By John Seccombe
We’re getting to the tail end of 2022’s unusually long harvest now. I must admit that once the weather starts to turn and the cold fronts start to hit the Western Cape it is very much time to draw a line under harvest, but it has been interesting to finish the picking with a period of cooler weather, and it puts me in mind of my European vintages where we were still processing well into declining temperatures and not battling against racing sugar ripeness. We’re certainly starting to see a lot more vintage variation, making the SA wine space even more exciting.
I was listening to Levi Dalton’s “I’ll Drink to That” podcast (if you haven’t listened – I can highly recommend it) during one of my many harvest missions this year and the winemaker being interviewed said that even if you are a very lucky winemaker, you will only have around 40-50 opportunities to make wine during your working life. Each harvest brings new challenges from the climate, so there really aren’t many do-overs. For it is a constant process of fine-tuning and climbing a ladder of quality and expression in our wines.
Many of our 2021 wines are a result of growing experience and confidence in what we are trying to express in the bottle, and I am really thrilled with the result. Cooler growing conditions and a little bit more precipitation during the season has helped us to produce some very elegant and refined wines. Yields were pretty good, though cooler spring weather in some parcels meant that fruit-set at flowering was less than optimal. The Skurfberg gave us very little Sauvignon blanc, though we were compensated by a bumper 2022 crop.
We are also very pleased to introduce a new project that we have been working on for a while. There are more details below on our new range of wines under the “Menagerie” label.
Some thoughts on the wines on the new releases
Rocking Horse 2021
I’m so happy that this wine continues to grow in stature and refinement. 2021 feels like a very “classic” vintage of Rocking Horse if I can use that term, showing wonderful fruit richness with a very refined core. There was an effortlessness to the wines this year that makes me wonder if I missed something. That said, the wines have such a natural “flow” now that the process is starting to feel second nature.
Wanderer’s Heart 2021
We’ve put a lot into refining Wanderer’s Heart the last few years to produce a fine Cape Red that doesn’t rely on extract, alcohol and new oak for impact. We’ve added some wonderful vineyards on shale soils in the Breedekloof that are taking this wine to the next level. Although I had initially resisted the siren-song of Syrah, I think the wines that are being made from it in South Africa are some of the most exciting we are producing. Wanderer’s Heart now boasts a significant portion of Syrah from two vineyards in the Breedekloof and Bot River giving us bags of dark fruit and ripe olive flesh and fine-grained tannins. The Grenache noir portions are picked generally a little bit earlier and provide freshness, acidity and perfume. We’ve also included a barrel of Carignan for the first time as I am loving the brooding wild fruit that it brings, sharing the corner of the blend that normally belongs to the Mourvedre.
Paper Kite Old Vine Semillon 2021
We’ve been slowly building up a stock of a few new large barrels from the Stockinger cooperage in Austria whom I adore for the gorgeous quality of their work and the light touch of new oak that they impart. Our Paper Kite Semillon spent a bare 3 months in these new beauties partly to balance out Semillon’s natural tendency to oxygen-starved reduction, on which oak tannins have a profound effect, as well as to add a little understated plushness to the wine. It’s very much in keeping with our small refinements and I think it’s something that you will appreciate.
Tin Soldier 2021
It’s now approaching a decade since we first made this wine and it has steadily grown in stature. Attention in the vineyard and a lighter touch in the cellar has turned Tin Soldier from an unruly little kid into a refined and charming adult. We’ve limited yields in the vineyard to help build concentration in the fruit and ripen more complex flavours. Tin Soldier unfolds beautifully over an evening’s drinking. Pull it out of the wine fridge, decant it and let it do the work. This is a great date-night wine for us as it stimulates conversation and the appetite.
Cat’s Cradle 2021
Ever the wild teenager that we argue with, but love dearly. The Chenin blanc from this vineyard always has a rebellious streak, but we’re delighted to see that it finds its own path to refinement. This is a strong-willed wine that at times refuses our gentle guidance in the cellar, but we have learned over the years that there is an underlying strength of character that doesn’t require much from us to express itself.
Snakes & Ladders 2021
It’s disappointing to drive so far and pick so little. A 10 hour round trip is not for sissies, but we always have this incredible compensation of the fruit in the cellar. Only 6 barrels came out of the 2021 harvest, but they were banging. The 2021 shows all the hallmarks of our inaugural 2019 with concentration for days, plush fruit and epic acidity, but all so impossibly balanced. There’s very little of this one, so worth grabbing hold of if you are a fan of this wild child.
New kid on the block – Menagerie Wines
Menagerie (n.) – a strange or diverse collection of people or things
One constant facet of our production is an insatiable need to tinker with new things. This sometimes leads to some orphaned barrels which don’t fit any of the molds above, so we decided to create our Menagerie wines which will give me space to experiment and work with new vineyards, varietals and techniques.
Looking forward, Menagerie will regularly feature some wines (we love the Chardonnay and it’s here to stay), and some wines will come and go according to whim and interest. Each label will be a unique illustration originating from the menagerie theme. Watch this space for Vermentino, co-fermented Grenache blanc & Grenache gris, and Skurfberg Pinotage.
Menagerie Chardonnay 2020
Since 2020 we’ve started working with a couple of high altitude vineyards of Chardonnay. The first is a younger vineyard planted on heavier clay soils in Ceres. The second is older on sandstone soils in the Piekenierskloof and is farmed organically. The altitude and easterly aspect of both vineyards provide us with long ripening season, great flavour development and help to preserve that crazy line of acidity that I love in Chardonnay so much. Chardonnay in all its wonderful guises would feature heavily in a desert-island box (actually I’d need a cellar, but hey) of wine for its versatility in the cellar and its ability to express its soils and situation so well.
If you would like to join the mailing list for Thorne& Daughters and get these wines on pre-release email John directly firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively look out for their release soon; one of my favourite releases of the year.