Better than Burgundy? Yes, especially if it’s only an hour from home!

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A tiny portion of the spectacular view!

With winter approaching, there is snow beyond the wall, we needed to sort out provisions… Bottles of freshly pressed olive oil and jars of preserved tomatoes, basil and onion fresh from the farm, freshly chopped wood and… Hang on, we live in an apartment in central Cape Town, stocking up for our mild winters is completely unnecessary, but is a great excuse to top up the wine racks with some of our favourite easy drinking and surprisingly affordable red wines from the Western Cape. We headed to Newton Johnson in the Hemel en Aarde Valley (just outside Hermanus, around 120 km from Cape Town) to pick up a case or 2 of their “2nd label” Felicite pinot noir. Just to see us through winter of course…

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Peter, Bevan and Lisa from the tasting room!

This wonderful family run winery has won numerous medals, awards, stars and the like and has developed an international following for their show-stopping pinot noir’s. In 2012 they showcased 3 PN’s and a blend from the same property, just different soil types: Mrs M, Block 6 and Windansea which was voted Platter’s best red of 2012. Their accolades went stratospheric last year when Decanter Magazine named their Family Vineyards 2013 as one of the top 3 burgundies outside Burgundy! Heady stuff!

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In the context of weak Rand and often massive prices for quality wines, the NJ current PN labels are comparatively a bargain with cellar door pricing at R325 (around $23) for the Family Vineyards….sadly SOLD OUT and the Walker Bay at R202 ($15) a bottle. Even at these prices, they are for us sadly relegated for special treats and high days and holidays. So what a treat to be able to buy their “entry level” baby brother at under R100 ($6.50)! On the quality/value scale… A complete steal and suddenly we can enjoy PN on a regular saturday night!

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Looking toward Walker Bay

So we stopped at the cellar hoping that there was plenty of stock and of course planning a short tasting of their other fine wines. As usual, however, the road to hell is paved with good intentions! While sipping some sauvignon blanc and filling in our order form, Bevan Johnson (the marketing brother) arrived and suggested that we may want to join a private tasting he was about to do for some NJ fans from out of town. Would we? Hell yes, we were seated behind a flight of glasses before he had time to pull the first cork!

What a treat! We love our wine but are not wine writers so won’t pretend by throwing in technical terms and comments about wood versus stainless steel. What we can share is that if ever you are able to taste quality wines in a tutored type environment, do!

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Tutored tasting are best!

One fact we learned was that NJ are the only producer in SA growing, bottling and selling Alberino as a single cultivar. Dad, Dave Newton Johnson, was wanting to try the family hand at something other than chardonnay and pinot noir. Alberino seemd a fine idea…. The challenge began with sourcing the vines… First port of call was to try the home of Alberino, Spain. When this proved unsuccesful, he tried Australia…this time there was a problem with the plants DNA! Finally they sourced the precious baby vines in California!

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The new kid on the block!

We were told that there are 2 ways of introducing new cultivars into SA – other than the wonderful pirate stories of decades ago where root stock was smuggled in hidden deep between socks and underpants and family holiday luggage! The one way is through tissue samples (no kidding) and 1 week quarantine, the other with “stokkies” (baby vines), which remain in quarantine longer than it takes to have a baby… Yes, more than 9 months! So they began with 10 “stokkies” in quarantine and now have around 350 plants on a 1/4 hectare.

First bottled in 2014, the production was tiny – this year with 2 barrels and an “egg”, this literally “new cool wine” will be produced in greater volume. Sadly, the one we tasted was SOLD OUT, but we will be in the front of the queue when this year’s vintage is released – think fruit driven, potpouri, orange blossom, great aromatics with good texture and acidity (so, I can write wine when I remember to take legible crib notes)! With apologies to Bevan for any technical errors!

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The other great treat was to taste the 2 current headline pinot noirs side by side… showcasing “1 property, 2 soils”. The 2 vineyards are just 500m apart. The Family Vineyards is the higher of the 2, sandstone soil, pale, fragrant and lean! A little lower down the slope and with more clay in the soil we find the Walker Bay PN, fuller colour, complex with wonderful “mouth feel”.

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I forgot to take a pic of the 2 PN’s, but with a chardonnay and pinot noir – you capture the best of Burgundy!

We were privileged to also taste the 2016 Family Vineyards PN. It was only bottled 6 weeks ago and is due for release in early July. Despite its young age, it is a surprisingly complex wine, already drinking beautifully! Note to self, place an order before it is SOLD OUT – once the medal awarding season is over! This new vintage will again please both crowds and judges!

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Gordie with his beautiful wine in a pipette – ready for a show stopping pour!

Any blog on NJ Family Vineyards must highlight those behind making these gems – this time wine-maker brother and his wife and partner in crime – Gordie and Nadia. They seem to prefer to spend time in the cellar but we caught him in a rare moment of “almost publicity”. The TV show Top Billing was preparing a fathers day program… and they just happened to feature… you guessed… Gordie pouring his PN to a happy smiling eager table – he had to do it over and over… to catch the right light etc we were told… we think it’s just that the table and film makers wanted just a little bit more!

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Anyone need any more? Yes please say the thirsty/greedy observers!

After this fabulous tasting – there was an urgent need for a light lunch, but that was a whole different fun adventure and is for another post! Watch this space…

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