Yesterday a day spent exploring StellenRust Chenin Blanc. The rise of the StellenRust brand is frankly remarkable: A partnership between the Boshoff and Van der Westhuizen families, Tertius Boshoff forsook dentistry to become a self-taught winemaker while Kobie van der Westhuizen is accountant cum viticulturist.
There are two properties, one in Bottelary with some 180ha under vineyard and the other in the Golden Triangle area of Stellenbosch, 82ha under vine. Grapes from the Bottelary property used to be sold off, while the Golden Triangle property was farmed for tobacco until recently.
Compelled to add value in order to remain economically viable, the first wines under a StellenRust label in the modern era were from the 2004 vintage, this being 1 500 bottles of Bordeaux-style red blend Timeless. Boshoff reports that sales in the last financial year amounted to 75 000 cases.
About a third of the Bottelary property is planted to Chenin Blanc, some vineyards no more than five years old but one 4ha block dating all the way back to 1964 and responsible for the flagship Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc, each bottling designated with the age of the vineyard in the vintage year, so “43” in the case of the maiden 2007, “44” in 2008, “45” in 2009 and “46” in 2010.
Boshoff counts Mike Dobrovic, formerly of Mulderbosch and Abrie Bruwer of Springfield as mentors and the Barrrel Fermented Chenin is very much informed by their thinking. Hence spontaneous ferment in barrel, this typically taking an extended two or three months to reach completion. Maturation on the lees is nine to ten months, barrels used a combination of 50% French, 45% Hungarian and 5% American, only some 20% to 40% of this being new.
These are wines of great distinction, wonderfully complex and just a little quirky. “Not fully formed and that’s at least some of their charm,” says Boshoff. The 2007 shows quite a lot of developed character already but not unappealing for that, the 2008 (from a “wetter vintage” and hence picked earlier to avoid too much rot) elegant and subtle, the 2009 rich and weighty and the 2010 perhaps the best to date with great fruit purity offset by tangy acidity.
In fact, it is the acidity across all vintages that is the hallmark of these wines, snappy, zippy but never hard. Entirely natural and always high – as a consequence, the wines have a portion of Noble Late Harvest added “to balance the pH and total acidity rather than bulk out the wine”.
The wines are already attracting critical acclaim (the 2009 rated 5 Stars in Platter’s 2011, the 2010 nominated for 5 Stars in the 2012 edition) but I suspect you’re going to hear much, much more about them.