La Vierge might mean ‘the virgin’ in French, but there's nothing innocent about the soils and vineyards and the wines that are produced by this Hemel-en-Aarde winery. La Vierge Wines came about in 2006 after one year as Babylon – but it actually occupies the premises in which Newton-Johnson Family Vineyards first sprang to prominence in the early 2000s.
“La Vierge Wines cover a host of bases for Pinot Noir fans”, says winemaker Christo Kotze. La Vierge Wines Seduction is the bright, juicy, no fuss, no frills Pinot which is for everyday drinking, especially by people who are encountering the iconic Burgundian grape for the first time. There there's La Vierge Wines The Affair which forms part of the premium range. Unashamedly New World in terms of styling, it's also extra soft, accessible, floral and delicate with light spice and elegance.
At the other end of the spectrum in the icon range is the La Vierge Wines Apogée Pinot Noir. (The Apogée 2016 is a 2020 Mosaic Top 5 Pinot Noir Wine Awards winner!) Page through a dictionary and one will learn that the definition of ‘apogée’ is the ultimate, the highest point in the development of something; a climax or culmination. That's uber-serious, a wines for geeks, having spent 36 months in oak just waiting for its time to shine.
But the wine which most impressed the judges at the 2021 Mosaic Top 5 Pinot Noir Wine Awards was the dark and mysterious La Vierge Wines Noir 2017, part of the winery's flagship range.
As South African wine fans know, 2017 was a much heralded vintage. While slap-bang in the middle of a crippling drought, nature conspired to give generously in terms of ideal grape ripening conditions while withholding rain! It's also the year that winemaker Christo Kotze first set foot in the Walker Bay cellar. Not during the harvest, though. He was still in Tasmania at that point. He arrived as the new assistant winemaker in July, but found himself promoted to cellar chief just a few months later when his predecessor moved on.
“The Noir is stylistically our Old World expression of Pinot,” says Kotze. He describes the wine as serious, dark and spicy, not necessarily showing its true colours when it first hits the glass. Having previously worked harvests at Rust en Vrede and Rustenberg, Kotze was more au fait with handling Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, with the latter Burgundian white grape being his preferred favourite. But that was before he did what ambitious young winemakers do, heading abroad to gain alternative winemaking and life experience. In the United States he spent time at Rombauer in northern Napa Valley (“between Calistoga and St Helena” he said), while in Australia he was at Bimbadgen in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, as well as Tasmania. The globe trotting experience allows him to be adept at handling most grape varieties.
The fruit for the Noir 2017 came from the 44 hectares under vine in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. Whereas the Apogée is a single vineyard Pinot Noir expression, the Noir is from two different vineyard blocks, both high up a slope which is pampered by cool breezes from Walker Bay just a few kilometres away.
“Pinot Noir is so site expressive and site specific that I try not to mess with it too much,” says Kotze. “I basically do small batches and separate the two blocks so that I can blend them together later in the vinification process.” Kotze shares that he left about 10% of the grapes intact as whole bunch fruit. “The stems definitely add something to the final wine.” Once harvested, the fruit is cold soaked or macerated for between three and five days before it is gently allowed to warm up again. “It's all naturally fermented before being softly pressed and then racked to barrel.”
Oaking is kept to a minimum with roughly 20% new 228-litre barriques in the mix – and time in wood is just 10 months. So before the 2018 harvest, the Noir was bottled and left to mature in glass and under cork for a further two years before release.
“It’s all pretty standard. I prefer to use older barrels – second or third fill – because it better displays the Pinot Noir fruit, rather than having the oak speak loudest.” And when it comes to fruit, Kotze is a fan of clones PN 777 and PN 115, both of which can be found in those two special vineyards.
“PN 777 is more broody, dark, broader with bigger tannin. It's robust and bulky – definitely more showy. PN 115 is more subtle and less obvious, more delicate. It was a privilege to be able to play with both clones during the blending process.”
“I've been here four-and-a-half years now and I'm still figuring things out. La Vierge Wines is not that old as a cellar or brand so we're still adjusting and trying things. We're learning all the time.”
With two Mosaic Top 5 Pinot Noir Wine Award winners in the past two years, most folks would agree that La Vierge Wines is firmly on the right track!
Visit the La Vierge Wines website to learn more about the award winning La Vierge Wines Noir 2017.
|© Top Five Trust | All Rights Reserved|