‘We have very low boredom-thresholds here at Fairview’ claims winemaker Anthony de Jager. ‘Generally, we’re the first people to try new ideas, so by the time the rest of the South African winemaking world gets round to them, we’ve moved on to something else instead!’ It may sound a bit arrogant, but nevertheless, when it comes to innovation, Anthony and owner Charles Back really are ahead of the herd as a recent visit showed in more ways than one.
I was at the farm just before the World Cup Final and the place was heaving with overseas visitors trying wines, eating cheeses, photographing the goats posing on the tower (I’m sure they have a rota worked out!) and generally enjoying themselves in the winter sun. My visit had been occasioned by an enjoyable argument about the merits of Tannat, a fairly obscure red grape from the South West of France. Since Fairview is, unsurprisingly, one of the pioneers of Tannat in this country, I wanted to see for myself whether we could do any better than the rather murky versions I’ve had in Europe.
It’s not just Tannat that Fairview are pioneering at the moment. Petite Sirah is proving popular with tasting room punters and Charles Back is waxing lyrical about the amazing possibilities of Barbera, Grenache, Tempranillo, Carignan and Cinsaut as well. He took me up to the vineyards to show me the steep terraces he’s created for his Grenache vines – bush vines growing around a single, solid stake to allow the air to get underneath the vine and keep it healthy. His latest plan is to encourage the fynbos to grow back on the terraces to help hold the ground together and to further increase his commitment to biodiversity and the land and life he loves.
In fact, in the hectic time I spent with Charles, he crackled with a succession of plans and the energy with which to execute them. Retirement is a dirty word for him, as is holiday or, indeed, even time-off if it takes him away from his beloved farm. Daughter Bridget is looking to potentially join the team but only ‘when she’s found out what she wants to do and goes out and gets a qualification or specific experience that adds value to the farm’ says her father. Currently Bridget is touring the country in a tent doing fortune-telling to promote the new supermarket range, La Capra – see my notes here on yet another innovative and exciting range from Fairview.
Over the years, Charles has planted grape varieties as varied as Malbec, Roussanne, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and has pushed the boundaries of the South African Wine & Spirit Board to their absolute limits – he is currently trying to get permission to import cuttings of an obscure Portuguese variety that no-one appears to have heard of, but which he is sure will be a winner. It should be worth finding out what it is, because if the past is anything to go by, it may well be that once again, Fairview is hot on the trail of the next big thing.
I tried a few of the more off-the-wall varieties - these were my favourites:
2007 Fairview Tannat R70
Black fruit nose with warm biscuit hints. Sweetish mid-palate, shortish length, very dry tannins. Needs food or time – possibly both. Not persuaded by this variety on its own yet.
2009 Fairview Petite Sirah R100
Not released yet – should be later this year but this is such a step up on the 2008, it’s worth waiting for. Perfumed nose, soft, ripe tannins, rounded black fruit and good length. One to watch.
2010 Fairview Tempranillo
First vintage for this Spanish varietal shows good promise. Vines are young, so the texture is light and fresh with juicy red cherry fruit, licorice and attractively gritty mouthfeel.
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