There’s every chance you’ve never heard of Stony Brook – a great pity – but there’s a valid reason for it. Craig McNaught, the winemaker at this beautiful Franschhoek family estate, has adopted a somewhat different practice for selling his wines:
“You probably won’t recognize us from the shelf because… well we’re not really there. 90% of our sales are direct to clients, most of them in Europe. Because If you’re trying to compete with the 6,000 producers on supermarket shelves, you’re on a hiding to nothing.”*
It’s clear that the South African retail bun-fight doesn’t interest this wine farm. They produce small quantities of exceptional quality wines, and the last thing they want is to employ all their resources fighting for our attention. One taste of this cheeky little monkey is all that’s required:
Stony Brook came about because Craig’s dad, Nigel McNaught, is bit of a wine nutter. Or a wine nut. Or, like us he’s crazy about the stuff. Nigel did a stint at Nederberg before leaving school, absolutely loved it but became a doctor instead. Fortunately the story has a happy ending as he made some money and spent it on a wine farm.
Thanks Dr. Nige. You had sweet stethoscope skills, and the rest of us get to share in the fruits of your labour.
Case in point:
Try Stony Brook’s Ghost Gum red. This Cab Sauv is about as luxurious as a 1000 thread count sheet on a floating Yves Saint Vuitton bed. The amount of love and care that has gone into it is obscene. And you can taste it. And you should.
If stonkingly delicious big reds are not your thing, let me point you in the direction of the Ghost Gum white:
This wine probably owes its inspiration to Clayton Reabow at Moreson, even though Craig is convinced that Clayton emptied a barrel of Semillon into the Chardonnay by accident**. It’s a rich and regal blend that has spent some time in new oak, but the Semillon injects it with some cheeky freshness (because Franschoek old vine Semillon makes everything better).
They have a surprisingly huge range of wines at Stony Brook, all of which deserve attention, but another that particularly excites is the Ovidius. This is 100% Tempranillo, which although it sounds like a dangerous Australian rodent is in fact a very full-bodied Spanish red. It’s the basis of most Rioja blends, but here it stands on its own, prouder than a Nadal forehand, making a case for this varietal in South Africa. It’s big and fat and chewy and juicy and spicy and tight and remarkably delicious for such a hot summer’s day.
Craig is of the opinion that South Africa has an over reliance on the classic French grapes from Burgundy and Bordeaux. He feels that we’re overlooking a very important variable: climate. We hardly get hail in winter, much less summer, so in his mind Spanish, Portuguese and Italian varietals are better suited than French. Of course you might put this down to his obsession with Spanish wine, but he makes a very good point. I’d be inclined to watch this space and don’t be surprised to see some more delicious Spanish-descent sauce from Stony Brook in the near future.
Winemaking is no easy game in South Africa. This has become abundantly clear over the last few months. There are so many producers, so much competition, and our wine prices so low that the economic realities are no joke for anyone who pours their heart and soul into the process. Put simply, some wines are worth more than what they cost.
The McNaughts are testament to this. Stony Brook is not your typical commercial wine farm. You won’t see their name on Waterfront umbrellas and you won’t find them buying their way onto exclusive wine lists. But you will find them against the mountain in the Southern-most corner of the Franschhoek valley, putting a lot of time and effort into crafting beautiful wines.
And you should.
* You might find Stony Gum wines at your local Tops at Spar. Someone's clearly eyeing a promotion.
** Craig is not convinced that Clayton emptied the Semillon into the Chardonnay by accident. They are good friends, says Craig: “That guy just won't leave me alone”.