Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2020 – Warwick Estate.
Old vines tell great stories, a great example of this is the Old Vine Chenin Blanc produced by Warwick. Originating from Stellenbosch, South Africa, this wine holds a special place in Warwick’s story and heart, and we are happy to share this with you in our review of the 2020 vintage.
From Brandy Roots to Fine Wine: The Story of Warwick’s Old Vine Chenin Blanc
Nestled just a kilometer down the road behind Kanonkop, the old vine vineyard for this wine holds a special place in Warwick’s illustrious journey. Acquired about six months after the main Warwick estate, it is the home to Warwick’s unique ‘Old Vine Chenin Blanc’.
This Chenin Blanc vineyard has a rich and captivating history. Originally planted in 1978, it was exclusively designed for brandy production, not fine wine. Reflecting the adaptability and innovation central to Warwick’s ethos, the vineyard transitioned into producing exceptional Chenin Blanc wine. This 6-hectare plot, initially producing a mere 12 tons across its entirety, underwent a transformative journey. With meticulous care, pruning adjustments, and rejuvenation, especially after the challenges posed by the drought, the yield spectacularly increased to 45 tons in recent vintages.
Interestingly, this particular vineyard is geographically distinct from Warwick’s primary cluster, providing it a unique terroir and identity. Its isolation, although only about a kilometer away, gives it a character that is different from the rest. What is fascinating about this vineyard is its structure. Previously a trellis vineyard, over the years, the wires were removed, allowing it to evolve into a high bush vine formation. This appearance, bearing more semblance to a mulberry tree than a traditional vineyard, offers multiple advantages. The significant bunches, with their weight, would typically dangle, making them susceptible to damage, rot, and other conditions due to wind and contact with the ground. The high bush vine structure negates this, ensuring that the grapes are well above the ground, minimizing mechanical damage and allowing for better air circulation. This is particularly beneficial for Chenin, given its propensity for botrytis.
The sheer size of the vineyard, spanning 6 hectares, makes it a considerable part of Warwick’s production. While 2019 saw an experimental batch of 1,500 liters, primarily sold from the tasting room, the subsequent years witnessed increased production and experimentation. The focus was not just on volume but also on achieving the quintessential Warwick quality. The iterative process over the next two to three vintages was driven by a desire to capture the essence of the vineyard in the bottle. The intention was to showcase a product that truly mirrored the character of the land and the spirit of Warwick.
Evolution of Warwick’s Old Vine Chenin Blanc
Warwick’s Old Vine Chenin Blanc is not just about the aged vines; it’s about an ongoing journey to perfection, both in the vineyard and in the cellar.
The vineyard posed unique challenges given the variability in the soil from the top to the bottom. The top is more vigorous, while the bottom sees smaller canopies and more sun-exposed fruits. This variability led to experimentation. Different sections were harvested separately, understanding which parts produced different styles of fruit, eventually leading to a clear differentiation in the kinds of wine each section could produce.
Upon acquiring the vineyard, extensive soil mapping was undertaken to understand the soil’s composition and determine any adjustments needed. There were attempts to balance out the vineyard by employing techniques like mulching and fertilizing to improve vegetative growth in areas where the soil was less fertile.
However, such a big vineyard required a nuanced approach, as what works in one section might not be ideal for another. This granular approach led to the discovery of various stylistic wine components, like high acid, low acid, yellow fruit, ripe fruit flavors, shaded fruit, and more.
In the winery, the process remained simple but intentional. Grapes were whole bunch pressed, similar to Warwick’s Chardonnay method, followed by natural fermentation in old 400-liter barrels. After an unfortunate experiment with new oak which added excessive oak flavor to the wine, the team returned to their trusted old oak barrels, only occasionally introducing a new one to replace the oldest barrels in the set. One crucial change in the winery was ensuring the wine did not undergo malolactic fermentation, as this process could make the Chenin too creamy and reduce its acidity.
Despite the immense challenges posed by external factors, such as the 2022 heatwaves and the COVID-19 restrictions in 2020, the vineyard’s output and the wine’s quality have consistently improved. From a humble start of 1,500 liters in 2019, by 2023, Warwick expects to bottle about 8,000 bottles.
The vineyard, while old in its roots, is still young in Warwick’s hands. Though the vineyard has been around for decades, Warwick has only overseen its evolution for a few years. This journey can be likened to picking up a book and starting in the middle. Technology offers insights into soil and growth patterns, but true understanding comes with time and experience. And while Warwick respects the vineyard’s past, they are keen to add their signature to its story.
The story of Warwick’s Old Vine Chenin Blanc is still unfolding, but with every vintage, it becomes clearer that it’s a tale of respect for the past, passion for the craft, and a vision for the future.
About the Wine
The Warwick Old Vine Chenin Blanc is a striking testament to the splendor of mature vines and the mastery of winemaking. Derived from vines that are several decades old, this wine offers a complexity and depth that’s challenging to replicate with younger vines. From the very first olfactory encounter, one is ushered into a dance of quince, yellow apple, peach, and naartjies, made even more intriguing by a tease of lemon rind. The shy nose, reminiscent of a reserved yet deep character, opens up slowly but after a while rewards with alluring whiffs of ripe pear flesh.
The palate, quite akin to a charismatic host, greets you with an energetic vivacity. Bursting with a sunny, friendly, and smooth fruitiness, it paints a lush picture of ripe pear, yellow plum, and a zesty lemon backing. It’s almost as if the sun’s rays have been bottled, with the bright and crisp acidity forming a radiant backbone to the flavors. Notes of lemon grass, lime, stone fruits, and dried herbs play a symphony, further amplified by hints of patisserie, wood, and citrus fruit that speak of depth and complexity.
What truly sets this Chenin Blanc apart is its age-old wisdom, brought to the fore by the grapes planted as far back as 1978. Their legacy can be tasted in the wine’s expressive and nuanced aromatics; a beautiful mosaic of pear puree, wet straw, honied white peaches, and a gripping stony minerality. The palate follows suit with a tantalizing depth, showcasing rich glycerol layers of tangy tangerine glacé, candied yellow fruits, quince, and honied yellow plum. The intensity of the old vine fruit is undeniable, making a profound statement about its origins.
Yet, amidst all this richness and concentration, the Warwick Old Vine Chenin Blanc remains impeccably balanced. Its precise focus, the racy minerality, and the structural acidity ensure that every sip is a delightful journey, ending with a lingering mineral finish.
In summation, this Chenin Blanc is an exquisite ode to the prowess of Warwick Wines. Whether you are planning to savor its charm today or let it mature for another decade in the cellar, this wine promises to evolve, revealing even richer fruit expressions and becoming a cherished memory in itself. A truly exciting old-vine Chenin Blanc that is both rich and racy, this is a bottle you would want on your table and in your collection. Cheers to top drawer quality!
We happily award this excellent Old Vine Chenin Blanc with a 93-point DWA score. To read more about Warwick and, this wine and Chenin Blanc in South Africa take a look at our article: ‘The Evolution of the Warwick Winery: A Tale of Heritage and Progress’.
This review is written by our own Niels Aarts. Warwick Wines are imported in the Netherlands by Vinites, and available through selected retail and hospitality partners.
Taste date: October 2023
Score: 93/100 DWA Score
Website: Warwick Estate