Notes on South African Sauvignon Blanc

Time to learn about South African Sauvignon Blanc, but before we get into it I was pleased to find an entire website about South African Sauvignon Blancs! They have a very cool infographic about Sauvignon Blancs in numbers, check it out here.

On a personal note, I starting drinking Sauvignon Blanc when I returned from London, but I only drank one or two kinds. I eventually became so tired of it it forced me to try other wines – a good thing! But also a bad thing as by the time I returned to Sauvignon Blanc again, I couldn’t believe how good it was!

So it was a real pleasure learning about our proudly South African Sauvignon Blanc. Special thanks goes out to the following brands for assisting me: De Grendel, Bevintners, Kleine Zalze, Haut Espoir, La Motte, Jordan, Dieu Donne, Altydgedacht, MAN, Cathedral Cellar and Diemersdal!

What Sauvignon Blanc Grapes Do You Use?

Sauvignon Blanc grapes are grown across the Western Cape with some estates farming and producing wines on within the farm and others aggregating grapes within the region.

DeGrendel and Dieu Donne Vineyards both use grapes grown on their own estates in Panorama and Franschhoek respectively.

Diemersdal uses grapes mostly grown on their own estate as well as source some from Cape Town.

Edmund Terblanche of La Motte says, “We use grapes From Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, Durbanville, Elgin, Elim and Napier.”

All Sauvignon Blanc grapes are grown on the Jordan Wine Estate.

A blend of grapes from warmer Agter-Paarl vineyards for riper, tropical notes (70%), and cooler, higher-elevation vineyards in Stellenbosch, Elgin for the greener, herbaceous characters (30%) are used to create the MAN Warrelwind Sauvignon Blanc.

Are Old Vines Are Used for Sauvignon Blanc?

  • The vines at Dieu Donne were planted in 1987, and are therefore older, while De Grendel uses vines of an average age.
  • Diemersdal also uses grapes between the age of 3 and 40 years so a mix of old and new.
  • La Motte Vineyards are between 5 and 25 years old.
  • Jordan’s Sauvignon Blanc grapes are some of the oldest, being between 30 – 37 years old!

How Do You Make Sauvignon Blanc?

Jordan: Once harvested, the grapes receive approximately 6 hours of skin contact.
We then gentle press all grapes in a pneumatic “tank” press, the juice is then cold settled for 2 days before being racked and inoculated with specific years.

La Motte: You harvest the Sauvignon Blanc grapes, destem and crush, press into different fractions, settle or float the juice, rack the clean juice, inoculate with cultured yeast, ferment, stabilize, filtrate and bottle.

De Grendel: Using analysis, phenolic ripeness and flavour compositions, grapes were handpicked in batches over a three-week period. When crushed, the grapes delivered a recovery of 630 litres per ton. Following 6 hours skin contact, the juice was settled, racked and inoculated to ferment in tank at 14°C for 22 days. 80 days’ lees contact improved the wine’s flavour and body, followed by protein stabilisation, cold stabilisation, blending and bottling.

Diemersdal: Reductive winemaking techniques with the aim for the most thiol/tropical flavour expression.

MAN: Winemaking techniques Harvesting takes place over 3 weeks at different ripeness levels to capture a wider range of flavours. Reductive winemaking (minimal air/oxygen contact) preserves freshness and fruitiness, while 3 months maturation on the lees gives additional complexity and integration. 6% Semillon is added for palate weight and complexity. The wine was fined and filtered before bottling.

How Does the Soil Influence Sauvignon Blanc?

Dieu Donne Vineyards: Yes, the soils on the farm from weathered granite with a rocky topsoil is the reason for slower ripening of the grapes and this concentrate the flavours on the wine.

Diemersdal: Yes, dryland vineyards (soil with hight clay content) helps with very concentrated and pure fruit flavours. Soil adds to the minerality of the wines.

Jordan: We have rich-granite soils at Jordan. The granite is very porous, giving minerality to the wine.

La Motte: The soil is only one factor in the complex interaction between different variables which we collectively call terroir. Terroir is the condition the vine plant finds itself in – that is determined by soil, climate and even the animals in the area. Climate is just one of the factors that influence the wine.

If you talk Sauvignon Blanc, then we can say that cooler climates promote desirable Sauvignon Blanc flavours and characteristics, but it’s not that simple. For example, if it rains too much, with the cool climate during growing season, you will have no grapes because of fungal diseases and rot. If its too cold you will have less fertility and your vineyard will not be sustainable.

Do you ferment your wine in different batches to have different flavours?

Yes, at La Motte different blocks ripen over a period of 5 weeks and are fermented separately. Some blocks are divided into different tanks and fermented with different yeasts.

DeGrendel: Not for this Sauvignon Blanc, no.

Jordan: All vineyards blocks are kept separate, fermented separately before being blended.

How Does the Climate Influence Sauvignon Blanc?

MAN: Our Sauvignon Blanc is produced from higher, cooler vineyards in the cape. Warrelwind (whirlwinds) are common in the vineyards throughout summer. The season winds cool the grapes and turn the windmills dotting the landscape.

DeGrendel: De Grendel is located 7 km from the Atlantic ocean, so there is a definite influence. The general flavour profile of Sauvignon Blanc can vary widely, depending on the origin of the grapes. Cool-climate Sauvignon expresses minerality, freshly cut grass, herbs and green pepper, whereas warmer climate Sauvignons display more fruit flavours such as kiwi, granadilla, and cape gooseberry.

Diemersdal: Yes, the weather (wind during flowering, rain during harvest) throughout the process of the grape growing plays a big role in the grapes. The cooling see breezes in the afternoon, from the Atlantic ocean, plays a vital role in our wine styles by cooling down the grapes in the afternoon.

Jordan: Temperatures in our meso-climate can be measured at least 3°C cooler than inland Stellenbosch during ripening periods and add a unique characteristic to Jordan wines.

Dieu Donne Vineyards: The vines are situated at 420m above sea level on steep southwest facing slopes. This tempers the sun, ensuring cool summer conditions and slow ripening of the grapes with high natural acids. The grapes are hand picked and tank fermented to keep the style fresh and fruity.

La Motte: We have vineyards about 5 km from the sea and yes it will have an influence. It is generally cooler closer to the sea and that is most of the time positive for growing Sauvignon Blanc.

Can Sauvignon Blanc Age?

DeGrendel: The 2020 vintage can be kept for approximately 5 years.

LaMotte: Yes. Good vintages can age for ten years and even longer.

Dieu Donne Vineyards: Even though this Sauvignon Blanc was not made in the barrel, the natural acidity on the wine (due to the cool climate), preserves the wine well for 2 – 3 years.

Diemersdal’s reserve ranges are made to drink now or can age beautifully. “Cooler climate wines with natural acidity and slow ripening age very good. But our wines are all market ready when we release it.”

Cap or Cork?

“I love screwcap for whites, always fresh and always the same – but there is still something romantic about a beautiful natural cork.” Mari Branders of Diemersdal

We use screwcap for our white wines. We find the storage and aging of our white wines, better under screw cap at Jordan.

Cap. More user-friendly, better oxygen management and no cork taint. – La Motte

We use screw caps on our white wines and cork on the barrel matured reds. The Dieu Donné reds are made in the Old World style and can mature 10 years + in the bottle, therefore cork is more traditional for this style.

Why are some Sauvignon Blancs very fresh and sour and some more mellow?

It was through Sauvignon Blancs that I came to realise how wide the taste spectrum for the cultivar is but not necessarily why. I asked our wine makers why this range exists as they said:

DeGrendel: Terroir, climate, soil, age of vineyards and winemaking processes all play a role in the end result. The natural flavour compounds of the wine is what determines the taste, combined with the winemaking process and types of yeast used.

Dieu Donne Vineyards: The closer the vines grow to the ocean or cooler areas, the more ‘green’ and fresh the style of the Sauvignon Blanc will be.

Diemersdal: Sauvignon blanc is made in the vineyards – all climate and terroir specific.

La Motte: There is a long list of variables which will determine or influence that characteristics. The main ones will be the origin of the vineyard and the timing of picking.

What Tasting Notes Can Drinkers Expect to Taste?

DeGrendel:   A light, pale lemon coloured wine with a translucent core and watery rim greets the taster. The wine’s aromas present whiffs of granadilla, lime zest, snow peas and a clean acidity which follows through to a youthful palate. Mouth-puckering and lively, the distinct granadilla, lemon meringue and green fig provides great complexity to a salty mineral finish.

MAN: Warrelwind Sauvignon Blanc is a palate-pleasing wine: harmonious and well-balanced, showing typical herbaceous flavours as well as richer tropical notes.

Dieu Donne Vineyards: The Dieu Donné Sauvignon Blanc 2020 is made in a fresh, fruity, upfront style with grassy, green fig and green pepper aromas.

La Motte: The 2020 vintage wine is described as follows : Light straw in colour with a hint of green. Lots of fresh winter melon and gooseberry with distinctive lime aromas very typical to La Motte Sauvignon Blanc. Silky and soft on the pallet with a fruity green apple aftertaste. Lower acidity than the average year but well-balanced with a lower residual sugar.

Diemersdal: Tropical fruit driven, concentrated palate and fresh acidity.

Jordan: Aromatics of blackcurrant leaf, ripe Cape fig balanced by a complex fruit structure and sweet Provençale herbs on the finish.

What Makes Your Proudly South African Sauvignon Blanc Unique?

Jordan: The maritime influences, granite-rich soils, cold soaking techniques in the cellar.

DeGrendel: Terroir, terroir, terroir!

Diemersdal: Our passion and innovation.

MAN: Our Warrelwind Sauvignon Blanc, with an abundance of flavours from both sides of the Sauvignon spectrum, suits a wider audience, but will please any Sauvignon Blanc fan!

La Motte: We believe that the vineyards that we select create wine batches that compliment each other to build a balanced and complete blend. What is more important is that this diversity in origin enables us to consistently make good wines from year to year. Consistency in quality is La Motte’s most unique attribute.

Every aspect of the process will influence the flavour profile but if good practices are followed, the flavour profile will mainly be influenced by the origin of the grapes.

The next time you’re enjoying a beautiful bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, think about how the air, soil, sun and method of blending grapes (or not) influences your beautiful glass of wine!

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