Following on from our visit to the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, we took the beautiful mountain pass over to Stellenbosch. The sun was shining down on us for the first time, perfect for a jeep ride around the Anwilka vineyards with Piet, the vineyard manager. Piet is somewhat of a legend in South Africa, renowned for his skills in viticulture. He has been at Anwilka since the very beginning and planted the first vines there in 1998.
Anwilka’s vineyards are just 7 km from the ocean in Stellenbosch’s prime Helderberg region. The cool south easterly wind means that the Helderberg area is 3-4°C cooler than the rest of Stellenbosch, producing longer hang times and more elegant wines. The soils are very shallow (200-700mm) and are mainly clay, with strips of gravel running across the farm (called Reefs) that give the perfect natural drainage for the vines. The vines are all being planted east to west to avoid sunburn. Anwilka farms as naturally as possible with some organic and biodiverse principles: they release ladybirds to eat bugs; they don’t spray; they have owl roosts (barn owls and cape eagle owls) to control Cape gerbils (kangaroo like mice that dig tunnels, adversely affecting vine drainage!); they release bats to control insects and wasps.
Unfortunately Jean du Plessis, the winemaker, was not at the winery on this occasion to taste with us but Piet and Jacqueline from Klein Constantia took us through all the details of the winemaking. The winery has been totally rebuilt with red winemaking in mind. Jean uses truncated cone-shaped fermentation tanks (more surface area during fermentation and gentle) and basket presses (increases aeration). They also hand sort and punch down by hand. This is truly a winery where no expense is spared. This of course includes the barrels they buy. With consultants in Bruno Prats and Hubert de Boüard, Jean is able to gain access to the best barrels in France. They use 100% French oak and are now using 400l barrels. Bruno and Hubert know the coopers personally and so Anwilka can absolutely guarantee quality and origin. What is special about Anwilka is that there is a constant exchange of winemaking knowledge between Jean and the French winemaking teams under Bruno and Hubert. Bruno and Hubert themselves are also on hand for the classification and blending processes.
We unquestionably finished the visit with a vertical tasting that included Petit Frère 2013 and 2014, Anwilka 2007, 2012, 2013 and 2015. The wines of course all have their own personalities but I find that all of the Anwilka wines have a lovely elegance running through them. Yes, they are true South African wines with big structure but they all have a wonderful touch of fine French flair.