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A Chip off the Old Barrel

When a father gives to his son, both laugh; when a son gives to his father, both cry. – Shakespeare

A Chip off the Old Barrel

“In 2010 my son Reenen returned from working in the Rhône with a lot of new ideas. The wine was harvested by hand, sorted and fermented naturally in 500 litre open top barrels. A small percentage of whole bunches were added. The wine had a long skin maturation of 25 days and only free run juice was used. I believe this is a great Shiraz.”

These were the words that Jacques Borman used to describe his 2011 Cape Winemakers Guild Auction Shiraz. They are interesting for a number of reasons. The first reason is because Jacques is the very definition of humility. He has made many outstanding CWG wines, but this was the first and only time he called one of them “great”. 

Funny how modesty will only acknowledge brilliance when it can be attributed to someone else.  

But Jacques’ reputation precedes him, and his CV makes for impressive reading. In 1984 he was appointed by the Ruperts as winemaker at La Motte. After two successful decades, he left to concentrate on Boschkloof, the family label he started in 1996. Somewhere in the middle, his La Motte Shiraz was the first Shiraz to receive 5 stars in the Platters Guide. These are just a few of his many accomplishments. 

Reenen’s first wine memory is running around the La Motte tasting room in Franschoek, sampling the dreggs from the guests glasses. He was five years old. He’s a bit more refined since then, but has always been – in the words of his old man – “wynbefok”. In fact, those might not have been his words, but the sentiment is clear. Reenen has always been passionate about wine. 

After graduating in 2009, he completed the 2010 harvest in Rhône. A stint at Domaine des Martinelles was followed by a session at the famed Domaine Jamet, and what he experienced opened his eyes. The aromatic complexity and nuance of flavours. The violets and olives, red fruit and dry herbs. Subtlety layered with substance. Reenen fell for the beauty of Northern Rhône. 

Now imagine the scene: Young Reenen (22 years old ) returns home, Syrah struck, with a much clearer picture of the wine that he loves and what he wants to make. He has just turned 22. He’s excited, and with all of the exuberance of youth, tells his dad – Mr. Shiraz– that he has some new ideas. Reenen is 22 years old. Twenty-two. 

Suddenly, Jacques Borman looks like more than just a great winemaker. To even consider changing something that isn’t broken hints at a rare intuition, but to proudly entertain the whims of your 22-year old son suggests a saintly and profound lack of ego. 

It is a wise father that knows his own child. - Also Shakespeare

Last year, I was privileged enough to taste Jacques’ 2007 CWG Conclusion. It was and remains one of the finest wines I have ever enjoyed. Big and brooding, ripe and complex. Perfectly aged and enjoyed at the right occasion. A truly great wine. But times are changing, and Reenen’s return from Rhône precipitated a quiet shift in Boschkloof’s focus, towards wines with more elegance and restraint. Wines that show structure and substance, but don’t overpower; elegance and precision, without falling flat.  

“My father is my mentor. He’s my biggest influence” says Reenen.“He had a specific approach and a style, and he made that wine brilliantly. But I was young and wanted to experiment, and he was very open to that.” 

So the changing of the guard, if you will, has been natural and fluid. There has been no succession, or handing over of the keys. They still work very closely. Reenen’s reverence for his father is obvious, and it clearly goes both ways. Things at Boschkloof have just evolved. 

“Until recently, everyone in South Africa made Cab, Merlot and Shiraz in the same way” he continues. “Our generation has been fortunate to travel more than previous generations. And with that travel, you start tasting wines, hearing stories and getting the confidence to try new things. Dad has seen the positive response to some of my experiments and smaller projects, and he knows that the landscape is changing.”

Regarding those smaller projects, there are many. The one that has garnered the most critical acclaim is his project with long time friends Henk Kotze and Fritz Schoon. Ron Burgundy Wines (they do not, as yet, make Scotch) is responsible for some of the finest new age wines in the country. Patatsfontein, a single vineyard Chenin from Montague, has been universally lauded since the maiden 2014 vintage. The 2018 is focused, precise, and tastes like the Karoo in a bottle. Patatsfontein’s baby brother, Patatsblanc is a Chenin/Colombar blend that should cost twice as much as it does. 

Their 2018 Sons of Sugarland Syrah, however, achieves the impossible. Breathtaking perfume, red fruits, fresh acidity, spice, body, colour. It has it all, is absolutely delicious and perhaps best represents Reenen’s ambitions. 

It goes without saying that the entire Boschkloof range is worth a deep dive, but while we’re talking about it, the Boschkloof Syrah is always a thing of beauty. At the top end, their Epilogue is quite magnificent. Track that down and drink it with someone you love. 

It’s hard to believe that winemaking is not Reenen’s only focus, but for a relatively small family winery, and everything that goes with running a farm, there’s currently a lot on his plate. 

If I’m not making the wine, I’m packing the orders or delivering it, or showing it to buyers. Flying to China. Marketing the wine and travelling. Selling the wine. It’s hard. 

But Reenen’s not complaining. Boschkloof produces 60,000-80,000 bottles of wine each year. They also produce wine under various labels for private local and overseas clients. Then there’s Kottabos. And Ron Burgundy. And the magical parcel of Polkadraai Grenache that he’ll turn into who knows what.   

A number of Reenen’s good friends are new age South African winemakers, whose businesses, he concedes, hold a lot of appeal. They don’t own their own wineries or vineyards, so they don’t have huge overheads. But they also don’t own their own grapes. 

With Boschkloof, he has the best of both worlds.  

Reenen’s hands are full for other reasons too. Three weeks ago, his wife Marli gave birth to their first child, a healthy baby boy. Kobus hasn’t confirmed whether he’ll be a winemaker yet, but should he do so, he can count on the support of two very humble and open-minded mentors.  

Published On: 04/17/2019

James Bisset


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