Alissa Leenher on October 9, 2013 1 Comment Beneath Silkbush Mountain, in the Breede River Valley, lives a story. It is a story with unlikely unions. It is a story that began decades ago and will continue to develop for years to come. It is the story of Silkbush Mountain Vineyards. When Dave Jefferson first visited South Africa in 1994, he could not have known what was to come. While he had been in the grape business for years in Napa and Sonoma, he had no experience with South African wines and was blown away by the quality and the price point. The hospitality and local beauty solidified the experience and, two years later, he began a plan. After several scouting trips for one of the biggest names in California wines, Dave met vineyard consultant, Anton Roos. In 2000, Dave and his partners purchased the land adjacent to Anton’s in-laws, the Marais family. The Marais family has lived on and worked the land for over 200 years. It is part of their legacy. Anton and his family are now part-owners, live next door, and manage the Silkbush Mountain vineyards and employees. When you think of South African wines, you likely think of Chenin Blanc, and with good reason. But you won’t find any at Silkbush Mountain Vineyards. Only 7% of the property is planted with white grapes: Semillon, Viognier, and a little Sauvignon Blanc. The topography, climate, and afternoon sun lend itself more to red grape production: Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Pinotage. Haven’t heard of Pinotage? Don’t worry. Neither had I. Often called South Africa’s signature grape, it was developed in 1925 when Abraham Izak Perold created a hybrid of Pinot Noir and Cinsault, or Hermitage as it was known locally. Although it would be years before the first wines were made, it became known to be easily cultivated and was therefore widely planted in the 60s. As in any industry, rapid growth often leads to rapid criticism. The grape often creates isoamyl acetate during the winemaking process. If not addressed, it can lead to unpleasant aromas. The poorer quality Pinotage gained a reputation of smelling like rubber; not what you want in a wine. Perhaps this characteristic in the lesser wines prevented it from becoming accepted in the states. Perhaps it is simply a question of importing and availabilty. Either way, I had my first experience with Pinotage this past weekend. I am very much looking forward to my second. The Tasting The 2009 vintage of Lions Drift Pinotage from Silkbush Mountain Vineyards is a delightful wine. With no prior knowledge, I didn’t know what to expect from the wine. Since I prefer to taste initially without reading notes, I went into the wine somewhat blind. That wasn’t a problem because the wine had no problem making itself seen. On the nose, I got a lot of currant and spice. As it opened, it seemed to go from black currant to red, almost cranberry with more perfume, less bite. This wine has incredible depth. The finish kept going and stayed strong. It seemed to be both intensely bright and dark and rich at the same time, very different and very enjoyable. Had I tried the wine ahead of time, I might have paired it differently. It would have been fantastic with charcuterie or grilled meats. We went in a much different direction, but it worked. We were having dinner with some “foodie” friends and it was a belated birthday dinner so we took it up a notch. For the first course I did Butternut Squash Ravioli. I roasted the squash and pureed it with sautéed shallots, a little cream, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese. I then took the easy way out and used wonton wrappers for the ravioli. We finished them with brown butter sage sauce. Pretty classic. Because I wanted my palate fresh for tasting the wine, we tasted before the meal was served. Even though it wasn’t what I would have thought of for a pairing, I knew right away it would be a fun one. The Pinotage is a food wine, for sure. Tons of acid, depth, smoky spice. The acid was a foil for the rich buttery sauce. The spice in the wine brought out the nutmeg in the squash. The smokiness and the sweet squash played well together. I didn’t want it to end. I had the privilege of talking with Dave Jefferson at length this past summer. For me, the enjoyment of a wine is magnified when you have a personal connection, when you know the story. Lions Drift Pinotage is created from an unlikely union of two grapes, two men from two countries, with one unified vision. The people at Silkbush Mountain Vineyards work hard to bring out the best in the land and the best in the people who are working the land. Through employee housing, education, and connections they are creating more than wine. They are creating opportunities. They are elevating the community and the standards for great wine. For more information on Silkbush Mountain Vineyards and tours of the South African winelands visit their website. On the site you will find an abundance of beautiful photographs and videos including information on their Kingsbury guest cottage available for rental.