“I'm such a nerd!” Richard Kershaw admits with trademark good humour. It's why he adopted the nickname of Rikipedia for himself… he has a repository of knowledge and a curiosity to try new things, to learn more and to experiment like the proverbial mad scientist.
His eponymous Richard Kershaw wine series are recognised both locally and abroad as some of the most thoughtful, carefully considered and well made examples of South African Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay. International critics often mention how impressed they find themselves with the level of forensic detail Kershaw can provide about clones, soils, yeasts, nuances of fermentation – all of which he brings to bear on his wines.
The Smuggler's Boot Pinot Noir 2019, which impressed the judges at the Mosaic Top 5 Pinot Noir Wine Awards, is an example of the differentiation in his ranges. The Clonal Selection is the tip of the pyramid while the Deconstructed range accommodates the nuanced terroir differences, the GPS series vary in location of vineyards and the Smuggler's Boot is his test platform.
“The Smuggler's Boot range is an extension of my Clonal Selection wines,” he says. “It’s where I get to play around with either new parcels of grapes or fruit from young vineyards or vineyards I haven't worked with before – or even different fermentation techniques.”
The Smuggler's Boot range initially sprang into life to accommodate a request from the Canadian market. “But then the United Kingdom wanted it, along with the Netherlands and Belgium,” he says. With the emphasis on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the vintages the overseas markets saw when it was revealed in 2017 were the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 vintages. “Most of those never saw the light of day in South Africa.”
Kershaw says he was so focussed on promoting sales of the other ranges that he never for one moment entertained hopes of much commercial success for the Smuggler’s Boot range. “I never thought it would sell fast – but it did! And because there’s not a lot of it in any given year, it sold out rather rapidly – which kind of created even more demand.”
“It started off as a nice thing to do – a way for me to play around and try different things like breathable egg ferments. But then I introduced the wine to the South African market and now there's an ever increasing demand for it as a range.”
Kershaw is in a position where grape growers offer him parcels of fruit. “It is often plantings in newer or relatively unknown areas without much of a track record, or the vines are young still – so it allows me the freedom to play around and see what the fruit is like. I don't want it to cost me a great deal so I tend to keep wood out of the equation. I mostly use ceramic vessels or breathable plastic eggs for the Smuggler's range.”
“I didn't want to put money into something that I didn't know how or if it was going to work. That's why I only produced 2,500 bottles where Kershaw is 10,000 bottles. If a Smuggler's Boot wine goes wrong, it's not the end of the world.”
And having experimented with different fermentation vessels such as flexcubes and breathable plastic eggs for the wines in the Smuggler's Boot range he has made some exciting discoveries. Kershaw's enthusiasm when talking about the Pinot Noir in particular is obvious. “The breathable plastic eggs have been the most interesting,” he says. “They add a certain dimension of freshness to the Pinot. And the flexcube definitely is better for Chardonnay.”
Here are his vintage notes for the 2019 harvest: “As a vintage 2019 started well with a return to average winter rainfall that continued well into Spring. In tandem, the cold winter offered the vines the opportunity for a deep sleep. The cooler Spring did result in a late bud break for Pinot Noir, and although there were some unusually warm conditions at the end of October, Spring was milder than average with quite a high amount of rainfall - 200mm – between October and December. The wind surged on several days damaging some of the young shoots and flowers but was sporadic, leaving us with lower yields on some parcels and average yields on others. The cooler November weather also meant some flowers failed to pollinate correctly resulting in millerandage in which fewer berries appear on the eventual bunches. As New Year came and went, summer was cooler than average and maximums during the hottest months never breached 34ºC. The cooler weather did help the vines accumulate flavour more gradually.”
“We started picking Pinot Noir in the last week of February about a week after the warmer weather had subsided. The malic acids are higher, giving more bite and freshness to the wine. Equally, the colder conditions allowed synchronous ripening of sugar and secondary metabolites producing fantastic colour, elegant structures and more finesse to the tannins.”
Fruit for the Smuggler's Boot Pinot Noir 2019 was hand picked and bunch sorted on a conveyor before stems were removed. The destemmed berries were left to macerate in open fermenters for three days, where after a spontaneous fermentation began.
“A gentle delastage program was charted and the grapes remained on skins for 10-12 days. The free-run wine was racked to a combination of 50% used French oak barrels and 50% breathable plastic eggs with the remaining pomace basket-pressed,” he wrote. “Malolactic then proceeded followed by a light sulphuring after which the wine was racked off malolactic lees and returned to cleaned barrels for an 11-month maturation. No fining was necessary and the wine was simply racked and lightly filtered prior to bottling.”
With it accounting for just 2,500 bottles or so, Kershaw conceded that he might have to up volumes to meet demand but – justifiably – he says the Kershaw range remains the primary focus.
Visit the Richard Kershaw Wines website to learn more about the award winning Richard Kershaw Wines The Smuggler's Boot Pinot Noir 2019.
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