Nouvelle is a South African grape variety developed through hybridisation in the seventies sometime, by the late Professor Chris Orffer. The process was not conducted very scientifically and for years it was believed that Crouchen blanc and Semillon were the parents. A paternity test in 2007 however revealed that a certain mister Ugni blanc was indeed the dad. So not exactly very riveting parents but as it happens with genetics in nature sometimes, the off-spring turned out to be quite interesting and useful. It’s only really in the last 10 years or so (thumb suck) that people started to plant Nouvelle and make wine from it. Some belief it is a wine that can stand on its own. Bartho Eksteen from South African winery Hermanuspietersfontein thinks differently.

The 2010 Diner’s Club winemaker of the year feels Nouvelle is only a good blending component and uses it for his Sauvignon dominated white blend, “Die Bartho” (translated into English it is “The Bartho” and it has no relation to death). Bartho picks his Nouvelle at 19°Brix because in this unripe state it produces flavours of grass, parsley and Granny Smith apples. According to him if you pick it riper it has a waxy bubblegum aroma (almost makes you wonder why people bother with this variety). Well, grass (the type used for lawns and not the type you smoke) flavour is quite popular for South African Sauvignon blancs. Most producers seek somewhat of a green pyrazine character to balance the tropical character in their Sauvignons. Pyrazines are also common in New Zealand Savvies, as they call it.

After sorting and crushing Bartho does 48 hours skin contact at very low temperatures and therefore without enzyme seeing that it won’t work anyway. He then presses (660 L/ton yield) and add a Laffort settling enzyme and 4 – 5 g/hl PVPP, seeing that he works very reductively. He thus settles with PVPP and not ferment with it, which is apparently better. He settles for minimum 24 hours during which time he does lees rubbing – a technique where you mix the settled grape lees with the juice again to increase flavour. After racking the must is inoculated with Anchor VIN 7 since Nouvelle has Sauvignon-like characteristics and VIN 7 is a popular Sauvignon yeast in South Africa. After fermentation the wine spends some time on the thin lees and eventually forms a 9% part of the final blend of the “Die Bartho” that is 71% Sauvignon blanc and 20% Semillon. The wine is then matured in new french oak for about 5 months. It retails for £18 in the UK.

So… could Nouvelle with its grassy green character be of interest to the rest of the world’s wine producing areas?