Lockdown has been a busy time for wine consultant and writer Harry Crowther: first he ran a series of Instagram Live sessions on ‘Tasting Skills’ then came his ‘Supermarket Series’ picking out the best value wines from the top supermarket chains. Crowther also managed to hook up with Tom Hanson-Smith from Stellenbosch’s Journey’s End to hear how Rollo Gabb’s winery has fun, sustainability and local community as key drivers; and also to work his way through three of their wine ranges ‘Tails’, ‘V’ and ‘Precision’ to pick out the wines that you should have on your buying radar.
“Finally we are working on building school kitchens to feed up to 1500 kids… this is us thanking them, they are part of our broader family…men and women have worked for us for decades,” says Rollo.
A pretty dodgy time for all right now. A time to surrender to the wonders of social media, link up with friends in far away lands talk shop on wines. That’s what I’ve been trying to do to keep me sane, anyway.
My crap Instagram skills have been put to the test in the wake of the lockdown. I launched a ‘Tasting Skills’ series on Grain to Grape’s IGTV channel and I’m now half way through posting up the latest videos in my ‘Supermarket Series’, best value wines for under a tenner from the major grocers in the UK – I hope you find it useful.
Anyway, I have had the opportunity to sit down (virtually) with Tom Hanson-Smith of Journey’s End wines in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Gone are the days of a producer profile meeting face to face alongside a lengthy tasting, no, this one was a three-part TV mini-series on the ‘Gram, and as I write this, I’m sipping down their 2016 ‘V2 Merlot’, on a Tuesday, at midday, why not?… lockdown.
Yeah, sure, organic and biodynamic buzzwords get ears pricking up for good reason. But hearing about social contributions to the wider community from a producer is also refreshing.
Tom is a Brit who has been looking after Journey’s End wines in Europe for the past five years. He highlights three key messages: “fun”, “sustainability” and “the local community”, to summarise Journey’s End’s mission.
Given the shitstorm Covid-19 has caused globally, Journey’s End luckily have their winemaker living on site. Couple that with a good-looking 2020 vintage and the ports re-opening – things aren’t looking too shabby dare I say.
So, three videos to cover what I reckon is a pretty decent snapshot of Journey’s End, from the portfolio, to philosophy to sustainability, and so on.
Three ranges, ‘Tails’, ‘V’ and ‘Precision’, let’s go.
Episode 1: Sustainability & South Africa
“We are the last vineyard in Stellenbosch before you hit the sea, hence the name…”.
Stellenbosch, yes, but cooler, coastal Stellenbosch.
First up, the ‘Weather Station’, Sauvignon Blanc, 2019 (Tails range, £10.43 ex-VAT). Being the “last” stop in South Africa’s flagship region, Journey’s End are close to False Bay a cooling influence (up to 8ºC cooler than the average for the region). So, Savvy B does well here I suppose. And it does; an honest Sauvignon Blanc described by Tom as having that “cricket pitch” green note (I might have to nab that) associated with Marlborough. Solar powered winery, minimal intervention, wild yeast ferment, good kit.
Haystack, Chardonnay, 2019 (Tails range, £10.40 ex-VAT), Now this is on trend (ABC-ers take a look at this please). No oak, “a selection of three blocks” and clean as a whistle. “We are really trying to be known for our Chardonnay’s… there are three in our portfolio”.
“We are trying to wean people off Sauvignon Blanc… so this is an important addition to the ‘Tails range’. Super easy, drinkable and made in a Sauvignon Blanc unwooded style.” A true wine… it holds firm on its acidity. A zippy number with fresh, clean fruit. Biodynamic, vineyards are complete with cover crops of wheat and lupins.
“What this does is attracts pests, meaning we don’t need to spray pesticides. They are also a nitrogen filler and post harvest they are flattened into the soil acting as a natural fertiliser.” Breakfast wine (especially in lockdown), enough said.
Wild Child, Grenache Rosé, 2019 (Tails range, POA). Three months in third-use oak with a wild yeast ferment. The colour; more orange than pink, an oxidative accent. Yes please! Guys, get your behind into gear and venture beyond Provence please. I love it. A foodie; fabulous, frickin’ fun wine to drink. Smokey, scorched, energetic and tense.
Cool, so the names of the wines have a hippy, natural link, but what else are these guys doing? Rollo, managing director and ex-manager of Manchester’s famous Hacienda, clearly likes his music. Naturally he ventured into the neighboring village when he heard music armed with a case of wine, to find a church ceremony in service (awkward). From this stemmed a community support programme complete with soup kitchens, looking out for pensioners and other, more dependent members of the wider community.
Whilst farming sustainably is a big focal point for Journey’s End, Tom is keen to drive home the relationship they have with the community. Rollo’s work with the church’s pastors has grown, “the local village is so important and an integral part of our wines from grape to glass,” Journey’s End have helped to build a new school hall, and established a ‘beat the bully’ programme, supporting students to highlight bullying in the classroom. This has been rolled out to 50+ schools.
“Finally we are working on building school kitchens to feed up to 1500 kids… this is us thanking them, they are part of our broader family…men and women have worked for us for decades,” says Rollo. A well rounded relationship and a great, holistic outlook to their social responsibility.
Episode 2: Evolution of Grape Styles
Here is a chance to dive deeper into Journey’s End’s ‘V’ and ‘Precision’ ranges. Two Chardys and a couple of Rhône- style wines up next. If the Haystack Chardonnay covers the base for clean, unoaked Chardonnay. The ‘V1 Chardonnay, 2019’ (V range, £14.15 ex VAT) ramps things up a little bit. Two vineyard blocks picked at different ripeness levels. “Both blocks are picked early morning, the lower sugar level picking offers citrus and crispness whilst the higher delivers riper fruit flavours.”
Hand sorted, 50% wild ferment with around 20% going through malo before nine months in French casks. “The aim here is to find the middle ground between Haystack and the top end Meursault weight we are looking for in our Destination Chardonnay.” It’s a big step up from the Haystack. Good fruit and integration with oak really well managed.
Destination Chardonnay, 2018 (Precision range, £20.54 ex VAT). 12 year old site, two pickings. Minimal intervention, whole bunch press to barrel before a natural fermentation, 70% batonage and malo. Wiffy matchstick, pungent and punchy. A Burgundian accent, apparent yet appropriate oak, custard with a citrus vein up top. Tense and tight on the palate at first giving way to short crust and butterscotch. South African Chardonnay at its best!
“Soils are predominantly decomposed granite”, great for holding pinpoint acidity. A Journey… through Chardonnay from Haystack to Destination. Where does V1 fit into these Chardys? For me, stylistically there isn’t too much difference, Destination feels like the V1… on steroids.
Rhône vibes follow. The Huntsman, Shiraz, Mourvedre, Viognier, 2018 (Tails range, £10.46 ex-VAT). “60/30/10 split in this blend and then about 30% carbonic maceration”. Stick this in the fridge guys, chilling it down will bring lots of pretty flavour and aroma to the fore. Hello BBQ pizza wine! Sweet fruit from top to bottom, juicy and ripe, super more-ish, very pretty.
V3 Shiraz, 2017, (V range, £14.15 ex-VAT). ’17 saw lower yields in general but quality was high. 16m French and American oak. I found this wine to be a bit of a curveball. A real green, leafy apparent tone, indicative of wines made from Cab Sauv, or Franc, for that matter. Yes, we have a flash of pepper, its chunky but tension in the mid-palate. Tannins are ripe and firm, they outlast the rest of the wine not to offend, but to complement.
A step up from The Huntsman; pretty florals make way for a spicy green number.
Episode 3: The Merlot & The Doctor
Wrapping up the ‘V’ range with a third wine. The V2, Merlot, 2016, alongside Journey’s End’s big daddy, the Cape Doctor, 2015 completes the set for our third Insta live meeting, a continuation of the previous episode, a sense of grape evolution.
“We feel the ‘V’ range showcases our wines, and the wines of South Africa in their truest and most traditional form… with this particular Merlot we are aspiring for something a little more food friendly, with complexity instead of producing a fruit bomb” which is easily done in warm climates. But the aforementioned proximity to the sea allows the team to keep it cool, vineyards at 190m offers a longer hang time, without getting too much ripeness.
V2, Merlot, 2016 (V range, £14.15 ex-VAT). Four day cold soak. Stainless steel ferment, 30% new oak for 16 months before two years ageing in bottle. Ruby red moving to terracotta. Possibly the most terroir specific wine from the range. Screaming South Africa, anise, red plum, slightly jammy, charred fruit with freshness. “Merlot can be a bit of a directionless variety,” comments Tom; often bulked up with richer, more tannic varietals. A breath of fresh, minty air, drinking beautifully.
Step up Doc. The Cape Doctor, 2015 (Precision range, £20.72 ex-VAT). Taking its name from the southeasterly wind that blows across the Western Cape. “It cools the vines down, prevents the need for spraying, but it also flattens our vineyards to the ground!”. A Bordeaux blend, all five play a role here: 40% Cab Sauv, 33% Merlot, 17% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec, 5% Cab Franc. Open top ferment in 5000l cask, Cabernet Sauvignon sees a separate two-week maceration before 20 months in new French oak. Blending before two years in bottle. Super balanced, damson, anise and black berry fruit with an ashy, earthy tone. A dusting of graphite on the palate synonymous with the Verdot. Lifted, well structured and drinking well, better in five years! “It’s about balance, it’s not perfect but we are on the right path to creating something perfect in our opinion,” hear, hear! who wants perfection, anyway?
Top to bottom, a pleasure to try this range of wines. From the ‘Tails’ range; super approachable, not much thought required, work well with food but simple processes in the winery. To the ‘V’ range with a real sense of Saffa’ identity, up to the ‘Precision’ wines, Destination and Doctor- yup.