I heard this week that Adam Mason, winemaker at Klein Constantia in Constantia, will be assuming the position of winemaker at Mulderbosch, Stellenbosch with effect from next month.
It’s been all change this year at both Klein Constantia (recently taken over by Zdenek Bakala and Charles Harman, wealthy Czech and English bankers) and Muldersbosch which, together with Kanu and Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards (re-named Fable), has been acquired by California-based investment group Terroir Capital. Terroir Capital is owned by Charles Banks who, until 2009, was a co-owner of cult Californian winery Screaming Eagle.
Stepping aside from the corporate revolving doors, I recently met up with Mason who, the soul of discretion, breathed not a word of his upcoming move. Rather our focus was on his own project, The Yardstick. I say own, but in fact it’s a joint venture with one of the country’s leading chefs, Peter Tempelhoff of The Greenhouse at The Cellars-Hohenhort Hotel , Constantia, where we dined rather well (the pair pictured above, Mason to the left). The hotel (and its very beautiful grounds) may be ultra traditional, but the food isn’t.
Like Tempelhoff’s food, The Yardstick’s labels are irreverent and the wines playful, taste bud teasing and ultra-digestible. They put me in mind of Australia’s First Drop Wines, also made by a dynamic duo, the Barossa’s Matt Gant and John Retsas (see my report on their wines here). Here are my notes on the wines:
The Yardstick Chardonnay 2011 (Elgin)
Mason and Tempelhoff don’t own vineyards so grapes are sourced freely and widely – whatever works best given the style they’re after (and, no doubt, funds). Mason says the Elgin source of this fruit is not especially high or close to the ocean, but he’s been really pleasantly surprised by the Chardonnay’s succulence – it’s fruity acidity. The wine is tight and flinty on the nose with a burst of lime to the palate. Made from young vine fruit, it’s not especially long but it ticks all the right boxes for me – fresh, zesty and gentle on the oak (it’s lies aged for several moths in old barrels). Mason professes himself “pleased to have got a foot in the door” of this particular vineyard.
The Yardstick Pinot Noir 2010 (Outeniqua)
I’d never heard of the Outeniqua pass but it’s out east, towards Plettenberg/Knysna, in Herold, high above the town of George. Mason says when he first tried the Pinot Noir and Sauvignon from here he just loved them for their earthiness, softness and low alcohol (this wine is 12.5% abv). It’s certainly gentle in delivery, maintaining its very own stately, measured pace, going through, which makes for nice balance. It shows soft red fruits, chocolate/truffle and smooth tannins. Going forward, aside from logistical issues this far east, he says summer rainfall is an issue so quality is unlikely to be consistent. Future fruit will come from Elgin. While I like the easy going, natural quality of this wine, I suspect Mason will pick up a bit more aroma and edge in Elgin, which will add a welcome touch of nervosity.
Kaboom! 2009 (Elgin and the Hemel and Aarde Valley)
This maiden Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend (with a dash of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot) is released under one of The Yardstick’s new sub-brands, Kaboom! As the name suggests, this is not gunning for the high end Bordeaux end of the market, rather, to borrow a phrase from First Drop’s John Retsas, this is “soft and slurpy” – all too drinkable! It shows copious amounts of cedar-edged cassis, plum and perfumed blueberry on nose and svelte palate. The fruit is fleshy, the tannins smooth. What’s not to like? A glossy but balanced upfront style.
Shazam! 2010 (Stellenbosch)
Where the Cab/Merlot is, true to this blend, clean/precise (albeit boisterously fruity!), this blend of Shiraz/Pinotage/Cinsaut shows a touch of rusticity, think the Roussillon, with its warm earth, lifted spice and generous mid-palate of plummy fruit. The Cinsaut brings balancing freshness and spicy lift – like the liquorice undertow to the finish. Satisfying without being heavy, it’s mission accomplished a.k.a. Shazam! Another very drinkable wine from messrs Mason & Tempelhoff.