Generational consistency at Middelvlei

Merlot, the Great Dane, a member of the welcoming committee that greets visitors at Middelvlei.

Pinotage and I have a difficult relationship.

It’s not that I dislike pinotage in general.

Rather, it’s a case of pinotage being a bloody difficult grape to make into a wine that best reflects both sides of its parentage.

The days of acetone nail polish remover pinotage are thankfully behind us, as are the “banana brigade” and those inclined to smell like volatile-acidity-induced raspberry vinegar.

Improvement in clones and changes in winemaking practice through hard-won experience in the cellar, means that increasingly, pinotage is staking its claim as a fine wine grape.

In my wanderings around the winelands, I’m constantly on the lookout for pinotage that reflects the best of its parentage – pinot noir and hermitage (cinsaut) – rather than favouring one or other side of the family. I’ve not encountered that many.

Spending the day with the Momberg family recently, during the 100th anniversary celebration of the family making wine on the Brigadoon-like Middelvlei wine estate, I added another pinotage to my list of greats.

We tasted 18 wines in total, that day, but the jolt I got was while working backwards through five vintages of pure pinotage – 2017, 2011, 1994, 1989, and 1978. I say jolt, because it hit me with the first wine, the 2017.

Redolent of black red berry fruit, like cherries, raspberries, and cranberries, with pomegranate and cardamom notes on the palate, the tannins were nippy yet svelte. It represented the very best of both its parents, with balance and poise. As we worked back through the vintages, the fruit reddened, and notes of truffle and mushroom emerged, while the tannins softened, and once we hit the 78, I was sold.

But there was more. A three shiraz vertical, and a four cabernet vertical afforded the same perspective as did the pinotage vertical: the opportunity to understand what the future portends for the youngest vintage tasted, once you get to the oldest in the line-up.

Which raises the question, considering the vintage spread – in the case of pinotage, 39 years – of how does this remarkable consistency come about?

And sitting listening to Ben, Tienie, Jeanneret, and patriarch “Stil-Jan” Momberg, talking about the history of the farm over the last century, it begins to fall into place.

Careful clonal selection of vine material which considers the site in all its dimensions: soils, mesoclimate, aspect. Painstaking attention to viticultural practices. Minimalist intervention cellar practices. And above all, consistency in style.

The marketing bumf says “winemaking at Middelvei is focused to embrace more-fruit-forward wines with smoother tannins”, and in tasting the wines through the years, it is evident that this philosophy has been a pivotal focus, at least as far back as we tasted, and probably all the way back to when wine was first made on the estate. There is something to be said for consistency through generational tenure.

It is a chill winter’s day, and we are treated to a “Boerebraai”, the ultimate outdoor South African food experience, featuring perfectly braaied chops, boerewors, and chicken sosaties, and of course, such traditional delicacies as pampoenkoekies, potbrood and braaibroodjies.

The conversation ranges widely – anecdotes about the evolution of Middelvlei over the years, stories about the resident welcoming committee of delightful dogs, the current state of the wine industry – as we munch our way through the delicious food, aided by a glass or two of Middelvlei wine, before we reluctantly take leave of our hosts, and head back to our hurried, seemingly more care-worn world.

The Boerebraai Restaurant is open for lunch seven days a week, and booking is essential. The tasting room is open from 10am to 4.30pm. Contact 021 883 2565 or info@middelvlei.co.za