The Godfather of Grenache: Johan Delport at Waverley Hills

Words: Malu Lambert

Somewhere between Tulbagh and Ceres lies a wine farm called Waverley Hills. It’s a winery making, well, waves for various reasons, among them for producing award-winning organic wines, as well as being leaders in the recycling of winery waste.

Waverley Hills Winemaker

They have another ace up their sleeve, in the form of winemaker, Johan Delport. When we get chatting over some glasses of his Grenache Noir 2015. I find myself soon calling him the Godfather of Grenache, as he was the first winemaker in the country to make a single varietal wine from this grape, rather than simply just using it for blending (as all the other wineries were doing at the time).

Johan Delport Grenache

Looking back at Grenache

“In the old days the farmers used to plant Grenache because it gives very big yields if the vineyards are irrigated quite a lot,” says Johan Delport launching into his story. “So they used to get big volumes, but the quality of the grapes weren’t any good. The old wineries used this diluted Grenache for light dry red blends or for brandy.”

From overworked vineyards to vinous serendipity. “During my time as winemaker at the then Citrusdal Cellars [now Piekenierskloof Wines], I discovered old Grenache vines in the Piekenierskloof area.”

Cultural Immersion

Delport had spent some time in Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Southern Rhone Valley (a region dominated by the grape), and so he could see the potential of these old vines. The inaugural single varietal Grenache soon followed.

These days Delport is carrying on the tradition of making good quality Grenache at Waverley Hills. Made from bush vines, the Grenache Noir 2015 has a lovely rose-petal perfume, followed by a juicy sweetness and an almost spicy savouriness. There’s nothing one dimensional about it.

Waverley Hills Grenache Johan Delport

Making this style of wine in South Africa

The biggest challenge working with Grenache in South Africa is the age of the vineyards,” says Delport in answer to my question.

“Grenache is the type of grape that gets more balanced and concentrated the older the vines get. Some of the oldest Piekenierskloof vineyards are only about 40 years old.”

That being said Delport thinks the way forward is if we concentrate on the lighter and easier drinking style of wine. “We don’t have the fruit to make the serious styles like Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Priorat. And it’s true that the low alcohol, lighter style of Grenache is getting more and more popular.

“While we can’t necessarily make the same style as the ‘old world’ countries—we can certainly make wines of the same quality.”

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