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Let's talk Cinsault

Cinsault, to me, was always the ugly stepchild of the wine industry. A grape misused for mass production and a swearword in wine culture. In 2013, I tasted grapes from an old Cinsault vineyard in Darling and was immediately inspired to make it into an honest wine. To my surprise, it was difficult. My reference for Cinsault over the years was Chateau Libertas, Tassenberg, Kellerprins, and other horrible wines, so I just assumed it had been lost in translation, but there was more to it.

Working with this grape was quite a challenge because you have to use whole bunches, destem them, and then work the stems in later to get the tension back into the wine. Age it in old wood, so the flavours are not wood-based nor display any other unwanted styles. The biggest secret about Cinsault is to pick it at the right time. When you capture that intensity and flavour, everything comes together – the pH, the acidity – and you taste the grapes and say to yourself: “I am going to bottle THIS place”.

A while back, I decided that I wanted to give my wines a sense of place and not just a cultivar and a nice story. As a winemaker, the older you get, the more respect you have for the significance of place. You come to understand the importance of honesty and old vines in capturing its nuances in a bottle of wine. And as an old Greek winemaker once said, a winemaker’s job is to take a liquid photograph of an ecosystem (or vineyard) and bottle it. And for me, it’s about that.

We came up with the name WERFDANS for my 2016 vintage. A word from the Darling area, well-known for wheat farming. In the winter it is beautiful, the wind rippling through the tall wheat fields like waves. But in the summer, when the wheat is gone, just dust and empty earth. Not a pretty sight, except for these little whirlwinds of dust dancing across the plains. The workers call them stof duiweltjies, dust devils. Just small devils dancing across the empty fields. “The Devil is dancing today.” - the workers would say.

I think as a parent of Pinotage, we should respect Cinsault more. It is our heritage, and if we could do this by not manipulating the grape, we could capture its light freshness and enjoy it any time of the year. Perfect for the afternoon sun watching the stof duiweltjies do their dance. As the young people would say, this wine is site-specific, a wine that can age brilliantly and only improve with age. Truly South African, which is why it had to have an honest Afrikaans name. All the best, - Ian -

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