I heard Richard Kershaw’s name for the first time when he was one of 80 Platter 5 star winners for his inaugural Kershaw Elgin Chardonnay 2012 earlier this month. Yesterday we attended a tasting of his 2012 Chardonnay and Syrah at Rodwell House in St James, at which Richard unpacked the importance of clones in making his two wines.
Richard is a larger-than-life personality, and wine judge and writer Angela Lloyd complimented him for his wines having personality too. He grew up in Sheffield, and did a cooking course in Slough, at an excellent chef’s school. He moved to winemaking, assisting in an American cellar, where he met a South African, who encouraged him to come to South Africa instead of to Chile and Argentina, where he intended to travel to next. He followed the advice of his friend, and fate determined that he met his now wife Mariette in the guest house in which he was staying in Stellenbosch, having arrived on the night on which Luciano Pavarotti gave his only South African concert, which they could hear from the guest house, he explained. He was shown around different cellars, but was most impressed with Mulderbosch, Laibach, and Vergelegen. He followed his dream to go to Chile to help make wine there, but his heart drew him back to Stellenbosch and to Mariette. He announced himself at Mulderbosch, boldly asking for a job, and his wish was granted. He does not have a formal winemaking qualification, but became a Master of Wine (MW) two years ago, after a six year study period, the first South African winemaker to have received this, and one of 303 in the world. Obtaining his MW has opened more doors for him, and he has no shortage of grapes being offered to him, he said.
Two years ago Richard decided to go it on his own, and his Master of Wine research stood him in good stead, unpacking the information. In his presentation it was clear that Richard is a collector and analyser of information, rattling off statistics about rainfall in summer and in winter, night time winter temperatures, ‘heat summation days‘, ‘cold units‘ (the number of hours with a temperature of less than 10°C), mean temperatures, Black Southeaster days, humidity, dampness, weather trends (el Niño versus La Niña), heat spikes, and more. Richard talks very fast, and is a mine of information, an analysis of which he applied in his choice of Elgin to make his wines, influenced by its proximity to the ocean, its higher altitude, greater cloud cover, high cold units, and a large ‘diurnal range‘ (the range in temperature from the high of the daytime to the cool at night, Wikipedia informs), ‘to show a sense of place‘. It’s not a surprise that he has cleverly chosen his pay-off line as ‘Elgin, the cooler place to be’! He added that he also liked that Elgin is a newer wine region, that has stayed natural, that is family-friendly, unaffected, and has no large ‘corporate’ wineries.
Richard chose blue for his label, to denote coolness, and the label is embossed with three symbols, C representing his birth year, the rose representing the symbol of Sheffield, as well as the Elgin marsh rose, and the last symbol being that of Sheffield sterling silver. He has launched the Clone Club, members being able to buy 2 six-packs of Chardonnay and Syrah, of the total of 600 and 500 packs, respectively, which he currently produces. Richard’s love for information and statistics shows in his website name rikipedia!
What makes Richard unique as a winemaker is that he focuses on the effect of blending clones of Chardonnay, which come from small pockets in Elgin, which he buys in. He is not allowed to identify them on his label, but refers to them as ‘Richard’s favourite places‘. He has used Chardonnay clones CY76 (giving floral, with white peach and lemon), CY96 (white peach, nuts, and citrus), and CY95 (aromatic, fuller bodied, yellow peach), roughly one third of each having been used to make his award-winning Chardonnay. The wine is matured in French oak for ten months, with 10% matured in stainless steel. For his Syrah he has used clone 9c (75%) and 22 (25%). He explained that the Dijon Chardonnay clones he chose perform well in cooler climates. The vines are grown in an apple-dominant region, and are about 8 – 12 years old, although he gets grapes from one 20 year old block. Decantation is recommended.
We had lunch at Rodwell House, a 1930s building which was converted into a boutique hotel seven years ago, and belongs to Robin von Holdt. I met Jan Sleet, a marketing consultant working with Richard Kershaw Wines, handling its Social Media, sitting next to her and with John Ford over lunch, a jolly corner mainly due to John’s sense of humour. The starter was a ‘Modern Take on Avocado Ritz’, the menu informed, but still a delicious classic. Richard explained that he had chosen the main course of slow roast pork belly with traditional apple sauce (made from Elgin apples, he said), and Yorkshire pudding (to represent where he comes from). He chose pork in preference to beef to better pair with his Syrah, he said. The meal ended off with a cheese platter, fig preserve, strawberries, and grapes, and Salti Crax, and a well made cappuccino.
Richard said that there is no detailed documentation of clones in South Africa, which could be of benefit to winemakers. It struck me that he would be the perfect person to compile such information. He is considering bottling single clonal wines in future, but these will only be Chardonnay and Syrah, focusing only on these two varieties, he said.
Disclosure: We received a bottle of Kershaw Elgin Chardonnay 2012 with our media pack.
Richard Kershaw Wines, Elgin. Tel (021) 848-9114 www.rikipedia.co Twitter: @RKershawWines
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage