At the 2013 Amorim Tsogo Sun Cap Classique Challenge, Simonsig Wine Estate, a regular top performer in previous years, with no less than 3 times Cap Classique Producer of the Year, won a trophy in the Museum category with their 2007 Kaapse Vonkel Brut, as well as a “Highly Recommended – Gold Medal”, for their 2009 Kaapse Vonkel Brut.
No introduction required for such a top winery, one of South Africa’s most established and consistent MCC producer, located in Bottelary ward in Stellenbosch district, they are also the pioneer of MCC productions in South Africa, being the first Estate to produce and release a traditional method sparkling wine back in 1971.
Below is an exclusive interview with Johan Malan, winemaker and one of the owners relating the wonderful journey of Simonsig, deeply entrenched in modern South African winemaking history.
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?
Simonsig has been in our family since 1942 when it was acquired by my maternal grandfather. My father, Frans Malan took over the farm in 1953 and started bottling the first Simonsig Estate wines in 1968 when Simonsig was only the 5th private producer to bottle its own wine in Stellenbosch. Simonsig is situated on the lower foothills of the Simonsberg on the northern side of Stellenbosch. It is an area where you will find some of the most iconic wine estates in SA. Cool moderate maritime climate with superb granite and shale soils with excellent water retention capacity, making it perfect for the growing of premium quality wines.
The close proximity to the Atlantic and the reigning South Easter winds in summer moderates temperatures and this brings cool night time temp’s which preserves acidity and results in low pH levels which is crucial for MCC production.
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?
The best quality planting material on well prepared soils on the right site is an essential starting point. Vineyards must be balanced between vigour and yield and good canopy management assures optimal grape quality.
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?
My brother Francois Malan has been taking care of our vineyards for more than 30 years and he qualified with a BSc Viticulture honours degree at Stellenbosch. He is ably assisted by Tommie Corbett who is the man in the vineyards completely hands on (and his hands full with 210 hectares to nurture!)
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?
Our soils in Stellenbosch can vary quite a lot even in the same vineyard, but for Pinot noir and chardonnay we prefer the cooler sites mid to higher up the slopes. The weathered shale soils contain a high percentage of clay and this soaks up the winter rains to slowly release it back to the vines during summer. It is essential to ripen the grapes without moisture stress. This is one of the advantages of MCC grapes as it is harvested in January before the Feb heat and then there’s still good soil water capacity.
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?
Champagne is a double barrel blend containing not only three grape varieties, but also grapes come from many different villages. My experience with grapes from outside our own vineyards is that it adds to different flavours and textures which enhances complexity.
How long you have been making MCC?
The first Kaapse Vonkel was made in 1971.
How many styles of MCC’s you produce under your brand?
There are three different styles. Kaapse Vonkel Brut is a vintage MCC containing all the three varieties.
The Kaapse vonkel Brut Rosé is a blend of three Pinots Pinot noir, Pinotage and Pinot meunier
The Simonsig Cuvée Royale is a Blanc de Blancs and is our Prestige Cuvée and spends 5 years or longer on the lees.
There is also a special Cuvée chêne which is only sold at the Cape Winemakers Guild Auction and is a 100% wooded Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs.
Tell us more about your winning MCC and it’s winemaking process as well as the percentage blends if any making the final wine?
The simonsig Kaapse Vonkel 2007 was the winner of the Museum Class this year. The Kaapse Vonkel 1999 was the inaugural winner of the Cap Classique Challenge and the 2005 Kaapse Vonkel was also the overall winner.
So the 2007 is keeping the flag flying high. The blend is doninated by Pinot noir 58% Chardonnay 39% and Pinot meunier 3%. For the museum class the wine spent at least 5 years on the lees and this allows the slow evolution of flavour to develop to its optimum before disgorging.
What is your view on Reserve wine added prior to dosage, what would be your average percentage, if any use in your house style?
Reserve wine is cuvée from a vintage which is kept back and blended in to a younger cuvée before bottling and is used in Champagne to even out the big vintage variations they can experience due to the northerly location of the region.
In South Africa we have a much more stable climate which makes the use of reserve wines less of a necessity, but can have a stylistic influence as it makes the wine more developed at an earlier age.
I have used reserve wines in the past to experiment, but not any more. To expand the flavour of the chardonnay cuvées a good portion is fermented and matured in seasoned older French oak barriques and these barrels will also finish Malolactic fermentation further adding to the mouthfeel and complexity.
What MCC style are your aiming for?
Our style for Kaapse Vonkel is red grape driven and the Pinot gives fullness of flavour and body. The wine should have weight on the palate and lots of mouth watering flavour. To achieve this we also pick riper than most growers to allow more fruit intensity to develop. Longer ageing on the lees is also a huge benefit as this 2007 KV demonstrates.
The dosage levels for Kaapse Vonkel has come down over the last 5 years as I believe the sugar masks the fruit.
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?
The sweetness of the fruit and the finesse of a well made MCC is so delicious it does not need too much sugar to taste great!
What are the source / origin of the grape(s) used in the winning wine?
Mostly Simonsig’s own grapes, but some of the Pinot noir came from Elgin.
Stylistically, where do you intend taking the wine in the next 5 to 10 years?
The quality of our own vineyards’ Chardonnay is remarkable and I intend to make it more in the blend. That will require more time on lees, but the result will be worth it.
How many approximately bottles do you produce per each style?
Simonsig does not aim to be the biggest, but definitely the best in quality.
Holland, Russia, USA, UK, Germany and Dubai
Top local on trade customers supporting the wines or where can your MCC be found to be purchased and enjoy?
Beverly hills Hotel, Oyster Box Hotel, and Mount Nelson hotel in the Mother City and most wine shops and retailers in SA. if you are travelling abraod the Burj al Arab hotel in Dubai will be a good place to sip some Vonkel!
Your favorite food pairings or recommendation to be enjoyed with your winning MCC?
Salmon and fresh Tuna sashimi with the Brut Rosé. The Kaapse Vonkel or the Cuvée Royale with foie gras is sublime. Or a fresh yellowtail on the braai with lemon butter.
Do you have a special cellar door deal for readers of MCWJ to purchase your MCC over the holiday period?
Simonsig recently launched our own Simonsig Wine Club and members are entitled to a 10% discount on cellar door purchases and also when dining at Cuvée restaurant the same 10% discount applies.Please refer to our website www.simonsig.co.za
What is the average selling of your MCC’s, cellar door / retail?
Cellar Door Kaapse Vonkel and Brut Rosé R95.00 Cuvée Royale R220
Retail: Kaapse Vonkel and Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rosé R99.00 or R89.95 on promotion
If you had more than 1 winning MCC’s please elaborate on each?
The Kaapse Vonkel 2009 got a Gold. Over the past 10 yearsof the Cap Classique Challenge Simonsig has won it three times with the most recent winner the Simonsig Cuvée Royale 2005.