Chardonnay is another winner for Haute Cabrière

Haute Cabrière expands its reputation of greatness with its first Chardonnay Réserve. Emile Joubert reports on this welcome addition to the estate’s range of wines.

As the old saying goes, good things are worth waiting for. The recent release of an astonishing Chardonnay Réserve from Franschhoek’s Haute Cabrière, which was years in the planning before being made, not only is a highlight in the winery’s illustrious four-decade history, but also adds a formidable dimension to the Cape’s reputation for excellence in Chardonnay.

“Great wines are grown, but we who are custodians of the vineyards need to put a great deal of thought into what the outcome of all the growing needs to be,” says Takuan von Arnim, part of the second Von Arnim generation at Haute Cabrière, where he has recently taken on the position of Director of Wine.

Haute Cabrière, situated at the foot of the Franschhoek Pass, is one of the most picturesque destinations in this enchanting wine region. The atmospheric tasting room is built into the mountain, with the adjacent restaurant offering spectacular views over Franschhoek to complement its fine wine offering and seasonal menu offering creatively curated culinary delights.

“We are privileged to have built a reputation for a range of fine Cap Classique and Pinot Noir, among other wines. But for a while now we have heard the call to add a reserve Chardonnay that expresses the terroir of Haute Cabrière, as well as the Von Arnim family’s reverence for this noble Burgundian varietal. The growing season leading up to the 2021 vintage made us swing into action, and that is the year in which this latest premium offering from Haute Cabrière became an integral part not only of our wine range, but also of our status and approach to growing wines.”

The Chardonnay Réserve extends Haute Cabrière’s offering of wines grown in the Franschhoek appellation. And here Takuan is emotionally and physically rooted in a region he is adamant deserves to be recognised as one of the Cape’s best.

“Just like a vineyard, you are where you are, and that makes you who you are,” he says. “This winery, founded in Franschhoek four decades ago, is home. We have committed ourselves to expressing the uniqueness of our home in Franschhoek and its terroir. Our dream is to further the region’s reputation as one of South Africa’s leading appellations for quality-driven and original wines.”

The Réserve range includes Arnim Family Reserve, Pinot Reserve and Chardonnay Reserve. It is a terroir-driven collection of wines grown on vineyard sites sought to express the particular nuances required to express the best individual traits of each grape cultivar.

Chardonnay, continues Takuan, is an ideal expression of the connection be- tween its place of origin and Haute Cabrière. “As a wine, Chardonnay is a calling for anybody who is beguiled and seduced by the visceral link between the unique fingerprint of a vineyard and what is expressed in the wine glass. Any wine person who has experienced this relationship between sun, soil and vine in Burgundy, the ancestral home of Chardonnay, gets it. Of course, Franschhoek is not Burgundy, nor is anywhere else. But the state of mind prevalent in that region is what we carry with us. And by applying this to our home, our vineyards and our culture of growing wines, we pay respect to the grape, its heritage and its potential. In turn we offer a wine that is more than a sensorial experience; it’s the expression of philosophy and the pure love of giving the drinker access to a very special wine from Franschhoek.

The Haute Cabrière Chardonnay Réserve is thus a particularly welcome addition to their range of wines, made for life’s moments, especially in view of the fact that its vines grow within full view of their restaurant and cellar door.

The grapes for the Chardonnay Réserve come from two sites: one is a vineyard planted in 1983 – which has official Old Vine Project status – and the other is a vineyard established in 2003. The vines are rooted in a sandy loam soil that includes silt and clay elements, providing excellent drainage and a firm nutrient bed for the plants’ roots.

Tim Hoek, the cellar master at Haute Cabrière, says that besides adding to the winery’s offering of top-quality Chardonnay, this new Chardonnay Réserve underscores the quality of Franschhoek as a unique wine-growing area and of the fruits of the vineyards growing there.

“Our region barely constitutes 1% of South Africa’s national vineyard, but the collective aim of Franschhoek’s wine cellars is to ensure that each glass of wine from here is of premium quality, reflecting the region’s exceptional aspects,” says Tim.

“One of these characteristics is diversity; no two Franschhoek vineyards are alike. As Haute Cabrière’s maiden Chardonnay Réserve shows, each vineyard parcel in the region has distinct elements that reflect uniqueness and excellence.”

The two vineyards used for creating the Haute Cabrière Chardonnay Réserve produce different yields: the plot planted in 1983 gives just under five tons per hectare and the younger vineyard yields 10 tons.

With so much talk of ‘style’ in the crafting of a wine, Takuan and Tim say that style is determined by the vineyard. “It’s not the cellar’s job to tell the vineyard what the resulting nature of the wine must be,” they agree. “The vineyard gives us fruit that shows a certain character with uniquely individual nuances. We are only the custodians, guiding the grapes, juice and wine in the direction determined by the vineyard.”

Fermentation is achieved with a ‘sauvage’ yeast, a natural yeast that has been isolated. And with freshness and complexity regarded as characters best for expressing terroir through Chardonnay, Tim says the wine is a result of two vastly different maturation components.

“For depth of flavour and complexity, Chardonnay does require time in barrel,” he explains. “A combination of second-, third- and fourth-fill French oak barrels was used for ageing 60% of the Chardonnay for 11 months. Used wood allows the wine to form structure and palate weight, elements required to magnify the delicate fruit, floral and nutty characters the variety is known for.”

The unwooded 40% element was kept in stainless steel tanks on its lees, also for 11 months, before being blended with the barrel-aged component.

“The unwooded element brings added energy and brightness to the wine, creating a Chardonnay that we see as a precise reflection of terroir offering the myriad elements and features that make Chardonnay the reputable great wine grape that it is,” says Tim. “The Haute Cabrière Chardonnay Réserve shows zesty citrus notes complemented by an austere minerality with persistence on the palate, depth and a lasting finish.”

Indeed, a great wine, for Franschhoek and for the spectrum of South African Chardonnay, which is rapidly gaining a reputation for being among the world’s greatest renditions of this classic grape variety, the most popular globally and one showing that fashion is temporary, but class is permanent.