Vondeling Wines is one of the exciting recent projects in South Africa. Vondeling Wines was bought by Julian Johnsen, Anthony Ward, and Richard Gower in 2002. Since 2002, the farm has expanded and huge reconstruction program took place including extensive replanting and winery renovation. The farm spreads across 467 hectares of land, including 100 hectares of vineyard, as well as a few hectares of olive trees and woodland on the foothill of Paardeberg mountain. In 2013, a tasting room and chapel was constructed for service and wedding events.
Vondeling traces its origin back to 1704 when this piece of land was first granted to Oloff Bergh, a Swedish immigrant.
Vondeling Wines is located in Voor Paardeberg, which is within Paarl region. Voor Paardeberg is a fairly new wine region, an area 15 km north of Paarl. The hot climate in Paardeberg is particularly suited for Rhone style Shiraz. In 2000, there were only 8 producers in this area. Since then, there has been a significant amount of grape growers and producers discovering this area. Paardeberg is an interesting area in South Africa, it has some of the youngest and poorest soils of the entire South Africa.
Vondeling’s premium vineyards are situated at the slopes of Paardeberg mountain. The mountain draws the wind and breeze from the ocean to the vineyards, creating a cooler micro-climate at the sloped vineyards. The vineyard at the foothill of Paardeberg is on average 5°C cooler than Greater Paarl region.
As shown in the picture above, lots of land in Paardeberg are dry and hot. Vondeling (at the foothill) benefits from the cooler wind drawn from Paardeberg mountain and the partial shade. Results are 5°C cooler than the Greater Paarl region, and longer growing season. The temperature at night drops and the acidity is retained.
Some of the Sauvignon Blanc plots here were planted as early as 1983. Cabernet Sauvignon in the Bowwood plot was planted in 1996.
There are abundant fynbos of which four species are unique to the Paardeberg mountain – Babiana noctiflora, Erica hippuris, Oscularia paardebergenis and Serruria roxberghii. The flagship white wine of Vondeling is Babiana, named after one of the four fynbos only found in Paardeberg mountain. One of the flagship red wines of Vondeling, Erica Shiraz is named after Erica hippuris.
We had a winery tour of Vondeling as well as an extensive tasting with the head winemaker, Matthew Copeland.
Matthew showed us the different types of barrels from various coopers in the cellar and did an extensive tasting from barrels to bottles.
The yields are overall low to ensure a good level of concentration and fruit quality. However, drip-irrigation is necessary in Vondeling to ensure the vines are not experiencing extreme water stress and ultimately shutting down through heat and water stress.
In my humble opinion, Vondeling Wines is heading towards the direction of subtly and refinement, and the winemakers here are allowing the terroir of micro-climates within Paardeberg to speak for itself in the wine. I particularly adored their appropriate use of new oak without the exaggerated taste of new oak spices and burnt toast. Which is rather distinctive in South Africa, as many wine producers in Western Cape tries to make their wines taste ‘premium’ by using excessive amount of high toast new oak. The idea of new oak spices and nuance
integrating disappearing behind the terroir is something I always look for in wine. The Vondeling Babiana doesn’t show much new oak on the nose, but there is a brightness in the flavour that comes from the new oak, which integrates well with the fruit character.
My favourite wine of Vondeling would have to be the 2015 Philosophie (which should be released in 2018) and Babiana. The Erica (name changed to Monsomia in 2015 vintage) offers excellent value for money, and the Bowwood Pinotage is one of the most striking Pinotages in South Africa.
Wines and tasting notes
Vondeling Rosé 2017
Unlike most South African rosé that are made with Grenache, Pinotage, or Syrah, this Vondeling Rosé is made from 100% Merlot. Short period of cold maceration ensuring the gentlest extraction of colour and tannins, offering a very pale shade of pink. Fresh and vibrant red currant, strawberry-tinged. No oak, it is all about freshness here, good acidity.
It spent a few months on lees in stainless steel tank, adding a subtle texture without losing the crispness. A great everyday drinking wine. Above Average
Babiana is the flagship wine of Vondeling. Chenin Blanc dominant, all from graveyard block (35 year old Chenin vines), vines here are naturally low yield. Viognier grapes are from 13 years old vines, Grenache vines are 10 years old, Roussanne vines are 5 years old, and Chardonnay vines are 20 years old. All grapes are handpicked and refrigerated for 24 hours before processing.
Thick nose, slight reduction and nose is somewhat muted. Green apple, papaya and hints of blossom and petrol. Lifted oak spices, rounded palate and nicely integrated creaminess. Subtle nuts and olives. Drink till 2020. Grape growers in South Africa was blessed with high yield in 2013, only the slight rain during harvest pulled 2013 from being a great vintage. Both reds and whites are good, leaning towards the elegant side of the spectrum. Good
The 2015 Babiana is something special. More floral and lifted than 2013 and 2016 served side-by-side. Good linearity. Chenin Blanc driven with some Grenache tannic structure. Great nose, floral, fresh cream, and well made. Small percentage of Viognier but quite observable. Thick and leesy on the palate with refreshing acidity. Quite a muscular wine on the palate. Already charming with lovely creaminess. Great ripeness and body. This should age for 10 years. 3.5g of residual sugar. Very Good/Fine
A blend of 55% Chenin Blanc, 20% Viognier, 14% Grenache Blanc, 6% Roussanne and 5% Chardonnay. The weather in 2016 was considerably dry and hot, many growers were forced to pick grapes earlier. Close to 2013 in style but with a slight lift. Jasmine, charming chenin blanc and viognier, medium bodied. Good acidity and pH consider the heat. Good
The Erica Shiraz is a Syrah driven red wine. Named after the plant Erica hippurus, a fynbo found in Paardeberg mountain. The Shiraz planted in Vondeling is a mixture of 6 different Syrah clones, and the best clones goes into Erica. The grapes are all handpicked and vigorously selected on sorting table. The Syrah bunches are partially destemmed and whole berry fermented in open-top tanks. Note: Erica is renamed to Monsonia from 2015 vintage onwards.
Erica Shiraz 2013
A blend of 81% Syrah, 7% Grenache, 6% Carignan, 3% Mourvedre and 3% Viognier. Planted in 2002/2003. High toned toast, ample dark juices, smoked wood is reduction. The small amount of Mourvedre here plays a key part in Erica. The Syrah comes from 3 sites with 3 different climates. Full bodied with exuberant flavours on the palate, modern style of Northern Rhone, very European. Subtle peppers and cocoa, nice dark fruits and spiciness that can easily compete with Northern Rhone at the same price range. Reds in 2013 seem to be performing better than the whites. Elegant. Very Good
Erica Shiraz 2012
2012 was a lower yield vintage but the grapes are concentrated and ripe. Young and intense. Sweet cassis, spiced peppers, sexy new oak spices, and dark chocolate. Dark fruit dominant with some liquorice and quite observable oak spices. Fine grained tannins, more oak toast than 2012. The classic scent of South African Syrah of polishness and ripeness. Good
Pinotage is the signature grape of South Africa, it is a cross between Cinsault and Pinot Noir. Vondeling produce a fantastic Pinotage from a single vineyard, 1.7-1.8 hectare vineyard named Bowwood. Grapes are hand picked and fermented whole cluster. Barrel fermentation and aged in American oak for 20 months. The finest 5 barrels are then selected and blended together and aged in barrel for a further 8 months. Finally the wine is transferred to stainless steel tank for 4 months for stabilisation and clarification before bottling.
Bowwood Pinotage 2014
This 2014 Bowwood Pinotage is surprisingly great consider 2014 was a rainy vintage, a lot of wines in this vintage tasted diluted. (Possibly the earlier harvest of Pinotage avoided dilution.) Good intensity and fruit depth. American new oak, seasoned for 3 years. Tannic structure, dark berries. Good alcohol and acidity level. Bell pepper, sharp acidity finish. This Pinotage resembles a solid Ribera del Duero. Only 2000 bottles produced. Good
Bowwood Pinotage 2015
This soon to be released 2015 Bowwood Pinotage is seriously intense and sexy. Deep dark fruits, very American in style, American oak spices of coconut, vanilla and sweet spices. Vondeling lowered the oak toasting for the 2015 Bowwood Pinotage. A slight reduction mixed with earthy dark berries, offering another layer of charm to it. Only 2000 bottles produced. This is one of the finest Pinotage in South Africa. Very Good
Bowwood Pinotage 2016 (sample)
2016 was a lower yield vintage, but the berries are concentrated with great sugar and phenolic ripeness. Some areas around South Africa suffered from sunburn, and phenolic ripeness didn’t catch up with the sugar ripeness. Fortunately, Vondeling Pinotage performed very well, and more wines were selected for the Bowwood Pinotage. The winemaking style changed slightly in 2016. The grapes were pressed sooner, and they had a different oak selection in 2016. Red cherry, rose petals, very appealing already. There should be 3500 bottles produced by the end of it. Very Good
Philosophie is a newly launched flagship red wine of Vondeling. The winemakers and owners of Vondeling decided to create a top cuveé with one thing in mind, ‘Pushing the quality to its maximum with no expense spared’. Philosophie is a Bordeaux Blend from a few specific plots. The yields are ultra-low, at one bunch per cane, resulting in deep, concentrated flavours. The ultra low yield also removes the need of drip-irrigation, as the vine can sustain a fair amount of stress with only one bunch per cane. The soil from the few specific vineyards are quite unique, clay and shell. All the vineyards here have add up to about 0.8 hectare, the size of many top Burgundy plots.
2014 is the first vintage of Philosophie. Cabernet Sauvignon Driven with 20% Merlot and a sprinkle of Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. For the first vintage of Philosophie, this is already developing into something delicious! Powerful with delicate flavours. 2014 was a challenging vintage marked by the wet weather. The Cabernet Sauvignon shows a slight herbaceousness despite the rich and powerful flavours. Concentrated dark fruits, great toast and deep layers of flavours. Creme de cassis finish. Drinkable now but I would drink this from 2020, and this should age well for another 8 years or so. 1850 bottles produced. Very Good
This 2015 is a league above the 2014 Philosophie, seriously concentrated and intense. 95% Cabernet Sauvignon. Smooth cassis and dark chocolate with touch of vanilla and cigar box. Perfect phenolic ripeness and acidity balance. I can only imagine how great the 2015 Philosophie would taste in 10 years time. Very Fine
Philosophie 2016 (sample)
The 2016 Philosophie is a different expression. Rather than the usual (2014 & 2015 vintage) Cabernet Sauvignon driven, this 2016 is 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Somehow this vintage reminds me of Bordeaux the most. Solid core with great vibrancy of dark fruits, blackberries and dark olives. Fine/ Very Fine
Please visit http://www.vondelingwines.co.za/ for more information and make sure to visit them when you are around Cape Town.
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Hi Sydney, it was great meeting you. Many thanks for your kind words and generous appraisal. We hope you’ll revisit us again next year to asses the progress of the pre-releases you tasted.
Hi Sydney, it was great meeting you. Many thanks for your kind words and generous appraisal. We hope you’ll revisit us again next year to asses the progress of the pre-releases you tasted. Best regards, Matthew Copeland