Exploring the variety of Vriesenhof
In the picturesque valley of Paradyskloof, you will stumble upon a magnificent gem that lies nestled between the Stellenbosch and Helderberg mountain ranges. This somewhat hidden wonder is called Vriesenhof. Its history dates back to the early 1700s but the name it has been so firmly affiliated with since 1980, is that of its loving parent: Jan ‘Boland’ Coetzee. Aside from its rugby-famous Father, one of the interesting points to know about the farm is that it is home to two diverse ranges of wine, each under their own label: Vriesenhof and Paradyskloof. Even though the grapes for the two labels are sourced from the Paradyskloof valley, the vineyards are wholly different in terms of microclimate, aspect, slope direction, sun exposure and soil structure. In essence, they are siblings that grow up in different households: the same, yet different.
The farm produces plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinotage, Pinot Noir and Grenache. The wines for both ranges are made by winemaker, Nicky Claasens, under the guidance of one of the stalwarts of the industry, Jan ‘Boland’ Coetzee. The different varieties within the vineyards are planted in such a way that their individual requirements are taken into account – thereby ensuring that wines of exceptional character and quality are produced. The Vriesenhof range includes more distinguished wines for the discerning palate, whilst the Paradyskloof range is made for uncomplicated, light-hearted drinking.
The art of winemaking at Vriesenhof begins with the staff who hand-pick the grapes at harvest time. Although what happens in the vineyard is of paramount importance, what happens in the cellar is just as crucial. Care and dedication go hand-in-hand with patient fermentation processes, timeless-and-traditional wood maturation, and an undisturbed ageing process. Despite being known for his brilliant rugby career, Jan Coetzee is respected equally for his contributions towards the social upliftment and well-being of those who work so tirelessly in the vineyards. Coetzee was educated at Stellenbosch, where his passions for both the game and the art of winemaking were so fortunately discovered.
Claasens was mentored by Coetzee and his wine travels have seen him hone his skills in France, where he came to grips with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, as well as British Columbia where he gained insight into the different personalities of Pinot Noir and white varieties. His journey now takes the Vriesenhof path, where he is able to immerse himself in the diversity of Stellenbosch soils and throw heart and soul into making wines that raise both glass and spirit.
BEHIND WINE DOORS WITH NICKY CLAASENS:
Why did you decide to become a winemaker?
It was one of the few professions that allowed for the combination of artistic expression and science, without the drawback of being stuck inside an office all day.
Where did you start your winemaking career?
Highlights in your career?
Winning Double Gold for the Vriesenhof Grenache 2013 in the Six Nations Competition in 2014.
Your winemaking philosophy?
Subtlety and elegance; being able to make a wine that is refined and elegant without having to overpower the innate aromas with oak or heavy tannins. Basically, working on gut feeling within the constraints of what nature has offered.
What do you regard as the main secrets behind Vriesenhof’s success?
Challenging preconceived perceptions of what is possible and what isn’t within Stellenbosch. Also the fact that even though we are seen as a very classical or traditional winery we are able to produce wine that is appealing to the mainstream market without changing our philosophy.
How can we make wine more accessible to the SA population?
By changing the norm that wine culture is snobbish and elitist. Wine should be enjoyable for everyone, it does not matter whether you speak about wine in elaborate jargon, flowery prose or not, it should be about enjoying wine.
Your favourite white and red wines – to make, and why?
Chardonnay and Grenache. They are the most expressive varieties with different nuances depending on the barrel used or the type of yeast during fermentation. With Chardonnay it is the quest to find and hold on to specific aromatics, e.g. white peach and roses, but they are extremely fragile and tend to disappear if the fermentation temperature is not correct. With Grenache it is also the joy of discovering new combinations and aromas depending on the way it is harvested etc.
Your favourite pastimes/hobbies?
Reading and playing with my dog.
Your goals and aspirations?
To make Vriesenhof attractive to the new generation of wine lovers.
Article written by:
Daisy Knowles who is a part-time writer and full-time wine drinker. She has been part of the Wine Extra magazine tasting panel since 2012 and is a member of the Wine & Spirit Board. As much as she idolises wine, she has a fervent interest in gin, whisky, films and travel.