Very near the end of Franschhoek’s Verdun Road, in the southern corner of the valley, on a steep mountainside, an adventurous bunch of people is making wine. They’re not worried that for all of the area’s more than three centuries of winemaking history nobody else has tried it. They’re idealists and they’ve been bowled over by the raw energy of a farm called Wildeberg.
Driving to meet the Wildebergn team, the Franschhoek Mountains loom ever-closer. By the time I arrive at the farm gate their tops are no longer visible through the car’s windscreen – unless I crane my neck unnaturally. Somehow being this close to them and not being able to see all of them makes me even more aware of their grandeur and the geologic forces responsible for their creation.
On my way to the farm office, next to the manor house, I pass a clutch of quaint cottages, a farm shed, disused horse stables and the new, sympathetically-designed barrel store.
I meet the Wildeberg team and we stroll along sandstone-paved paths, past the barrel store to the Dam House. The Dam House is dramatically perched at the edge of a farm dam. Unlike the manor house, this building turns its back to the valley and faces the dark, cool water of the dam and the fynbos-clad mountains. Here too, it is the outside space that will cause visitors to linger. There’s a braai just off an expansive wooden deck spreading out into the water that laps the base of the mountains on the far side of the lake. Thoughts of convivial tastings and hearty meals shared on the deck immediately enter my mind.
On our way back to the office we pause to identify some of the fynbos regenerating after February’s devastating fires. Our botanising is interrupted by the arrival of winemaker JD Rossouw. JD’s focus is to develop the Wildeberg farm, winery and barrel store. He also sources and makes wines from South Africa’s Coastal Region (Swartland, Paarl, Stellenbosch and Darling areas) for Boutinot – Wildeberg’s UK-based corporate owner. “I love creating wine,” he says “It’s challenging … every year you start over and every day is different from the next”.
The aim with Wildeberg wines is to express the ‘most captivating’ Franschhoek Valley fruit. True to their aim, the 2018 Wildeberg White (100% Semillon) has already garnered the Best Semillon Trophy at the 2019 Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show and an impressive 95 points in British wine master, Tim Atkin’s, 2019 SA Special Report.
For Wildeberg Terroirs wines the winemakers look beyond the valley to create ‘exceptional wines of place, however humble the origin.’ Two Wildeberg Terroirs wines are currently available: a Chenin Blanc from Paarl and a Sauvignon Blanc from a lofty Stellenbosch location.
The fruit for all the wines is from dry-grown, older vines that after being hand-picked was naturally fermented. The result isn’t necessarily what one would stereotypically expect of the cultivars, but they’re true to the Wildeberg ethos and certainly the better for it – as the accolades attest.
Some might say that it’s a pity there are less than 3000 bottles of each of these wines to go around. I am vino-selfish though and only selectively share information about vinous jewels, so I should be good for a little longer!
Barely a tenth of Wildeberg can be cultivated. On this precious soil blocks of Semillon, Chardonnay, Durif and Shiraz have been established and will soon be joined by Cabernet Franc. The rest of the farm is left to what suits it best: fynbos, baboons and all kinds of critters.
Barely back to the daily grind I already know that it won’t be long before I return for another visit to this challenging and captivating farm and the idealistic band making wine there.
Oenophiles are welcome to contact the farm to arrange a tasting.
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