“It takes 20 years to become an overnight sensation,” says Grant Dodd, general manager of Haskell Vineyards. In which case the Stellenbosch property owned by Preston Haskell, an American businessman based in Moscow is tracking well. The maiden-release Pillars Shiraz 2007 has straightaway emerged as a local benchmark winning gold at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show 2009, before being rated 5 Stars in Platter’s 2010 and winning not only best in class but best red wine and best wine overall at the Tri Nations Wine Challenge 2009.
Winemaker is Rianie Strydom, previously of Morgenhof, where she gained particular acclaim for the Bordeaux-style red blend the Première Sélection and a Bordeaux-style red from Haskell is therefore an intriguing prospect.
Haskell IV 2007, so called because it contains four of the five Bordeaux varieties (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot) but also because owner Haskell is the fourth Preston in the family, is set for release in July.
The wine is a fait accompli and Dodd and co. are sufficiently convinced of its quality that they will be asking R400 a bottle for it. All the same, they accept that release of the ‘07 is the first step in a long journey and are committed to a process of continuous improvement.
Haskell team members conduct regular benchmarking exercises where they pit their product against local and international wines at comparative price points. Yesterday I joined Dodd, Strydom and vineyard manager Wikus Pretorius for a tasting that saw the Haskell up against three top local counterparts (De Toren Fusion V 2007, Ernie Els 2007 and Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2007 as well as three wines from Bordeaux (Domaine de Chevalier 2007, Langoa Barton 2007 and L’Arrossée).
It has to be said that going into a tasting like this you expect the wines from Bordeaux to shape well but as Dodd posited at the outset, great Cabernet Sauvignon blends from elsewhere in the world should resemble great Bordeaux (in the sense of comparable complexity) at least at some point in their lifespan. How would the SA wines shape?
It was cock-on-block stuff and once the tasting was complete, Dodd and I both had the Langoa Barton first and L’Arrossée second, Pretorious the other way around while Strydom had her wine first and the Fusion V second.
The South African wines were unquestionably of above average quality but typically were more obvious than their Bordeaux counterparts: more intense fruit, more prominent oaking. “The South African growing season is just so much shorter than Bordeaux.,” observed Dodd. The consequence? A more abrupt ripening process making it difficult to achieve the same subtlety and complexity in the end-wine.
I was left with a radical thought: Stellenbosch, particularly the Helderberg area where Haskell is situated ,has to date been thought of Cabernet country but might we not come to see it as more inherently suited to warm-climate Shiraz, especially when climate change is increasingly a factor?