Franschhoek semillon

One of South Africa’s advantages over many of the world’s traditional winelands is the lack of restrictions on what and where vines may be planted.  If this led to a fruit salad in some areas, time has enabled a better understanding of matching of variety to site. But there are also varieties which gained a strong association with an area long before this concept.

Semillon and Franschhoek is such a partnership, one Franschhoek producers are intent on further strengthening. In this goal they are assisted by having seven of the oldest semillon vineyards in the country: planted in 1902, 1905, 1932, 1936 and 1942 and today covering 10.9 ha out of Franschhoek’s 97.16 ha of old vines (over 35 years).

Local producers support the goal; at least nine of them list a Franschhoek WO semillon in their range, some from those low-yielding old vines. But they are not the only people who recognise this quality; there is much competition to buy their fruit.

Raising the profile of Franschhoek wine and keeping its old vine semillon fruit within the valley is the cause of two separate projects.

The GD1 project (GD1 is the original semillon clone) involves 15 Franschhoek producers, who are pursuing a goal of raising the area’s semillon profile. Each winemaker produces semillon from one single vineyard, using no oak and preventing malo-lactic; the style the winemakers feel Franschhoek should be following is linear and focused in youth one which age will allow to blossom.  GD1’s maiden vintage was 2019.

The other project is the brainchild of two producers also involved in GD1: Craig McNaught of Stonybrook and Clayton Reabow of Môreson They are frustrated at how much semillon, from old vines especially, is vinified by winemakers outside the valley. It is one of three varieties (chardonnay and cabernet franc are the others) under the Lokaia label, their new project founded to address these issues; 2020 is their first vintage.

Top image: La Colline vineyard with Landau du Val in the background

The traditional  Franschhoek semillon profile is an oaked wine, medium bodied with waxy notes and satiny breadth focused by relatively low acidity. Expect something different from the Lokaia range. ‘Our departure point is to be atypical, don’t think you’ll be drinking regular wines,’ Craig and Clayton warn.

Lokaia Pound of Flesh Semillon 2020 from a Bo-hoek dryland vineyard planted in 1996, was early picked, received two hours’ skin contact and spent four months on the lees; no oak was involved. Its balance, purity and structure suggest excellent ageing potential.

The Bo-hoek area of Franschhoek is a semillon stronghold and home to such renowned vineyards as La Colline and Landau du Val. These two and many other semillon vineyards contain two colours of semillon; blanc and its mutation, gris. Rarely are they harvested separately, but Donovan Ackermann, winemaker at Rickety Bridge, who also vinifies Landau du Val, did just that in 2021. This exercise revealed that gris accounts for 6% of the vineyard; he gave these grapes skin contact, fermenting and ageing them in a 225 litre barrel. The intention is to bottle and sell this luminous, dusty pink wine, with its linearity and proper tannin.

Top image: Lokaia Pound of Flesh Semillon

He won’t be the first in Franschhoek; several years ago, Craig McNaught produced a semillon gris from the Stony Brook vineyards, but these new initiatives focusing on Franschhoek, semillon, its old vines and wines will give consumers reason to explore the area anew.

- Blog by Angela Lloyd