Delheim Wild Ferment Chenin Blanc 2023 from a Savage Cape Vintage

May 27, 2024

Delheim Wild Ferment Chenin Blanc 2023 from a Savage Cape Vintage

The Cape wine vintage of 2023 will be remembered as one of the wildest-weathered harvest seasons in recent history due to the incessant rain that hammered down over most of the Cape winelands from early March. Fortunately for the prized old-vineyard block of Chenin Blanc on Delheim Estate in Stellenbosch, this treasured vineyard ripened before the rain, with the general temperate weather experienced during the growing season resulting in one of the best Delheim Wild Ferment Chenin Blanc wines in years.

“For a 38-year-old Chenin Blanc vineyard, the growing season for the wine’s 2023 vintage was the best it could have hoped for,” says Roelof Lotriet, Delheim’s winemaker who admits to having something of an obsession with this 3.5ha vineyard planted on Delheim Estate’s decomposed granite soils.

“Bud-break was even, this harmony continuing into berry-set and veraison without any stress-giving spikes of heat in early summer. We even had a splash of rain in December to cool things down, replenishing the soils and freshening the young fruit. Once ripe, your eyes told you that as far as old-vine Chenin Blanc is concerned, one could scarcely have hope for better.”

The harvested grapes were destalked and given a gentle pressing, whereafter the juice was allowed to settle for two days. “Working with grapes from an old vineyard demands care and begin attuned to maintaining balance,” says Lotriet. “By giving the juice a chance to settle down after the freneticism of harvesting and removing the grapes from their natural environment, the two days’ gentle settling creates calm and balance.”

The juice is placed in old 500l French oak barrels and 1500l concrete eggs for the magical process of spontaneous fermentation to take place without the assistance of any manufactured yeasts.

“This is where art and magic come into the winemaking process,” says Lotriet. “The juice’s fermentation is activated by the natural yeast cells living in the Delheim winery. And this being the only place in the world where these natural yeasts are found, they add a singular and distinctive dimension to the wine, which is the true beauty of Delheim Wild Ferment Chenin Blanc.

“However, spontaneous fermentation is best-suited to juice from old vineyards as the complexity and layered fruit nuances from more mature plants allow the wild fermentation process to express a broader and more intriguing spectrum of wine flavours.”

The natural yeasts, however, are not predictable and do not follow a timetable as they go about their job of fermenting the juice.

“Some barrels take two weeks to complete fermentation, while others can continue for over a month,” says Lotriet. “Such are the vagaries of nature, and we must abide by them.”

Post fermentation, the wine is left on its fine lees to mature for another nine months, after which it receives a light filtration and minimum dose of sulphur before bottling. The wine is then allowed to mature further in bottle for 12 months.

“The site and age of this Chenin Blanc vineyard planted in 1986 make it a true honour to create wine from its grapes,” says Lotriet. “We believe that the respect we show the vineyard and the fruit, as well as the minimum intervention of spontaneous fermentation and other steps, has allowed Delheim to present a Chenin Blanc that can count among the finest in South Africa as one of the optimal expressions of Delheim’s place and wine legacy.”

The Delheim Chenin Blanc Wild Ferment is available from your local Spar stores nationwide.