“Good winemaking seeks to express place: it’s like tuning a radio,” writes Jamie Goode in an insightful article about terroir on Winemag.co.za. It is thrilling to see how South African winemakers have started the process of creating regional identity in their winemaking decisions and techniques.
For me terroir means that wine made well clearly express a combination of the soil, the climate, and the practices that went into its creation. It requires going beyond taste and aroma when describing a wine, to recognising character and place.
Encountering terroir is like becoming friends – it is drinking a Hemel-and-Aarde Chardonnay and thinking, “Yes, we’ve met before, what a pleasure to spend time together again!” Which is exactly how I felt when I was invited to a Chardonnay blind tasting after having visited the region last month. I found myself overwhelmed by the influence of terroir in South African wines.
This enlightening encounter was repeated at our 2023 Cap Classique base wine tasting in May. Already in this early phase of the méthode champenoise process (before bottling and second fermentation) I experienced the astonishing influence of terroir and how it brings uniqueness to the wines.
We need to capture this uniqueness! The quality of South African wines will surely improve with us winemakers cherishing and ‘tuning into’ the diversity of our soils and climate. I have only praise for the enthusiastic growers from whom I source grapes for understanding and appreciating their crucial role in soil and vine health; elements without which my practice would be futile.
Of course, there is skill involved in blending base wines from complimentary terroirs, which is central to the art of creating house styles in Champagne. I have spent many seasons studying this for Saltare’s Brut Nature blend – a zero dosage Cap Classique that aims to express clarity and delicacy, natural authenticity, fine expression, and liveliness.