The just-released De Wetshof Limestone Hill, one of South Africa’s most popular unwooded Chardonnays, emphasises the reputation 2019 is attaining for being one of the best vintages for white wine in the Cape’s recent history.
According to Johann de Wet, CEO of De Wetshof Estate in Robertson, the relatively wet 2018 winter put some much-needed moisture back into the soils. But it was the temperate weather conditions before and leading up to the 2019 harvest that resulted in optimum ripening of fruit in the vineyards.
“Cool evenings were complemented by some mild days in the middle of summer where we even had to cancel days of harvesting due to light, cooling rainfall,” says De Wet. “These conditions allowed the grapes to ripen evenly and build ideal acid-to-sugar ratios resulting in perfect chemistry in the young wines. This year’s Chardonnay harvest shows young wines of freshness, varietal character and complexity.” Such is the case in the Limestone Hill 2019, one of the five wines in De Wetshof’s range of site-specific Chardonnays.
Despite the relatively cold and wet Cape winter of 2018, the Cape is still experiencing a drought due to the previous five years’ low rainfall.
“Fortunately the high clay content of De Wetshof’s soils helped massively in sustaining the vines due to clay’s water-retention ability. Once the water got down deep to where most of the roots are, the soils remained moist and cool. Leading up to the 2019 harvest, this soil moisture allowed the plant to go through the processes of bud-break, berry-set, veraison and overall ripening in conditions conducive to a healthy crop.”
The grapes for Limestone Hill are picked in the coolness of morning, with the emphasis on capturing the natural complexities of the Chardonnay grape immediately for the making of this unwooded wine. After de-stemming, pressing and overnight settling the juice is racked off from the sediment and pumped into stainless steel tanks. Following fermentation the wine is left on the lees under controlled temperatures. Weekly stirring of the lees ensures maximum flavours are released into the wine until the wines are ready for bottling.
“Like all our Chardonnays, the Limestone Hill is made from vineyards growing on selected patches of terroir that influence the individual style of each wine,” says De Wet. “The key to Robertson is the high limestone content of the soils, limestone being an element ensuring chemical balance and ageability in the wines.”
Heavy clay soils rich in limestone allow the Limestone Hill to emit optimum varietal expression in a cloak of rich complexity. An unwooded wine, Limestone Hill has notes of grapefruit and nuts, balanced by a nuanced elegance ending in a delicate ripeness.
What is important in making an unwooded Chardonnay, says De Wet, is not just keeping the juice and the wine away from oak. “The chemistry of the grapes and the vineyard conditions have to be conducive to producing a Chardonnay that shows its best features in an unwooded environment,” he says.
The American critic Robert Parker describes the wine as such: “The Limestone Hill Chardonnay never sees oak, and offers impeccably pure, refreshing apple, peach and lemon fruit, a lovely leessy richness of texture, and a nutty, chalky, fruit-filled finish of imposing length. Understated and less tropical than some of the better un-oaked Australian Chardonnays, this wine possesses far better balance and sheer drink-ability – not to mention more finesse – than 99% of the world’s Chardonnay I have experienced at its price.”
The wine is superb with oysters, cream-based pasta dishes and light curries, as well as roast pork and veal dishes.
Recommended retail price: R95
Pictures: Facebook/De Wetshof