Sunday, April 5, 2009

Delicate Pinot Noir from Herold

Herold Wines

Herold vineyard, might be the most eastern Pinot Noir vineyard of the Western Cape, at around 418 km east of Cape Town.

These were the first wines to be Certified Wine of Origin Outeniqua.

The vineyard lies in the scenic Outeniqua pass, at between 650 - 750 meters above sea level on a north facing slopes, 15 km away from the warm Indian Ocean.

The climate is best described as moderate, due to altitude and high rainfall.

It’s a challenging place to grow vines, as it is at the confluence of the summer rainfall zone, and when it rains in Herold it rains, non stop, so to compensate the overload of water, as we all know vines do not like wet feet in summer, Vivien Harpur, the down to earth, low keyed, owner, viticulturist and 6 vintage as winemaker, has been very clever in choosing a very high planting density, based on the Burgundian and Champagne model, nowhere to be found in the Cape, at 12000 vines per hectare, this create the ideal water suction due to the high ratio of leaf canopy and evaporation.

Here no fancy machine, no gravity tanks or sorting table, it’s basic wine making, after all when the fruit are so great, nothing else is required…

Other interesting fact about Herold is the time of harvest, the Walker Bay district long know to be the pioneered area for Pinot Noir in the Cape in the early 80’s, which I have always respect and applauded and still produces fine Pinot, with pioneers such as Hamilton Russell Vineyards (by the way watch this space for the 2008 Chardonnay tasting note) and Bouchard Finlayson, usually harvest between the 2nd week of February until the 1st week of March, here in Herold it’s a whole 15 to 21 days later, usually start around the 20th of March all the way to the end, this extra hang time, as well as cooler night, develops more complex character in the grape, with the benefit of lower sugar = lower alcohol, higher Total Acid, which in general is about 2 gram higher, averaging 7.5, so lending ultra freshness, character and crispness, which makes the wine ultra food friendly.

Other interest of note is the time of harvest of the Sauvignon Blanc when the hot regions of the Cape, which is Robertson, Wellington, Worcester, and further inland etc etc (let’s not open a can of worm here...) start harvesting sometime as early as the 3rd week of January and compare to the warm Stellenbosch, irrespective of the supposedly cooler slopes and altitude, where harvest is around the 10th of February, in Herold, Sauvignon is only harvested at the end of March, beginning of April, still retaining about +/- 8 gram natural acidity in the end product, with upfront complex tropical fruit medley, gooseberries and an aromatic profile, closer to Marlborough than Sancerre, thereby confirming the area as a moderate climate, and I repeat it once again, it’s not cool or cold climate, it simply does not exist in South Africa.

Moderate is the “coolest”, one can get from a Cape climate perspective, irrespective of the area the vine is grown.

The reason I am so finicky about this point is because so many Marketing people, and uninformed wine sales rep with huge ego boost, keep on fooling young and ignorant wine waiters and Sommeliers to be, as well as uninformed consumer, there is so such thing as cool climate viticulture in South Africa………leave this to Mosel, Burgundy, Oregon or Central Otago……

Pinot Noir
Highly individual, near perfect colour hue, complex aromatic Pinot profile of crushed ripe strawberries, truffles, mushrooms, wet earth, delicate texture, lively acidity, moderate alcohol, more Burgundy than New World showiness, exceptional food wine, sum up the style of Herold Pinot.

2004 Herold 92 Points

This is the Pinot that make me re-assessed my perception of Cape pinot, yes, South Africa will never compete with Burgundy, nor get even closer to Oregon or South Island New Zealand, may be not for now, but what about in 10 years time ?
With this style, quality and reflection of site, this could well be one of the serious contenders of New World Pinot Noir, as the vine ages and a better understanding of the great Outeniqua climate and soil, I am even convince that the vines that have produced such a complex and complete Pinot, with Burgundian profile, might as well if kept and left to reach their over 50’s birthday (+/- 2049) could well give some serious Premier Cru, competition, time will tell……..

Hauntingly complex, multifaceted with ripe dark red fruits of the forest, blueberries, ceps, sappy mouth feels, precise structure, yet lots of finesse and sleek elegance, very good length. Well done.

Each and every guest (demanding ones who knows their Burgundy and benchmark New World Pinot) that have enjoy a bottle were unanimous, it was in a league of it’s own and they as well had a different perception of Cape Pinot.

2005 Herold Black Sheep 75 Points

Called “Black Sheep”, as the wine was declassified and not up to the high standard set by Vivien.

Brick red, Ripe black cherry, coffee, hints of cassis, very ripe red fruits melange, farmyard character, tight, lovely soft red fruits follows, lurking behind ripe tannin structure typical Pinot, complex, ethereal, mushroom medley along with hints of boiled beetroot, light and earthy structure, somewhat lacking fruit concentration, complexity and length of 2004, this is a good introduction to Pinot for uncomplicated drinking from winter 2010 until 2013. 2680 bottles made

2006 Herold 85 – 87 Points

Darker with more extraction and substance, might be a touch too much for light skin Pinot, nevertheless, no sign of over extraction here, the aromatic complexity are text book Pinot, with red fruits of the forest medley, brown mushroom, wet earth and hints of straw, needing time in bottle the wine is only starting to opened up (April 2009) and the palate structure is meshing well with the natural acidity which is definitely emerging as a hall mark of Outeniqua wines, this extra breath of freshness, gives life and character to this well made Pinot. 2448 bottles made.
For now until 2013+, will drink well until 2020+

2007 Herold 90+

Clear day bright, raspberry red, brilliant, excellent colour extraction, if not the best to date, low plus concentration with medium plus viscosity.

Clean, fresh strawberries, raspberries, cherry liqueur, complex earthy note with hints of truffles, has depth and charm, hints of spicy mintiness,lends extra layer of complexity, amazing soft Burgundian feel, elegant similar in profile to the great 2004, but purer, complex and intense. Only 12.3 alc by volume.

Highly recommended, could well deserved higher score with time ?
From 2011, will peak at around 2017, but will drink well until 2026.

2008 Herold 92 – 94+?

Perfect colour extraction for a Pinot, very good clarity and brightness, lively, hauntingly fragrant and intensely aromatic Pinot character, with notes of crushed ripe wild strawberries, dark morello cherries and raspberries, wet earth, porcini mushroom, complex and multidimensional.

Fresh, good attack, precise, very pure, some sappy feel, elegant mouth feels, lithe, burgundian structure, perfect palate extraction, this magnificent Pinot is as complex as the 2004 and the 2007, yet seems lighter, but somewhat a double personality, as the complexity is hard to beat, this is a pinot that sings finesse all the way through, linear complexity.

From 2011, will peak at +/- 2017, but the acidity will keep it lively and drinking well until 2026.

Herold seems to get better and better since 2007, and definitely amongst the top five pinot of the Cape, would be interesting to see how it fares alongside, other benchmark New World Pinot Noir, made of similar vine age (+/- 10 years) and similar care?

Sauvignon Blanc

2006 Herold 94 Points

This is one of the finest Cape Sauvignon I ever had, it was striking due to it’s individuality as well as it’s amazing depth, viscosity and structure, combined with steely acidity and a powerful fruit structure.

The most interesting fact about that wine is that, when 95% of winemakers choose reductive handling with Sauvignon, this specific vintage was made from a basket press, hence handle oxidatively to some extent and only free run juice were use, yielding only 450 liter per 1 ton, the resultant wine was, intense, full, complex, with a natural acid of 7.3 and a Ph of 3.2, and again a concentration hard to achieve in the Cape.

It was a style between a very good Marlborough in a warm and concentrated year along with pungent text book aromas, only 6070 were made, if you see it somewhere grab it, do not think twice, this Sauvignon have still another at least 8 years of life ahead.

2007 Herold 83+ Points

Crisp linear style, with green gage and kiwi fruit, followed by hints of lemon grass and sweet peas, lighter, greener and less concentrated that the magnificent 2006, more a reflection of vintage than a stylistic change, good mid palate weight, spicy white pepper aftertaste.

2008 Herold 79+ Points

Star bright, pale straw with green tinge, medium concentration, low viscosity, with notes of crunchy green apples, gooseberries, green kiwi and grass, followed by Chinese chives and custard apples.

Minerally, earthy white stony, high acid lending a profile of Vinho Verde crispness, and structure, perfect as a chilled aperitif overlooking the sunset or by the pool.

Something Unusual

2008 Agnus Lanus 85 Points
The “white lamb” an unusual blend of wooded Chardonnay with Sauvignon and white Pinot Noir, crisp, intense green pineapple, toast and gooseberries, very fresh with vibrant attack, good length and structure, should be great with a smoked trout and fennel salad.

There is also a Merlot, Shiraz and a Cabernet Shiraz blend in the range, as well as a dessert style naturally dried Pinot.

For more information on Herold wines please visit their website or contact Vivien Harpur at

For the perfect food pairing, please contact
Tomato Catering at for a tailor made menus.

Miguel Chan
Certified Sommelier