Sophie Schaal, a Mashup between France and South Africa.

Sophie Schaal, a Mashup between France and South Africa.

Recently we had the opportunity to chat with a young talented winemaker that work two vintages every year, one in France and one in South Africa. Her name? Sophie Schaal.

Very happily located in Hunawihr, the Sophie Schaal winery is a mashup between Burgundy, South Africa and Alsace. Sophie herself is a fighter for quality rather than quantity, and focuses on those wines she believes she can make best. This results in honest and future-proof wines, ready to be enjoyed now or in the years to come. Join us for a chat with Sophie, and a review of her wines.

Born in Burgundy, living on two continents

Sophie Schaal explains to us in the interview that she finds her origin in Burgundy. Being brought up by her parents, she has caught the wine bug early. Not only a bug for wine, but also a fascination for taste, cooking and the beautiful things of life. In our talk she exultates this passion tremendously and love for the wine that she makes. 

Naturally she studied wine in Dijon, and went abroad to gain some more knowledge and experience in the field. Thus, she went to South Africa, also to learn how to speak better English. However, the language is not the only thing she picked up there. While working at South African producer Paul Cluver she met Alsatian Julien Schaal, her now husband. 

Connecting Two Worlds. Part 1: France, Alsace

As previously mentioned, the Sophie’s winery is located in Hunawihr. During our interview her backdrop was the legendary Rosacker Grand Cru with the Clos Ste. Hune lieu-dit in it. 

Alsace is home to some of France’s best white wines, and is nestled in the northeast corner of France. The region is known for having an extremely diverse soil structure. If you take a good walk in the region, you may see two completely different soil types in a proximity of 5 meters. This ‘mosaic’ of soil is very much visible here in the village of Hunawihr as well. Soils differ around the village from limestone dominated to clay and pebbles as well.  

The village is virtually ‘hugged’ by two hills on either side, this creates a lovely warm climate with plenty of cooling factors thanks to the nearby forest. Therefore, Riesling feels quite at home here. The cooler nights help retain an abundance of acidity and aromatic intensity. 

Sophie Schaal started making wines with Riesling and Pinot Noir, later she added Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer. 

Born and raised a Burgundian, Sophie Schaal had to make Pinot Noir in Alsace as well. After many trial and errors she eventually manages to make a Pinot Noir that she is completely content with. And we are too! Earlier Pinot Noir that she has tried to make, were not of the quality that she wanted. But ‘thanks to’ climate change, the grape now enjoys the current weather conditions. Schaal aims for grand cru quality and grand cru grapes, so much so that she is excited to someday make Pinot Noir from the Hengst Grand Cru.  

Working Two Harvests each Year is Exhausting but Rewarding for Sophie.

For this article we tasted Sophie’s Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. 

2022 Riesling: 93-point DWA score

The colour of the wine is vivid, pale lemon. Fresh aromas welcome you, with a mineral undertone. It immediately reminds us of many well-made Alsatian Rieslings. The freshness, the typical Riesling acidity and balance are sublime. Worth knowing; this wine has a bit more texture due to the high-quality grapes that were used. Sourced from the Osterberg Grand Cru. 

2022 Pinot Gris: 92-point DWA score

The colour is grey-ish lemon, which is the trademark of an Alsatian Pinot Gris. The aromas however are less typical and certainly more unique. Think of peppermint, ginger, honey and intense tropical fruit as well as quince jam, flat peach and almost minerality. On the palate the wine is off-dry, with thirst quenching acidity and textured mouthfeel. Thanks to the malolactic fermentation, it also has a butter and almost vanilla taste. 

2022 Pinot Noir: 94-point DWA score

First it would be important to note that the bottle has a Burgundy shape, but it is still considered a flute d’Alsace by INAO rules (the governing body of Alsace)! This ingenuity equalizes in the glass. 

The winemaking of this Pinot Noir includes 10 to 15% whole bunch, with 16 days of maceration. After the wine is finished fermenting, the wine sees only French, of which 15% is new. Not to forget, the grapes used are from old vines, aiding complexity, intensity and more. This results in a wine with a typical pale ruby colour. Aromas include earth, wet forest floor, sweet spices, nutmeg, red fruit, fresh red cherry and redcurrant. The palate is balanced, with an abundance of acidity, silky smooth tannins and a long finish. The balance is key here!

Our Ratings of Sophie’s French and South African Wines.

Connecting Two Worlds. Part 2: South Africa.

Sophie Schaal’s South African counterpart is called Born of Fire. This refers to South Africa’s famous ‘Fynbos’ that evolves through fire. Fynbos actually needs the heat that comes from bush fires to germinate its seeds. A new life through fire, this is the symbolism behind the Born of Fire labelling. We find the label to be simple, no-nonsense and well thought-out. 

The grapes used for the Born of Fire label are sourced from the Cape Coast Wine of Origin appellation. All of the grapes are organically grown, both Chenin Blanc as well as Syrah. The Cape Coast region is an overarching region that allows for some freedom within the maritime climate regions of South Africa; both Cape South Coast and Coastal Region. The winery itself is located inside the Elgin region.

From Sophie’s South African line-up, we tasted both the Chenin Blanc and Syrah. 

2021 Chenin Blanc: 93-point DWA score

The aromas are once again quite unique, maintaining a share of South African charm. Think of aromas like peach, peach skin, ripe melon, mango, citrus fruit and tarragon. The uniqueness comes peeking through with papaya, marzipan, white chocolate, spices and candied lemon zest. The balance is impeccable. Whereas this wine is easy to drink on its own, it will pair well with many cheeses and well-balanced dishes. The grapes used enjoy a mediterranean climate in the appellation, with a clear cool sea breeze, aiding freshness and balance. 

2021 Syrah: 93-point DWA score

Dark, complex and intense. Exactly what may be expected from a Syrah. The colour is a deep ruby, and the aromas are of tobacco, smoke, coffee, dark chocolate, black fruit, bramble, plum and a meaty character of olive and more. 

Sophie Schaal, Creating Wines with Personality.

Conclusion: Wines with Personality

Sophie Schaal is an excellent example of how storytelling can elevate a wine. Her dedication to quality in both South Africa and Alsace is heartfelt, a true mirror image of herself. We highly recommend her wines, for their unique profile, character and personality. When you do taste them think of the story behind the label; Alsace’s unique profile, a love that started in South Africa and the Burgundian heritage. 

This article is written by Benjamin Roelfs. Sophie Schaal is imported in the Netherlands by Wijntransport and available through selected retail and hospitality partners. We would like to thank Sophie for her time and the excellent wines.