Yesterday a visit to The Mentors cellar at KWV in Paarl, a facility fulfilling the dual purposes of top-end quality as well as research and development. Built five years ago, it features modern technology and receives only the best parcels of fruit, some 300 tons of grapes being processed annually compared to KWV’s total of between 10 500 and 11 000 tons.
Current cellarmaster Richard Rowe observes “Good wines are made in the vineyard. Great wines are made in the boardroom” – without senior management supplying the necessary vision and financial resources, it’s difficult for a corporate to get wines of distinction to market. The Mentors range commemorates the leading industry figures (Charles Back of Fairview and Spice Route, Neil Ellis and Ian McKenzie (former cellarmaster of Australian wine giant Southcorp) called into consult during the mid 2000s to help KWV through the transformation process from super co-operative to competitive mass-market player.
The Mentors range is the best that KWV can do, the emphasis largely but not exclusively on wines of specific origin.”It’s about drilling down and really understanding specific terroirs,” says Rowe. Because of the diversity of sites to which KWV has access, one wine varies quite significantly from the next aesthetically. “We’re not trying to force a stylistic line throughout the range,” says head winemaker Johann Fourie.
Though The Mentors label only dates from the 2006 vintage, wines in the range are winning accolades thick and fast, most recently the Semillon winning the trophy for best in class at the 2010 Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show, while the Sauvingon Blanc Semillon 2009 won double gold at last year’s Veritas.
Wines that stood out for me yesterday were a very pure and focused Semillon 2010 from Lutzville (R110 a bottle), an elegant Pinotage 2009 from a combination of Bottelary and Simonsberg grapes (R160) and Orchestra 2009m a very fine, complex Bordeaux-style red blend from Paarl and Stellenbosch fruit (R195).
However, perhaps most indicative of what Rowe and his team are trying to achieve is a sublime Grenache Blanc 2010 (R110) a bottle. Grapes from a Paarl vineyard one hectare in size, bearing its fourth crop and yielding an astounding 30 tons. 60% of the wine spent six months in large format oak, second- and third-fill. No malo-lactic fermentation. In the glass, it is very pure-fruited and fresh with flavours of white peach and lime, rather primary at present but sure to fatten out with a year or two.