Marinda Kruger-Claasen is the winemaker at Elgin Vintners, a private company with its cellar on Valley Green on the Viloenshoop road in Elgin. The main shareholders are Kruger-Claassen herself, together with James Rawbone-Viloen and Dr Max Hahn.
Kruger-Claassen and the team could not contain their excitement on hearing the news that the Elgin Vintners Pinot Noir 2019 placed in the top five of the inaugural Mosaic Top 5 Pinot Noir competition. “This is so exciting” says Kruger-Claassen, smiling from ear to ear: “For me Pinot Noir is a wine with charisma – attractive with an aura. And it lures me everytime. The main reason being that it that it does not appear as masculine as many other red wines, but elegant with a definite strong character.”
“With Pinot Noir I like to do whole bunch fermentation, and especially in the Elgin valley where the tannins and stalks ripen completely, ultimately leading to a beautifully refined tannin structure in the final wine. Pinot Noir is a challenge with every new harvest. We nurture the vines during the growth season, and believe me, we tittivate these vines in the vineyard! Every new harvest is a new beginning and I approach each new harvest with an open mind and use my knowledge and experience to handle the conditions of that harvest. Pinot Noir can never be made according to a recipe. I have a passion for winemaking and in the end, it is always the ‘problem children’ that make the most beautiful wines. And that is Pinot Noir in a nutshell.”
“I like to do natural fermentation because it is slower, and more flavour components develop to add to the complexity of the wine. And Pinot Noir also likes that. So whole bunches in open fermenters is my most important component of the final Elgin Vintners Pinot Noir.”
“Our Pinot Noir vineyards are planted on Ridgelands (Dr Hahn’s property) and Drumearn and Blaukrantz (Rawbone-Viljoen’s property). The Pinot Noir 2019 is all from the Ridgeland vineyards.”
“We have a deep connection with and understanding of our vineyards and terroir. Meticulous care is taken of our vineyards which produce well-balanced grapes packed with flavour. This process takes a whole season and our role as vintners is to capture this flavour in every glass.”
Only an hour east of Cape Town, the high-lying cool-climate Elgin district, cradled in the ancient sandstone Hottentots Holland mountains, was traditionally an apple-growing region. Now award-winning wine showing exceptional poise, finesse and elegance are produced here, with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Shiraz doing particularly well in this later-ripening, cooler terroir. Due to vineyards elevated between 260 and 600 meters above sea level and the unique terroir, the grapes ripen on the vines for longer than local in-land and many of the world’s most famous wine regions. The average annual rainfall is 1011 mm with 366 mm falling in summer, and parent soils comprise of Table Mountain Sandstone and Bokkeveld Shale.
“So this cool climate and unique position is ideal for growing Pinot Noir. We experience slow ripening and the mist from the Palmiet River lie low over our vineyards till late morning – perfect conditions for Pinot Noir.”
“Terroir – where vines are planted, what varieties are planted, how they are planted – if all of this has been successfully executed, the winemaking is the easy part of the process of putting a beautiful wine in the bottle. I believe in minimal interference in the cellar, but that can only be achieved when the vineyard is in balance. I have worked in many wine areas and one cannot achieve the same style everywhere, and once I understood that I always strive to get the best from the terroir.”
“I was first exposed to Elgin grapes when buying in Sauvignon Blanc for Boutinot more than ten years ago and thought at that time that Elgin was a stunning area for grape-growing, and in my mind, totally underrated. The unique position, cool climate makes this area ideal for grape growing. The soil also has a naturally high organic nitrogen content, and this ensures that I mostly do not have to add organic nitrogen during fermentation, assisting me in my minimal intervention philosophy. I have also seen with my research that when one has high organic nitrogen in the grapes, there is also a higher concentration of the higher alcohols, leading to more flavour in the wines – and that is a hallmark of Elgin.”
“Much of my time throughout the year is spent in the vineyards, especially during the growing season. When one sees and tastes, one understands the chemistry of the grapes and that follows to what happens in the cellar. I start every harvest from scratch – each vintage has its own personality, and no two are the same.”
With a bachelor’s degree in food science and a master’s degree in Wine Biotechnology from Stellenbosch University, Kruger-Claassen did not walk the usual path that most winemakers do: “I first started making wine in my mid-thirties at Namaqua Wines. I felt that I had a huge handicap and loads to learn, so I worked myself to a standstill because I finally felt that this was what I was destined to do. This was not an easy road, but when I look back, a very necessary one. Wine is in my veins! I live, sleep, eat winemaking and the wine industry. I love every moment in the winemaking process, from the dirty hand, the sticky grape juice, the noise of the crusher, the sighs of the press to the boring (but necessary) paperwork. Because it all forms part of the creation of a product, where the winemaker plays a role. Grapes are the starting point and that is so important.”
Kruger-Claassen is modest about her academic achievements and is currently completing her PhD in Agri Sciences at the University of Stellenbosch with the topic “Bioprocess monitoring of wine alcoholic fermentation: Data driven modelling strategies”. Says Kruger-Claassen: “I don’t often talk about my academic achievements, but the sciences have always fascinated me, and I have to understand why things happen the way they do! I undertook the PhD on natural fermentation and the impact on the chemistry and sensory characteristics because I took the view that I already had a master’s degree and may as well continue”. She laughs when she says “I had regrets along the way because the standard is incredibly high, and time is of short supply. But, when I hand in my dissertation at the end of this year, I shall be proud of my perseverance and what I have achieved. So far I have had and incredible journey with wine as my travelling companion, and I believe that this journey is far from over.”
And we believe this too!
Visit the Elgin Vintners website to learn more about the award winning Elgin Vintners Pinot Noir 2019.
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