When the Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2008 won the Guala Closures Chenin Blanc Challenge earlier this year, the result was marred by the discovery that the wine had been bottled in three batches, each having subtle differences in terms of analysis but all bearing the same label.
During a lunch at Bombay Brasserie, the restaurant at Taj hotel, Cape Town, winemaker Johan Joubert was able to put his side of the story. Logisitical problems started when picking was disrupted by unusually heavy rain in January – some fruit was already in the cellar, the rest was left on the vine while the Kleine Zalze team waited for the weather to improve. Production of the Vineyard Selection is large (anywhere between 20 000 and 24 000 litres) and therefore difficult to manage. In particular, fermentation is intended to be as long as possible to impart extra complexity to the end-wine but does not complete all at the same time and hence a lack of uniformity across the entire production. In the case of the 2008, fermentation took between six and nine months to complete, the longest Joubert had experienced in 18 years of winemaking, matters further complicated when malo-lactic fermentation spontaneously occurred in 40% of the wine. He doesn’t believe that one batch was significantly better than any other and in fact at the time of the controversy, considered showing wines from all three batches to critics to demonstrate this point. Fundamentally, however, he regrets the decision to bottle in batches and accepts now that he should have blended the differences away.
Fixating on the above, however, is to detract from the cracking Chenin that Joubert has been making since joining Kleine Zalze in 2003. He showed various wines yesterday, one of the interesting points he demonstrated being the difference between even and odd vintages. Because he works with old vines, up to 45 years in age, their vigour tends to alternate significantly from year to year, strong in even years, weak in odd. Whereas you might expect the best fruit in the years when the vine grows struggles, Joubert finds the opposite. Healthy leaves are very important for maintaining optimal pH and TA levels in the last fortnight before harvest. Conversely, in odd years when the vine exhibits less vigorous growth, it ends up more open to the elements, dew able to reach the fruit more easily, leading to a higher incidence of botrytis.
Wine of the lunch was Cellar Selection Bush Vines 2004. Deep yellow with a green tinge in colour, the nose showed pleasing evolution. The palate was rich and full with flavours of citrus, honey and spice. The texture was smooth but not unctuous, acidity gentle but sufficient. Consider that this wine originally sold for R26 a bottle and you’d be entitled to feel quite chuffed with yourself if you’d had the foresight to cellar some.