A couple of Friday’s ago I went to Bot River to taste the release of three new wines and visit two farms I had never been to; Genevieve and Luddite. I’ve known Niels and Penny Verburg for years and drank their wines on numerous occasions so it was really special to finally visit their farm. It was a gorgeous late winters day with the canola in full flower and I fell a little in love with Bot River.
The story of Luddite
Luddite began life in 2000 with the acquisition of a small 17ha farm. “After seeing the potential of Shiraz in the Bot River area, our dream to start something of our own came true,” says Niels.Penny and I set about transforming the wild slopes into a beautiful farm.”
The land was on the slopes of the Houw Hoek Mountains and there was plenty of work, but no time to waste. In fact, the release of the first Luddite Shiraz came that year too, from bought-in grapes. Vines were planted the following year. In 2002, a barrel-and-wine storage shed was built. It was only thereafter that a house was finally erected and the Verburgs moved in. More Shiraz plantings followed, along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre. The first vintage containing the farms own grapes came in 2004.
The two Luddite wines we tasted were the It’s a Shiraz 2017’, a wine made by Alice Verburg, daughter of Niels and Penny and assistant wine maker. The wine is light purple in colour with tones of violet. On the nose, it has spice, vibrant dark fruit and a hint of sweet cinnamon. The palate is balanced, showing juicy red fruit with more spice and a smooth, long tannic finish.
We also tasted Niels’s own Luddite Shiraz 2015 which is always a treat. Its a dark, cherry-coloured wine with a nose of spice and scrubland, cloves and dark cherry fruit. On the palate, it’s fresh, dry and spicy with dark fruit and cinnamon sticks. There are hay, leaves and liquorice on the mid-palate with a refreshing, long, dry finish.
In a short time, Luddite has established itself as a producer of great wines made with integrity and minimal interference – a foundation into which Alice stepped into, to work alongside her father in 2017.”The wines have benefitted from a feminine touch”, he declares.
Alice says It’s a Shiraz 2017 was a deliberate attempt to break away from the “seriousness and snobbyness” of wine. “It’s an experimental wine for me. I made the decision to make it on the morning the grapes came in – after all, I’d picked up plenty of ideas just watching my dad. There were about 400kg of grapes from Gabriëlskloof, “so, one bin to play with,” she says”. After vinification, the wine spent a year in barrel and another in bottle prior to release. “It’s suitable to drink now, but I want to make wines that age,” says Alice. “There’s aging potential even though it has low sulphur, the good, natural acidity will look after it.”
Her father’s latest wine, the Luddite Shiraz 2015 stems from a harvest that signaled the start of a long, dry spell in the Western Cape. “Due to the dryness and heat towards the end of the growing season, the vintage is our smallest to date – 2.3tons/ha. “We picked both our old block and young block together for the first time and, as depressing as it was to look at, the whole farm fitted into one tank.”
A highlight of the actual winemaking was that being a smaller crop, the wine retained “unbelievable fruit intensity”, says Niels. Various wood combinations were part of the process that led to this excellent wine.
The story of Genevieve MCC
Melissa Nelsen had always had a love for bubbly and when the opportunity arose to make it, she jumped. Genevieve is her second name and the patron saint of Paris, making Genevieve MCC the perfect link between great South African MCC made in the style of French Champagne. The first Genevieve MCC was released in 2010, a product of the 2008 vintage. “The initial decision on how much to make on a maiden vintage was decided in a very basic way,” says Melissa. “Make more than we can drink ourselves and friends so I’d be forced to go sell the rest!” The result was 5 000 bottles – “Quite a lot more than we could drink ourselves!”
There are two cornerstones to her wine: that only a healthy vineyard can produce quality; and, that maturation is essential to adding texture. The latter realisation came in 2011 when production was doubled to 10 000 bottles. “I realized as much as I loved seeing my bubbles in wine shops and top-rated restaurants, I was not presenting the Genevieve MCC at its most favourable release time. “I made the decision to stop selling my product for eight months. It was financially unwise but created next-level quality,” she says. The result realised export to Europe and the first to export to Canada this year.
In 2017, Genevieve MCC achieved another milestone – the wine found a home. Until then, grapes came from pockets of Chardonnay across the region, albeit always from Bot River. This changed when she discovered a working farm where her dream for a space to give visitors the “MCC experience” became a reality. Today, there are self-catering cottages (see my pics below) alongside the vineyards and a renovated barn where visitors can enjoy the Genevieve MCC and take in the Overberg air.
Melissa’s latest release is the Genevieve MCC Zero Dosage, which is only produced when the vineyards show exceptional quality. The year 2015 was such a vintage and was selected as only the second release of the Zero Dosage extension. Its a bubbly with grand finesse and subtle aromas of minerality and white fruit. It has a refreshing linear palate and clean finish.”Only first-pressed cuvée juice is used and kept for a minimum of four years on the lees, with periodical assessments,” she says. “The aim is to show the purest expression of terroir and the cap classique quality without any added dosage [traditionally, the topping up of wine and addition of sucrose].”
All three wines are perfect reflections of the Bot River credo: “real wine made by real people”; spirit as unspoiled, down-to-earth and hospitable; and, attraction to lovers of the road less traveled. Thank you, Niels, Penny, Alice, and Melissa for the wonderful opportunity to visit your homes and taste your exceptional wines. I can’t wait to visit again.
Here are a few pictures of the day
Genevieve, the tasting room & cottages to rent on the property (they look so lovely)
All the pics of people, 3 of the tasting room at Genevieve, a couple of the pack shots, view form Luddite and the Luddite tasting room were taken by the ultra talented photographer Tasha Seccombe
I was invited as a guest to experience this day
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