History in the (wine) making

Waterford Estate may be fairly young, but it has many fascinating stories to tell. One of these is how, serendipitously, a one-of-a-kind Antique Chenin Blanc came into being.

When French intern Cédric Lecareux visited Waterford Estate in 2001, he decided to try his hand at making Chenin Blanc. At the time, it was the most widely planted varietal in South Africa, for the simple reason that it provided a good base for brandy.

Cédric had some experience working with Chenin Blanc back home, the grape was in ample supply, and Kevin Arnold (Waterford Estate Managing Partner and Cellar Master) was all for experimenting. And so, when the grapes from 35-year-old bush vines on a neighbouring farm arrived, the intern made his wine.

Cédric couldn’t have known that, 17 years later, visitors to Waterford Estate would still be mesmerised by the wine he started producing back then. When he placed the Chenin Blanc in a French oak barrel, and left it to ferment naturally in a quiet, forgotten corner of the cellar, he started writing a new chapter in Waterford’s history book. But, as with all good stories, things didn’t initially go according to plan.

By the time the wine was bottled in 2003, Cédric no longer worked on the estate. As the batch was small, bottling had to be done by hand and, somewhere along the way, the process went awry. The wine turned cloudy after only a few years. “I then had the bottles opened up, put the wine back in a barrel, and added fresh Chenin Blanc from 2004 to fill it up,” Kevin recalls.

This is how the solera system of adding fresh wine to the barrel of Chenin Blanc started. By using this Spanish method of producing wine, small amounts of younger wine were systematically blended with the more mature wine. The new wine added freshness to what soon became known as Waterford Estate’s Antique Chenin Blanc.

In the years that followed, random bottlings were done under the watchful eye of award-winning winemaker Mark le Roux. Now bottlings are done regularly, and in a more controlled fashion.

The Antique Chenin Blanc, which some lucky visitors get to sample when they do a Library Tasting at the estate, has a lovely golden colour and boasts notes of apricot, spice and citrus. The palate is bold and unapologetic yet wonderfully crisp, thanks to the fresh wine that’s added every year. Fascinatingly, the wine tells a story of experimentation and adventure that echoes the pioneering spirit for which Waterford has become known.

Mark explains that the Library Collection aims to push the boundaries of natural winemaking, and that this Antique Chenin Blanc is, therefore, a perfect fit.

Generally, the wines that form part of the Library Collection are also once-offs. But, if successful, they inform the production of future wines. While the Chenin Blanc originally came into being as a simple experiment by an intern, it has now become the impetus for creating a brand-new, commercially available Chenin Blanc.

To flow with nature’s cycles, and to achieve longevity by perpetuation of what has worked before, is known as “The Waterford Way”. If there was ever a wine that epitomises this philosophy, it’s the Antique Chenin Blanc and its successor: the soon-to-be-released Waterford Chenin Blanc. Keep an eye out for this one – it’s a beauty.

by Waterford Estate
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