An Exciting New South African Chenin Blanc Project From Carl van der Merwe and Betz Family Winery in Washington State Hits the Streets…

I had a wonderful tasting of Betz Family Wines in London recently looking at their delicious 2015 Bordeaux based varietal reds from Washington State. Bob Betz is of course a fellow Master of Wine who graduated in 1997 and made a name for himself making some truly superb wines across primarily micro sites in Yakima Valley AVA, Red Mountain AVA and Walla Walla AVA. Bob Betz sold his winery around 6 years ago to Steve Griessel and still acts for the winery occasionally in a consulting capacity.

However, I was very surprised to learn of their exciting new project in South Africa where Steve Griessel has taken a 50% shareholding in a new project with Carl van der Merwe of The Great South African Wine Co. (part owned between Wendy Applebaum and winemaker Carl van der Merwe).

 

A new Chenin Blanc venture of which Carl is the head winemaker, uses four old vine vineyard sites in Stellenbosch that are on long term leases – one 40 year old vineyard in the Bottelary Hills, two 35 to 40 year old vineyards in the Helderberg and one 38 year old vineyard in Faure. All vines are unirrigated to produce a fantastic Chenin Blanc that is fermented with 100% wild yeasts in barrel, 20% new French oak for nine months, with the total ageing of the 2017 vintage lasting for around 13 months with the remaining wine in used neutral oak. Around 20% of the 2017 underwent malolactic fermentation in barrel.

Based on Chenin Blanc from some sandy and rocky sites, the vines are located primarily on granitic soils only 9km from the sea, conditions that help deliver fruit with a wonderful maritime salinity and bright freshness. Carl van der Merwe is one of South Africa’s most talented winemakers and never one to enter into new projects lightly. The end goal of this venture is undoubtedly to produce some truly profound Chenin Blanc wines which will be sold exclusively in the USA. So something to look out for in the States to bring back home. Everyone loves a unicorn… especially if it’s old vine Chenin!!

 

Quinta Essentia Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

This really is an impressive wine and once allowed a little time in the glass explodes on your palate like an avalanche of flavours. The aromatics are loaded with sweet pineapple pastille, orange blossom, lemon cordial, sweet yellow nectarine nuances before a final reprise of tangerine zest and Seville orange confit. Intricately multi-layered between granitic minerality and sweet yellow fruit intensity, there is also a subtle hint of lactic vanilla oak spice but it is already beautifully integrated. The palate is incredibly intense and fleshy with more wet thatch notes, pineapple pastille, crunchy white peach and honey drizzled on warm white toast. The acids bristle on the palate and perfectly balance the rich, fleshy fruit concentration leading to a very long, bold, complex finish. Not quite in the league of Carl’s epic Diva Chenin Blanc produced at De Morgenzon but certainly a show stopper in its own kind of way.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

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