The first rain drops of the week fell as we arrived at Spioenkop vineyard, set in the dramatic and rolling landscape of Elgin in the Overberg district, Western Cape. The vineyard is run by Koen Roose, Belgian by birth, engineer by education and winemaker by passion, he is a rebel who cares little for trends or fads. His obsession is with “bottling Elgin”. This purism means no irrigation, no yeast and a firm guiding vision from the vineyard’s creator-in-chief which captures the most of Elgin’s unique soil and climate. The combination terroir and winemaking has resulted in a series of outstanding and individual wines which have gained plaudits worldwide since his first vintage in 2010.
Traditionally Elgin was known for its Pink Lady apples, but in 2005 Koen spotted the potential. Sheltered by four surrounding hills the area resembles a moon crater, it is 200m+ above sea level and as a result the temperature is 3 degrees cooler than the surrounding vineyards. Additionally, it has a unique microclimate whereby when the temperature reaches 32 degrees the hot air sucks wind through the valley and acts like a natural self-correcting air conditioning system. This keeps the grapes at cooler and more consistent temperature. This coupled with the unique patchwork of laterite (a soil and rock type rich in iron and aluminium) (see picture below) makes Elgin different from anything else in the otherwise dry and arid surrounds and easily spottable thanks to the bright turquoise almost luminous lake in the middle of the estate.
At Spioenkop all of the varietals are judiciously selected to suit the terroir and planted to reach their full potential. For example; Riesling is planted where the draining is exceptional, Pinotage in the coolest area at the bottom where a swamp used to be and hence the highest soil content of clay and fossil. He is also constantly trying innovative methods, willing to buck trends where he feels it doesn’t match his terroir. This includes producing Elgin’s first Chenin Blanc with fewer of the tropical characteristics popular in the South Africa industry, and growing Sauvignon Blanc so the canopies grow low and wild with minimal pruning to give tiny tight bunches of concentrated fruit, he also plants the rows closer together than his neighbours, carefully shaping the vines to create the style of wine he wants, sexy steely Sauvignon.
If commercial ‘Coca Cola’ wines are what you are looking for you’ll be sorely disappointed. At the tasting we tried an array of wines which were totally unique to South Africa with delicate structure, precision and unbelievable concentration of fruit. Spioenkop itself is a far cry from an immaculate show vineyard, it’s a working farm producing serious wines. In his own words – ‘pretty vines don’t produce pretty wines’, I think he’s got the right idea and can’t wait to taste the future fruits from the deliciously different revolutionary Spioenkop.