ELGIN VALLEY

ORIGIN OF “ELGIN” – In the late 1800s, a locally-born child named “Elgine Herold” was killed by snakebite near the Palmiet River. Her distraught father named the area of land “Elgin” in his daughter’s memory, with support from other locals.

Two main events caused this name eventually to be used for the entire valley. Firstly, when the earliest railway was built through the area, it was found that this plot of land was the most suitable for a railway station, and the station was consequently also named “Elgin”. For decades, this station provided the main connection between the people and produce of the valley, and the outside world. The name therefore became known around the world due to Elgin’s famous agricultural produce. Secondly, two young brothers had bought a small plot of land here named “Glen Elgin” in 1903, where they grew vegetables. The Molteno brothers were partially responsible for revolutionising the region’s deciduous farming industry and, in an unusual move in the 1950s, they ordered that their vast “Glen Elgin” farming enterprise was to be divided up and returned “…to Elgin’s farmworkers and inhabitants for their own use.”The name “Elgin” thereby gained a certain significance, as the name by which some of the region’s land first began to be shared with the majority. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elgin,_Western_Cape)

GEOGRAPHY OF ELGIN VALLEY
Elgin is situated close to the Southern Cape Coast between Sir Lowry’s Pass in the south east (outside Somerset West) to Bot River (en route to Hermanus) and Villiersdorp to the north west in the Overberg region. It is about 70km east of Cape Town, just beyond the Hottentots Holland mountain range and is centred around the village of Grabouw.

The Elgin Valley topography is bowl-shaped and elevated from 350m to 500m above sea level and is totally surrounded by a rim of rugged mountains that form part of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site. It is the 4th highest altitude in South Africa and lies approximately 20 km away from the Atlantic Ocean with its cold Benguela current. The prevailing south easterly wind brings cool, maritime air into the Valley bowl and is trapped under an almost permanent cloud cover that keeps the average temperatures cooler than the rest of the wine growing region.

CLIMATE OF ELGIN VALLEY
The Elgin Valley, like most of the Western Cape, experiences a typical moderate Mediterranean climate with warm, dry summers and cold, rainy winters.  There are diverse mesoclimates that are influenced by altitude, slope and prevailing winds.

Of the five Winkler index parameters, the Elgin Valley falls within the Winkler I , II and III indexes (summation of temperature above 10° Celsius over 7 months) which determines the best climate for growing specific wine grape varieties. This depends on the slope, aspect and sun exposure of a vineyard site within the Elgin Valley.

Winkler I (Cold): Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay
Winkler II (Cool): Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc
Winkler III( Medium): Semillon, Syrah

Cool Elgin temperatures allow for extended hang time which means longer ripening periods on the vine. The later ripening period closer to Autumn means a slowing down of sugar development which brings about heightened aromatic and flavour intensity with retention of natural acidity for added freshness, purity and overall optimal ripeness.

SOIL OF ELGIN VALLEY
Our soils are some of the oldest in the world, with huge soil diversity. The main soils in the Elgin Valley consist of ancient sandstone with coarse pieces of silica quartz and shales that are predominantly iron-rich. The soft, porous Bokkeveld shales are highly acidic as they have been well weathered and exist over water holding substrates which are ideal for available soil water uptake during the growing season. The substrate soil layers are red granite and white kaoline clays.

The three main soil types include:

Table Mountain Sandstone 

Sandy soils with poor nutrient value and water-retention properties.

Shale

Well structured, brown in colour, on decomposed parent rock. With good nutrient reserves and water retention.

Granite

Found on mountain foothills and hills. Excellent physical and water retention properties. Usually red or yellow in colour and acidic.

VINEYARD SELECTION
After many years of scouring and experimenting with many different Western Cape vineyard sites, Elgin is the region that is of most interest. The decision in 2007 to work only with 100% Elgin fruit was taken. Out of this, firm relationships since 2004 were forged with four of our growers in the Valley from whom we purchase each year.

Close collaboration with the growers in the vineyard with regards to pruning, canopy management, size of crop, optimal vine and cluster ripeness, harvest dates and wine production are conducted.

VINE GROWING
The varieties best suited to cool climate like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir are best grown on east facing slopes with morning sunlight while the more robust reds like Merlot require warm afternoon west facing slopes to ripen completely.

Vines grown in cool climates like Elgin are generally harvested 3 weeks to a month after Stellenbosch and Paarl. An added benefit is that alcohol levels are kept in check too. The most important consideration for growing vines in cool climate Elgin, is the natural maintenance of good, natural acid levels in grapes which ultimately determines freshness, brightness, purity, longevity, balance and overall harmony in the wine. In warmer grape growing regions, some of these aspects are often compromised.

Vine canopies and crop loads are monitored and manipulated regularly during the growing season in order to enhance flavour production and ripen the tannin profile optimally so that the resultant wines are balanced. Controlled leaf plucking timed correctly for cluster exposure to “burn” off green pyrazines (green compounds) and without burning the delicate fruit flavours is applied under well researched weather forecasts just prior to harvesting.

All vines, both red and white varieties are vertically shoot positioned on five wired fence-styled trellises. This trellis system aids proper vineyard husbandry and easy access when harvesting the clusters.

There is stringent control on herbicide, pesticide and fungicide applications that is strictly auditored so that all vineyards currently used for our wines are sustainably accredited.

Irrigation, mostly under drip systems at each vine, is applied according to soil moisture requirement which is tested during the growing season on a regular basis by means of tensiometres and pressure bomb apparatus to determine accurately the quantity of water to be scheduled per vine.

Harvest decisions are based on vine and cluster ripeness monitored very carefully by both tasting the berries and using accredited laboratory analysis so that the parameters required for the style of wine to be crafted are determined.

Clusters are hand harvested into 17kg baskets and are mostly sorted in the vineyard. Matter other than grapes is removed and brought to the cellar for a further sorting regime.

OUR PHILOSOPHY

VINE GROWING

The varieties best suited to cool climate like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir are usually grown on east facing slopes with morning sunlight while the more robust reds like Merlot and Syrah require warm afternoon west facing slopes to ripen completely.

Vines grown in cool climate Elgin are generally harvested 3 weeks to a month after Stellenbosch and Paarl.

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The benefit of growing vines in cool climate conditions is that the hang time for clusters is extended for more complete ripening of fruit flavours, tannins and there is a noticeable increase in intensity without compromising the delicate, aromatic fruit profiles. An added benefit is that alcohol levels are kept in check too. The most important consideration for growing vines in cool climate Elgin, is the natural maintenance of good, natural acid levels in grapes which ultimately determines freshness, brightness, purity, longevity, balance and overall harmony in the wine. In warmer grape growing regions, this aspect is often compromised.

Vine canopies and crop loads are monitored regularly during the growing season in order to enhance flavour production and ripen the tannin profile optimally so that the resultant wines are balanced. Leaf plucking timed correctly for cluster exposure to “burn” off green pyrazines (green compounds) without burning the delicate fruit flavours is applied under well researched weather forecasts just prior to harvesting.
All grapes from vines purchased, both red and white varieties are vertically shoot positioned on five wired fence-styled trellises. This allows for good vineyard husbandry and easy access for harvesting the clusters.

There is stringent control on herbicide, pesticide and fungicide applications that is strictly auditored so that all vineyards that are currently used for our wines are sustainably accredited.

Irrigation, mostly under drip systems at each vine, is applied according to soil moisture requirement and tested during the growing season on a regular basis by means of tensiometres and pressure bomb apparatus to determine accurately the quantity of water to be scheduled per vine.

Harvest decisions are based on vine and cluster ripeness that is monitored very carefully by both tasting the berries and laboratory analysis to ascertain the parameters required for the style of wine to be made.
Clusters are hand harvested into 17kg baskets and are mostly sorted in the vineyard so that matter other than grapes are brought to the cellar.

WINE MAKING

After spending many years focusing on Pinot from every site in the Western Cape, from Stellenbosch to the Outeniqua Mountains, it was clear that the Elgin Valley was the place that best suited the style of wines that we liked to create. Given the threat of global warming on our craft, it seems more and more likely that cool climates are necessary to produce wines of finesse, purity and vibrancy. Most of the attention is on ‘farming for flavour’ where vineyard husbandry is the focus. 

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This means less intervention in the winery, where more natural wines with minimal applications of fermentation aids, finings and must adaptations are required. The naturally higher levels of acidity and lower pH means cleaner wines with expressive red fruit and mineral texture. Lower alcohols and elevated levels of aromatic compounds are also evident. All the parcels of grapes that are delivered to the cellar are kept apart and treated as single lots from crush to blending. In this way, the integrity of site characteristics and flavour profiles are continued. A small stainless steel basket press and predominantly small French oak casks for red wines and handcrafted stonecast clay amphorae for white wines maximise the variety’s classic attributes. 

GRAPE CULTIVARS

SAUVIGNON BLANC

Notably the most consumed white variety globally. In France, dry wines are produced in Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Loire, Graves (usually blended with Semillon) and the legendary sweet Botrytis (Noble rot) wines from Sauternes in Bordeaux. New Zealand leads the New World pack as the intense aromatic profile in their wines is very obvious. In South Africa, plantings are found throughout the Western Cape where the cool climate aspects in Elgin produce wines of distinction and have gained International prominence and are often considered both New World and Old World in character. Sauvignon Blanc’s highly aromatic and perfumed notes may have herbaceous “green” notes like fresh cut grass, capsicum, nettles, pink grapefruit and limes. The more riper, tropical notes include passion fruit, gooseberry, cat pee and blackcurrant. Compounds that are responsible for these aromatics are called methoxypyrazines (green notes) and mercaptopanthanones (tropical notes) that influence the outcome of the wine depending on the ripeness at harvest. Since the berry contains both of these compounds that are easily detectable at threshold levels, picking may be staggered over a few weeks to build up complexity in the final wine.

PINOT NOIR

Pinot is considered one of the noble varieties and is indigenous to the Cote d’Or area in Burgundy and also forms one of the varieties of Champagne in France. It is one of the oldest varieties known and mutates quite readily. Pinot Noir is also successfully cultivated in other countries like New Zealand, Oregon, California, Germany, Alsace, Australia and has gained prominence in South Africa over the last decade. Pinot is best grown in cold climates, like Elgin, to show case its charm, freshness and purity. Its delicate profile of red berry fruit such as cherry, strawberry, cranberry and raspberries is generously supported by a nervous tannin structure and bright natural acidity that evokes an almost spiritual experience when consumed. In warmer climates, opulent, jammy wines are produced where the ethereal essence of the variety is often compromised.

New Pinot Noir clonal material was introduced in Burgundy to prevent die back of the trunks and cordon arms, susceptibility to rot and increase ripening and production. Although the Burgundians mainly graft their own vine material called mass selections, new clonal material is inter planted amongst their old vines. Dijon clones from Burgundy are also planted in South Africa and include 113, 114, 115, 667 and 777. The most widely planted in South Africa is 115 as it produces wines of overall balance and depth but usually a combination of all the clones for better complexity is considered in the wines.

MERLOT

It is one of the most popular red wine varieties planted. Best examples of this grape are grown in Pomerol and St- Emilion in Bordeaux, France and generally blended with Cabernet Franc. It also makes up one of the blending components in some of the best clarets in the world (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, sometimes Malbec and Petit Verdot included) from the left bank side of the Gironde River in Bordeaux. Other notable plantings include Northern Italy, California, Australia and Chile. There is quite a high percentage planted in South Africa and usually used as a blending tool with a handful of premium quality wines made solely from Merlot. It is best suited on warmer west facing slopes in cooler climates. Since the berries contain high levels of green compounds, cluster exposure by leaf removal and crop management is crucial to make wines of depth, flavour   and ripeness without the green characters. Elgin’s cool climate allows for extended cluster hang time so that proper vine and cluster ripeness is achieved without compromising flavour and tannin structure as the variety is very sensitive to heat stress.

Its tannin structure is less austere than the other blending components and is considered to have more feminine attributes. Merlot has black fruit aromatics with a fleshy and mouth filling core.

CHENIN BLANC

Chenin is the most versatile variety of all and is able to produce sparkling wine, dry whites – with or without oak maturation, off dry and sweet wines. The fabulous wines from the Loire Valley in France produces some fine examples of austere and textured dry white wines with piercing but well integrated acidity as well as the legendary semi sweet and full sweet Vouvray wines. There are also significant plantings in Anjou, however, most seem to have been uprooted and replanted by other varieties that have found favour. Although there are plantings in the US (mostly outside of California), most of the New World Chenin is found in South Africa. It is well suited to the moderate Mediterranean climate and was acknowledged to be the work horse variety for many decades in the Western Cape. Recently, South African Chenin has found prominence internationally with the resurgence of more modern winemaking applications and better vineyard management. The aromatics are guava, pears, peach, litchi , white flowers and may show some tropical notes. The natural acidity adds to the structure and balance of the total expression of the wine.

RIESLING

The cool climate white variety is also known as Rhine Riesling or Weisser
Riesling and has its origins in Germany and grown to a lesser extent in Austria,
New Zealand, France, Australia, South Africa, and USA.

It is an aromatic grape that is highly perfumed, with floral, honey, limey, and
crisp apples notes and a natural acidity.

It is a very versatile variety and many different styles can be made like dry,
semi-sweet, sweet , sparkling, and sweet “sticky” wines. It is usually made in
stainless steel vessels and no oak is used generally.

In terms of status, it is ranked as one of 3 top white wines including
Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. It also expresses the soil site which means
that the wines reflect flavour, texture, and structure specific to the region in
which it is grown.

As it ages, the primary fermentation esters evolve to include a touch of lamp
oil or kerosene that is typical of most aged fine German Rieslings