Winemakers love to wax lyrical about how great wines are “made in the vineyard”, and for a handful of wines that philosophy rings particularly true
While much of the winemaker’s skill lies in fermenting grapes from individual parcels of vineyard and blending them into a wine greater than the sum of its parts, “field blends” are different.
Dictated entirely by the inter-planting of different cultivars in the vineyard, “this is how vineyards used to be planted,” says acclaimed Swartland winemaker Eben Sadie. “The farmers would plant a mix of vines among each other, like an insurance policy, to ensure they would always have a crop each year.”
Today most winemakers prefer to keep their cultivars and clones separate, leaving the blending for the cellar, but a handful of blended vineyards still exist. Grapes from the different cultivars are typically harvested and fermented together, allowing the vagaries of the vintage to dictate the final make-up and style of the blend.
Perhaps the most famous local example is the ’T Voetpad from Sadie Family Vineyards: a white blend incorporating Semillon Blanc, Semillon Gris, Palomino, Chenin Blanc and Muscat d’Alexandrie (Hanepoot). Sourced from a 1,4ha vineyard on the slopes of the Piketberg Mountain, the vines here were planted between 1900 and 1928.
Sadie, who recently won the prestigious 2017 Winemakers’ Winemaker Award from the UK-based Institute of Masters of Wine, says the trick is for winemakers not to overshadow the grapes. “You must move very carefully in the cellar when you work with these vineyards. It requires an understanding of the history of that place: the families, the history and the soil. In your ambition to make a better wine you’ll destroy the wine.”
Another excellent choice is The Field Blend from Stark-Condé in the picturesque Jonkershoek Valley. When faced with what to plant on a tricky 2ha vineyard with 11 different soil types, a mix of cultivars turned a challenge into a selling point. Roussanne and Chenin Blanc form the backbone of The Field Blend, with a few rows of Verdelho and Viognier bringing acidity and aromatics. The grapes are picked on the same day and fermented together in barrel. The result is a stellar white blend with subtle oak backbone, bright fruit and wonderful aromatics. It’s an excellent food wine, and also Stark-Condé’s only true “estate wine” with all grapes grown and vinified on the farm.
The Sadie Family Wines
021 861 7700
Words: Richard Holmes | Images: Supplied