Harvest 2001: reports from Cape Town's Waterfront

No we don't have a new Wine of Origin at Cape Town harbour, but this spot is buzzing with such activity that a harvest report seems apt. As winemaker Bruce Jack quips, their official region is the best sites in South Africa. His company Flagstone houses their cellar at the entrance to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront and a barrel cellar tunnel is underway. A more recent addition is Jean-Vincent Ridon next door, who set up winemaking facilities for Signal Hill shortly before 2001 harvest started. Both producers buy in grapes for their white and red wine ranges, although Ridon is still making whites at Agusta Wines in Franschhoek.

Ridon has brought in Chardonnay for sparkling wine; also grapes for a barrel-fermented Chenin Blanc. All their Pinotage is in, as is Merlot from Stellenbosch, with Cabernet Sauvignon from Paarl. Petit Verdot and Gamay are also looking good. Ridon is most excited about a Pinot Noir terroir experiment he's doing very much on boutique scale. He has bought in Pinot from 17 different blocks around the Cape. Fermenting and punching by hand in upturned old barrels each with 400kg-capacities, with the help of Burgundian graduate Nicolas Ragot, he is making a 'micro vinification of each lot' to ultimately show 'the true spirit of the terroir'. 'In Burgundy it is said the terroir is more important than the winemaker, would that be true in South Africa?' he challenges.

Meanwhile Jack, who describes his cellar team as 'bungy jumpers that push the limits' is encouraging growers to let those grapes hang to produce really intense flavours, even if sugar and pH analyses say they're ripe for the picking. They buy from vineyards stretching from Gouda near Tulbagh to Elim near Bredasdorp, a 788km distance as the crow flies, so their grapes reflect a range of flavour profiles. 'We buy in from 39 different sites spread throughout the Western Cape and the kind of quality we've seen this year from places like Paarl (in irrigated vineyards) is mindblowing. Even Chenin Blanc grapes, which often get flabby, make you want to sit down and eat them!' he enthuses. Jack cites 2001 as the best vintage he's seen: 'It makes 2000 look like we're dealing with a different country. The intensity of flavour from our Sauvignon in Elim is phenomenal, for instance. I can't wait to bottle.'

Just how has this self-acclaimed 'maverick ' winemaker taken risks in 2001? Try the fact that all barrel-fermented whites are going through 100% natural ferments (no added yeast). They removed yeast from bunches and cultured it up, so expect appropriately wild zing on their Viognier, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. Their best blocks of reds - Cabernet, Pinotage and BK5 Pinot Noir - are going wild too.