Mentoring the Mentors

Cathy takes a look at the KWV's award-winning top range

by: Cathy Marston | 15 Jun 2011
Richard Rowe, Chief Winemaker at KWV

Mention ‘KWV’ to most people and chances are they will come up with either Roodeberg or brandy. Sure, you might get the odd person who knows about the Cathedral Cellar range or who might have visited them at La Concorde, their flagship building in the Main Road, Paarl, but to get anyone to associate them with top quality wines? Not really.

A few years ago, the KWV’s reputation took a bit of a nosedive when it was linked with a Sauvignon Blanc scandal – green peppers were being used to add flavour to their wines. Their winemakers were almost certainly not the only ones doing this, but they were the ones who were named and shamed and for a short while, the KWV hung on a precipice, unsure in which direction to head. Probably the single most positive outcome at that point was the appointment of Australian Richard Rowe as Chief Winemaker with the brief to improve standards and help the KWV raise their game.

The Mentors Range of wines arose from a collaboration with some of the ‘old boys’ of South African wine who've been involved with the KWV over the years – luminaries such as Neil Ellis and Danie de Wet. Originally intended to re-inject some standards into the KWV and to allow these mentors to help younger winemakers, the programme grew into mentoring the actual vineyards themselves - sites specially-selected because of the great potential they offered in terms of age, aspect or overall terroir. “And now Mentors also applies to the grape varieties too” explains Richard “Having tried them, we believe that varieties such as Grenache Blanc, Petit Verdot, Verdelho all have great potential here in SA. Basically, we’ll try pretty much anything experimental and see what works best!”

And whatever they are trying appears to be working extremely well. The press release which followed the media tasting ran to three pages in order to include all recent awards. It was followed up a week later by notice of more success overseas, and now the Mentors range has significantly contributed to the KWV coming in at number four of the Top Ten Performing Cellars in the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show. Now that all the boardroom shenanigans seem to be over, the company has gone back to basics and with this range, is making wines of as much purity of fruit and as little oak as possible so the flavours of the terroir can shine through. Currently offering some of the best value in the country - brand director Jeff Gradwell reckons that the wines are at least 25% under-priced – it seems as if the Mentors are coming of age fast.

We tasted through the whole range – here are some of my favourites:

2010 The Mentors Grenache Blanc    R110 (all approximate prices from specialist retailers)
Hints of oatmeal and almond with citrus notes on the nose. Plenty of sweet marzipan and yellow pear fruit with punchy acidity and a strong finish. High-cropping vines, 2nd & 3rd fill oak.

2010 The Mentors Viognier        R110
Very expressive varietal nose of yellow stone fruit. Rich mouthfeel, plenty of expansive peachy fruit but not over-strained or excessive. Swathes of acidity well-integrated with subtle oak – fermented in old oak barrels.

2009 The Mentors Petit Verdot        R160
Concentrated inky-black colour, black fruit nose with iodine and hints of mint and herbs. Gritty texture with plenty of intense violets and currants. Lively acidity, grippy tannins, lovely finish of polish and vanilla.

2009 The Mentors Orchestra        R195
Five-way Bordeaux blend led by Cabernet Sauvignon. Green herbaceous nose wrapped in layers of black fruit. Elegant and clean on the palate with ripe upfront tannins, berries and cherries and a lavish vanilla finish. Very young, needing plenty of time.

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