Famed producer Jan Boland Coetzee held an historic first ‘Symposium on Pinot Noir’ at Bramon Estate to assembled winemakers… and lucky they were! – PETER BISHOP reports
THE full effect of Jan’s symposium on Pinot Noir will take a decade to be realised. It will take discipline as much as it needs awareness… and lucky they remain.
For Jan himself to fulfil his dreams, and to become aware, has taken 50 years, with a wonderful planned run-in over the last decade. Being an industry icon at Kanonkop in the 1970s when he played 127 games as ‘fetcher’ for Western Province, most of these as captain, he also played in six test matches.
After 11 seasons playing for Stellenbosch University’s Maties team, Jan surprised everyone by taking his young family to move to Beaune in Burgundy for one reason: to understand Pinot Noir.
From working in the vineyards to making the final cellar decisions, Jan at least became aware. Albeit he has built his reputation on Cabernet Sauvignon, on Pinotage, and recently on Grenache (from the family-owned famed Piekenierskloof on the West Coast), Jan has nurtured Pinot Noir of quantum levels.
So, why was it ‘necessary’ for Jan to address this area whose plantings of Pinot Noir are at most five years of age?
It must be recognised that Peter Thorpe, who set up Bramon over a decade ago, realised he ought to produce Methode Cap Classique – what the amateur would wrongly call ‘Champagne’.
The Four Bs – birds, baboons, bush pig, and buck – simply decimate the ripening grapes. So the logic was to pick the grapes pre-ripe, when the fruit was short of ripeness, but when the acids were clean and sparkling. This acidity is the base of a fine MCC.
In 2016, I put the producers through a serious tasting of Graham Beck range of MCC to see the standard and styles set. The sparkling wines had been made of Sauvignon Blanc on Bramon, but with the arrival of Anton Smal as wine-maker in 2010, he and a few others planted the traditional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Some used the ‘Champagner’ clones of Pinot Noir and some used the virus-free Dijon clones 777 (fruit), 115 (structure), et al.
Aspiring to making a bottled Pinot Noir was logical, so Doug Lund of Newstead and Vicci Gent of Packwood have already done so, and Lodestone’s Jon Tonkin is about to.
Jan’s message was clear. Let those vines age to eight years to be at their best. To verify this, he offered his Paradyskloof (since discontinued) Pinot Noir of 2007, 2009, 2013, 2015 – all fine wines, but made from vines younger than eight years.
Not that any of the 20 attendants complained, but they were a tad short of full expression and brioche; that ‘feeling’.
“The vintage 2015 is the best in my over 50 years – showing refined African Eloquence.”
Offering a 2007 (a vintage that Jan has not begun to sell – “I will keep them for myself!”) Pinotage with great tannins as a breather, he went on to present, in order, an array of the finest (older than eight years) Vriesenhof Pinot Noir 2015 (great aromatics), 2007 (vibrant and firm), and 2013 (fruit and length).
Then came the 2009, which stuns all who know that Pinot Noir is not one-dimensional, nor must it fit a pre-description. To complete the symphony, he offered the 2003 (truffles, grandeur), 2004 (mohair smoothness), and a Guild 2006 from Clone 777.
The data was before them, and Jan had given a message. It has taken him 10 years to create the barrels he uses – single barrels from three different forests, made by one cooper who flies out to taste each harvest and to have them accord.
In addition, he has taken a decade to graft promising buds onto his pruned vines so as to create simultaneous physiological ripeness.
The prophet has spoken. The inspiration is there. It is for the perfectionist winemaker to say that he will never forget the message of the symposium – a first for the region.
Jan spoke of “Pinot de Vriesenhof” because he went further than simulating a Burgundy – he expressed Africa. He made, as he suggests “An Other” wine.
Who will live and aspire to make a Pinot de Plett?
• PeeBee has kept his palate alive since 1975 when he met Beejay Lankwarden in the Wilderness. He explores local, national and international wines, looking for ‘the cutting edge’.