Elevated winery gets it right

ORIELLE BERRY

Capaia is part of the new Philadelphia wine-growing region, located close to Melkbosstrand and Durbanville.

And it has been in the limelight recently having garnered top marks by Winemag.co.za for its 2015 sauvignon blanc, an accolade which joins a string of awards for its wines.

The winery is something of an anomaly – it constitutes a wine ward on its own and it’s the youngest wine farm in the area.

A drive up a windy, dusty road, takes one higher and higher into the hills, overlooking the Swartland, and with the present drought conditions, the wheat fields are bleached almost white by a punishing sun. But approaching the farm, after a considerable climb, the landscape changes. It’s harvest time and the bright green vines offer much-needed relief from the parched landscape.

As cellar master Bernabé Strydom relates, when Baroness Ingrid von Essen bought the farm in 1997, she must have possessed a steely determination to pursue her dream. Mr Strydom says the baroness decided to import old vines from France. But when they were planted, they must have struggled to adapt to the different terrain, and sadly they did not make it.

Undeterred, and at considerable cost, the baroness brought in a second batch of vines, and fortunately they took. It was the start of exactly what the owner wanted: to create a boutique wine farm that offers individuality and quality.

The baroness also stands apart as having the biggest collection of wooden fermenters in the country. It’s an amazing sight to stand in the cellar and stare up at the large, meticulously-crafted 5 200 litre and the massive 8 400 litre oak containers that are produced by the much-revered Taransaud cooperage company in Cognac, France. There are 56 fermenters in all, and they play a major part in creating that special something in the two Bordeaux blends that Capaia makes: as Mr Strydom explains, it means the wines are not only aged in oak barrels but, unlike most wines that come straight from the harvest and go into steel tanks, the wooden fermenters, which are “breathable”, allow for a softer, more distinctive character.

Mr Strydom relates the story of how the 8 400 litre fermenters were flown in, stave by stave, and coopers from the company were brought in from their native France to assemble them in the cellar. The baroness’s brief is obviously “less is more” because the winery produces only three different wines: the sauvignon, the two Bordeaux blends and Capaia One, produced for its on-site restaurant, Mariella’s. Less is more also includes smaller yields of only three tons a hectare, compared to many farms where double that or even more is the norm.

All the current vintages have been much lauded, with the flagship, Capaia 2008, having garnered four stars in the 2010 Platter’s guide, and it’s an impressive wine that shines with a velvety softness and complexity.

It’s made up of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, with smaller quantities of cabernet franc, petit verdot and shiraz. While the flagship is matured not only in the huge fermenters and then in first-fill barrels, the merlot/cabernet sauvignon 2011 is matured in second and third fill-barrels and is also a wine of great depth and intense flavours.

The winery is located high up on the hills and faces the icy Atlantic. The south-easter sea breezes that cool the adjacent sauvignon blanc vineyards impart a wonderfully bracing character to the wine, which is balanced by tropical fruitiness.

Despite the drought, Mr Strydom says the grapes currently being plucked for the new vintages are looking good but the prognosis for the future is gloomy as far as irrigation is concerned.

“We buy our water from the Durbanville water pipe scheme, and at this time of the year, you cannot get more than you are allocated. So with our allocation, we water for longer in the windy areas which dry up,” he says.

He adds, however, “The quality of the grapes now is good, but you have to be quick when it’s time to harvest. If the grapes don’t get picked almost right away when it’s time, they will rot.”

A key to good vineyard management is constant attention, but, says Mr Strydom, the drought means no-one has the luxury of watering after the harvest.

Back to the wines, Mr Strydom says while each varietal is top quality in its own right, “one can never make a blend to be lesser than the individual components.”

And it seems they have it got it right at Capaia – in more ways than one.