made with all wild yeast and a good amount of whole cluster fermentation. The wine is fermented in open-top wooden fermenters and hand punched down two to three times daily. After a gentle basket pressing it is aged for 20 months in 600L new French oak barrels called Puncheons. This wine simply exudes the classic Syrah qualities of dark red fruits, herbs and cured meats. Some spice on the nose runs through the substantial, rich and generous palate, all carried by driving acidity.
If you can't already tell from my over-the-top enthusiasm, I am very excited that we have managed to get these wines via an exclusive import. You will only find these Waterkloof "Circumstance" wines at K&L, in-store and online.
If you are interested in South African wines or just balanced, honest and authentic wines of terroir in general, please try these. They are extremely well priced when you consider the huge attention to detail and care that went into making them. All of them, including the whites, like some air so don't be afraid to decant for an hour or so.
If you have any questions please feel free to post them in the comments below of contact me directly, details below. Waterkloof also has a fantastic website with lots of information about their wines, philosophy, biodynamics etc. Click here to be directed to their site.
If you're interested check out this fantastic video telling the story of Waterkloof.
K&L Wine Merchants - Redwood City