"Oh no, not Peter-Allan Finlayson", said nobody ever.
On a recent trip to Hemel en Aarde, we decided to put this to the test. Surely we could find something to call him out on. It was going to be tough, so we arrived at Gabrielskloof at about 9am.
Maybe we’d reach him before his coffee. Or he’d be surfing. We'd trip him up somehow, he’s very laid back and nobody gets it right on Monday morning.
“Hi guys, I’m just in the middle of a client tasting of my new wines. The moment we’re done I’ll bring them out. In the mean time lets get you whatever you need and Nicolene will get you started on Gabrielskloof.”
Dammit Fin. What a guy.
Peter-Allan comes from one of the most well-known and successful winemaking families in the country. We won’t go into it because it’s boring and you can read about it somewhere else, but if it’s true that 1 in 3 cars on the road in South Africa is a Volkswagen, then the Finlayson’s are the Volkswagen of South Africa’s winemakers.
Don’t interrogate that metaphor.
Peter-Allan's wife, Nicolene, effortlessly runs the show at Gabrielskloof. She does all of this while making every guest feel at home, looking after the dogs and babysitting our daughter. She is an absolute superstar. Our daughter, that is. And Nicolene. And the dogs. And bloody Peter-Allan.
The big news that’s not really news anymore: as of 2014, Peter-Allan’s wheelhouse is no longer restricted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. His excellent Crystallum label has moved to its new cellar at Gabrielskloof where he is now also the head winemaker. With this move comes a number of new wines, which is great news for everyone – you included.
Here's why: Gabrielskloof has a history of making very good wine, but arguably wines that have been a little shy on character. I assume they’ve done very well, and I assume this because my dad is a big Gabrielskloof fan. He loves their Sauvignon Blanc and by extension… forget it, there’s no extension. He only drinks Sauvignon Blanc. But my dad was their audience. They made very good wine, had a predictable market, and it worked well.
But it was all a bit like Coldplay. Well produced, mainstream, good value and as unlikely to offend as to really inspire.
Peter-Allan moving to Gabrielskloof was like inviting the guy from Bon Iver to sing on the new Coldplay album. What he brings is a different philosophy altogether. Rather than heavy oak, alcohol and concentration, his is a fresher, lighter, less obvious style. Rather than a predictable soaring chorus, you’ll discover restraint, surprise and a quivering falsetto.
Now there's no better example of this quivering falsetto than in the new Rosebud (a wine Peter-Allan introduced last year). Although it might better be described as an uncontrollable shriek of delight. This is a wine to buy by the truckload. It’s floral, fruity, fragrant and friggin’ fantastic. At R70 a go, it's summer in a bottle. It also goes surprisingly well with breakfast.
There's even a chance that your dad will look past his Rosé prejudice and enjoy it. Not mine unfortunately, he will stick to his trusted Gabrielskloof SB. But if he’s entertaining guests, he's likely to include a few bottles of Gabrielskloof's new Elodie or Magdalena. My guess is that, from this familiar wine farm, those guests will discover wines that are unfamiliar. And they will return to them. And their horizons will be broadened. And life will be better.
If that all sounds a bit patronising, it probably is. The point is that this respected label is doing things a little differently.
It's not just about these two shaking things up a little. And it's not just about having Crystallum occupy the same cellar. Gabrielskloof is now also home to John Seccombe’s Thorne & Daughters, Marelise Niemann’s Momento label and Julien Schaal’s wines. We'll meet them later, but these are wines and winemakers of exceptional quality. It stands to reason that these, dare i say, "Socialist" winemaking practices can only benefit everyone. It seems to work for dogs and babies.
Let's avoid hyperbole, and just say that Peter-Allan and Nicolene are very good for South African wine. They don't ascribe to old rules and they're not particularly keen on bullshit. It's a good recipe.
Of the new Gabrielskloof releases you’ll discover the Landscape Series featuring Elodie (Chenin) and Magdalena (Sauv Blanc/Semillon). These are both very impressive and should be sought out immediately. You'll probably also find "The Blend" kicking around your local bottle store. "The Blend" is Shiraz-based, was barrelled before Fin arrived. Unsurprisingly, it too is delicious.
From the Crystallum label, all of the 2015 wines are exceedingly wonderful. My favourite Pinot is the Mabalel, closely followed by the Cuvée Cinema, while the Clay Shales Chardonnay is just… woof!