At the 2013 Amorim Tsogo Sun Cap Classique Challenge, Graham Beck Wines, located in Robertson, about 160 km north east of Cape Town, was one of the best performers, winning both Rose class as South Africa’s best, for their 2009 Vintage and Non Vintage Rose, as well as a “Highly Recommended – Gold Medal” for their 2009 Blanc de Blancs Brut.
Three great MCC’s to toast Christmas and the New Year festivities
When asking sommeliers around the world about quality South African MCC’s, Graham Beck is always the first brand that get mentioned and in most case the only MCC they lists, testament of the ground breaking work Graham Beck have done over the years in the “fields”……
Below is an exclusive interview with Pieter “Bubbles” Ferreira, Graham Beck cellarmaster since 1990 and arguably South Africa’s most experienced MCC genius, about their house style, winemaking philosophy, sourcing of the grapes for the range, and what makes Graham Beck MCC’s specials and unique.
Tell our readers a little more about your winery and how long you have been making wine and why your chosen location to make wine and in particular MCC, what is special about your site?
It was the vision of Graham Beck who knew that Robertson with its high natural limestone would one day become one of the more important areas for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for Cap Classique. So I joined Graham Beck in 1990 and we purposely developed a cellar to specialise in Méthode Cap Classique.. So our maiden vintage was made ‘under the stars’ in 1991.
Unique soils are the humble underlying quality factor that produces good natural acidity in the base wines. Robertson region is on a continental shelf and has warm days but extremely cool nights which is great for early ripening varieties.
Explain us your viticultural approach and philosophy, as we all know, it’s all starts in the dirt to make very good to great wines?
Limestone, limestone – Robertson has the highest natural limestone deposits in the Western Cape. Viticulturaly each of our Estate grown vineyard blocks are farmed for specifically to a wine style.
Being in Robertson we have a motto of “Managing the sunshine” in the vineyards. We also see the sunshine to be our secret weapon. The vineyards are farmed in a way to secure extra shade in the fruit zone.
Viticulturist are very often the unsung heroes of the South African wine industry and we all know, demanding style such as MCC, needs optimum grape quality, tell us more about your viticulturist?
Pieter Fouche has been our viticulturist for the last 18 years and has an ‘iron fist’ that rules the vineyards for optimum grape quality. He has developed a fine art in the ratio to growth of the canopy and the production level. He uses incredible tools such as GIS (G…… Information System) to monitor the stress and vigour of each block of vines. He is currently rated in the Robertson region in the top 3 of viticulturists. Indeed a great accolade.
MCC’s will never be Champagne, however the quality are of a very high standards and represents some of the very best value bottle sparkling wine in the world, tell us more about the climate and soil your grapes come from?
MCC remains the better alternative to Champagne. I respect Champagne for what it stands for and it is – I will always use this as my ultimate benchmark. Graham Beck Wines over the years have established themselves as one of the leading producers. I agree that South Africa remains as the best value for bottle fermented sparkling wine in the world. Today 85% of our total grape production for Cap Classique is grown on our Estate in Robertson.
Robertson has a continental influence with rich limestone deposits and some Shale and Red Karoo soils. It is much different to the Coastal influence areas with its Decomposed Granite and Table Mountain Sandstone. We own two farms on the Helderberg Ridge outside Stellenbosch. The Pinot Noir that grows here goes all the way to Robertson for our MCC production.
Do you have any preferences over site specific, i.e Estate / region/district/ward wine of origin over Western Cape / Coastal Region blends, if so give us more details?
Well I know that Robertson is brilliant and so do other producers J Over the years it is rewarding and interesting to see how many Cap Classique producers buying Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in this area. The latest ward classification rather having reference to region or district is far more interesting. Ward are far more precise and closer to the terroir principle.
How long you have been making MCC?
For a very, very long time. My MCC career started in 1984 when I started with the legendary Achim von Arnim producing Pierre Jourdan I spent seven magical years with him and joined/started Graham Beck Wines in Robertson with the maiden vintage in 1991. I really consider myself as a specialist MCC winemaker and no wonder today bubbles in my blood and I am also affectionately known as “Bubbles” Ferreira.
How many styles of MCC’s you produce under your brand?
We currently have a portfolio of 7 different MCC’s at Graham Beck Wines representing a Non Vintage, Vintage and Prestige portfolio.
Tell us more about your winning MCC and it’s winemaking process as well as the percentage blends if any making the final wine?
We were extremely lucky to win both categories of the Rose. So I guess we ‘own’ this category for the next while. We won the Best Vintage Rose category with our Graham Beck Rose Vintage 2009 – A blend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay with minimum 3 years on the lees prior to disgorgement. This MCC is unique and one of a kind as the blend is a co-pressed blend rather than blending the various base wines after the fermentation. We won the Best Non Vintage Rose category with our Graham Beck Brut Rose NV – A blend of 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay with 18 months lees contact prior disgorgement. The colour is derived from a short enzymatic period while the Pinot Noir travels from Stellenbosch and other areas. This give just enough colour as a base to blend with Chardonnay.
What is your view on Reserve wine added prior to dosage, what would be your average percentage, if any use in your house style?
Most important to maintain continuity and consistency in a house style. Our house style is expressed by our Non Vintage and we have remained using reserve wine from time to time to ensure the consistency. We use our Reserve wine as a solera whenever it is needed. Depending on the new Non Vintage blend of each year we will used anything from 5 to 12 %. It is all about the balance at the end of the day. To me you have to have a ‘golden tread’ running though each year.
What MCC style are your aiming for?
The one the consumer really likes J but on a serious note as a house style we strive for an Aperitif in style. It is one of elegance and finesse which cleans the palate and stimulates one for what happens next.
With the new emerging market locally preferring wines with higher residual sugar, what is your philosophy on dosage and where do you draw the line?
There is a definite niche for the slightly sweeter style. Such as a Sec or Demi-Sec opens it to a complete new emerging MCC drinker and we know if we can meet them on this level than the journey just starts and they can one hell of a journey. At Graham Beck Wines we have the “Bliss” Demi-Sec and we are slowly making in-roads into the new emerging local market. Drawing the line remains inconclusive! And I guess it is the same as asking “how long is a piece of string”
What are the source / origin of the grape(s) used in the winning wine?
Having two winners let me explain…. The Graham Beck Brut Rose NV (NV Rose Winner) comes from 85% Estate fruit grown on our properties in Robertson and Stellenbosch while the balance comes from 7 other geographical areas in the Western Cape. Our Vintage Rose (Vintage Rose winner) comes from 100% Estate grown fruit. Chardonnay from Robertson and Pinot Noir from Stellenbosch.
Stylistically, where do you intend taking the wine in the next 5 to 10 years?
The ultimate challenge is to maintain consistency and continuity. Cap Classique and therefore Champagne remains the only ‘brand loyal’ wine category. The consumer knows what they like. I think our portfolio has got a good balance and expression of various styles that the consumer enjoys and understand. If the is something that I would love to add?... Yes. So indeed watch this space…..
How many approximately bottles do you produce per each style?
For the two winning wines the Rose Vintage is 65 000 Bottles and for the Brut Rose NV it is 360 000 bottles
USA, Sweden, UK, rest of Europe, Japan and Indian Islands.
Top local on trade customers supporting the wines or where can your MCC be found to be purchased and enjoy?
We have great supporters from top local on-trade and off-trade customers.
Your favorite food pairings or recommendation to be enjoyed with your winning MCC?
With the Rose Vintage – Roasted leg or breast of duck with a reduction of citrus. With the Rose NV alfresco snappering is a great combination.
Do you have a special cellar door deal for readers of MCWJ to purchase your MCC over the holiday period?
We will always accommodate the readers to purchase our MCC at cellar door. We have a great special via our Signature Wine Club and they will benefit from that should they get to our cellar door in Robertson during the holiday period.
What is the average selling of your MCC’s, cellar door / retail?
The winning Rose Vintage normal cellar door price is R 205 a bottle while the winning Rose NV normal cellar door price is R 115 a bottle.