The Brew Cru Black Label Pinot Noir 2019

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The Brew Cru Black Label Pinot Noir 2019

Even 10 years after her tragic and untimely death, the music of Amy Winehouse continues to resonate. How prescient the words she sang in her distinctive voice: “And I tread a troubled track … My odds are stacked … I'll go back to black.”

It doesn't quite have kohl-rimmed cat eyes or a beehive, but the Brew Cru Black Label Pinot Noir 2019 is just as dramatic in its presentation and delivery.

“If it was just for us we wouldn't have done the black label,” winemaker Johann Fourie admits, “but because it was being shipped to the States it needed the treatment. After all, it's a single clone, single vineyard wine. It doesn't have a name: it's differentiated purely by being just the black label or the white label Pinot Noir.”

Fourie concedes there’s a bit of showmanship. The pitch-black matt label swaddled – as each bottle is – in black tissue paper only reveals its secret when held up to the light. That's when the varnish printing on the label is exposed.

A story of three winemaking brothers-in-arms

Here's the origin story of Brew Cru: It's a tale of initially two – and then three – pals, chums, compadres, winemaking brothers-in-arms: Bertus Fourie, Johann Fourie and Jesse Balsimo, of Truvino in Minnesota in the United States.

“People don't get it,” Johann Fourie said. “The name – it's a play on bru/broer or bro. And Cru from the association with the French Grand or Premier Cru appellation system.”

It started two decades ago when Johann and Bertus worked together at the KWV. “We got along like a house on fire!” was how Johann put it. (For the sake of clarity, although they share the same surname, they are not related.)

When Bertus left the KWV, the two vowed to “someday… one day” make wine together again. Johann left in 2006 to become cellar chief at Benguela Cove. “Part of the deal was that I was given the freedom to make my own wine – something I actually didn't want to do because I think of Benguela Cove as being ‘my’ wine since I get so invested in what I do,” the ever thoughtful, considerate winemaker said.

But he trawled the idea past his buddy Bertus nonetheless. “And that's how it all began: I had the space and the facility, Bertus was the one who came up with the Pinot Noir focus concept and Jesse is the importer who shares the passion for Pinot Noir, so he was the route to market in the United States!”

He admits they were a few glasses in when this discussion took place. “The idea was never that it be a commercial proposition. No big plans to make thousands of cases…” Ultimately they wanted a house wine that they would be happy to enjoy. “If Jesse wanted to import the wine and we could make enough money to pay for an overseas trip for ourselves and our wives, then we'd consider it a success.”

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Sourcing the good stuff

The crew of “broers” behind the Brew Cru wines, Bertus Fourie, Jesse Balsimo and Johann Fourie.

The concept was for a wine of elegance and finesse with bright New World styling, succulence and approachability. That, for them meant Elgin and Walker Bay. It all began with a single Pinot Noir in 2017 and was joined by a Chardonnay in 2018. In 2019 they started working with three vineyard pockets. While Johann was the head winemaker at the KWV and in charge of the boutique winery within a winery that produced the Mentor's range, he had access to grapes sourced from a range of places and knows where to get the good stuff!

And there's one pocket in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley which is just that bit darker and more dramatic… It reminded him of a wine he and Jesse had while touring the Willamette Valley in Oregon in 2018. “To me, this parcel of fruit delivered something akin to the $80-plus Willamette Pinot we'd both raved about. Plush, rich, fruit forward.”

That became a “Why don't we bottle it and see what happens?” – which ultimately resulted in the black label Pinot Noir. The feedback was amazing. “Jesse reports that Americans love it because it’s so different – and that's before they even taste the wine...” And since 90% of the wines sell in the States, that's a good thing.

There are two sources of fruit in the Hemel-en-Aarde; one just past Creation Wines in the Ridge ‘appellation’ and the other in the Overberg, on the back side of the distinctive Babilonstoring mountain, overlooking Benguela Cove and Gabriëlskloof.

Letting Pinot Noir do its own thing

“I generally like to have a soft hand,” Johann says about the winemaking. “I enjoy elegance and finesse. I have more confidence in stepping back and letting Pinot Noir do its own thing. Also, there's no pressure to make a big style.” And since the trio look to New Zealand for inspiration, there's also more leeway for experimentation and expression.

Grapes are picked early to capture the bright red cherry fruit. “I ferment super-cool so there's more vibrance, red fruit, lively acid… We do whole berries too. I believe a bit of carbonic maceration gives a fruit-forward softness to the wine,” he said.

Clones? “As far as possible I try to limit vineyard to clone 115 for that cherry/berry fruit.” Oak is limited to just 30% to 35% new each year. “The 2019 had just 25% new oak for twelve months, the remainder aged in second and fourth fill barrels.” One thing Johann does is play around with micro-fermentations, doing different things with one or two tons of fruit, whole berries here, whole bunches there – just to see what happens.

Just a little bit of mad scientist stuff… but it works because the wine is deep, brooding and sexy but not ponderous. It's lithe and supple. A bit like a male gymnast – muscular and strong but agile and pliable. Yes, it's cerebral and mentally engaging, but it's also succulent and approachable with a rewarding spicy tail. Beautifully resolves and all too easy to drink and enjoy. Especially if Amy Winehouse is warbling about Back to Black in the background.

Visit the Brew Cru website to learn more about the award winning The Brew Cru Black Label Pinot Noir 2019.

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Mosaic Top 5 Pinot Noir Wine Awards

Published: 02-11-2021