To link in with this month’s blog about bio-dynamic wines, we’ve chosen Reyneke Cornerstone Bio-dynamic 2016 from Stellenbosch, South Africa, as our Wine of the Month.
If you were ever lucky enough to visit the Reyneke Estate, you might be surprised to find not only vineyards but also a farm, complete with cows and ducks. The livestock is as much part of the production of wine as the grapes themselves.
I’ll explain: The Reyneke Estate, which was founded in 1863, is run on strict bio-dynamic lines and was the first South African grape farm to be certified as bio-dynamic.
Being bio-dynamic means that the farm has to be self-sustainable, self-supporting, free of artificial herbicides, pesticides and fungicides and embrace all aspects of bio-dynamic cultivation in which the soil is King.
Improved health of the soil in turn means improved health of the vines, and improved taste of the grapes.
So the cows provide fertilizer, and the ducks make short work of any slugs, snails and any other ‘baddies’ that may be lurking in the undergrowth. And speaking of undergrowth, you may well find what many of us would call ‘weeds’ growing quite freely as you walk around the Estate. Herbicides and pesticides are banned, so by allowing weeds to grow such as dandelions, for example, harmful insects will be attracted to the dandelions rather than the vines.
In addition, so-called ‘companion-plants’ are grown amongst the vines to out-compete some of the weeds. Vetch for example, a member of the pea family, can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, help break up compacted soil and harbour a beneficial insect or two. So the combination of weeds and companion plants is a win-win situation.
What does all this mean for the wines that are produced at Reyneke? The bio-dynamic philosophy also carries through to the Cellar. As Johan Reyneke, the owner, says: “With biodynamic farming, the soil becomes ‘alive’. We let this energise the cellar. […] We follow a non-intervention approach to making the wine, rather than guiding the winemaking process in order to display the individuality of the […] farm. So you won’t find commercially cultivated yeast or bacteria, acid adjustments or fermentation aids and so on. There are only natural solutions to natural challenges.”
What of our Wine of the Month – Reyneke Cornerstone Bio-dynamic 2016? This classic Bordeaux blend of carefully chosen Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes is fermented in concrete tanks; the resulting wine is matured for 18 months in French oak barrels, of which 30% are new and 70% second- and third-fill barriques.
The outcome is a wine that combines freshness with real concentration, showcasing the best of what the Estate can offer. Intense notes of blackcurrant, star anise, thyme with underlying dark fruit complete the nose. A core of dark fruit on the palate, combined with a good tannin structure and great complexity, makes this wine linger on the palate. Try it with red meats like beef or roast rack of lamb, game such as venison, mature cheeses or roasted vegetables.
And why is it called Cornerstone? Again, Johan explains: “At Reyneke we strive for quality with integrity. Environmentally, this is covered by our adherence to organics and biodynamics. Culturally we do this through our Cornerstone project. Our workers are seen as the foundation of our house and the cornerstone of our business. After all, one cannot make great wine without good grapes and there’s no way of growing good grapes without having everyone on board.”
This is why the Cornerstone project’s objectives emphasise homeownership, poverty- alleviation, education, and financial independence for all farm and winery workers.
By Maureen Little