Avondale’s experiments with organic farming have contributed substantially to results, as seen in its newest range, Terra est Vita

JUST occasionally, one comes across a vinous operation where diverse strands have been woven into a tapestry of truly impressive synergy.

It’s not often that this column focuses on wines with cellar door prices averaging more than R200, as not only is this more than most are willing to pay but the products don’t always merit their price tags.

Avondale offers an exception with its carefully crafted and themed range, where viticultural practices – fine-tuned to sustain a flourishing ecosystem – have contributed substantially to results.

The 17th century Klein Drakenstein farm , home to the Grieve family since 1996, is a family affair with proprietor Johnathan and his family occupying the original farmstead, his parents the restored cellar, while his brother lives up the hill and his sister around the corner. Instead of following the family fortunes at Vital Health Foods, Johnathan chose to qualify in fine art, switching to viticulture in time for Avondale’s first vintage in 1999.

The following years saw him on an agricultural lear ning curve, experimenting with farming methods and perfecting his threepronged approach which combines organic and biodynamic principles with modern science, namely the Bio-LOGIC blueprint. To this I would add a well-developed marketing strategy.

The farm – 100ha of vines and 50ha of orchards – has benefited from close to a decade of nurturing as several soil types were identified and treated with natural ingredients to bring them back into balance. A variety of cover crops provide missing nutrients, flower at different times and attract beneficial insects throughout the year.

Grieve makes good use of concentrated sea water which contains 90 elements for foliar and root feeding. He describes organic farming as “reading nature” by examining the weeds, diagnosing deficiencies or surpluses – the rich loamy soil is testimony to success.

Vines are grouped into onehectare blocks to enable micromanagement of soil types, grape varieties and clones. Computer-controlled irrigation allows for precise watering, and the blocks are harvested separately. Strips of land between cultivated areas encourage the proliferation of fynbos which, in turn, increases the presence of antelope, caracal and birdlife. Pests are dealt with using natural solutions. Avondale revels in its pure mountain water, recycling cellar waste and reusing it for irrigation.

The cellar is sited in an old riverbed, with the roof at ground level. Inside four 120 000-litre tanks are suspended from the ceiling, while others line the walls below. The adjoining maturation cellar is stocked with French oak, both first and second fill being used.

This boutique cellar processes 400 tons of grapes at present. The listing for Avondale wines in the current Platter guide has been rendered out of date, as previous labels have been removed from the local market and replaced with the new range, Terra est Vita, six recent releases with striking labels.

Winemaker Corné Marais, in the cellar since 2004, deserves to be toasted with a flute of Armilla (R179) for his contributions, starting with this minerally non-vintage all-chardonnay Cap classique, rated by a recent Dutch visitor as superior to many French champagnes.

Anima is an ’09 chenin blanc (R163) showing structural depth, rich without being overpowering, and quite delicious. Grapes from vines ranging from 10 to 35 years old were used, and 40 percent spent time in wood. We followed with samples of 2009 Cyclus (R204), a sumptuous, lightly oaked blend of half viognier, with sauvignon, chardonnay and semillon adding layers of flavour.

Camissa 2010 is a rosé that shares its Khoisan name with Table Mountain, that is, place of sweet waters. At R122 it’s an extraordinary blanc de noir, bone dry yet presenting aromas of rose petals and scented fynbos from its dominant muscat de Frontignan content, complemented by a mineral core from mourvèdre.

The newly released 2006 Samsara (R277) is composed of shiraz from 19 blocks, offering a pleasing combination of youthful hues, freshness and tannins along with classic characteristics of the cultivar. It takes its place alongside a Bordeaux-style blend of the same vintage and selling at the same price: La Luna blends cab, cab franc and merlot with a little petit verdot into a supple, seamless classic.

The winners of the TGW/ Laborie giveaway are Rukshana Parker, Lorry Frazer and Tracy Gibbs, all of whom will enjoy dinner, bed and breakfast at Laborie and receive a case of their wines.