Rollo Gabb tells Peter Ranscombe why it’s not just the Cape Doctor breeze that’s blowing changes through his South African vineyards.
THE world of wine is also the world of wind: from the Mistral and the Levant that blow through Provence to the Sirocco of Sicily and the breezes that flow through the Petaluma Gap in Sonoma, wind is an essential component in the creation of many fine wines.
Winds can keep vines free from diseases, they can raise temperatures to avoid frost and they can cool grapes to preserve acidity.
Rollo Gabb, managing director of the Journey’s End winery in South Africa, is a student of the wind.
His vineyards are the most southerly in the Stellenbosch region and the closest to the sea, and so are exposed to the full force of the Cape Doctor, a wind that’s renowned for blowing away diseases.
Yet those same breezes carry a double-edged sword; gust at the wrong moment and it’s the flowers not the nasties that they’ll blow off the vines, reducing the amount of fruit that can be brown.
When we meet for lunch at Quo Vadis – the private members’ club and restaurant in London’s Soho district that he co-owns – Gabb is relieved to report that the winds have been kind this year and the fruit has set in his flowers.
In previous years, he’s lost parts of his potential crop due to the vagaries of the Cape Doctor.
“We’ve just gone through flowering, which is the riskiest time for me because we’re so close to the sea and have this harrowing wind,” said Gabb.
“The wind starts blowing at the end of October and carries on until January and can reach more than 100 kilometres an hour – it’s very ferocious.
“We haven’t had any wind damage this year and that’s a relief.”
Yet the Cape Doctor isn’t the only wind of change that’s blowing through Journey’s End.
Gabb explained that his winery is experimenting with cement tanks for its sauvignon blanc and with Italian amphorae to add more minerality and a linear component to its chardonnays.
Using less oak is a continuing trend for the brand, helping to emphasise the fresh acidity from the Cape Doctor’s influence.
That freshness is a hallmark of Journey’s End’s wines and was as much on show over lunch as it was at last year’s tasting in Glasgow.
Six of the best from Journey’s End
Haystack Chardonnay, 2018 (£11.80, Tanners)
Made only in stainless steel tanks with no oak influence, the nose oozes lemon, green apple and pear. On the palate, the lemon and green apple are joined by more intense lemon rind and lime to balance the fresh acidity.
Destination Chardonnay, 2018 (£137 for six of the 2017, Fine Wine Company)
There’s woodsmoke on the nose from the 60% of the wine that was aged in new oak, alongside aromas of cream, pear and a floral note. The cream returns on the palate, as well as a touch of vanilla, and the whole ensemble took on a saline tang when paired with butternut squash soup.
V5 Cabernet Franc, 2017 (£15.20, Tanners)
I was blown away by this first release of Journey’s End single variety cabernet franc, which comes from a 25-year-old block of vines. Only three barrels are produced, with about 15% of the wine going through a process known as carbonic maceration, where some of the grapes start fermenting without yeast or oxygen, producing blackcurrant and raspberry aromas on the nose, which sit alongside the tell-tale cabernet franc damp earth note. Blackcurrant and raspberry jams, spun sugar and a herbal note all combine on the tongue.
Kendal Lodge, 2018 (£8, Marks & Spencer)
A blend of 55% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot and 15% cabernet franc produces a blend that shows the whole Bordeaux-like gambit from blueberry, blackcurrant and blackcurrant jam through to damp earth, light woodsmoke and mint. Those jammy notes come to the fore on the palate, but there’s enough freshness and tannic grip to stop it becoming confected. Stonking value at £8.
Sir Lowry, 2016 (£10.99 until 2 January 2020 then £14.99, Waitrose)
Classic South African cabernet sauvignon, with damp earth, woodsmoke and a touch of stalkiness in amongst the cranberry and redcurrant. The tannins still have lots of grip, so I’d like to return to this again once it’s had more time to lose some of its clumsiness. Yet it’s that grip which will make it a good companion to steak or stringier meats while it’s maturing. The fruit flavours are much darker on the tongue, with blackcurrant, blackberry and blackcurrant jam marching front and centre, along with fresh raspberry.
Cape Doctor The Red, 2015 (New)
In honour of the famous wind, Journey’s End’s flagship red blend, Cape Doctor, isn’t produced each year. The 2015 features 39% cabernet sauvignon and 33% merlot – with Bordeaux companions petit verdot, cabernet franc and malbec playing supporting roles – and results in aromas of rose, woodsmoke and tarter redcurrant, cranberry, raspberry and blackcurrant. The tannins are soft and ripe, while the winery’s hallmark acidity is still fresh to balance the sweeter vanilla, blackcurrant jam and blackberry flavours.
Read more of Peter Ranscombe’s blog entries about whisky, wine and other drinks on The Grape & The Grain at https://www.scottishfield.co.uk/grapegrain/