Flamingoes characteristically take off slowly, fly high, and fly together.
Why the Flamingo reference you ask? Well, let me spin my web. Keermont Wines sits nestled in the Blaauwklippen Valley, an abandoned water bottling plant, abandoned due to incorrect zoning. From their lookout point, where the Fleurfontein Natural Spring has been spewing out its steady stream of sweet mountain water without fail for decades now (barring of course at the beginning of this year at the height of the Cape drought) one looks out on the unassuming and yet world famous Mont Fleur conference centre. Well, YOU might not know of it, but it’s famous in political circles, known as the place where most of our constitution was written between 1991 and 1992, just before our first democratically held elections in 1994. Known as the Mont Fleur Scenarios, 22 prominent South Africans - politicians, activists, academics and businessmen - were invited to come up with four ways in which South Africa might end up by 2002 through setting up potential STORYLINES (a recurring theme here) for the possible outcomes. These were: The Ostrich, the Lame Duck, Icarus and the Flight of the Flamingoes. The last obviously being the most desirable scenario in which the government’s policies are made to be sustainable and the country takes a path of inclusive growth and democracy. Now while the country itself may have veered more toward the Icarus scenario in recent years, it is our firm belief that the South African wine industry as a whole and Keermont wines as an example are steadily climbing toward a lofty cruising altitude, together.
Keermont wines sit right below De Trafford wines, who incidentally winemaker, Alex Starey, interned at and via which he subsequently landed the job at Keermont. David Trafford has acted as a reliable sounding board in past and present years to both owner, Mark Wraith, and Alex, with one of their blocks of Syrah being sold to De Trafford for their iconic Blueprint Syrah each year. This unofficial ‘grapevine’ (pun intended) that exists between the winemakers of South Africa becomes more and more apparent to me during each visit and conversation. No-one (the people I’VE met) is precious or secretive about their practices, doling out advice generously and accepting feedback hungrily. It becomes a group activity, fuelled by a sincere passion for the soil, the practice of winemaking and ultimately the land. Alex actively sells grapes to a number of other winemakers such as BlanK Bottle, Miles Mossop and Keets, though his own winemaking is something worth taking note of. Interestingly, Alex’s background is firmly set in this very valley, having grown up on the farm Stellenrust, which today has been divided into the farms Dornier, Waterford and Kleinood (2/3rds of which we proudly count as MarketPlace partners). Of course, he travelled extensively, both in Chile and Spain, experiencing commercial and boutique winemaking practices, but the valley eventually called him home. It is not often that a winemaker gets to return home in such fashion, but I’m just thinking it doesn’t get MORE ‘sense of place-ish’ than when the wine AND the winemaker literally come from the same place. Similarly, however, there is a sense of freedom in this ubuntu-ness, in the trust displayed by owner Mark Wraith. Mark had come from a corporate agricultural background in Gauteng, attained the 160ha farm in 2002/2003 without a clear idea of just what to DO with it yet. In 2004 he tentatively produced, with the help of David Trafford and then intern, Alex Starey one barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon, then two barrels of Merlot, and the following year a barrel of Syrah and in 2007 finally bottled the first official Keermont wines, with Starey having officially joined in 2005. Since then Mark has consistently allowed Alex the freedom to live out his convictions in wine, and the results have been stellar.
‘Water’ has been a whispered term for months now, and somewhere in January of this year, we had almost made peace with the fact that we would have to live with 50 litres a day. Something Keermont never really had to come to terms with. The Fleurfontein Spring is located in the midst of their vineyards, and the Blaauwklippen river runs virtually right through, leaving Keermont with no drought to speak of, other than what they impose on themselves through dry-farming practices on particular blocks. They are similarly blessed with the fact that most of the land had previously lain fallow, having hosted orchards in the past that had been pulled up, with that section of the valley considered too high up to farm intensively. Of the 160 hectares, only 30 hectares are planted to vine, a very conscious decision to leave more than 100 hectares free to the native fynbos with over 280 species of native plant life accounted for on the farm. Additionally, Mark ensures that any foreign species are regularly removed, flirting with the principles of organic farming, though currently not with an eye toward certification. From what I gather there is a fervent respect for the natural environment of Keermont farm and a push to let it speak for itself, which is nowhere more evident than in the wines themselves. The 30 hectares under vine host no less than 13 varietals, including two small blocks of experimental Marsanne and Rousanne - ‘experimental’ only by virtue of the actual size of the blocks. The Riverside Chenin Blanc is the oldest block at 40 years old and one of their Single Vineyard Range of wines (though also present in the Terrasse). In total they produce 10 wines, 4 of which are assigned to the Single Vineyard Range (only to be released in November, so KEEP AND EYE OUT) and the rest, part of their Estate Range, all wines having been grown, made and bottled on the farm (very much LIKE the winemaker himself). This naturally fertile terroir lends itself particularly well to Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot, hence the dominance of these wines in the line-up. To this humble palate, the Cabernet Sauvignon was something truly unique, which where I usually seem to start feeling around for a steak, I was thrilled by the texture and the depth of the wine and may well be a converted Cab-person, though only from this hallowed Valley (subject to review given the sheer number of Cabs I have yet to taste). The Estate Reserve is designed to offer you a true snapshot of the farm, with a herbaceous quality that HAS to be imparted by the 280 types of fynbos.
As the day wore on, I became aware of a small bundle of enthusiastic energy, bouncing around, as if weightless, around Alex’s feet. An unlikely hound for a winemaker, the TINY Yorkshire Terrier charmed us all, with what one could only call a ‘spritely character’. Alex explained that there were two indifferent Jack Russells at home, installed on the couch, but that this happy creature had elected him her companion, even though she actually belonged to his daughter, and that he was happy to have her, though who WOULDN’T be happy to have her? Her name you ask? Periwinkle-Rose. Winemaker’s Companion and Hound Extraordinaire. We invite you to sample her owner’s wines here: