One of the bugbears of Peter Finlayson is that wines are drunk way too young. In order to prove a point he assembled a gaggle of wine experts, including our own Anne Krebiehl MW, and showed them a flight of his Galpin Peak Pinot Noirs that he makes in South Africa’s Hemel-en-Aarde valley. Finlayson has always taken his cues from Burgundy, his winery Bouchard Finlayson is a joint project with the late Paul Bouchard, of the Beaune négociant Bouchard Aîné & Fils; and the Pinot he makes is always made to be laid down. Krebiehl takes up the story.
Seven vintages of Bouchard Finlayson’s Galpin Peak Pinot Noirs were tasted from 2004, to the latest release 2017.
It was a Monday morning treat to taste a vertical of Bouchard Finlayson’s Galpin Peak Pinot Noirs. The wines showed a lovely ‘handwriting’, getting slightly less extracted and more translucent with more recent vintages. All the wines had unmistakable Pinot DNA, a savoury intensity and aromatic clarity that manifested what Finlayson had set out to prove: that the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley was an ideal place for growing fine, age-worthy and elegant Pinot Noir.
Peter Finlayson, a giant of a man, is a South African who takes his every cue from Burgundy when it comes to making Pinot Noir. This is not a usual stance, at least not anymore, but Finlayson started out when the wine world was still a very different place; when the contrasts between ‘old’ and ‘new’ world were still marked, when exchange between the hemispheres was still limited, when working vintage in all corners of the globe was not yet a rite of passage.
Born in 1950, Finlayson graduated from Stellenbosch University in 1973 and spent formative years in Europe, as a guest student in Geisenheim and travelling to European wine regions. He was tasked by Timothy Hamilton Russell with setting up the first winery in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in South-Africa’s cool Walker Bay and became its first winemaker, crafting Pinot Noir since the early 1980s. It was in 1989 that Finlayson got investors together, later including Paul Bouchard, of the Beaune négociant Bouchard Aîné & Fils, to start his own vineyard. This became Bouchard Finlayson.
His vines, densely planted at 7500 vines/ha, have a low canopy, like in Burgundy, and are a mix of 113, 115, 667 and 777 clones. They grow at an altitude of between 100-160m on Galpin Peak, on the local Bokkeveld soils, a Devonian [approx. 420-360 million years ago] shale formation that has some clay, providing both drainage but crucially also water retention. Finlayson emphasises that the soils are poor and thus likens his farming to a “Bonsai situation.”
The wines spend 10 months in oak of which roughly 30% is new. Finlayson says that this is a constant across these vintages. So is a small proportion of stems, approximately 15%. Some years require acidification. Finlayson’s bugbear, however, is that he thinks most wines are drunk too young while he has always set out to make Pinot Noirs that can age. Showing them in a vertical was the aim of this masterclass. Should you wish to lay down South African Pinot Noir, Galpin Peak is a good place to start.
When asked what his Burgundian investor Paul Bouchard, now deceased, thought of the Walker Bay Pinots, Finlayson says modestly: “Paul [Bouchard] was very proud of his link-up with South Africa.” When pressed about the opinion he just smiles and says: “Our wine has been sold in Beaune for many years. That’s an enormous compliment.”
2004 Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir, Hemen-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa, 14.2%
Opens with an earthy lift with sumptuous notes of pot pourri-scented cherry, a hint of leather and lovely notes of freshly turned earth. The palate shows lovely baking spice, just a little heat but is still pervaded by lively freshness – and still has enough stuffing to continue evolving.
A smoky nose carries hints of autumnal oak leaf but also a bright note of tart red fruit. The palate presents a texture that sits somewhere between silk and velvet, while lovely tension lets tingling notes of white pepper peep through the gorgeous red cherry fruit. So elegant.
2008 Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa, 13.8%
There is almost a floral edge to the earthy nose, as well as a hint of wet Darjeeling leaves. This is highly aromatic, also on the flowing, sumptuous, velvety palate. All is illuminated by bright freshness.
2010 Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa, 14.4%
The nose is heady here and ethereal while the palate shows more grip and even an edge of bitterness. There is a little heat here, too, but thin nonetheless and comes together in a very convincing, even compelling fashion. I kept going back to this.
2013 Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa, 13.7%
This was a step change, as primary fruit is still in evidence here: to me it came across as tart, red cherry. The palate is sumptuously fruited, think tart cherry and cranberry, with gracefully grippy tannins and an overtone of cherry stones. Very elegant.
2015 Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa, 14.4%
A heady nose sends notions of Amarena cherry and crushed wild thyme that provides a glorious lift. Purity of fruit is bound into a lovely, translucent, snappy, somehow bouncy, almost elastic body. Yet there is lovely grip and an almost medicinal, heady lift on the finish.
2017 Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa, 13.9
A hint of smoke, a glint of mint, a touch of verbena tea and wet pebble. This is a lovely nose. The fruit again is translucent and snappy, crunchy even. There is a peppery savouriness and aromatic purity of tart, fresh, mouth-watering cherry.
Bouchard Finlayson is imported by Seckford Agencies. Galpin Peak is available at Lea & Sandeman.