Diemersdal Backs a New Horse With First Skin-Fermented Sauvignon Blanc
The award-winning Diemersdal Wine Estate, widely celebrated for its range of Sauvignon Blanc wines, has introduced the first skin-fermented Sauvignon Blanc to South Africa. The Wild Horseshoe 2015, the latest addition to Diemersdal’s wines, is the result of using a winemaking process not normally associated with this popular cultivar in South Africa. It was made from one of the oldest Sauvignon Blanc vineyards on the farm.
Usually when making Sauvignon Blanc, the skin is removed from the juice before fermentation begins. However, the Wild Horseshoe’s grapes were fermented for 96 hours with skin contact, before being aged for 11 months in oak barrels.
The wine was developed from the desire to explore the deeper nature and complexity of this cultivar, according to Thys Louw, cellar master of Diemersdal and chairperson of the Sauvignon Blanc Interest Group.
“Sauvignon Blanc is South Africa’s most popular single grape variety because the wine it produces usually has aromatic, crisp flavours which the consumer can identify with,” said Louw. “However, as a winemaker, you can’t help but ask yourself questions like ‘what will happen if…’, when you’ve worked with a particular grape for years and want to try something new. These questions are what led to us making Wild Horseshoe.”
The Wild Horseshoe got its name from the hundreds of old horseshoes workers have found in the Diemersdal vineyards throughout the years. “Viticulture has been practised on Diemersdal since 1702. The work was done manually, with the help of horses, until the 1930s – which explains the horseshoes” said Louw. “The word ‘wild’ in the name doesn’t refer to the horses, but to the fact that wild, spontaneous fermentation is part of the unique character of this wine.”
The Wild Horseshoe is made from one of the best vineyards on the farm, which was planted in 1982, with a yield of only three tons per hectare.
According to Louw, the result has exceeded all expectations. “You know, initially I thought this particular horseshoe wouldn’t bring us any luck,” he said. “I expected some fireworks after the wine’s ‘wild’ fermentation, the integration of the fermenting juice with the grape skins and the barrel-aging process. But in fact, this wine did very little for six months and I was ready to give up on it.”
But then everything changed. “Suddenly, within a week, the wine developed a complexity which I’ve never experienced in a South African Sauvignon Blanc. It didn’t have the typical fruity character or passing, light structure of a Sauvignon Blanc. This wine has a classic, Old World character, and is one of the most complex white wines I’ve ever made. Its fullness and mineral character makes it perfectly suited for dining, and raises Sauvignon Blanc to another level entirely.”
Louw says the most gratifying aspect of the new wine is the glimpse it has offered him into what a Sauvignon Blanc grape is capable of. “It’s showed me qualities of Sauvignon Blanc I’ve never experienced or been aware of. Hopefully a niche market for skin-fermented Sauvignon Blancs can be created, which will promote the grape variety and the South African wine industry as a whole.”
During a recent visit to New Zealand, the most renowned producer of Sauvignon Blanc besides France, Louw was surprised how popular skin-fermented wines made from this cultivar were.
“This style of wine adds depth to the Sauvignon Blanc and may attract a wider audience,” said Louw. “This is one horse that should be backed by the industry.”