Survivor Wines uncovers hidden gem in Klein Karoo


SINCE its inception, Survivor Wines has embarked on a journey of discovery and rediscovery, driven by a passion for terroir and vineyards with a narrative to share. From the moment a courageous Nguni cow leapt from a truck and found herself amidst the vineyards, the brand has embodied this spirit of resilience, continuously seeking new treasures to enchant consumers.

While Survivor Wines initially set its roots in the Swartland, the journey naturally evolved into an adventurous pursuit, unveiling the unique potential of specific grape varieties within different wine-growing regions, explains cellar master Piere Wahl.

“In the New World, there’s often a tendency to cultivate everything everywhere. But each grape variety has its own personality, which flourishes in a particular environment. Unlike brands competing against each other, like Nike and Adidas, the Old World celebrates appellations. South Africa now embraces this Old-World ethos by delving into smaller appellations and wards. That’s why we transitioned from the Swartland to also explore Elgin, Stellenbosch, and now Tradouw. And we are not looking back.”

For instance, a Wine of Origin Tradouw Chardonnay will boast a creamier mouthfeel, distinct from the tense acidity found in Elgin Chardonnays. Warmer days in Tradouw coax out great concentration while no malolactic fermentation is required for the Chardonnay as ample sunlight naturally softens sharper malic acids.”

Contrasting Tradouw with Stellenbosch regarding red wines, the former exhibits a more old-world charm characterized by bell pepper and graphite notes, with a medium-bodied mid-palate and vibrant freshness. Thus, using oak judiciously is essential to preserve the wine’s purity.

Survivor Wines hardly had time to unveil its latest find – the captivating Tradouw Valley within the Klein Karoo – when its belief in this appellation was cemented with the maiden vintage, Cellar Master Series Chardonnay 2022, which clinched both the title of Best Chardonnay and Best White Wine at the esteemed 2023 Trophy Wine Show.

“It was like stumbling upon a secret garden,” reflects Wahl, recalling the journey that led to the revelation of Tradouw’s latent potential. “The moment I set foot in Tradouw, I knew we had unearthed something extraordinary.”

The Tradouw Valley, in the rugged landscape of the Klein Karoo, boasts a unique microclimate and terroir ideally suited for grape cultivation. It offers an environment where grapes attain phenolic ripeness without sacrificing their intricate flavour profiles. Key contributing factors keeping the vineyards healthy include elevations up to 550 metres above sea level and its isolation within the Klein Karoo.

“While winemakers often speak of wines made in the vineyards, standing amidst the vineyards of the Tradouw Valley, particularly on the Joubert-Tradauw farm, this sentiment makes perfect sense,” remarks Wahl.

The 23-year-old Chardonnay block, planted on a south-facing slope, yields a mere four to five tonnes per hectare of concentrated fruit, and the vines are planted in a north-south orientation with the wind. Coupled with naturally open canopies, the bunches remain dry and disease-free.

Wahl emphasises purity, pointing to the pristine fruit and naturally softer acidities observed in red and white grapes. The quality of the fruit and subsequent wine styles are shaped by the valley’s diurnal temperature variations, characterised by warm days and cool nights. While sunlight fosters fruit expression and concentration, cool evenings, fanned by breezes from the Langeberg Mountains, contribute to colour and pH stability. This diurnal temperature fluctuation facilitates optimal conditions for grapes to ripen slowly and evenly, resulting in wines of exceptional complexity.

Another distinguishing feature of the Tradouw appellation is its diverse soil composition. While Chardonnay thrives in shale-rich soils, lending a mineral-driven, flinty edge to the wines as they age, Cabernet Franc and Merlot flourish in deeper clay-rich loam soils, yielding red wines with supple, graphite-like tannins and concentrated fruit flavours. Shale in the soil also enhances the freshness known to elevate wines from this appellation, as it provides foliage for Bordeaux varieties that don’t fare well under stressful conditions.

Shales naturally boast higher pH levels in the soil, resulting in wines with lower pH values. This phenomenon, as with the chalky soils of Champagne and Robertson, mitigates excessive potassium absorption, preserving the wine’s ability to age gracefully.

The valley’s elevation presents prime opportunities. It does not reach the heights of the Andes, where Argentinians pride themselves on planting Malbec, but it has indeed prompted the cultivation of Malbec here, too. Sans the snowmelt in the Andes, the Tradouw Valley finds its synergy in rainfall and southeasterly winds to maintain optimal grape health. The perpetual flow of water into the valley, coupled with constant airflow, also mitigates fungal threats.

Pierre proudly says, “I like to call it the oasis of the Klein Karoo, “and it is undoubtedly a mosaic of various factors working together to create masterpieces”.

Albeit not being farmed organically, the elevation and prevailing winds foster dry conditions, promoting sustainable farming practices.

“We prioritise regular tastings to ensure optimal flavour development,” asserts Wahl. “For me, achieving phenolic ripeness, where every aspect of the grape is ripe, is paramount. We harvest early in the morning, with grapes transported in small eight-kilogram crates in refrigerated trucks to our partner cellar, Almenkerk in Elgin. This meticulous process applies to all our red and white grapes from Tradouw.”

The journey to uncovering Tradouw was more than merely happenstance. Pierre Wahl and Meyer Joubert (farmer and proprietor of Joubert-Tradauw) have known each other since their school days. As adults, they shared a passion for winemaking and wine growing, which led to the partnership between Survivor Wines and Joubert-Tradauw and a shared vision for authentically expressing the land.

Pierre and Meyer

When Wahl joined the Survivor team in 2022, the owner, Gerhardt van der Watt, expressed his yearning to extend the Survivor offering to more unchartered land.

“Van der Watt had his sights on areas not fully utilised or discovered yet. With his special affinity for Meyers wines, he saw an opportunity to give this area the recognition it deserves.”

Joubert-Tradouw Farm offered the perfect canvas to bring their vision to life, with diverse micro terroirs providing building blocks for planting more vineyards in the future. “Meyer is a great farmer, neat and meticulous, and easy to get along with. And let’s not forget his wife Beate, whose culinary skills add a delightful touch to our future food and wine adventures,” says Wahl.

In the past year alone, Survivor Wines has expanded the vineyard holdings in Tradouw, planting an additional two hectares of Chardonnay, one hectare of Albariño, one hectare of Malbec, and another hectare of Cabernet Franc. This expansion reaffirms their belief in the potential of this “untouched” terroir.

“While our focus will remain on Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, we believe in experimentation and staying ahead of the curve,” says Wahl. “So, by paying attention to the needs and nuances of the terroir, we have introduced Malbec and Albariño to our vineyards. Watch this space – exciting times lie ahead!”

  • WORDS AND PHOTOS: Samarie Smith
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