Long respected for its dedication to organic and biodynamic winemaking, the latest releases from family-owned Avondale Estate outside Paarl show the importance of the simplest ingredient of all: time.
“We truly believe in the value of authentic slow winemaking, it’s a thread that runs through the wines of Avondale,” explains Johnathan Grieve, proprietor of Avondale Estate.
Whether it’s letting ducks clear the vineyards of snails, or waiting for the grapes to reach true phenolic ripeness before harvest, there’s certainly no shortage of patience on Avondale Estate, and the recent release of the Anima 2016 and Cyclus 2015 are a perfect expression of Avondale’s commitment to taking it slow.
The Anima 2016 is a 100-percent Chenin Blanc picked from low-yielding certified-organic vineyards, ranging in age from 11 to 35 years. The flagship Cyclus 2015 offers a captivating blend crafted from Roussanne, Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Semillon and Chardonnay vineyards.
Grieve is a firm believer that wine is made in the vineyard, and for the past 19 years he has been a pioneer – and outspoken advocate – of both organic and biodynamic viticulture and winemaking.
From the dynamising vortex in biodynamic preparations that inspired the labelling of the Cyclus 2015, to cover crops and the use of natural predators in the vineyards, the focus is firmly on creating balance in the farm’s vineyards and soils, a life force celebrated in the label of the Anima 2016.
“The reason we farm the way we do – and make wine the way we do – is simply to capture the very best expression of the farm, to create grape-driven wines that are full of character. And I don’t believe we can do that with conventional methods,” says Grieve.
While there’s certainly no hurry out in the vineyards, it’s in the cellar where Avondale’s slow winemaking philosophy truly comes to the fore.
“With white wines a core part of our winemaking philosophy is our dedication to spontaneous natural fermentations, even if that process can take up to nine months to complete,” adds Grieve.
While many conventional winemakers would already have their wine in bottle nine months after harvest, investing time in the unhurried process of spontaneous natural fermentation delivers handsome returns when the bottle is finally uncorked.
“The beauty of our natural ferments is that there can be more than 50 strains of yeasts involved, each playing their part in the relay race of the fermentation process. Ultimately that warmer more oxidative approach brings enormous depth of character, and creates a multi-faceted, complex wine.”
Complexity is certainly the hallmark of the new Cyclus 2015, the estate’s flagship white blend.
“With Cyclus we wanted to create a white blend that was true to Avondale; a wine that showed the unique diversity of soils and microclimates on the farm,” explains Grieve. “The curve ball in the blend is the Semillon, which is usually a cooler climate grape. But it has beautiful character on Avondale and with its thin skin it really lends itself to whole-bunch fermentation.”
Whole-bunch fermentation, in amphorae made of clay from the estate, is a key component of the Cyclus 2015, lending additional structure and minerality to the final blend. The remaining juice underwent spontaneous fermentation in 500-litre oak barrels, and was kept on the lees for 12 months before blending and bottling.
The result is a complex, multi-layered white blend that begins with a richly perfumed nose of stone fruit, violets and frangipani. On the palate the vein of minerality is seamlessly balanced by notes of pear, golden apple, spice and citrus that give way to a creamy and structured finish.
A similar combination of spontaneous fermentation in barrel and whole-bunch fermentation in amphorae adds minerality and complexity to the Anima 2016 Chenin Blanc.
Picked from a dozen specific vineyard sites across a variety of soil types, the grapes undergo spontaneous fermentation in an 85:15 mix of oak barrels and clay amphorae.
“The real beauty of the Anima 2016 is the length of the grape-driven tannin structure,” says Grieve. “Extended skin and stalk maceration in amphorae brings an incredible texture to the final blend, and expresses those spicy notes so typical of an orange wine.”
In the glass, that expression reveals itself in aromas across a spectrum of melon, pineapple, lime and honey. On the dense palate, bright fruit flavours of gooseberry, quince and peach are underpinned by elegant minerality; a fitting homage to the soils of Avondale that have, slowly, crafted remarkable wines for nearly two decades.
Though released from the cellar now that they are finally ready to be opened and enjoyed, the Anima 2016 and Cyclus 2015 will continue to mature and improve for up to a decade after vintage. Because on Avondale, time is never in short supply.