At the end of the road is Oldenburg

Oldenburg cellar master Philip Constandius talks about his wines and how, what he calls textbook terroir, makes them what they are.

The long and winding road to Oldenburg Vineyards seems to go on forever after you turn off the R45 near Kylemore, but it is worth the journey.

The view from the cruciform tasting room complex is dominated by Rondekop, the hill in the middle of the farm which affords 360° aspects for the vineyards on its slopes, with the prevailing cool winds in the valley acting like natural air conditioning.

“Do you know Château Tertre Rôteboeuf in Bordeaux?” asks cellar master Philip Constandius.

We are standing in the tasting room, the patio doors closed tight against the chilly day, as Philip explains the impact of Rondekop on the meso-climate of the 30 hectares under vines at Oldenburg.

I think back to May 2013, to my visit to Le Tertre Rôteboeuf in the south east of the Saint-Émilion appellation, and the fascinating conversation with directeur technique, Louis Mitjavile, co-owner with his father, the legendary François, who made wine there for the first time in 1978.

“Pourquoi les vignes sont-elles si proches du sol? (Why are the vines so close to the ground?)” I asked Louis. “Il crée un microclimat chaud pour les vignes. (It creates a slightly warmer micro-climate for the vines.),” he said.

Just like Rondekop, Le Tertre Rôteboeuf’s six hectares of vines are perched on a hill (Le Tertre means “the mound”) which stands proud of the surrounding vineyards, and it too is affected by the natural air conditioning of cool airflows around the base of the hill, leaving the vines on the hill in a slightly warmer environment.

Add to that the approximately one degree of additional warmth afforded by the vines’ low trellising, and you have the level of ripeness and maturity at which Louis likes to harvest.

But not all the relatively young Oldenburg vines are planted on Rondekop.

Oldenburg was planted 65% to red and 35% to white varietals on 10 distinct soil types, between 2004 and 2007, after estate owner Adrian Vanderspuy bought Oldenburg in 2003, with planting decisions guided by detailed soil
analysis supported by satellite imaging.

The valley floor surrounding the hill is also largely planted to reds – cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot, cabernet franc, grenache, malbec and petit verdot, with the whites – chenin blanc, chardonnay and viognier – mostly planted lower down near the river.

The exception to this rule of thumb, is the tiny block of viognier, planted near the crest of Rondekop, which, as Philip puts it, “is a fully-fledged wine in its own right.”

The reds on Rondekop are planted in a stony, gravel loam mix, with the merlot alone in dense clay, reminiscent of Chateau Petrus in Bordeaux, while most of the whites are planted in alluvial flood plain sandy loam.

“It’s what I call textbook terroir,” says Philip, “the ideal nexus of soil types, micro- and meso-climate, aspect and prevailing meteorological conditions, which ensure gently warm days and colder nights, and that means longer hanging times leading to full physiological ripeness.”

Tasting through the range – 10 wines in all – I discerned a number of golden threads evident in every wine, blend or single varietal, red or white.

Fruit is bright, pure and intense, but at the same time elegant and refined, finding that fine dividing line between over- and under-extraction.

Minerality, that much debated and oft-decried manifestation of site, is a feature of every wine, delicately on the nose, and distinctively on the palate, while acidity imparts an elegant juiciness.

The pervasive elegance on the nose – easily but incorrectly identified as shyness – followed by a complex and subtly expressive palate, mean the wines universally underpromise and overdeliver, for me a hallmark of excellence.

The tasting and conversation with Philip spanned three and a half hours, and as loath as I am to single out favourites, I must.

The 2015 Oldenburg Grenache Noir with its bright sweet red fruit palate, fine fresh tannins, gentle acidity and grippy mineral finish, and the 2015 Chenin Blanc with its lean tropical fruit flavours on bright acidity and steely minerality give credence to Philip’s assertion that all his wines express what he calls fruit intrinsics – “they taste like they should”.

But don’t take my word for it. Take the winding road to Old-
enburg yourself, and see if you can leave without buying a case or
two.