Few wines embody the Avondale philosophy of Terra Est Vita – ‘Soil is Life’ – as succinctly as the estate’s acclaimed Anima Chenin Blanc, and the newly-released 2015 vintage is once again proving to be a remarkable reflection of this pioneering biodynamic estate in the Paarl winelands.
“Anima means ‘soul’ in Latin, and this wine is defined by the beautiful minerality on the palate,” explains Avondale proprietor Johnathan Grieve, whose long-held belief that living systems are intimately inter-connected is beautifully reflected in the modern evocation of the ‘Tree of Life’ gracing the front-label. “The way that we farm is focused on the soils and working hand in hand with the living aspects of the earth. So in a very real sense the soils are the soul of Avondale, and the source of the wonderful minerality in this wine.”
Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, the certified organic grapes are drawn from more than a dozen vineyard blocks – none larger than a single hectare, ranging in age from 10 to 34 years old – across 13 unique soil types.
“Those soil profiles vary from Swartland Shale to Kroonstad and everything in between,” adds Grieve, who says yields range from three to eight tons per hectare, with each block harvested individually by hand. Once loaded into Avondale’s state-of-the-art gravity-fed cellar, the grapes are fermented and vinified independently, up to the point of final blending. In the cellar, a philosophy of minimal intervention is followed to ensure the estate’s terroir comes to the fore.
“With our BioLOGIC approach and biodynamic preparations we put so much effort into the vineyards, it simply doesn’t make sense to manipulate that in the cellar,” says Grieve. “We’d rather just nurture what the vineyards have provided, and let the grapes be the star of the show.”
Key to that process is whole-bunch pressing, which preserves both the quality and natural acidity of the juice. Natural fermentation takes place in an 80:20 mix of oak barrels and clay vessels, the amphorae made in part using clay from the estate. A portion is whole bunch fermented and aged on the skins for up to three months to enhance the grape-driven tannin structure in the wine.
Slower, warmer fermentations are a key pillar of Avondale’s winemaking philosophy, with up to 100 strains of wild yeast contributing layers of complexity to Anima.
“Some batches ferment within four to six weeks, while others may take up to nine months to finish fermenting,” explains Grieve. “We do true slow wine making, which really allows the wine to show its full potential.”
Showcasing the innate character of the vineyards – the soul of Avondale – is paramount, and so 500-litre barrels – from new to 10th-fill – ensures the oak influence on the wine is subtle, while retaining the crucial effect of micro-oxygenation on the palate and tannin structure of the wine.
“The component of amphora is also very important,” adds Grieve. “Because the amphora breathes like a barrel without imparting oak characters, it allows the bright fruit character to shine through.”
That bright fruit is underpinned by an unmistakeable minerality; the springboard for the Anima’s intriguing nose of pineapple, lime and honey, and a nuanced palate of gooseberry, quince and peach.
Combining bright fruit with balanced acidity and elegant minerality, it’s no surprise the Anima Chenin Blanc is also a perfect wine for pairing with food.
“Well, most of the time we just enjoy it on its own,” smiles Grieve. “But yes, when paired with food it keeps on revealing another layer of its personality.”
A versatile wine marrying freshness with structure and palate weight, it works beautifully with everything from charcuterie to duck dishes. For guests dining at FABER, Avondale’s acclaimed farm-to-table estate restaurant, chef Eric Bulpitt suggests pairing it with the fennel-cured East Coast hake plated with salted cucumber and fermented chili velouté, or the roasted free range chicken served with organic Lowerland polenta and Avondale corn velouté.
And while the wine is already a wonderful match for seasonal menus, the Anima 2015 also has enormous potential for ageing.
“It’s still quite shy at the moment, quite restrained, but as it ages it will become more expressive,” says Grieve. “With all our wines we want to create a wine that is multilayered, elegant and grape-driven. Each in their own way should be a true reflection of Avondale, and that is certainly the case with the Anima 2015.”