Avondale is a special wine estate. 21 years ago, Johnathan Grieve’s family bought Avondale, which you’ll find between Stellenbosch and Paarl in the Western Cape. The first wines they produced were relatively conventional, but soon Johnathan began rejuvenating the farm and turning it into the Biodynamic paradise it is today.
The farm is now run on a system called BioLogic, which blends biodynamic principles, organic farming and science. Johnathan believes in minimal intervention in the winemaking process: “With our BioLOGIC approach and biodynamic preparations we put so much effort into the vineyards, it simply doesn’t make sense to manipulate that in the cellar,” says Grieve. “We’d rather just nurture what the vineyards have provided, and let the grapes be the star of the show.”
Avondale has just launched its Anima 2015, a 100% Chenin Blanc, so here’s a closer look at this delicious wine.
Anima means soul in Latin, and the name reflects the minerality you’ll find in the wine. How so? “The way that we farm is focused on the soils and working hand in hand with the living aspects of the earth. So in a very real sense the soils are the soul of Avondale, and the source of the wonderful minerality in this wine,” says Johnathan. Interestingly, there are 13 different types of soil on the farm, ranging from “Swartland Shale to Kroonstad and everything in between”, and each is farmed completely separately as each soil has different needs.
The grapes and where they come from
The certified organic grapes used in the Anima Chenin are taken from more than a dozen blocks (none larger than a hectare), which range in age between 10 to 34 years, and fall across the 13 unique soil types that are found on the farm. Yields range between 3 to 8 tons per hectare, and Johnathan says that this year’s overall harvest has seen their biggest crop. He puts this down to the Bio dynamic farming practises, which allows nature to take the lead. For example, on one of the hottest days of the year, over 40°C, the soil just under the surface of the ground was cool – the mulch protects the vines from the heat, much like a space blanket.
Whole bunch pressing
Key to Avondale’s winemaking process is whole-bunch pressing, which preserves the acidity of the juice. A portion of the juice is whole bunch fermented and aged on the skins for up to three months which brings tannin structure and ageability.
Johnathan believes in natural fermentation, with the wild yeasts that live on the skins of the grapes kickstarting and driving the fermentation process. Once the first strain of yeasts dies off, another wave will take over and continue the ferment. The temperature isn’t controlled and it tends to be a warmer fermentation. “Some batches ferment within four to six weeks, while others may take up to nine months to finish fermenting,” explains Grieve. “We do true slow wine making, which really allows the wine to show its full potential.”
Going back to ye olde days of wine making, amphorae (made partly with clay direct from the farm) are used as well as barrels for fermentation. It’s quite a process to make amphorae correctly – if they’re fired too low, they’ll either be too porous and allow too much oxygen in, or the wine will seep out. Too high, and the vessels are impervious to oxygen. Only a small percentage of the wine aged in amphorae is used in the final Chenin blend, but it brings brightness and clarity to the wine. 500-litre oak barrels are used, and they range from new to 10th fill. The oak barrels ensure a subtle oak influence, but still allow for micro-oxygenation.
So what does it taste like?
Anima Chenin Blanc is an elegant blend of minerality, bright fruit and balanced acidity – which makes it a perfect wine for food pairing. On the nose you’ll find tropical pineapple, lime and honey, and on the palate gooseberry, quince and peach. From FABER, Avondale’s farm-to-table restaurant, chef Eric Bulpitt suggests pairing it with the fennel-cured East Coast hake plated with salted cucumber and fermented chili velouté, or the roasted free range chicken served with organic Lowerland polenta and Avondale corn velouté.