Some people tell me that I can be a bit restless at times. Probably fair. But I have been making wine in South Africa for about 35 years now and every day seems to throw up a combination of things to challenge you and things to get really excited about. I love to explore new opportunities and sometimes these present themselves in the form of ‘new’ varietals.

People can often get a bit over-excited about different varietals, and personally I don’t believe that simply planting a different grape can be viewed as innovation. However, at Fairview it has always been something that my team and I have tried to pursue and is part of our approach. Back in the 80′s we were introducing Beaujolais styles (which were very cool at the time!) and carbonic maceration; we pursued Rhône style blends in the early 1990s and brought Viognier to South African drinkers in 1997. In the ‘norties’ (as my daughter tells me they’re called) we have decided to embrace a number of new varietals. It’s is not only about giving new grapes a go, but this process also teaches you so much about terroir and winemaking techniques, as you are challenged at every turn. We have planted well over 100 hectares of new vineyard at Fairview over the past five years and this has given us opportunities to try a number of exciting varietals. These will start to come into production over the next couple of vintages.

One of these that has got me really excited lately has been Tannat. It is a noble grape, generally recognised as hailing from the Madiran region, at the foothills of the French Pyrenees. Today, it’s most well known as the principle grape grown in Uruguay, where it has been adopted with fervent nationalistic pride! We first planted Tannat vines in the Swartland in 2004 and have just harvested and produced the our fourth vintage of wine from these vines. Based on the early results we have also planted vines at Fairview in Paarl.

This is the time of year when there is a lot of activity in the cellar and we have been tasting through many barrels and tanks. This is quite a task, as we have many different grape varietals in the Fairview cellar, and we try to keep components separate for as long as possible. But I would have to say that the quality, texture and potential of the Tannat that we have in the cellar has really impressed me. I am trying to figure out why South African producers have not looked at Tannat with more interest in the past. Apparently there are just over 60 hectares planted in the country today, and judging on the the quality of what I have in the cellar, I would expect that to rise in the coming years.

Of course there will be those that will say that it is going to be difficult to sell. Sure. To start with. But so was South African Shiraz 20 years ago. It is also important to remember that Tannat is a great wine for blending, with its tannins and deep fruit adding character to blends. And of course let’s not forget the high levels of antioxidants in this particular grape either. Judging by the 2007 and 2008 vintages that have been bottled so far, I am really looking forward to working with Tannat in our portfolio in the coming years.

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