Wine Words & Video Tape

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South Africa: Reyneke’s dandelion wine

Written by JW. Posted in South Africa

I’ll get to the dandelions in a minute but for now let’s just say that they are extremely important to Johan Reyneke, philosopher, erudite yet pragmatic bio-dynamic exponent,  ‘vine hugger’ [that’s precisely what it says on his business card] and maker of some extremely harmonious and appetizing South African wines.

Reyneke, the wine, has been going just over twelve years, begun on the land farmed by Johan’s parents in Stellenbosch. This estate, planted with 30 hectares of vines interspersed with pockets of wilderness and pasture, has journeyed from conventional winemaking to bio-dynamics,  a trajectory that owes itself partly to chance, a bottle of Joly’s Coulee de Serrant apparently providing fantastic inspiration one late night in Copenhagen, but one suspects mostly to very nature of Johnan Reyneke himself, a gentle, softly spoken, articulate graduate of philosophy, whose aphorism, that there is ‘no greatness without goodness’, is both sincere and heartfelt.

Bio-dynamics is not an ideology or a dogma for Reyneke. It’s less about cow horns and manure, though I’m sure he uses both, it’s more a metaphor. If you farm better, you make better.  Partly it is a way of best expressing the terrior of his land from a winemaking point-of-view. But it is also much more than that. It is about respect for the land, its people, and its flora and fauna. And that’s where the dandelions come in. Their tale is all metaphor too.

Now I’m no expert on the leaf roll virus that can attack vine leaves, but it was a problem that Reyneke began to face increasingly in his vineyards. As the name implies it causes the leave to curl up. You can imagine that this is not good. It reduces the ability of the leaf to photosynthesize which in turn obviously reduce the vine’s ability to ripen its crop and leads, amongst other things, to a lack of phenolic ripeness in the grapes and a reduced yield.

One of the culprits behind the leaf roll virus believed to be the mealybug, a white mite with lots of legs which enjoys a sojourn on the underside of a juicy vine leaf. One obvious way of dealing with leaf roll would be to use insecticides to kill the bug and herbicides to reduce the weed population which may encourage them. For Reyneke this was the classic method of treating problems in isolation, not holistically. His subsequent decision to stop using spray treatments on his vineyard to resolve leaf roll was greeted with horror by his contemporaries. They feared poor old Johan had gone soft in the head. In no time at all they forecast he’d soon be overrun by a mealybug stampede.

The opposite actually happened. Within three years the bugs, and the leaf roll virus, had largely vanished from Reyneke’s vineyards. So what had happened? Where the bugs gone? As it happened, not that far. It seemed that the mealybugs loved the dandelion roots more than the vine leaves and they’d migrated to the vineyard’s increasingly healthy dandelion population, itself a product of the reduction of vineyard treatments. To this day the bugs haven’t gone away, in fact there are probably more mealybugs than ever in the vineyards. They’ve just moved. No longer are they hanging out on the vine leaves, but gnawing away at the dandelions instead. Reyneke’s less bio-dynamically minded friends think he’s sitting on a time bomb of course. For Johnan it’s solved the problem in the best possible way. The vineyard now lives in harmony – a harmony and generosity that’s clearly present in the estate’s wines. There’s method in the madness.

The following Reyneke wines were tasted at a masterclass held by Johan Reyneke organised in September. The wines [in the £12-£30 range] are widely available at various independent merchants Contact New Generation Wines for further details  –

Reyneke Organic White

2010 Gold; some wax, quite full some butter and nutty notes; nice weight and some apricot on the palate; some balancing acid and nice body. Oxidative style but remains fresh.  [Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay & Sauvignon Blanc] 87/100

Reyneke Sauvignon Blanc

2010 Gold, some green; full nose, spicey, apples and some sweat; powerful stuff alongside wax and candy; attractive full bodied palate, spicy and broad and quite full bodied. Round and generous. 89/100

Reyneke Chenin Blanc

2008 Deep gold but not tired looking; honey and wax; creamy tones and very rounded; full and attractive palate round and generous with life and good length. Fascinating and excellent white. 90/100

Reyneke Reserve White

2009 Pale silver/gold; attractive nose, mealy character, deep; full round palate with some butter; some oyster shell; overall very round and attractive again. Very harmonious. Primarily new oak in 300 litre barrels with light toast. Fruit [100% Sauvignon Blanc] from one special estate parcel.  91+/100

Reyneke Organic Red

2009 Deep at centre, some red at edge; earthy, blackcurrant, graphite; very round and deep; quite open palate, round and nicely done. [100% Shiraz] 89/100

Reyneke Cornerstone

2009 Earthy red, denser at centre; some iodine, pine, spice and earth with some mint and medicinal notes; attractive and has lift – love the minty notes and a little tobacco leaf; mid-weight and balanced again on the palate with some grip.  Attractive [50-60% Cabernet/30% Shiraz/rest Cab Franc and Merlot] 90+/100

Reyneke Reserve Red

2007 Deep black at centre, earthy edge; some oak influence here; lift and berry/blackcurrant aromas quite sophisticated in feel; nice and tight on the palate some liquorice; focused wine; chocolate and blackcurrant flavours; oak here but well handled. Earthy and really good. [Syrah 70%/Cabernet 30%] 92+/100

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