Wine savvy

“I was surprised to find that Sauvignon Blanc had this reputation as one-dimensional, as seen by wine critics and journalists,” said Thys Louw in an interview with Wineland magazine a few years ago.

“I mean, if it’s so one-dimensional, why is it the most popular wine variety in the country and one of the most popular in the world? I would never underestimate the consumer by thinking wine people go for one-dimensional wines.”

It’s often held that hindsight is always 20/20 but Louw was reflecting on his early days at the family farm, Diemersdal in Durbanville. He took over in 2005 and the fact that he could comfortably lay claim to being Mr Sauvignon Blanc in South Africa seems like a no-brainer – from a 2022 vantage point.

Twenty odd years ago Sauvignon Blanc wasn’t as popular as it is now, either among consumers or producers. It formed just 5% of the national vineyard versus the 10.69% it occupies now. And the Durbanville area was far from first choice for the wine: consumers were more likely to beat down the doors of Stellenbosch’s Thelema or Vergelegen to get their fix!

At the time, Durbanville comprised just six producers: Altydgedacht, Bloemendal, Diemersdal, Durbanville Hills, Meerendal and Nitida. A source of “go to” Sauvignon Blanc in restaurants chains nationwide nowadays, Durbanville Hills had only just opened its cellar doors. Its first vintage was in 1999 when the winery was still partially under construction! And Nitida only bottled its first wine in 1995.

Today Canto, D’Aria, De Grendel, Klein Roosboom, Kronendal, Hermit on the Hill, Hillcrest, House of Mandela, Groot Phesantekraal and Signal Gun have been added to the list of those producers calling Durbanville home. Looking at those names, there is little doubt that Sauvignon Blanc is a big part of their annual production. And the Durbanville Wine Valley has just bottled a communal Sauvignon Blanc. As the beautiful Delft blue label states: “This cool climate Sauvignon Blanc is the result of a collaboration between wineries of the Durbanville Wine Valley and Mother Nature herself. Contained within is an expression of our diverse vineyards the soils they thrive in. It is the sum of our close connection with this land over many generations.”

Nitida owner Bernard Veller and Durbanville Hills’ veteran cellar chief Martin Moore will both happily bang the drum about the coolness of the area, the sea mists that roll in over the vineyards from Table Bay, the range in elevation and the variety of soils and slopes which count in the area’s favour when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc.

But Thys Louw remains the undisputed champion and passionate advocate for the area’s affinity with the grape. He’s the sixth-generation winemaker at Diemersdal and at last count there were 10 different examples on the historic wine estate’s list! The Journal which is oaked, the skin fermented Wild Horseshoe, individualist single vineyard 8 Rows, utterly unique Winter Ferment, the Reserve, sweet botrytised Noble Late Harvest, standard Estate offering, Sparkling, a Rosé with its splash of Cabernet for colour and the Matys. He has seriously and with much consideration put his money where the proverbial mouth is, upping the estate’s plantings of the zesty white grape from 26 hectares to a whopping 120.

“It gives me a great kick knowing we are working with a variety that the wine consumer loves and which is one of the most successful commercial varieties in the world.”

The 2021 vintage of The Journal was the top performer at the Concours Mondial du Sauvignon, winning a gold medal and being singled out as the Revelation from South Africa. SA had four gold medal winners in the competition: two from Durbanville and two from Elgin. With the news that South Africa will be hosting the next chapter of this Sauvignon Blanc focussed international competition in 2023, Durbanville Wine Valley should be made a mandatory educational visit for the international tasters.

Top image: The iconography of Delft blue, proteas and grapes reflects heritage elements to be found in the Durbanville Wine Valley’s collaborative bottling of Sauvignon Blanc.

Blog by: Fiona McDonald