Oldenburg, a retrospective

Oldenburg owner Adrian Vanderspuy at the door of the tasting room, with the distinctive Rondekop and towering amphitheatre walls in the bright summer sunshine.

Why is it, I wonder, that tasting with the owner is so different to tasting with the winemaker?

Adrian Vanderspuy is the owner of Oldenburg Vineyards, which is a good way down the Zevenrivieren Road in the Banghoek Valley, at the end of an awful piece of gravel road that on my first visit (“At the end of the road is Oldenburg”, Bolander September 10 2017), seemed to be endless. I think the only reason it felt shorter this time – it is arguably no better – is because I knew what lay at the end of the road.

Much has changed since I tasted the entire range with then cellar master, Philip Constandius, chief among which is the new cellar – “being built Australian-style,” quips Adrian – and the new cellar master, Nic van Aarde, only seven days into the job at the time of my second visit.

Adrian, grandson of the legendary Una van der Spuy, doyenne of South African gardening, who passed away in 2012, was born in the valley. “I left at the age of 3, and I’ve lived and worked all over the world. But now I’m back.”

He elaborates no further at that juncture, but as the tasting unfolds, and he talks about his vision for Oldenburg, the significance of that “I’m back” acquires texture.

Adrian bought Oldenburg in 2003, and after detailed soil analysis supported by satellite imaging, planted the farm between 2004 and 2007, 65% reds and 35% whites.

The significance of Rondekop, the conical hill so reminiscent of Château Tertre Rôteboeuf in St Emillion in Bordeaux, and its pervasive influence on the meso-climate of Oldenburg comes up for discussion.

Rondekop is but one of the eight natural elements, the conflux of which at Oldenburg, accord it, says Adrian, that sought-after but rarely achieved quality: uniqueness.

As we taste our way through all the wines in current vintages, Adrian speaks of these elements, and how they contribute to what comes from the remarkable fruit of Oldenburg; the proximity of two rather than one ocean and the complexity of currents, warm, cool and icy; the mountainous nature of the Cape Winelands, culminating at Oldenburg in an amphitheatre with towering walls; the elevation which fosters significant day/night temperature differential; the multiplicity of wind and air flows, originating far to the south east and north west, and shaped as they are by the local geography; and the 10 soil types on the farm; all of which lend to the fruit of the vine, in concert, the golden threads that pervade Oldenburg’s wines.

And those golden threads, so clear and abundant in the wines during my first visit, are just as evident.

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, means the wines universally underpromise and overdeliver, for me a hallmark of excellence. And the wines all go on forever.

The discussion about each wine is detailed, textured, and Adrian’s fundamental connection with Oldenburg’s wines is immediately apparent. He lives the wines.

The tasting done, we repair to the manor house, strolling past the new cellar, which cellar master Nic assures us, with Adrian’s concurrence, will be ready in time for harvest.

We idle over a lovely tapas lunch, paired with Oldenburg wines, the succulent chenin, the luminous chardonnay, and the bright fresh grenache noir, and the conversation ranges widely about what the future holds for Oldenburg.

I comment on the uniformity of excellence in the wines I’ve now tasted for the second time, lending implicit consistency, and Adrian pauses, nods, then says introspectively, “It’s not just about being able to make excellent wines, which we have the potential to do here. For me, it’s also about what remains undiscovered at Oldenburg, that will inform what we do in the future.”