Sep 30 2012

Life on stones, the Springfield Estate

Published by at 8:07 pm under South Africa

The Bruwer family estate is now in its fourth generation of wine making in the Robertson area of South Africa. Like with many other wine growers their heritage goes back to one of Europe’s wine region. In their case it’s the Loire, so it was inevitable that one of their major focus will become Sauvignon Blanc.

The estate is 100 ha big and irrigation is crucial as Mr. Bruwer told us. In summer the channels have to be turned on twice a week, if this does not happen the leaf drop within 2-3 weeks and they will not wake up next year either. The temperature and the evaporation rate is high, while the roots penetrate as deep as they can in the rocky soil but if there is no water for them, it’s of no use. Roughly 40m3 is needed per ha per day in high summer. The majority of the water comes from the river, pond and other reservoirs created for this purpose. The water must be filtered as there are some impurities of little stones coming from the Glacier Mountain and river.

All the vines are grafted onto nematode resistant rootstock. The nitrogen from the air also aids to kill nematodes in the irrigation water. Would you need less water if you would have planted the vines less dense? From the 6000 ha /vines to 3000 for instance. “No” was the answer. Much of the vines should be covered as there is plenty of heat reflection and one vine should shade the other one. All are planted into the sun set and you don’t want your grapes sit in the sun.

You can look at many different things to determine your irrigation schedule. Yet the best thing is still being connected to your vineyards. Go out everyday. “It’s like riding a bicycle after you learned it, you just do it”. Winds in the area are not as severe as let’s say for instance in Stellenbosch or Paarl. Yet it’s not unusual to have 40 to 50 knots, yet you wouldn’t want to plant wind breaks. As this could enhance the development of frost.

What makes Robertson so special? They not only spray less (e.g. sulphur dust mainly twice / year) at Springfield they do not use any copper as being heavy metal and it can get into the vines. Lime, Sulphur and Vitamin C is used during the harvest it binds peroxide and inhibits the native yeast, rather positive in the case if you’re looking to proceed with protective winemaking. 30 ppm Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and 45 ppm SO2 / tonne.

The other thing at Robertson region is the connection of the wine makers within the region. The farmers who own mostly their own land up here know each other from a long time. They are really good colleagues, co-operate with many different things. For instance Springfield Estate makes a charity wine (called Thunderchild) in which they process the grapes from the local orphanage. They vinify it and everybody sells it. To make wine for a good cause it great, but nevertheless the wine still has to taste good. Consumer will appreciate it, Springfield do put a lot of effort to make a rather nice Bordeaux blend here which many of the other wineries sell as well and the money goes to a good cause.

There is this ongoing debate about the connection between soil and flavour in the wine. Where does minerality come from? Does it actually exist? Since there is not enough space to discuss this here yet at Springfield there are plenty of smaller and bigger rocks in the vineyard the question sets the scene. “Stones have no flavour that they impart on wine”. What happens the soil becomes less, the rocks take up the space and when its less soil there is more concentration in the wine. Similar to old vines which produce less or denser plantings. Something like this happens in the Life from Stone Sauvignon Blanc which slightly over 20 year old vines (clone SB11E planted on 101/14) picked at night in January 3 week cold settling (at -3°C) and a longer period on lees give more structure and depth to the wine. The Special Cuvée which lies on more sandy soil coming from SB242 clones on Ramsay goes through similar vinification process and apart from the different clone and rootstock and of course the different soil (here more sand stone and less quartzite rock) it taste totally different. More mineral notes in the first wine with intense gooseberry, spicy character and flinty finish. While the Special Cuvée slightly closed at the beginning but shows depth and rich texture on the palate with broader fruit note.

The Whole Berry Cabernet Sauvignon is another interesting wine. It is machine harvested yet the berries remain as a whole, as no destalking happens. It has to be very ripe and for instance with Pinot Noir it wouldn’t quite work but with the Bordeaux varieties it goes well. The idea with the Whole Berry CabSav is to honour the ancestor which harvested the whole berry by hand and placed them uncrushed into open tanks to let them ferment with natural yeast. The Cabernet Sauvignon is harvested around March gets a short 3 days cold maceration and is fermented in open fermenters for 2-3 weeks.

The question on wild yeast will come latest when you taste the Wild Yeast Chardonnay. Native yeast is used which is in the vineyards and in the cellar without any addition of injected culture. If the yeast fails to deliver it’s not very nice. Dash of sulphur in the vineyard for the grapes before the wild yeast kicks in and let the stronger ones keep at 10°C to develop. You cannot just let the fermentation run, you have to break it in parts and control the temperature not let it go over 23°C, especially not at the beginning. It takes white wines to ferment longer with wild yeast, even 2-4 months.

Another end less debate is the question on closures. The capsule with the membrane allows little bit of oxygen to pass through. The winery was experimenting for over 6 years, still finds cork as a closure better, as in a normal screw cap capsule their wine is too tight and never opens up. There is often a problem with the reduction of sulphur, at the bottling line there is no adjustment of different sulphur level (from cork to screw cap). It’s more about the pH, if this is high under screw cap you’re in trouble. Also copper pipes can kill the flavours.

Green notes, bell pepper, green pepper and overly herbaceous notes are not really a style of the Robertson region. It’s more about ripe flavours, more citrus, apple mousse, granadilla even with lower alcohol levels it’s less likely to get pyrizine notes in Robertson Sauvignon Blancs’. Since it’s not as cool as Elgin for instance.

“Good wine is grown, not made”. True to this philosophy, the Springfield estate crafts unique and true to their terroir wines with ample fruit yet a certain touch of minerality and restrained fruit character. With little as possible interference in the vineyard and at the winery. Harvesting during night, filtering and fining kept to a minimum level, working with wild yeast, not to mention the hard work with in the vineyards. Creating life from stones…

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