"Winemakers are anything but creators. We are merely mediators between elements - taming them in a chaotic environment, until blended and guided into a bottle. Cheers to the Chaos!” - Kosie van der Merwe (Winemaker, Elgin Ridge Wines)
Though, my first impressions of Elgin Ridge were far from chaotic. This tiny farm on Appletiser Road in the heart of Elgin wine country (20 hectares in size, to be precise) is a neatly kept establishment, with a tasting room that acts as both control centre and lookout point - set as it is on the ridge with an enormous picture window keeping watch over the valley. Owners Brian and Marion Smith (originally from London) and winemaker Kosie van der Merwe (originally from Porterville) man the tasting room themselves. Meaning you’ll get the story from the proverbial horse’s mouth, which I did when I visited them a few weeks ago on a stormy Tuesday afternoon. The tasting room was pleasantly quiet and, as cars would come down the drive, Marion and Kosie would exchange a quick plan on who was to do what. Given their hands-on approach, you’d be interested to note that Elgin Ridge is one of only two certified biodynamic and organic wine producers in South Africa. Marion herself is the founder of the Biodynamic and Organic Wines of South Africa, a group of South African organic and biodynamic farmers who adhere to the stringent requirements of the international certification bodies.
Biodynamic farming practices take things a few steps further than organic - in fact, you need to be practicing the latter in order to achieve the former. Biodynamics focuses on maintaining soil health through eight specific preparations of the soil, crops, and compost. Numbered from 500-507, these include: cow manure (which, in Elgin Ridge’s case, they get from a herd of 40 miniature Irish cows named Dexters); silica; the flowers yarrow, chamomile, dandelion, and valerian; oak bark and the nettle plant. These preparations, in combination with contributions from the ducks, chickens, Dorper sheep, Molly (Marion’s dog) and smart, organic practices - such as keeping a 4m border with neighbouring farms - all form a naturally fertile eco-system in which to cultivate distinctive Elgin grapes.
While being very principled in their farming, Marion and Brian have afforded Kosie much freedom in his winemaking, the result of which has been the pint-sized (500ml) Chaos White blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Though a traditional combination of varieties, you’d be well advised to sample it yourself, as it may just be one of the purest expressions of these varietals on the market today. In the 2017 vintage, Kosie employed no less than 7 different elements to expertly blend the two - including free-run juice barrel fermentations, whole bunch fermentation and even de-stemmed skin contact fermentations, to mention a few. Coupled with 9 months in 4th-fill French oak barrels, one month in tank and only 81mg/L total sulphur added, we’d challenge you to find a more honest expression. Dr. Jamie Goode possibly said it best: “A white wine with the presence of a red.” Kosie’s hand-drawn label of a soil vortex most probably reflects the biodynamic principles they employ. Another rare touch - winemaker turned artist (one might be tempted to be drawn into the debate wine vs. art, though it would be pointless given that we’ve already landed on wine AS art, no?).
Brian Smith, however, does not leave all the winemaking to Kosie. In 2017, in collaboration with Neil Verburg of Luddite in Bot Rivier, he released, the. - A singular Cabernet Franc made from Bot Rivier grapes. Released at R5,000 a bottle, it was hailed the second most expensive South African wine at the time, what with 4G’s 67 Imizuzu 2014 at R5,600 per bottle and De Toren’s Book XVII 2015 and Black Lion 2016 at R2,500 per bottle. The argument here, and what has recently been echoed in the wine industry with productions such as ‘The Inconvenient Truth about South African Wine’, is that the price of South African wine abroad does not reflect the quality. The, the. however, may just be our very first step in the right direction. It was launched alongside two Bordeaux first growths (Château Margaux 2013 and Château Mouton Rothschild 2013), both with a price tag of more than double their South African counterpart. The resulting ratings from Christian Eedes demonstrated (at 93 points for the the., 94 the Margaux and 93 the Mouton Rothschild), that it’s not our quality up for discussion, but rather our standing. Of the the., Greg Sherwood writes: “The palate weight is creamy, textural and dense, but remains fresh, vital and powerful with excellent varietal typicity.” He awarded it 96 points. We’re just saying: Cabernet Franc from Bot Rivier …we’d look into it.
Given the effort, it would make sense that Marion eventually insisted on producing an MCC. Or, in her own words: “What’s the point in a girl having her own vineyard if she can’t have her own bubbly?” Which, together with their 282 range of wines (282 meters above sea level, that is), makes up an impressive collection of wine from such a small farm. Considering their limited production numbers, Marion was kind enough to make 60 bottles of her Methodé Cap Classique available to you here and, given the season, we’d suggest you invest in some festive, sustainably farmed tipple. To the pioneers!”