On the 28th of February 2011 I visited Groot Constantia wine estate, South Africa, to investigate how winemaker Boela Gerber plans to make his 2011 Chardonnay – the 2006 version of this wine having earned a place in the top 10 of the 2008 Chardonnay du Monde competition. I arrived just in time to see the grapes arriving in small crates.

Boela adds both 50 ppm SO2 and Vinozyme skin contact enzyme at the crusher – a significant time apart as not to affect enzyme activity negatively. He does only a very gentle crushing so that a big percentage of whole berries enter the press. He prefers this softer action on the grapes and feels it helps him to minimise phenolic characters.  He uses skin contact enzyme to improve yield and flavour. Enzymes according to him have a softer action on grapes than for instance pressing harder, in terms of improving juice yield. The grapes go through a mash cooler that cools it down to approximately 14 °C. Skin contact is as long as it takes to fill the Bucher press, which is about 4 hours.

His final yield is about 680 L / ton after the addition of some press juice. He adds Novoclair settling enzyme and 6 g/hl PVPP in the press sump before pumping it to the settling tank where he settles for 4 days at 3 – 4°C. The juice then has a NTU of approximately 10 and after racking he increases the NTU to 100 by the back addition of fine lees.

20 % of the wine is then fermented natural in old barrels and the remaining 80% is fermented with Lalvin D 47. He uses liquid ammonia (permitted in South Africa) as a source of nitrogen and Anchorferm as a source of complex nutrients during fermentation. The D 47 fermentation starts in tank and is moved to barrel after 1°B is fermented. He uses Francois Ferrer, Dargaud & Jaegel and Mercury barrels, 50 % new and 50% 2nd and 3rd fill. Fermentation lasts approximately 7 days. The wine then stays in barrel on the gross lees until November of each year and he battonages by rolling the barrels. Malolactic fermentation happens naturally and is usually 50 – 60% complete. The wine is then taken out of barrel and treated if necessary with Laffort casein and bentonite. In the years where Boela feels either the wine alcohol is too high or the acidity too low, or both, he blends some of his Chardonnay base wine for sparkling wine production from the same vintage into the final blend to assure a better balanced final product. The wine is then sterile filtered and kept in bottle for 6 – 9 months before release.

The wine retails for £11 – 14 in the UK.

PS: I got the title from a four yearly event that Sonoma Cutrer in California used to host/organise. Does anyone know if this is still happening? Google is not very forthcoming on the topic. As a harvest intern at SC in 1994 I had the pleasure of tasting the left over wines from this event every day. Too bad I did not fully appreciate the quality of what I was drinking at the time…