Balance, health, sustainability, organics, bio-dynamics, 21st century science and a posse of ducks. For Johnathan Grieve, these are the tenets of growing grapes and making wine at Avondale. The family owned and operated winery in Paarl, South Africa is a purveyor of wines fashioned with low and slow dynamics. Their dynasty is bred from a form of naturalism practiced in farming and winemaking executed in its purest form.
Take a moment to consider the dowsing effects of viticulture and viniculture driven by divested interests, where natural fermentations and a complete absence of artificial adjustments are the sworn rule. Let yourself go and the tangent will take you further, to incurvate within a grower’s neighbourhood occupied by the dimensions of the spiritual intersected with the existential. You will find yourself stumbling upon life energies, living systems, cosmic influences and rhythms.
I tasted with Grieve in Toronto, May 2015, with thanks to Rare Earth Wines and Wines of South Africa Canada’s Laurel Keenan. I then sat down with him again in September 2015, at Cape Wine, in Cape Town, South Africa. The notes tell the stories.
From a farm dating to 1693 purchased by Johnathan Grieve’s family in 1996. Poster bubbles, for the Blanc de blancs habitation and for the Avondale oeuvre, the Armillary sphere, Roman “circle of life” and ancient astronomical instrument used to show the position of stars around the earth. Traditional production, with a kiss of oak and a final act of dosage. Five total years on the lees, including two on coarse and one in bottle. Picking was accomplished at the end of that January, in purpose of stylistic elegance and beautiful bitters born of natural and integrated acidity. Terrific dip of biscuits into honey. Like Baklava in a glass though equally savoury to dessert. Baller bubble, balanced and with the sense to envision evolution, to the look ahead of an adult age. Would retail for approximately $28 CAN. Drink 2015-2027. Tasted twice, May and September 2015 @ @ @ @
Named for the young ducks and their voracious appetites for snails on which they go to town in the vineyard. Chenin Blanc driven, with some white Muscat, Semillon and Roussane. Sweet Chenin nose while 10 per cent aged in big French barrels adds texture in fleshy orchard fruit, from white peach to yellow plum. Duck, duck, goose, as in tart, sapid berries and the way they solidify the finish. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted May 2015
The house white with the Avondale ducks always in mind. “How does mother nature do it? For each problem there is a natural predator available to do the job.” The holistic approach applies to the winemaking of Johnathan Grieve as well. In 2014 there is an easier and more naturalistic feel. With less oak and lees, some rest and the result is increased freshness, especially for the dominant Chenin Blanc. Ready to go as we speak. Drink 2015-2018. Tasted September 2015
At Avondale they employ beneficial bacteria, predatory wasps, birds of prey and their famous ducks. The Jonty’s posse goes frenetic when escargot are offered up at lunch. The same can be said for hordes of humans and this red blend. Composed from Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec, it is seamless at this price. While savoury to be sure, there is no grape dominance. The middle is filled with drupe, kernel and spice. Try finding volatility. You can’t. Speaks, comments and lectures in layers of fruit across its hexa-varietal spectrum. Drink 2015-2020. Tasted May 2015
Straight shooting Chenin of struck stone and flint, from 100 per cent whole clusters, naturally fermented and aged for 12 months on the lees in large (500L) barrels. Plus bâtonnage, in the name of lees. Offers a sense of wax and pollen, in airy texture, through a valley of sound, with bending notes and a big riff finish. Some bitter melon and unique berries fret about. Has developed its tannic structure with mineral for soul and weight from soil. Terra est vita, soul to soul. Soil to soil. Avondale makes use of concentrated sea salts and cover crops give balance to the vineyard, to add diversity without negativity. Like adding keyboard and saxophone to the blues, for soul. “Get away from the blind side of life.” Change it. Drink 2015-2020. tasted May and September 2015
A sink full blend of give or take equal (20-24 per cent) parts, with the vortex at Viognier, alongside Chenin Blanc, Marsanne and Roussane with (six to 10 per cent) Sémillon. Ostensibly, sensibly and spoken through megaphone, purporting the drive to and for such an appellative blend in South Africa. A circle of life and energy to announce the need for diversity, in vineyard, by way of bringing varietal togetherness and the notion that anything can be accomplished, anywhere, anytime. Confirms the idea that everything ripens in South Africa and can be showcased with the correct approach. An Avondale holistic approach. A Capelands example for which many should follow. Fruit in every pore, nook, hollow and cranny. Just as the vortices of a cow’s horn encourages blood flow, so are energies focused in the Avondale soil. Breathing in the Autumn, breathing out in Spring. The cycles. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted September 2015
Viognier, Chardonnay, Roussanne, Chenin Blanc and Sémillon. In 2012 it’s as if the five varieties are spinning in centrifuge. Quite the whirling white blend, dynamic, energetic, replete with tropical fruit, metals and pulpy paper. The entire accumulation grooves in a vortex, whorling within a dynamic container. The lees adds a perfume of fine format, of yeast cultures and beneficial bacteria in a frenzy, bringing character and expression. The nine months of coarse solids have filtered in, relegating to elegance and pausing in a northern Rhone way. Up front fruit once quiet is now showy in this, its early stages of development. Fascinating stuff. Drink 2015-2021. Tasted May 2015
A different sort of animal, the Camissa is a Blanc de Noir made from red varieties, Muscat de Frontignan, Mourvedre and Grenache. Tells the story of Table Mountain and the stream that feeds the vineyard. An expression of mostly red fruit; strawberry, raspberry, cranberry and pomegranate, dried, saline and briny. Lithe like dry Rosé and struck by impeccable balance thanks to natural acidity. Citrus claims the finish. Drink 2015-2019. Tasted September 2015
A 100 per cent Syrah of purity, elegance and structure, from beginning to end. Nary a gauze or volatile moment intrudes, nor smoke and tar neither. Floral of violets, red plum and wet clay with just the faintest note of warm coffee grinds. Bright and vivid acidity, a rebirthing of Syrah, of South African roots incarnate and that grounded, earthy, yeasty cure. Much more elegant than the raw and energetic ’07. Drink 2016-2022. Tasted May 2015
Hand-harvested Syrah, whole bunch, naturally warm fermented with no crushing at 30-32 degrees centigrade. Extended (15-16 day) skin contact. All this to gain maximum extraction and optimum flavour. What resulted was a deep, rich, red earth cured, funk-motivated Syrah, driven by soil above all else. Pepper and violets meld into severe grape tannin from those skins. Allspice and red citrus make their mark. Still not yet ready for prime time. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted September 2015
A five Bordeaux varietal blend from Cabernet Sauvignon to Malbec with diminishing percentages by way of and through Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. A meritage in which the heritage aromatics driven by natural yeasts are accentuated by the bell curve of the ferment, during the decline and before the spike. Cake of the earth, fruit of dense expression and the structure of low and slow development. Extended skin contact, housing the place where yeasts reside, leads to the cultures driving the tannins. A culture club of composure and happiness. Really offers up a sense of what is achievable in South Africa. Drink 2018-2025. Tasted May and September 2015
The flagship, limited release Navitas (just over 1000 bottles) endears juicy, parturient Grenache and Mourvedre to Avondale’s enceinte Syrah in a transformative and characterful Rhône blend. This ’08’s cup runneth over with intense energy in what may be referred to as the powerstream red, 100 per cent whole bunch fermented, powered by natural enzymes and essentially, prolifically gravid with the most severe envy of carbonic maceration. A post ferment skin contact for 30 days and 18 months in gently effacing, new 6o0L oak barrels transports grapes to near nirvana. This is what can be done with fruit that has fully completed a journey to phenolic ripeness. Approximately $139 CAN. Drink 2017-2028. Tasted September 2015
Good to go!
WineAlign: Michael Godel