The Merit Wine and Spirit Challenge 2020
This year's Sauvignon blanc Trophy was awarded to the 21 Gables Sauvignon blanc 2019 from Spier
This was the 2nd year The Merit Wine and Spirit Challenge was held, and the increase in the number of entries is a definite acknowledgement that the unique features of this competition fills a need in the South African industry. Several high-end wines and spirits were entered, as well as several super-value offerings.
During this event, there was a conscious effort to include millennials and younger wine adjudicators to make the tasting panels more representative of consumers in general. These younger consumers are responsible for a big resurgence in the popularity of Sauvignon blanc and that is why the trophy was included this year.
It was well deserved that Spier walked away with the Sauvignon blanc Trophy of the year. Well done and congratulations.
We asked Jacques Erasmus from the Spier winemaking team about the wine.
Q: What makes this wine special?
A: The fruit for this wine come from a vineyard close to Durbanville. I have a special history with this specific vineyard and the wine from this vineyard never disappointed me. The 2019 vintage was one of the best vintages for white wine. I knew from the start of fermentation that this wine will become one of the best Sauvignon blanc wines that I ever made.
Q: What do you think makes your Sauvignon blanc grapes special?
A: Sauvignon blanc is a sensitive cultivar. It is lively and there is not much space for mistakes in the growing and the winemaking process. You need to be quick with your decisions. This makes it particularly challenging to get it right. Sauvignon blanc keeps you humble, because as soon as you think you have it under control the wine shows you her other side. I love making Sauvignon blanc because of the challenge involved.
Q: What is the most important thing to keep in mind when making Sauvignon blanc?
A: The most important thing is to harvest at the right time early in the morning while the grapes are cool. Do not break the cold chain, and try to avoid oxidation as far as possible, and start fermenting with clean juice. Do not be afraid of cold fermentation and do not think that the wine is made after fermentation. You need to take care of the wine until it is bottled.
Q: What cellar practices do you use that brings out the best in your Sauvignon blanc?
A: A good cellar team plays by far the most important role in making good wine. Our team has worked together for a long time. Anthony Kock help me with the white wine making and we work as a team. A clean cellar with an effective cooling system is paramount.
Q: What is your fermentation regime (temperature, yeast nutrition etc.)?
A: I use two different yeast strains, CKS 102 and VIN7. I like a longer fermentation period, that is why I ferment cold between 12-14°C.
Q: What settling technique do you use, and is there special criteria such as how clean the juice, temperature or time involved?
A: I settle juice overnight in horizontal tanks at around 12°C. I like to start fermentation with clean juice. The fermentation must start smoothly, but I like to extend the fermentation time from around 8 °Balling.
Q: Are there any techniques you practice consciously to prolong the shelf life of your wine?
I like to work with the lees after fermentation. A small percentage of the wine will ferment in old oak, it helps with the shelf-life too, but the most important thing is the quality of the grapes and the bottling process.
Q: Where do you think South Africa rates relative compared to the rest of the world with Sauvignon blanc?
We have very diverse Sauvignon blanc wines in South Africa. I think South African Sauvignon blanc is underrated. The world is missing out by drinking Sauvignon blanc from countries where the nose of the wines are overpowering, one dimensional, and the acidity tend to be out of balance.
The competition in the best Sauvignon blanc category was very fierce, so to be handed the trophy at this event is a remarkable achievement.