Imagine using your imagination. Think of a flavour profile of a wine that, in your opinion, would be the best wine you have ever drunk. I can just picture it. Spice, fruit but not too much, with garrigue shyly showing up in the finish with a touch of tannins. As a white, crisp acidity, nut and honey flavours on the palate and a smooth, elegant finish. Whatever works for you. Now imagine 3 guys putting their heads together, seeing and dreaming about the finished product and then trying to create it. It’s like working backwards. What do we want, how do we do it, where will find the grapes. That’s what you’ll find in the wines of Mount Abora Vineyards.
Pieter de Waal is a friend of mine. He’s been making wine as a garagiste in his lounge and in borrowed cellars under the Hermit on the Hill label and now he’s found a team where he can fit in. The other members are Johan Meyer, one of the top ten young winemakers to watch in South Africa today (JH Meyer label), and Krige Visser, a maverick himself and brand designer of note.
My first question being a South African and familiar with the map, “Where is Mount Abora?” thinking that it’s somewhere in the Swartland area.
“It’s a figment of the imagination. Intertwine Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan and a kindred spirit like D.J. Opperman, a poet from South Africa and you find their imagery in our wines like Koggelbos Chenin Blanc and the Abyssinian Red Blend.”
“We’re inspired by the wines of Alain Graillot from the appellation of Crozes Hermitage in the Northern Rhône. He is one of the most celebrated winemakers in the area and his philosophy is simple: very little intervention and making wines that people will want to drink.”
When you ask Pieter about their process, ‘NO’, ‘LOW’ and ‘MINIMAL’ is what you keep on hearing.
“No acidification, no yeasts added, no enzymes, no or minimal filtering, no or minimal sulphites i.e. minimum intervention all round. We harvest early to retain the natural acidity in the grapes; we use whole bunch fermentation in our reds and white, no punch downs, no pump overs. We’ve been using bare feet to break the grapes since feet are soft but we’ve just acquired a really expensive machine that uses a perestaltic movement to press, a little bit like a toothpaste tube. “
Their Saffraan is 100% Cinsault and reminds me of a fine Pinot Noir, with light colour, enough fruit and beautiful acidity. Pieter says, “This is a heritage project and harks back to the time in the 70’s when Cinsault was the most widely planted red grape in SA. We’re trying to present an honest wine showing the bright quality of this varietal.” It catches me off-guard. I find apples, spices and raspberries and a grip that holds you well into the finish. Vintage 2014
Koggelbos Chenin Blanc has that lovely yellow colour you expect to find. The grapes are from 4 blocks in the Paardeberg and vines that are more than 40 years old. It’s been in 300 l. old oak barrels the staves of which have been scratched out and cleaned and then put together again. Kept on the lees for 6 months, the mouthfeel is creamy and sustained. Minerals and stone fruit mingle nicely on the palate and the acidity maintains a perfect, elegant balance. Vintage 2013.
In true Rhône Valley style, comes the Abyssinian Red Blend. Surprisingly low on alcohol 12,5%, it’s Mourverdre driven with Cinsault and Syrah next in line. It holds back on you and doesn’t give you that ‘all-in-your-face’ quality that so many reds do. It’s got spice, it’s got pepper and it sure has class. Vintage 2014.
“There are many fermentation technologists out there, but few winemakers. We try to stay as honest to the varietal as possible stripping down to the bare basics of the vine, place, the grapes. Wines of elegance, low in alcohol, less about fruit and more about texture is what we’re creating.”