Waterkloof – heavenly wines deeply rooted in the earth…

Words: Crush

Waterkloof Wine celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. A decade of experience coupled with a dedicated biodynamic approach, have resulted in an anniversary and a harvest, worth celebrating.

To really appreciate Waterkloof Wine Estate, you need to look away from their crisp, golden Chenin Blanc for a moment – run your hands through the nutrient-rich soil, close your eyes and feel the cool ocean breeze on your cheek. This cool wind, which blows up from Atlantic, is symbolised in the estate’s emblem and is an integral part of why owner Paul Boutinot, chose this exquisite site on which to build what has become known as ‘the cellar in the sky’.

One of the most important motivators in Paul’s global search was climate. At Waterkloof, there is a sharp drop in afternoon temperatures with strong winds coming off the Atlantic which are funneled up a ravine (the ‘kloof’) and then spread over the estate’s amphitheatre of south-facing vineyards. This wind enables naturally low yields, and a long and slow growing season – both of which are fundamental factors in producing grapes with complexity, concentration and natural acidity.

Boutinot reflects, “I chose the Waterkloof site for specific reasons. It just happened to be in South Africa, just as Romanée-Conti just happens to be in France. If I were to go back in time I would make the same decision again… only more quickly. We have worked hard, learned and improved a lot over the past decade, with more still to come!”

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The Waterkloof team know that once nature is in balance, profound rewards can be seen in the vines and the grapes. The team has worked for 6 years to convert to biodynamic practices around the farm. The original compacted and acidic soils have now morphed into naturally nutritious soil which is alive with microbials and fungi which feed the vines. Evidence of this change is the fact that there are very few branches from trimming the vines lying on the ground – they are quickly ‘digested’ by the microbial-rich soil. One thing for sure – nature cannot be rushed and this process of giving life to the soil has been one of patience and dedication.

Farm manager, Cristiaan Loots believes that, “One enterprise must work with the other” and this is evident in many of the soil rejuvenating and biodynamic processes around the farm. A team of hard-working earthworms break down the waste from the restaurant, and once the rabbits have produced enough nitrogen and potassium-filled manure, they may be used in a sumptuous dish by Chef Gregory Czarnecki. Maybe not the ideal thought for some people, but this is the way nature intended. There are vats of natural kelp-infused fertilisers and beef tree leaves brewing down tree-lined lanes between blocks of vines – all of these natural remedies effectively protect the growing vines against most predatory diseases.

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At Waterkloof, the biodynamic practices have even extended to how the grapes are harvested. They have a team of sturdy horses that, under the guidance of their handlers, expertly plough the soil on the steep slopes of the vineyards.

“The first day our horses ploughed the soil, the first time we sprayed the vines using our own horse carts and the first time we brought 960 kilograms of grapes per horse into the cellar, will always be stand-out memories for me…” shares Loots.

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The hard work that has gone into developing these farming practices has been welcomed by winemaker, Nadia Barnard, who has been with the farm since 2008.  “We’ve taken the site from its raw potential to a position where we are experiencing this quality in the bottle. The building blocks are now in place, and the wines will increase in depth as the vines grow older whilst our essential elegant style will remain,” states Barnard.

As the farm celebrated its milestone birthday, an elated Barnard said, “Expectations are high for our 10-year vintage. 2015 was our very first biodynamically certified harvest and it delivered the finest quality grapes in our winemaking history – small berries with concentrated juice, elegant acidity and lots of flavour.”

Waterkloof’s expertly designed, 500-ton cellar is both ultra-modern and geared for traditional winemaking practices such as open top, wooden fermenters for red wines; whole bunch pressing for white wines to guarantee gentle extraction, and the use of gravity to avoid excessive pumping. In pursuit of more individually styled wines, Waterkloof relies only on naturally present, wild yeasts during fermentation. They produce a range of ‘honest’ wines with a philosophy of transforming grapes into wine with minimal intervention and maximum care.

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There is no doubt that Waterkloof offers something unique –a sense of floating above the world in the tasting room, exquisite food in the restaurant and some of the most complex, and mindfully crafted, wines in the country.

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Waterkloof Wine Estate

Sir Lowry’s Pass Road, Somerset West

www.waterkloofwines.co.za

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