Nestled in Stellenbosch’s Paradyskloof Valley is Vriesenhof Wine Estate, with its south facing slopes that have been used to cultivate grapes that produce wines of character since the eighteenth century.
But one cannot discuss character and Vriesenhof without mentioning larger than life owner and cellar master Jan ‘Boland’ Coetzee, who was one of the great characters of Western Province Rugby and is today a senior statesmen of the Cape wine industry.
“When I bought Vriesenhof in 1980, my vision was to produce just one wine, a blend of the red varietals available.” Coetzee believes Stellenbosch is home to some of the world’s best Cabernet plantings, and so in 1984, a year after he had planted Merlot, the first vintage of Vriesenhof Kallista was born, a classic Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
“Kallista is derived from Plato’s saying – To Kalon kai Agathon, meaning ‘the good and the noble,” Coetzee said. The name Kallista was chosen for its meaning, but also because of its easy pronunciation in both Afrikaans and English. “Or rather, as my good friend and fellow winemaker Neil Ellis says, it is because my English sounds like Greek when I speak.”
The Vriesenhof Kallista 2017 vintage has just been released, and has bright red fruit on the nose, with a lingering mid-palate of black pepper, cherries and strawberries and a long, smooth finish.
“The 2017 is different from the previous vintages due to a focus toward drinkability at a younger age, to make it accessible to those who are disinclined to storing wines for extended periods,” said Vriesenhof winemaker Nicky Claasens. The wine has enough structure and body to age gracefully for between 10-15 years.
The main difference is a shift toward more upfront fruit and soft subtle tannins. “This was achieved by harvesting the grapes at a slightly higher Balling and a reduction in the number of pump-overs and extent of the pump-overs during fermentation. The type of yeast used was also changed to a strain that expressed more fruit aromatic and fermented at a lower temperature.”
The wine also had longer time in the barrel with a larger component of new barrels to soften the tannins and enhance its drinkability.
Kallista is “the dark horse of the Vriesenhof stable, unpretentious with the potential to be magnificent under the right conditions”.
Claasens explained that the Kallista had been on the side line during the early 2010’s due to the focus shifting to the estate’s acclaimed Pinot Noir and Grenache, but said there had been a definite change in mind-set in recent times as to what Kallista should be. “We have been moving away from the old, classic style of Bordeaux blend to a more modern type of wine, and the Kallista will shift from dark horse to work horse in the next few years and become the wine that attracts people to Vriesenhof.”
Claasens is seeking to create a wine which is vibrant, complex yet as enjoyable from the day it is bottled as it is ten years later.
“We are trying to make wines that are approachable at a younger age but which still have the ability to age for long periods of time,” he said.
The early vintages of the classic Bordeaux-style Kallista featured more Cabernet Sauvignon, but from 1995 the percentages of Merlot and Cabernet Franc increased. Now, Claasens plans to move even further from the traditional three-way split of those cultivars.
“Depending on the year, any of the three main cultivars would be the dominant component.”
The plan is to further improve the flexibility of the blend by adding either Malbec or Petit Verdot to the blend “if either or both would enhance the wine.”
This fits with Claasens winemaking philosophy of “unobtrusive manipulation”, removing the constraint of following the classic style and instead making a wine that is the best of Vriesenhof.
Coetzee’s favourite vintages of the “old” wine are 1989, 1991 and 1995 and “new” 2003, 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2017, of which the 2009 and 2017 are available for purchasing via www.vriesenhof.co.za