Little William 2018Ceres Plateau Shiraz - The new vintage of Little William is most probably our best to date. An awesome, super elegant wine. We fermented all the grapes 100% whole bunch... The Story
In March 2015 harvest was in full swing in my old little super-cramped winery. I had already exceeded the tonnage fitted for a 160 square meter building the year before, but now things were just out of hand - I was beyond maxed-out - I was overstretched, overloaded, overflowing and all the other "over" words you can think of in order to compensate for my impending future growth.
So there, in the midst of my trapeze acts in my cellar, in walks a wine making friend with 2 Pick&Pay bags full of grapes. Shoving it in my hands, he tells me about this lady that was given a bakkie-load of vine plantings as a gift. On her farm in the Koue Bokkeveld (755 meters above sea-level on top of the Witzenberg), they then stuck it in the soil and it started growing. Most vines in South Africa are grafted on American roots as they are not susceptible to a dreaded disease called Phylloxera - which basically wiped out the world's vines in the late 19th century. But these Syrah grapes in the Koue Bokkeveld were in fact growing on their original Syrah roots (we call this “makstok") - a very rare set of circumstances found not many places in the world. The little vineyard looks more like a garden than a vineyard. So there they'd been growing for a number of years. No one was really interested in them at the time so I committed to buying the grapes, inspired purely by the story, not the quality, as none of us knew what to expect…
When it comes to new vineyards like these with no track record, picking time is very difficult to establish. So we just tasted the grapes and looked at the vines. The average temperature at that height above sea-level - 755 meters - is rather low in the growing and ripening season, so the grapes accumulate sugar slowly. We decided to pick when the leaves of the vines started yellowing, showing that optimal ripeness was reached. The first vintage ever (now sold out) was the 2015 - fresh, but with a rather large frame, deep red in colour and plenty of fruit - an alcohol of 14%.
But then in 2016 the style changed. I am not exactly sure why, but the wine ended up being elegant and delicate, low in alcohol (12%) and almost Pinot like.
In the 2017 harvest we had a massive setback - veld fires tormented the mountain tops of the Witzenberg mountains. The vines got burnt and smokey flavours got stuck in the wax layers on the outside of the ripening berries. We suspected that we had possible smoke taint but there was no way to test this before picking. When it comes to white wines the threat of smoke taint is much lower. Because you remove the skins of the berries from the juice immediately, you also remove the possible danger of the wax layer transferring the smoke taint to the juice. But with reds it is different. You have to ferment on the skins to get the colour and tannins. The alcohol then extracts the smoke taint from the skins into the wine. Long story short. The 2017 wine tasted like burnt bacon and we sold all off for very little money. HUGE LOSS!
But nature has its way of recovering and the new vintage of Little William is most probably our best to date. An awesome, super elegant wine. We fermented all the grapes 100% whole bunch. This means that we chucked whole clusters of grapes into the tank, not removing stems/stalks, retaining as much of the terroir/vineyard as possible. I gave my feet a good-old (soapless) scrub and then trampled the grapes, squashing only the berries. The juice underwent spontaneous fermentation and was left on the skins for 3 weeks - pressed into older French oak barrels and aged for a year. For those of you who likes Pinot Noir-styled wines, this is the closest Syrah to this you’ll find - at extreme height above sea-level - Wine of Origin: Ceres Plateau!
ALCOHOL (%): 13.00%
RESIDUAL SUGAR (g/L): 1.23
TOTAL ACIDITY (g/L): 4.61
The Story of the name Little William:
The wine is named after a little boy called William (or this is what I recall hearing…)
In January 2016, I was driving back from this little vineyard in the Koue Bokkeveld/Ceres Plateau. I was speeding through a very winding stretch of road leading towards the Witzenberg pass, when I saw something in the middle of the road. I had just come through a super sharp bend and had to jump on the brakes with both feet. When I finally got my 470 000-km-on-the-clock Toyota to stop, there, in the middle of nowhere, on the white line in the middle of the road, stood a little blond boy, maybe 1 year old. He was in nappies and had a white T-shirt on; making him almost impossible to see as he stood there on the white line. Not quite knowing what to do with him after I got him out the road, I thought it a good plan to prompt him and see what direction he takes off in (me of course just behind him).
Then about 200 meters down the road he (we) crossed a little bridge heading towards the other side of the canal. He headed towards a farmhouse another 300 meters up that road on a little hill. Keeping up to his snail-like pace we arrived at the house more or less 10 minutes later. The gardener, who saw us approaching, called a woman and judging by her reaction, she must’ve been his mom and he must’ve been missing for a while…his name is William.
The original artwork was done from a photo I took at a specific place in the Witzenberg pass. I did the first hills with lino but the hills looked too hilly…I needed a rough moon-type, rocky landscape, so I took wooden blocks and carved the mountains from wood. I then added ink to it and did the prints, then drew the road by hand.
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