It was a happy accident when Dr. Phil Freese (wine-growing partner at Vilafonté) jokingly paraphrased the timeworn quote: “If you build it, he will come.”
It was a happy accident when Dr. Phil Freese (wine-growing partner at Vilafonté) jokingly paraphrased the timeworn quote: “If you build it, he will come.” Said in reference to the comic, yet forceful little Kubota B2650 tractors that were built in response to the densely planted vines at Vilafonté. For all that the phrase had been overused, over-explained, made to fit every situation, it seemed to us that it might have some mileage left yet. After all we’ve never encountered it in reference to wine, have you?
And so, indulge us: If you are an internationally renowned viticulturist, married to an internationally renowned oenologist, who happens across a field, at the Southern tip of Africa, thousands of miles from home, where you think you might just grow amazing grapes to make noteworthy wine and you then build a vineyard using all the shared knowledge you have acquired throughout the years, well then, HE very well might just come. He, Bacchus, Dionysus, whatever mythical entity manifests itself when the elements align just so. Now that we’ve referenced a Roman / Greek god, you’ll need some context.
Vilafonté wines are named for the ancient Vilafontes soil the vines are grown in, Dr. Freese calls it seriously old dirt. It all comes down to the Exquisite Struggle.The soil contains million year old minerals, clay and the rough-hewn implements of the Homo ergaster.(An extinct frontrunner of early man who used to call Southern Africa home 1.4 million years ago.) These stone cutting-tools attest to the great age of the soil and are still to be found during an idle vineyard walk. The soil thereby providing the majority of the required struggle.
Dr. Philip Freese and his wife, Zelma Long, come from Sonoma County. Each with a long, impressive history in winegrowing and winemaking respectively. If you know American wines, you’d know Opus One and Robert Mondavi. The former seen as the best Bordeux-style blend stateside, and the latter, the man who made it happen (in collaboration with Baron Philippe de Rothschild). Both Dr. Freese and Mrs. Long have played integral roles in one or both and have since gone on to provide consultation services to wineries worldwide. Their network spans the globe, and the wine people they reference and know personally is telling of their standing within the international wine community.
Here in South Africa, Dr. Freese has worked with Danie De Wet, Giles Webb, Norma Ratcliffe and the late Sydney Back to name a few. Their understanding of wine, worldwide, and their very real experience with it, makes their choice to purchase and cultivate a piece of land in the middle of the Cape winelands, without moving to settle here, a justification of their passion. It makes Vilafonté just that, a field of dreams. Together with Mike Ratcliffe, from Warwick Wines, they have gone on to create three, truly astonishing wines. (Series C, Series M and the new second label Seriously Old Dirt - just in case you weren’t able to get onto the third.)
It is during a rare vineyard visit, in which Dr. Freese takes the time to explain himself, the vines and the wine, that we are struck by the detail of it all. The meticulous sampling of the grapes that happens in three stages, culminating in 500 berries, from each block, taken to the lab to be analysed for their phenolic compounds in order to determine just WHEN the seemingly illusive harvest is to take place. The way in which he talks about each block of vines. How two blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon, right next to each other are so distinctly destined to be either Series M or Series C. He talks about them like people. The ‘slow marchers’, Block O just not knowing what he’d like to be in the future and the glorious Malbec blocks which seem to astound year-on-year. Their two main wines, the Series C and Series M, are both Bordeaux-style Blends, defined by the varietal that proves dominant during that specific vintage. The letters ‘C’ and ‘M’ act as acronyms for either Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, or Malbec and Merlot. They do not grow or add Petit Verdot as it is not a real Bordeaux varietal, nor do they need the added tannins.
The wine is an honest reflection of the land, but also a reflection of the people who carefully orchestrate the grape growing; the harvesting of the grapes at precisely the moment they reach their full potential; the decision making process to determine which block is an M or a C; the subtle blending process. It would seem to us that while there is much talk of attaining a true expression of terroir, we wouldn’t mind a true expression of whatever it was Dr. Freese, Mrs. Long and Mr. Ratcliffe had in mind. Based on their history and the evidence presented year-on-year, we’d wager that HE did in fact stop by and would advise you to find out what it tastes like when HE does.