By Celia Strong
It’s not usual, but for the third week in a row we’re going to talk about a Pinot Grigio wine. Two weeks ago, we had one from Washington State. Last week, we had one from Italy. And, now, this week we are going to have one from South Africa. And, as you know, before we get to our wine, we have to do our due diligence and learn as much as we can, first. With the assumption that the more we know the more we will enjoy this week’s wine. So, here we go. Back to South Africa.
A while ago, and hopefully you remember, we did do several weeks of South African wines. So, hopefully, our review will be quick, and just add another layer of knowledge to our vast repertoire. Instead of being all new everything. None the less, let’s start with a review of the history of wine in South Africa. Their first wine was recorded in 1659, made by Jan van Riebeeck, the founder of Cape Town. In the beginning, and for the most part now, most of the wine made in this country was based around Cape Town with three major production areas at Paarl, Stellenbosch and Worcester. The wine laws, their Wine of Origin (WO) system was implemented in 1973, with sixty appellations.
The politics of South Africa for a long time effected their wine industry. The KWV Co-op, that originated in 1918, grew so large that it was able to control policies and prices for the industry. To handle the glut of wine that was available at the beginning at the twentieth century, KWV restricted yields and set minimum prices on the grapes. Also, they encouraged the production of fortified wines and brandy (distilled wines). From outside the country, protests against South African products because of their Apartheid system made South African wines unavailable in most markets. Luckily, when Apartheid ended in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, (close to the same time that so many Americans became interested in wine), there was a resurgence in the industry. New ideas, in both the vineyards and the wineries, helped. Winemakers, known as “flying winemakers” because they consult with many wineries, came to South Africa with all their knowledge and experience. More grape varieties (including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Shiraz) came with them as well. And, the KWV co-op, not to be left behind, re-organized itself into a private company and cleared the way for others to follow. The price fixing and yield controls were gone, and competitive table wine making became the norm. To give you a perspective, before 1930, less than thirty percent of the grapes grown in South Africa were made into table wines. By 2003, seventy percent of them were used for table wines. (Table wines instead of fortified and distilled wines.)
Winemaking in South Africa is sort of a combination of Old and New World styles. Again, a growing and changing style as their winemakers find what works for their grapes and what sells the best for them in world markets. In the 1980’s, using oak barrels for fermentation and aging became popular. For a long time, their white wines were more numerous and considered better. Their reds were coarse and rustic, but now, they are softer, smoother, more voluptuous. (Pruning in the vineyards, cold temperature fermentation, some malo-lactic fermentation and less filtration all helped here.)
But, enough serious learning. Let’s get on to our winery. La Capra. This brand is a division of the larger Fairview. Fairview is an old farm on the southwestern slopes of Paarl Mountain, their first wine dating back to 1699. Over their history, they had many ups and downs, legal and financial issues, assorted owners. The Back family bought the property in 1937, though, and since then Fairview has maintained a positive direction.
Through several generations of the Back family, Fairview has risen to become one of South Africa’s most successful, enduring and innovative wineries. The first bottle of Fairview wine from the Backs’ farm came out in 1974. As they, their farm and their wines developed, so did their logo. Since the very beginning, goats have been a part of the farm, and they have always been part of the logo and bottle label. The original goat tower on the property had to be replaced, but the new one is still a major attraction to visitors. (At their annual festival, goats and children play at the tower.). The name “la capra” means “goat” in Latin, so the name on our bottle is just a connection to its history at Fairview. The label itself is a goat with a tower of stuff on its back. But this tower, from bottom to top, references all that’s important at La Capra. Wine barrels are obvious, the globe is a connection to the worldly style of La Capra wines, the violin refers to the music at their annual La Capra Festival, the dancing man is actually a vineyard worker, the fork and cheese stand for the local foods and cheeses you can enjoy at the festival, (yes, goat cheeses), and the dancers on top are because it is a music festival.
Now, every time we look at this label we can smile, because we know what it all means!
Like so many twentieth and twenty-first century wineries, in California, Oregon, France, Italy, Spain, everywhere really, La Capra supports what they consider to be the whole lifestyle of wine. Lucky them. I would have a festival too if I could live at a winery. Life would be my festival.
But, moving on. It’s wine time. The La Capra Pinot Grigio. Yes, like I said, another Pinot Grigio. But this one is totally different from our last two. Because, and we all know this, of the soil and climate it comes from. These grapes come from Darling, an area that is about an hour from Cape Town. Darling actually has its own wine route that brings in hundreds of tourists, and wine tasters. This area is close to the Atlantic Ocean and benefits from its cooling effects. The soil for this Pinot Grigio’s grapes is deep shale. The grapes are hand harvested, then crushed and the skins are separated off the must. After settling for forty-eight hours, the clear juice is cold fermented in stainless steel tanks for fourteen days. A long time that ends up in very flavorful wine. The wine is aged on its lees for three months (more flavors for us), then it is stabilized and bottled. In our glass, it has a light green tint and shows tropical fruit, musk and floral aromas. The flavors follow and the textures are crisp and clean and really refreshing on the finish. Pretty much what we like in a Pinot Grigio.
And the really good special part? Another Pinot Grigio at a good price. La Capra wines are usually about twelve dollars. And we do have other of their wines, at that price. But, the Pinot Grigio is special. Meaning a special price. A deal to help their new distributor introduce the brand to us. So, while it lasts, we get it for $8.97. And we win again. A new wine. A good wine. A cute label that makes us smile. Aren’t we special too? Enjoy.