A host of different local winemakers will be showcased this year at The TOPS at SPAR Wine Show – the fastest-growing national wine exhibition that returns to Jo’burg for its 10th consecutive time − between 7th and 9th May at the Sandton Convention Centre. Eagles’ Nest from the Constantia Valley is one of the boutique wineries that will make an appearance.
Stuart, what is your philosophy towards winemaking? My overriding philosophy is to do all that is possible to allow this unique site to express itself and produce wines that are so individual that they are immediately recognisable as having come from Eagles’ Nest. I truly believe that a great wine is a wine that is true to its origin, is unique in its flavour profile and is the embodiment of finesse, complexity and elegance.
What is some of the experience that you bring to the winemaking table? You could say I’m the quintessential modern winemaker: obsessive about quality at every stage of the winemaking process, knowledgeable about winemaking techniques in various international wine regions and driven to ensure that our wines are a true reflection of their terrior. After graduating, I worked at our neighbouring farm Constantia Glen before heading off to work in St Emillion in Bordeaux. Since joining Eagles Nest before the 2008 harvest, I oversee all aspects of the winemaking process.
Tell us about your incredible estate and its terroir. Eagles’ Nest estate is an astonishingly beautiful wine farm tucked away in a steep sided valley in the foothills of the Vlakkenberg mountain that forms a part of the greater Table Mountain national park. Our vineyards are some of the highest in the Constantia Valley: up to around 400m above sea level. Although this and the steepness offers some farming challenges, the altitude, combined with other cooling influences such as our proximity to the cold Atlantic ocean and the cool summer trade winds the vines are exposed to, allows for long hang times and slow ripening. This contributes to the finesse and elegance we find in our wines.
What is the history behind Eagles’ Nest estate? Eagles’ Nest was originally a section of the historic Groot Constantia, established by Simon van der Stel in the late 1600’s. It operated as a commercial farm producing export fruit and vegetables for the local market until the 1960’s. Over time the farm has had a number of owners, and since 1984 it has been in the control of the Mylrea family. At that stage the farm consisted mainly of Pine Forest and some fynbos and Protea plants, but a devastating mountain fire in 2000 destroyed 95% of the vegetation. Being part of the historical Constantia Valley, known for its award-winning wines, it was a natural decision to then move the farm’s focus to wine.
How would you recommend pairing your different wines? The Eagles’ Nest Sauvignon Blanc offers beautiful tropical fruits and freshness, ideal to enjoy on its own or paired with sushi, grilled fish and shell fish. The Eagles’ Nest Viognier, which we produce in very small volumes, is a very unique wine with beautiful floral aromatics, and food-wise is a perfect partner to anything Thai inspired. The elegant Merlot offers gorgeous ripe berry fruit flavours with some dark chocolate nuances; it’s a well-rounded wine with silky smooth tannins. We also just released the Eagles’ Nest Shiraz 2012, which showcases beautiful pepper spice flavours and soft velvety tannins.
Your Shiraz has performed well every year. What are some of the awards it has won? Some of the major accolades and awards include 5 Star Platter ratings (for the 2006, 2008 and 2010 vintages), Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show: Trophy Winner for best Shiraz (for the 2006 and 2008 vintages), IWSC: Trophy Winner (2007 vintage) and Double Gold Veritas Awards (for the 2010 and 2011 vintages)
What can visitors to this year’s show expect from this year’s Shiraz vintage? We have just released the 2012 Shiraz in Johannesburg; it celebrates the seventh vintage of Shiraz produced by Eagles’ Nest. Stylistically the wine is very consistent with its predecessors, offering the classic white pepper and spice nuances which have become synonymous with Eagles’ Nest Shiraz over the last few years, but with some added complexity that the mature vineyards offers.
What has enabled you to position Eagles’ Nest as a premium quality label? Eagles’ Nest is regarded as a boutique estate, with only 12ha planted to vineyards. We produce around 6000 to 8000 cases (12) of wine per year. Our objective is to produce, consistently, wines that are quality driven, and are a true reflection of our unique terroir. This means we essentially have a cap in terms of the volume we can produce every year (barring Sauvignon Blanc), with plantings limited to the 12ha planted on the steep Constantia slopes. The boutique nature of the farm allows for micro management of the vineyards and meticulous attention to detail in the cellar, which we believe is of massive value in achieving, consistently, that extra quality differentiation.
What is the ‘winemaking approach’ at Eagles’ Nest? The varying aspects and altitudes of the vineyards means grapes from different blocks and even parts of blocks ripen over a spectrum of a few weeks. With the stylistic goal to only pick fully ripe grapes, the cellar has been equipped with small fermentation tanks, allowing the winemaker to process small volumes at a time. This means from 4ha of Shiraz, for example, as many as 10 to 12 “parcels” of Shiraz are produced every year. These parcels become the building blocks of the final wine, giving the winemaker scope to apply the talent of blending to create the final wine. With the objective of consistency, and the fantastic track record the wines have built, the previous vintage is always the benchmark.
The Eagles’ Nest Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Viognier 2014, Merlot 2010 and Shiraz 2012 will be featured at the TOPS at SPAR Wine Show in Jo’burg. Tickets are available in advance through www.wineshow.co.za or at the door and include a 10th year crystal tasting glass, all tastings, access to the Wine Extra Theatre and a map to help navigate the show.