Ian Naudé is the jolly uncle who always gives you awesome, inappropriate gifts but doesn’t tell your parents.
Of course he’s not really your uncle (unless he is, in which case check your lottery numbers). The point is, he is a
salt of the earth gentleman; the type who gives more than he receives. In just the context of the wine industry he frequently volunteers his considerable talents to help the winemaking students at Elsenburg.
He’s also a seasoned veteran who continues to make some of the most fantastic wines in South Africa. And when he’s not doing any of the above, you’ll probably find him in Malmesbury adopting another Border Collie and naming him Ouwingertjie or Sinsow or something.
In fact it's also thanks to Ian that we've adopted a beautiful, complicated Border Collie of our own. Going purely on her character we could have named her Naudé Old Vine Chenin, but that would be a ridiculous name for a dog so we settled on Honeymunter. Moving swiftly along:
We met Ian, Karen and the dogs in Stellenbosch recently to talk about his wine and various related topics.
“We’re the only country that can do a blend of terroirs”, Ian tells me.
What he means is that in other countries there is strict legislation to prevent winemakers from, essentially, doing what they like. If you own a parcel of Shiraz in Eastern Rhone, you’re not allowed to blend that with Jean Baptiste’s Gamay from Beaujolais. Heck, you can’t even call in Hugo’s Shiraz from the other side of the valley. The appellations have rules, which make sense for France, because it’s full of French people. It also serves their industry well.
But South Africa is different. We have a number of varietals that have taken to their various soils all over the place under entirely different climates. And Ian thinks we should, well, get creative.
To this point, one of his most intriguing wines is his Adoro 5-region Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a revelation, and perhaps the perfect Sauvignon Blanc, in that it doesn’t taste anything like one.
The grapes are from Stellenbosch, Elgin, Darling, Durbanville and Elim. Which is sort of like inviting 5 different girls on the same date. In this case, they all get on like a house on fire. Even more interesting is that it’s from 2008, is under screw cap, and is impossibly fresh. It feels like it will still be delicious in twenty years. It probably will.
“But in Joburg they want a 2019 Sauvignon Blanc”, Ian tells me.
“Oh Uncle Ian, you’re so funny. Stop it.”
There was no missing his point. What sells is a young, dry, crisp, grassy, green, fruity, Kiwi-wannabe, cookie-cutter Sauvignon Blanc. The Adoro 2008 is anything but usual. It’s also delightful - complex, nuanced and refreshing in every sense of the word. I can't recommend it enough if you're after something delicious and genuinely different.
Then it was the Naudé White Blend 2010.Chenin, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Again, the grapes are from all over the show. We tasted a 2010 so it’s had 6 years to contemplate life. And it’s absolutely fantastic. Trying to sound like i knew what i was talking about, I asked Ian why he had introduced Sauvignon Blanc rather than sticking to a classic Bordeaux style white blend.“ Because this is not Bordeaux” was his reply.
Fair enough. But on the evidence of his next wine there was clearly a chance that we were in Burgundy:
The Naudé Old Vines Chenin Blanc 2013 is a real unicorn. It’s the closest thing to an old Chablis I’ve encountered. In fact in a blind tasting that I might be entirely making up to make a point, everyone presumed it to be from Burgundy - even the winemaker.
We began talking about life a few years back, and it’s fair to say that at this stage Ian was disillusioned with the state of South African wine. He retreated into his shell a bit, got his sulk on and avoided the usual people, places and things. Until a showcase of South African wines in London.
Expecting to see the same old faces, he ran into the new guard; fresh-faced, talented winemakers without the burden of their own vineyards, doing whatever they damn well pleased, and doing it with great success. He was surprised, delighted and inspired. The penny dropped: He saw a revolution underway in South Africa with bold winemakers, old vines and brilliant wines.
“The train was passing me, and I was on the platform”
So Ian returned to South Africa with some big ideas and a renewed sense of purpose. A few visits with Rosa Kruger* later, and he had secured a few parcels of old vine Chenin, Cinsaut and Grenache.
And the wines he has created with these amazing grapes have surprised even him. Ian had always been about blending. Whether it was terroirs or varietals, he’d always blended to achieve the complexities he was after. But the old vines he's using have been developing their own unique character for 30 to 50 years. They produce enough complexities on their own. And Ian had come round to the idea that some grapes have earned the right to tell their own story.
Which brings us back to the Old Vine Cinsaut 2014. Well it's far too good for me to bore you with the details, but even more amazing is how it came to be. On a scouting mission to Darling, Ian was looking for Sauvignon Blanc grapes for his blend. Strolling through the vineyards with Rosa, he tasted what he thought were Cabernet grapes and was impressed. At the end, Rosa asked if he would take the Cinsaut. And at this stage you know where this is going. Ian bought a few tons, decided to experiment, never worked with the grape before so just left them alone. Natural ferment, the wine makes itself, and bingo.
You have (some of) the Naudé Old Vine Series:
I took a lot away from the afternoon.
1. Old vines. Again not just hype. Again they're the business.
2. You can sometimes teach an old dog new tricks.
3. Lack of winemaker ego has surprisingly little effect on your enjoyment of their wines.
Adoro 5-Region Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - You're expecting a slap but get invited upstairs
Naudé White Blend 2010 - You don't know what to expect but get invited upstairs
Naudé Old Vines Chenin Blanc 2013 - You expect to get invited upstairs and you do get invited upstairs
Naudé Old Vines Cinsaut 2014 - Love at first sight
*Rosa Kruger is a viticulturist who essentially defends South Africa's old vines and finds appropriate homes for their grapes. She is held in such high regard by every winemaker I've ever met, that merely writing her name makes me nervous. As Ian pointed out, "You don't choose Rosa... Rosa chooses you".