Little interference in making Springfield wines, focus on pH and balance of its wines!


opendoor-entranceYesterday I attended two tastings of the Robertson-based Springfield Estate wines at OpenWine Pair Shop on Wale Street, a central tasting facility offering a selection of South African wines. I was impressed with the personality of co-owner Jeanette Bruwer, which came through in the evening tasting in particular! She introduced her wines in a consumer-friendly fun and natural manner.

Fourth generation brother and sister Abrie and Jeanette Bruwer run imageSpringfield jointly, and Jeanette said proudly that her brother is the winemaker and viticulturist. She said that neither of them studied winemaking, but learnt it via the ‘lessons of life’ as well as mistakes.  The Bruwer family dates back to the French Huguenots, the original surname being Bruére. A teacher said that two vowels cannot follow each other, and hence the surname was changed to ‘Bruwer’. The farm was allocated to the forbears in 1668. 

imageThe lunchtime function was a Tasting of the Springfield Methode Ancienne Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, which was officially released on Monday. Jeanette had decanted the wine, and told us the lovely story about the 1997 vintage of about 4000 bottles, of which they had kept 100 bottles aside, placed them in a wire cage and took it out to sea at Struisbaai on a very windy day, carving the GPS co-ordinates on the side of the boat, as they had nothing to write with on the boat. They thought that the movement of the wine in the cage, the filtered sunlight, and the sea temperature at about 23ºC would benefit the wine.  Six months later they were ready to take out the cage, but they could not find it. They asked friends to help them locate it. Three and a half years later, whilst out on their boat, they saw the cage. They found that the wine in the cage had matured faster than the remaining wines which they had matured in their cellar.

The Methode Ancienne is made from the oldest vineyard on their farm. Nineteen years later the wine can be drunk now, or can be kept for future drinking. The wine sells for R700 from their cellar. It is only made in exceptional years, the wine having last been made in 2012, and now in 2016. The 1997 vintage was a cool one. The next vintage will be a 2018 one. The wine is matured in barrels. Due to the age of the wine there can be a sediment, and hence decanting the wine is recommended.

Jeanette reminded us that Robertson is not as hot as many perceive it to be, it cooling off significantly at night, with a day/night temperature difference of 22ºC.  They only receive 240 mm of rain per year on average. I was fascinated with Jeanette’s feedback about black frost, which is a danger they face in September and October. Jeanette told us that if the full moon falls into the second half of October, they can expect black frost, which happened this year on 12 October. Abrie and Jeanette were on top of it, and contracted a helicopter to fly over the vineyards to create a movement of air, Jeanette sitting in the helicopter with the pilot, and Abrie directing the operation from the ground. They also use fans in their vineyards, to circulate the air. 

Lifestyle journalist Malu Lambert, Drink Feed’s Anel Grobler, imageand Singita Sommelier Francois Rautenbach attended the tasting while I was there at lunchtime. Marta Gobbo of Open Wine made platters of bruschetta with Italian salami and ham available for the tasting. The tasting of the wine was done in imageconjunction with John Collins, who distributes the wines of seven clients in the Western Cape, being Springfield, Jordan, Diemersfontein, Newton Johnson, Tamboerskloof, Chris Keet, and Le Lude. Marcha Cooke is a Facebook Friend, who also grew up in my hometown Wellington, and she was at both tastings, assisting Jeanette. 

Jeanette told us that 1998 was a significant year for Springfield, in that they stopped crushing their grapes, started using natural fermentation, no longer adding yeast, and no longer add pressed must. They started whole berry maceration in that year too. The changes have led to a lowering of the alcohol content of their wines, having dropped from 15% to roughly 13,5%. Often the wind creates rain, as the air rises up against the Langeberg mountain. The changes in 1998 were initiated by a challenge to lower the alcohol content of their wines. As an innovative family, they needed ‘to make a plan to reduce the alcohol levels’ of their wines. They pulled out vines originally planted North to South, and planted new ones East to West, allowing even ripening of their grapes. They believe in interfering as little as possible in their winemaking. They rack their red wines more often. They have not used insecticides in their vineyards in the past eight years, the South Easter sorting out the problem for them.  They have a gravity flow cellar.  Jeanette said that there is no correct or wrong way of making wine.  She said classically: ‘You cannot make an ugly wine pretty‘!

I returned for the tasting of six Springfield wines yesterday at 18h00, a popular one, with the venue being full for the one-hour tasting. I have attended similar tastings by a wine estate, including Arendsig from Robertson, imageAvondale in Paarl, and Domaine des Dieux from Hermanus. I liked the simplicity of Jeanette’s story about each of her wines. She complimented OpenWine owners  Marta Gabbo and Raphael Parenti on their contagious happiness and passion for South African wines. We tasted the following wines:  

#  Life from Stone Sauvignon Blanc 2016

We loved the perfume of this wine, giving a strong aroma of guava. A large proportion of the wine is made from grapes growing on quartzite rock. The wine has minerality imageand salinity. It has a low pH. They have lots of canopy to cover the grapes, and the wine has lots of acidity. Springfield was the first to give their wines names, and Life from Stone in particular. 

Jeanette encouraged wine lovers to visit Robertson, it being the ‘Franschhoek of 30 years ago‘. One can meet the owners of the wine farms, many of whom are third generation families. They live on the land, they went to school together, and have formed a close bond in the farming fraternity. She said that Robertson is not a tour bus town, self-drive visitors being preferred. Their staff work with them, not for them. Her father wanted to farm vines here too, and not only on the alluvial soils near the Berg River. 

#.  Miss Lucy 2016

14591079_379316492413499_4887766245631328256_nThis wine is named after one of the names for a Red Stumpnose fish, Jeanette admitting that they may have fished more than their fair share of it. She said that the fish has various names. It has white flakes, and its taste is reminiscent of crayfish. It is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (38%), Semillon (32%), and Pinot Gris (30%). It is the perfect wine to have with calamari and prawns, complementing sea food. 

The wine label offers the contact details of WWF SASSI, ‘to make up for the wrongs of the past‘!

#   Wild Yeast Chardonnay 2014

Jeanette told us that in wine farming one takes the good with the imagebad. Working with natural fermentation, one makes good wines or vinegar. There is no mediocrity at Springfield. Natural fermentation takes six to thirteen months to finish in underground cement tanks, which are 150 years old. The wine is not wooded. The skin of the grapes is used for six hours. The wine gives aromas of strawberry and candy floss. 

#   Whole Berry Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Tannins come from the skin and not the seeds of the grapes. 

#   The Work of Time 2009

imageThe wine is a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Franc (39%), Merlot (34%), Cabernet Sauvignon (17%), and Petit Verdot (10%). Every year the blend composition differs. Each variety is fermented separately. The Petit Verdot lifts the acidity of the wine, allowed in this country. In France the wines require more sugar, which can legally be added. The wine is barrel matured, 70% in new barrels and 30% in second fill, for two years. Another four or five years follow for bottle maturation. There is no fining or filtration of Springfield red wines. 

We laughed at Jeanette’s description of how they got to the name of this wine, 720 options having been evaluated, and grew from her original suggestion of ‘I’m still standing’, to much laughter. It was a very popular wine, and we could not believe that it only costs R145 at the cellar door. 

#   Methode Ancienne Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

We tasted the wine which I had tasted earlier in the day, described above. 

#   Pinot Noir

An attendee asked Jeanette about their Pinot Noir, having been told that it is no longer produced. He had been very impressed with it. She said that they have been making it, but not releasing it. The grapes ripen at the same time as Sauvignon Blanc, and sometimes they have to make a choice. They are planning on releasing a Pinot Noir next year, made in the Burgundy style. She said that Pinot Noir is like women, expecting men to understand them but they do not understand themselves, a humorous ending to our tasting!  

My fellow tasters were impressed with Jeanette’s wine stories, and agreed that their wine-making philosophy is biodynamic, even though they are not certified. Jeanette would like to see more disclosure on labels as to the content of wines.

Springfield Estate, Robertson. Tel (023) 626 366. 

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: click here  Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein


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