Widely recognised as South Africa’s leading exponent of Sauvignon Blanc, Thys Louw is managing expectations well. The owner-winemaker of Diemersdal Estate seems to make a habit of releasing a new Sauvignon Blanc under his family farm’s brand each year or two.
Just over the past five years alone, Diemersdal’s addition to the spectrum of South African Sauvignon Blanc has included a Wild Horseshoe naturally fermented, skin-contact wine and the revolutionary Winter Ferment made from juice frozen at harvest and vinified six months later. Then last year, Thys gave South Africans a taste Sauvignon Blanc made in New Zealand’s Marlborough region with the Diemersdal Marlborough, made on the country’s South Island in conjunction with Kiwi expert Ben Glover. The Kiwi project went down a song with South African consumers. Production sold out, and the 2020 shipment is on its way from Marlborough.
This year’s new Diemersdal Sauvignon Blanc, however, has Thys talking in tones of reverence. It is a maiden The Journal Sauvignon Blanc, from the 2019 vintage. And the wine is a nod to the variety’s classic pedigree, the one found in the cellars of Sancerre, France. The ancestral home of Sauvignon Blanc.
“I believe in challenging myself and the team in the winery and the vineyards,” says Thys. “Sure, I am committed to Sauvignon Blanc, obsessed actually. It was the first white wine that truly lit my imagination while growing-up on Diemersdal and accompanying my father to the cellar. When I began working in the wine industry, at other wineries and then farming on Diemersdal from 2005, I was surprised to find that Sauvignon Blanc had this reputation as one-dimensional, as seen by wine critics and journalists. I mean, if it is so one-dimensional, why is it the most popular wine variety in the country and one of the most popular in the world? I would never underestimate the consumer by thinking wine people go for one-dimensional wines.”
When Thys began farming on Diemersdal in 2005 as the property’s sixth-generation Louw, the farm was planted to 26ha of Sauvignon Blanc. Under his watch, this has grown to 120ha.
“It gives me a great kick knowing we are working with a variety that the wine consumer loves and which is one of the most successful commercial varieties in the world,” he says. “The audience is there – now it is up to us winemakers to perform.
“This is what fascinated me during my first visit to New Zealand. Some 45 years ago, there was not one Sauvignon Blanc vine in Marlborough. Today there are 23 000ha of Sauvignon Blanc vineyards producing wines in huge numbers and commanding top-end prices all over the world. This proved to me that, with Sauvignon Blanc, we at Diemersdal are working with a variety that is a big-hitter on the global scene, and it is our role to rise to the challenge by making great wines in a variety of styles to show the versatility of the grape.”
The Journal Sauvignon Blanc 2019 was conceptualised during a whirl-wind visit to New World Marlborough last year, where Thys was selected to represent South Africa at the International Celebration of Sauvignon Blanc.
“I am in awe of the viticulture in New Zealand and have never seen such pristine vineyards anywhere in the world,” he says. “So, with The Journal I wanted to make a wine from the finest Sauvignon Blanc site on Diemersdal that truly would represent the best Durbanville was capable of. For the classic touch, the wine was to be oaked. And not just as an afterthought. We used new French 500l French oak barrels, including some premium Stockinger vessels from Austria, which are absolutely incredible in bringing out complexity and depth in white wine.”
A great terroir-driven wine. New wood. And added to the recipe, another nod to Sancerre. “During the nine months in barrel, the wine was kept at 9°C, as I have seen the vignerons do in France with Sauvignon Blanc. This adds another dimension to the wine, slowly coaxing the flavours and keeping the taste profile restrained and classic. While the wood helps in giving the wine a complex mouthfeel, the fresh, brightness of Sauvignon Blanc is still present, but it lingers and impresses with deft palate-weight.”
Loyal Diemersdal followers will say the famous Eight Rows is the most classical of the estate’s Sauvignon Blanc offerings. This was, of course, the first wine Thys made when clocking-in for work on Diemersdal, as father Tienie then limited his son’s vinous ambitions by restricting him to only using eight rows from on vineyard. The same rows and the same vineyard which is still used today for that Eight Row icon.
“Eight Rows sees no wood, relying solely on site of origin and lees management,” says Thys. “The Journal I would compare to seeing Eight Rows with an elegant, formal evening cloak. The personality and style are present, but there is are a number of other features: length, depth and presence.”
The Journal will not be the last Sauvignon Blanc from Diemersdal, not by a long shot. But at this stage, it represents the pinnacle of a winemaker and a farm holding a reverence for this grape variety.
“Sauvignon Blanc is like looking at a diamond,” says Thys. “The longer you stare, the more beauty you see in it. For a winemaker, this makes for endless possibilities.”