A fine MCC in the making
The phrase “hurry up and wait” pretty much sums up the process of making Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) at Waterford Estate. The process of bottling is fast and intense, but then we kick back, relax and wait for almost a decade before we pop the cork.
On a cool November morning, there’s a buzz in the Waterford Estate wine cellar. Today, a 2017 Chardonnay is being bottled. The aim? To allow for a second process of fermentation in the bottle and, ultimately, the production of 4,000 bottles of sought-after, seductive Waterford MCC.
The day before bottling, winemaker Mark le Roux warns that emotions could run high in the cellar. This is the last step in the wine-making process that can be controlled, and Mark is anxious. Over several months, he worked side by side with viticulturist and good friend David van Schalkwyk, tending to the grapes, overseeing the harvest, nurturing the wine, and planning the end product with great care. A lot hinges on the success of the day.
David explains that, in South Africa, Méthode Cap Classique or MCC is usually produced from Pinot Noir, Meunier and/or Chardonnay – grape varietals that are fairly easy to grow and which offer only subtle fruit notes, especially when picked early in the season. The Chardonnay grapes used to produce the 2017 Blanc de Blanc MCC were all sourced from a 10-year-old block on the estate, and harvested early in the summer of 2017 to allow for the production of a neutral, dry white wine (the so-called “base wine”).
The grapes spent approximately 26 days fermenting, after which it was aged for a further 9 months in stainless-steel tanks. Using oak barrels were out of the question, Mark says, as wood flavours tend to overpower the delicate, unique character of the grapes. And at Waterford Estate, the team’s goal is clear: all wines produced have to be an honest expression of the terroir – the rich, fertile environment in which the grapes are grown.
Time to focus
Despite warnings of slightly inappropriate language, a sense of deep concentration and silent camaraderie reigns among the team on bottling day. Bottles are swiftly added to the production line, filled with wine (and just enough sugar and yeast to allow for a fresh new round of fermentation), plugged, capped, and carefully packed in wooden crates. Safely secured with their crown caps, the bottles are now able to withstand the immense pressure that will build up in them over the next few months.
Mark allows for many years of maturation in the cool cellars on the estate, giving the yeast a leisurely 7 – 8 years to work its magic. And there’s really no rush. To flow with nature’s cycles, and to take the time to experiment with an MCC that’s matured much, much longer than most other products on the South African market, is what The Waterford Way is all about. While the team will only really know the success of the MCC when the corks are popped several years from now, they’re giving the wine all the time it needs to develop the flavours that will tell a very unique story.
To be rewarded with a crisp, clean MCC that sings with subtle notes of apple, pear, citrus and biscuit, and which boasts the most delicate of bubbles, is certainly worth the wait. But, ultimately, the team will have produced a wine that speaks to the environment, to authenticity and to adventure, and which echoes the friendships forged during the long, slow journey from farm to flute.