“You cannot make good wine with bad grapes. My job and responsibility is to ensure that only the best quality grapes get to the cellar to enable the winemaker to create wines we can be proud of,” says Dirkie Morkel, Bellevue’s expert and experienced viticulturist.
The Bellevue Wine Estate, situated in the Bottelary Hills outside Stellenbosch, dates back to 1803 and started life as a livestock farm before vineyards replaced the animals. The farm’s grapes, mostly from bush vines which produce smaller crops with high concentration, were initially delivered to Stellenbosch Famers’ Winery, the forerunner of today’s Distell, before the estate developed its own brand.
And not only consist most of the vineyards on the estate of bush vines, these vines are also some of the oldest in the country.
Bellevue has undergone many changes and innovations over the past few years which have culminated in a brand new Reserve range of wines created to showcase the very best these old vineyards have to offer. When conceptualizing these wines, elegance was the ultimate inspiration.
The Bellevue Reserve range consists of a barrel-aged Chardonnay (pictured on top), a Pinotage, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Bordeaux-style blend named Tumara with all five components grown on the estate.
Dirkie says that when planting the chardonnay vineyard, he was looking for a cooler area and decided on a southern slope that has a combination of Avalon- and Westleigh soil types which have characteristics of deep, yellowish-brown sandy soils. Planted in 1997, this block is 23 years old and delivers golden berries and beautiful flavours at optimum ripeness. The wine spent 12 months in 100% French oak barrels. Winemaker Wilhelm Kritzinger believes in rolling the barrels and using lees contact carefully in a way to add to the fullness of the wine.
Cabernet sauvignon is a variety that is well adjusted to the Bottelary area’s different soil types and predominant macro-climate. Dirkie says he planted the cabernet block in 1991 and sold some of the grapes to a well-known wine farm shortly thereafter. One Saturday morning he received a phone call from the winemaker: “Good morning Dirkie, I am just calling to tell you that last night at Veritas, I won a double gold with your ‘lousy’ grapes!” Since then, Bellevue’s cabernet sauvignon has been a pillar of strength in the estate’s blends, but it finally found it’s well-deserved place of honour in a single-varietal wine in the Reserve range. It spent 24 months in 100% French oak barrels.
Bellevue’s pinotage plantings have stretched over 40 hectares for many years, but recently unproductive/uneconomical blocks were uprooted, and currently about 25 hectares exist of which only one hectare is trellised. The variety is planted over a wide variety of soil types and slopes with a large age difference among the blocks. This gives Bellevue room to achieve the end goal of achieving balance in its pinotage wines with a variety of blending components from the different blocks. Over the years Dirkie and Wilhelm have also mastered the technique of harvesting pinotage at optimal ripeness, and not just by assessing pH, sugar and acid levels. The Reserve Pinotage, which spent 24 months in 100% French oak barrels, is a prime example.
For the estate’s fondness of horses, the Bordeaux-style blend is named after an Arab mare still enjoying life on the farm, Tumara. The Tumara consists of 66% cabernet sauvignon, 10% malbec, 10% petit verdot, 7% merlot and 7% cabernet franc. It also spent 24 months in 100% French oak barrels.