Editor Andrew Arnott
Andrew studied Literature and Sociology at UCT before setting off on a global trek that saw him working under the seas of the Caribbean, on the snow covered slopes of the Canadian Rockies and writing for a variety of financial and travel institutions. Now at home in Cape Town, Andrew’s passions for wine and writing are married on this blog.
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Flagstone Time Manner Place Pinotage Reserve - The Process Posted on October 14 2012 by
Crafted more by obsessive selections of selections of selections, than with fancy equipment, this wine is really the distilled vision of what one tiny corner of the universe tastes of.
Firstly we had a philosophical selection to make – what variety of grape to craft this rare and individual wine from. It was an easy enough choice for us.
We are regarded as one of the top Pinotage producers. We make Pinotage at almost every price point, including Pinotage Rosés and an unusual white Pinotage. We love the variety. Like it’s mother, Pinot Noir, only a few examples of Pinotage can be life-changing for the drinker. But when exceptional, the wine will stay with you forever, because when made correctly, it is one of the most delicious, complex wines imaginable.
Pinotage, the grape, has received completely unjustifiable bad press. On average one can taste just as many disappointing Pinot Noirs while visiting Burgundy, but no one blames the grape. You’ll sooner be told the reason a wine is bad, is because the grower’s wife had an affair with the neighbour, than there is any fault with Pinot Noir, the grape.
Yet, when encountering a bad Pinotage, the grape is always blamed. Why is this? Is it because Pinotage is a South African creation, and most of the critics are European-obsessed? Who knows... What we do know is that Pinotage can be beautiful, but like Pinot Noir, this isn’t easy to achieve.
And when it is disappointing, first blame everything else, but don’t blame the grape. If you do, you should also dismiss Cabernet Franc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot, Monastrell, Grenache and all the thousands of other varieties that also produce disappointing to average wines, but when elevated through winecraft to something magnificent, can change the way you see the world.
After selecting this challenging, exciting grape to work with, we then selected a few rows from the top of our famous Writer’s Block Pinotage vineyard. At around 700 metres above sea level, this is one of the highest Pinotage vineyards in the country. Only a 4x4 vehicle can access this steep, south-south-west facing mountain vineyard. The vines cling tenaciously to the decomposed, granitic soil, and their view across this spectacular valley is breathtakingly beautiful.
And then the next grape selection process begins. All red grapes are born looking like little, juiceless green peas. They slowly swell and soften during summer, until all of a sudden they start to change colour from green to purple. It is at this crucial stage that we walk through the vineyard and cut off any bunches that are lagging behind in this colouring-up process. We drop more than 50% of the crop straight onto the hard, stony soil.
Weeks later, when picking the perfectly ripe bunches, we discard any that show wind damage, bird damage or sunburn. Only the most perfect-looking bunches are carefully hand-harvested into our special, small picking crates, designed to be shallow and small enough so no bunches feel any excessive pressure.
Picked at first light, these bunches are transported to Flagstone winery, where the picking crates are immediately placed in our cool room, taking the temperature of the fruit below 3oC. When cold enough, the bunches are put through our own de-stemming invention, lovingly called “The Laundromat”. This batch process is slow, but very gentle, removing only the perfectly ripe grapes from the stalks. These juicy, sweet, black globes fall onto a snail-paced sorting table, where twelve sorters carefully shift through each and every berry, and hand-select only the perfectly coloured-up and healthy berries destined for our Time/Manner/Place Pinotage Reserve.
Once the final berry selection has taken place, they are bucketed by hand into new barrels, which have had their heads removed. Here they ferment. Every four hours the fermenting cap of grape skins is pushed down by hand and mixed into the juice, so that the tannins and colour in the skins are extracted into the juice and therefore into the final wine.
The final selection process takes place while the wine matures in small 225 litre barrels at a constant, cool temperature of 16oC. We taste each barrel many times a year, carefully and deliberately deciding which of the barrels will be good enough to go into this exclusive, hand-crafted wine.