At last September’s Cape Wine 2018 Chris and Suzaan Alheit poured me nine unique wines of clear South African identity. Their old vines attitude moves well beyond keen and into the realm of earnest insistence. Says Chris, “Cape heritage wine must make use of old vineyards” and that is precisely where and how these wines gain their mannerisms and habits. Chenin Blanc is at the core but Alheit’s work is not confined or delimited by a single varietal play. Point of fact, at the behest of site specific markers detected by the chosen and the gainfully employed, truths are spoken in the litmus voice of dry bushland vines. These notes are the collective messenger for the nine.
Cartology exists in a vacuum without peers, in part because it charted and mapped a course ahead of the curve. The 2017 refuses to rest on laurels and pushes the destination even further away so that the journey still remains the thing. Chris and Suzaan Alheit employ 11 dryland bush (30-80) year-old parcels and the whole addition proposes an adage of place and not idea. This is Cartology, a snapshot of time and place. The smaller amount of eighty year-old sémillon is from La Colline in Franschhoek, while the 30+ year old chenin blanc is grown in Skurfberg, Perdeberg, Bottelary Hills and Kasteelberg. If Cartology was this rich before I cannot say and only Chris, Suzaan and the Cape can make this wine. Only them and in these places. Best to date. Drink 2019-2027. Tasted September 2018 chrisalheit gsoleil123 @ChrisAlheit @GroupeSoleilTO Chris Alheit Groupe Soleil Fine Wines
The site is Bottelary Hills where two of the highest and gnarliest hilltop shale vineyards were planted in 1978 and 1971, both at 450m. So very dry now through the years of drought, hopefully to be revived but it remains to be seen. Chris fermented this chenin blanc in large clay pots to auspicate more dry extract, calculated to ensure prosperity and good luck. There just seems to be this atypical, direct and massive accumulation of tannin that seems pissed off. Wait for it, even at this infant stage and even at this very moment in glass. Its convincing fruit will emerge, despite the introvert nature and retention tension because for one thing it resides on the salty side of life. The possibilities are endless as witnessed in the auguring of signs and portents. Drink 2019-2027. Tasted September 2018
The reference cares to the very first light, with stars to navigate and light to get where you want to go. Nautical dawn marks the start of nautical twilight, which lasts until civil dawn. The fruit source is 1978 planted Granite Hill on False Bay, by the sea. An entirely new grape tannin, phenomenal really, likely caused by the granite shales, with yellow fruit, more sweet and sour, almost an underripe pineapple. Unctuous and different for Chris Alheit. Not a nautical disaster, “but only a fool would complain.” Drink 2018-2021. Tasted September 2018
The fruit source for the aptly named Fire by Night is the Paardeberg, a 1978 planting. The references could be many, first from Exodus 13:21-22 and the Pillar of Night. Or a Canadian connection, however it may be viewed 78 years later (or 118 to this point), at the site of that army’s aid in handing Britain its first significant victory in the South African War. As for chenin blanc this one by Chris and Suzaan Alheit is rocky pristine, with memories, tension and elements brought up from that soil, purity and silky smooth texture. That’s the Paardeberg right there, again for 100 per cent chenin though in a way you “eliminate the wine the grape and just look at the place.” This couple is very focused and their wines in turn are perfectly concise. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted September 2018
Into the Skurfberg we go, where at 450m deep red sand and red clay abound and from that we note how there is no chenin blanc tang like this one. From fruit grown by the Visser family on Oudam farm Chris and Suzaan pay tribute to Kallie Visser who passed last year, lekker and friend, now respectively immortalized on the label. The reference is to the name of a cliff on the farm that weeps when it rains. The diffidence of growing north and making better chenin blanc is the thing that defines the wonder of the Skurfberg, where serious power by natural acids do the yeoman work and carry the wine. And it was Kallie who played an essential role in raising this 2017 fruit. In that sense this wine will always be a one off and a legacy defining varietal Cape white but it will be carried on. Another deferential chenin blanc, so new yet integral for the Western lands with this transformative reality into new territory. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted September 2018
Also from the Citrusdal Mountains SAVA, a.k.a the viticultural area also known as the Skurfberg, a 10 minute drive away at 550m, again red sand and clay. The vines are ungrafted chenin blanc on its own roots but the soil here is an even deeper red, more so than Huilkrans and so now that white hematic thing is happening. Like red blood cells carrying elements, nutrients, ferrous unction and a pulse of power as opposed to the calm in the white of Huilkrans. This is the tenor to the baritone, rich in its crazy depth of fruit and always seared, marked and injected with trace elements. Does it all on its own. There is no winemaking going on here, only a moving target, of intensity and mystery. The vineyard lies a few degrees off true north from the Alheit cellar, poetically licensed as their “Magnetic North.” Drink 2019-2028. Tasted September 2018
“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” From a vineyard housing both light and dark skinned sémillon and if there are others in this world I am not privy to the information. The resulting wine is 85-90 per cent blanc and 10-15 gris. La Colline was planted in 1936 on the southern slope of Dassenberg and is now farmed by grandson Anton Roux, a direct descendant of the Huguenot refugee Paul Roux who arrived in Franschhoek in 1688. The vines stretch up the hill from 310-350m and it is the fruit from the middle slope that is best to leave for picking long after the chenin blanc. This is the indispensable fruit used in Alheit’s Cartology. Thick skins elevate the natural talking tendencies, from a super healthy pH for drupe of apposite attack and confusing like great whites you would not or should not compare it to. Chris Alheit’s invades your head’s consciousness with this amazing depth for sémillon, with no definable context, pretence or precedent. The impossibility is totally unique in the world and yet utterly South African. It’s both tense and nervous but somehow I can still relax. Psycho Killer sémillon. Drink 2020-2028. Tasted September 2018
Neither one of five chenin blanc explorations nor the consistent and specific Cartology assemblage this is the Alheit five grape dream of fields blend. “As it grows in the field we pick it and blend it,” says Chris. It comes through the as it stands process with richness and intensity as a true Western Cape appellative blend, made in the fields. The five are chenin blanc, verdelho, roussanne, chardonnay and muscat, “a weird one, a cépage wine, a concept wine, a style wine.” The glebe is at 360m, a windy windswept place, stark and beautiful. The wine concurs. Drink 2019-2025. Tasted September 2018
Not sure what to make of this. Either it’s a skit performed in the guise of a wine or it’s a protest vote, one way or another. Perhaps a write in ballot as comment on a 2016 election far away or maybe a wink-wink, nudge-nudge on the state of government here at home, both in the appellative Cape and the larger authority as a whole. Or maybe it’s just good plain fun. Franschhoek is the source but it can’t be labeled as such because the rare Portuguese-Galician grape galego dourado is not not recognized, i.e. not on the “list.” The planting is of a mere 100 vines at the bottom of La Colline Vineyard. The concoction it forms is rich and syrupy, though also dry and floral. This unusual varietal style what with its natural acidity could be a star, if it were more than just a quirky indie film. For now it’s just a bit of fun for whimsy and for the sake of the love of wine. “Mooi. Baie baie mooi.” Right Chris? Drink 2018-2020. Tasted September 2018
Good to go!