As you wind up the long, scenic driveway at Waterkloof Wines in South Africa’s Stellenbosch region, the first thing you notice is the building sitting atop the ridge that houses its winery, tasting room, and restaurant. It is a stunning, architectural marvel that features a protruding glass cube to maximize the views of the vineyards and False Bay. And while the facilities are modern and the winery relatively new, it’s the deep connection to the earth surrounding this structure that is truly at the heart of this estate.
Waterkloof is the vision of Paul Boutinot, a former wine importer who spent more than four decades in the wine industry. The wines he has always enjoyed the most come from organic and biodynamically grown fruit. He searched the world for close to 10 years to find a place with the right terroir to grow grapes the traditional way. He purchased the property that is now home to Waterkloof in 2004 and made their first wine in 2005.
The total area of the estate is 146Ha of which 61Ha are planted to vine while 83Ha is reserved for indigenous flora and fauna. It is shaped in the form of a natural amphitheatre at an altitude ranging between 200-350m above sea level with views of False Bay to one side and vineyards and the mountain range to the other. The property is also home to several farm animals including horses, sheep, chickens and cows. The seriousness with which Waterkloof takes its connection to the land has resulted in the winery being awarded Champion Status by the World Wildlife Federation’s Biodiversity and Wine Initiative.
Cellar Master Nadia Barnard joined Waterkloof in 2008 and upon meeting her, it becomes clear very quickly that she not only believes in the natural and biodynamic farming principles at Waterkloof, she lives and breathes it in all aspects of her life. She is warm and friendly, thoughtfully answering our questions with a unique combination of scientific facts and a passion that is infectious, “We’ve had our Organic and Biodynamic certification since 2015 but have been using the principles for quite a while. You can see it when you’re in the vineyards that there’s so much life. There’s oxygen in the soil, insects in the soil, and that’s how it should be. We’ve got angora goats, earth worms, horses, cows, and sheep—it’s wonderful to be on a true working farm. We only grow one product so we can’t replenish the soil all the time which is why we follow the biodynamic principles. Personally, I’ve always loved nature and always believed in building your own immunity. I’ve never been one to take pills or things like that so biodynamic farming is very applicable to my mindset.”
We’re standing in a vineyard block as she reaches down grabbing a handful of soil inviting us to smell the “life” to help prove her point. There is a distinct scent and the soil is loose rather than compacted. Throughout the property the soil is quite diverse and includes sandstone, decomposed granite, clay, and sand. Diversity also lies within the amphitheatre shape of the vineyards which allows for all sorts of different slopes and elevation meaning several different grape varieties can be grown. They also get a lot of wind, so much so the symbol for the Greek God of Wine adorns the front of the winery building. It is a south easterly wind that blows through the vineyard at speeds of up to 80-90km/h. The wind helps to keep the grapes cool during the growing season as well as keeping humidity from building up.
Nadia grew up in Somerset West, went to school in Stellenbosch, and studied chemistry at the university there. She has worked harvests at other Stellenbosch wineries as well as other regions worldwide including Australia’s Coonawara region, France’s Burgundy and Chablis regions, and in New Zealand. French winemaking is what influences her most which makes her a perfect fit for Paul’s vision at Waterkloof. Between the estate’s close proximity to the sea, its soil type and the wind, Waterkloof vines grow in a cooler climate region with elements most similar to France.
All of the grapes are picked by hand, the cellar is gravitational flow, and the fermenters are open-topped which results in natural temperature regulation and the formation of natural yeast. However, being organic produces its own set of challenges and this is where her background in chemistry comes in handy by helping her take calculated risks on the winemaking side, “You’re actually in a much more stressful condition and much more prone for bacteria to develop in the wine because you’re working with little to no sulfur from the beginning. I think having the science background has helped me be more inquisitive and informed while always striving to improve whether it’s what we do in the vineyard, the winery, or in our cleaning practices.”
While Organic & Biodynamic farming is still relatively uncommon in South Africa, Paul and Nadia believe that by making good wine, others will turn to these principles as well. They are already seeing an increase in young winemakers from around the world wanting to work at their biodynamic cellar to gain experience.
We tasted through three ranges of their wine including the flagship Waterkloof label which consists of their award-winning Sauvignon Blanc, their Circumstance range featuring single varietal wines defined by their unique terroir on the property, and their Circle of Life range which constitute a red and a white blend made up of grapes throughout the property (see tasting notes below).
This was our first visit to the Stellenbosch region and we couldn’t possibly have asked for a better introduction. Waterkloof has all the elements of great terroir combined with all the elements of a great winemaker, and the result is terrific wine that is helping define quality in South Africa.
2017 Circumstance Sauvignon Blanc
Whole bunches were gently pressed and the juice fermented mostly in neutral 600 litre barrels and one concrete egg. The result is a lovely textured wine that nicely balances the lime and green apple flavours with a minerally streak and juicy acidity. Six months resting on the lees adds to the texture. Very refreshing. (It has 3 grams per litre of residual sugar, which we could not detect).
Very Good/Excellent (*R112 at the winery)
2017 Waterkloof Sauvignon Blanc
All the dials are turned up on this wonderful Sauvignon! Grapefruit and citrus flavours greet your palate with intensity. The body is medium with beautiful texture – this wine spends 10 months on the lees and this imparts a nice richness which is a wonderful balance to the bracing acidity. Slight herbal notes come through on the long finish. This wine would stand tall in any line up of Sauvignon Blancs.
Excellent (R243 at the winery)
2017 Circumstance Chenin Blanc
Honeydew melon and green apple dominate the flavour profile of this medium/light body and refreshing Chenin. The mineral notes add to the complexity. The nose shows subtle notes of white flowers, making it very intriguing.
Very Good+ (R142 at the winery)
2017 Seriously Cool Cinsault
Aged 9 months in neutral 600 litre barrels, this shows the typicity of this Southern Rhone grape variety. Vibrant cherry and strawberry flavours draw additional complexity from spice notes. Medium body, the texture is soft and round. Earthy notes punctuate the finish.
Very Good (R122 at the winery)
2016 Circumstance Syrah
100% whole bunches were gently basket pressed and fermented with natural yeasts from the vineyard. The wine spent 19 months in 600 litre barrels before bottling. Black cherry and plum flavours combine with spice notes and hints of violets to create an elegant and complex Syrah. On the long finish we pick up hints of white pepper and expresso.
Excellent (R187 at the winery)
2016 Circumstance Mourvedre
Cherry and other dark red fruit notes lead the flavours of this wine. Complexity comes from subtle hints of minerals and cracked pepper. Nadia alerted us to the slight meaty note (think dried meats) that can be detected on the nose when you look for it. Elegant and powerful at the same time, this wine shows the structure for ageing. The long finish brought notes of cracked pepper into the mix.
Excellent (R187 at the winery)
2015 Circumstance Cabernet Franc
It is very rare that anyone offers their Cabernet Franc at the end of the tasting, particularly after a Syrah and Mouvedre. But that is exactly where this wine belonged, such was the power, intensity and sheer deliciousness of this wine. Black cherry fruit flavours dominate with hints of raspberry. Tobacco leaf and hints of forest bring complexity and speak to the nature of Cabernet Franc. The body of this wine is powerful but very smooth. Complex and very sophisticated.
Excellent+ (R187 at the winery)
*A note on prices: all of these wines are incredible bargains! The exchange rate now is about 13.3 Rand to the US dollar. In other words, R187 is only 14 USD.
Sir Lowry’s Pass Road,
Somerset West, 7129
Tasting Lounge: +27 (0) 21 200 2559