Head winemaker, Nelis Uys, updates us on the current season, his process and new wines to be on the lookout for
By: Susan Tissiman
Nelis is coming into his stride at Spookfontein. Having joined in early 2021, he has overseen the last two harvests. “The first years are always interesting, getting to know the vineyards and what we get from each block in terms of natural acidities, for example, which are good here and mean we don’t have to interfere much during the wine making process.”
The 2022 year has been dry climatically, leading to some vine stress which is well managed through efficient drip irrigation systems. “Stress can be good, it adds to the character of the wine. Combined with the long hangtimes we have on the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, I’m expecting this to build lovely flavour profiles in the 2023 vintages.”
Now familiar with the terroir, he emphasises how special Spookfontein is within the area for its soils. “There are lots of rocky soils. The koffieklip in our Pinot block is much more decomposed than that in other blocks where whole boulders of koffieklip are common.” This makes for unique topsoils for Spookfontein’s multi award winning Pinot Noir. “Koffieklip is iron rich and absorbs a lot of sun, affecting the pace of ripening and making our Pinot Noir so special, it really is a very elegant style of Pinot that we can produce as a result.” The Cabernet Sauvignon block, on the other hand, is rich in clay and dry shale – creating structure in the wine.
The winemaking process therefore naturally starts in the vineyard where Nelis works closely with farm manager, Andries, to ensure the best quality grapes: “We do a lot of leaf breaking, exposing as much to the sun as possible; and we harvest late in the year, allowing for the extended hangtimes on the vine.” Other environmentally focused practices include cover cropping, rolling and mulching. Typical of the cool climate region, the low yields and small bunches are special in offering a low juice to skin ratio and high flavour intensity. Nelis’ ethos is all about working with what the land and climate gives him each year to create wines that are consistently good.
Given the small batch nature of the winery, Nelis devotes a high level of attention to detail to every step of his process and clearly revels in this. His winemaking philosophy is to implement natural methods where possible. He has shifted all wines to 100% spontaneous fermentation since joining Spookfontein, with a preference for harvesting at lower sugar levels to enhance acidity too. Taking a walk around the cellar with him, he highlights the nuances and great care that he takes at each stage. The result are wines with fresh acidity, which express the land and climate, and which are not overpowered by too much oak, nor overhandled. “We typically don’t need to add any acids, nor tannins to our own estate grown wines – this is because of the way we have handled the grapes from farm to cellar.”
New wines to look forward to in 2023 include a Rhone blend (of Syrah, Grenache, and Cinsault) and a Chenin Blanc. These will be released following bottling in March 2023, alongside the non-vintage MCC and low intervention Pétillant Naturale (These bubbles go particularly well with the oysters on offer in the Spookfontein tasting room!) New offerings have really allowed Nelis to lean into the artistry of winemaking which he so loves.
“I continually strive to make high quality wines. I am driven by it being an expressive and artistic job, full of possibility. I love creating something for people that inspires a moment. It’s what the bottle creates – people coming together to experience a moment.”
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