Wine Style was fortunate to secure an interview with one of the iconic women in winemaking on one of her recent trips back to South Africa to finalise the blending of the Vilafonté 2012 vintage of Series M and Series C. Looking at her impressive CV you know that you will be meeting one of the most respected women in wine-making.
|Vilafonté winemaking partner - Zelma Long|
Last year, Zelma was voted “The Drinks Business” Top 50 Most Influential Women in the Wine World and can count former CEO of Simi (while it was owned by LVMH and Chief Enologist at the Robert Mondavi Winery as part of her winemaking past.
We asked her:
In 3 words, geology, geography, and site. Phil (husband Dr Phil Freese, Wine Growing Partner at Vilafonté) liked the soils he saw; old clays suffused with small pebbles. This combination would restrain the vines from excess growth and the clay would provide a source of moisture for the vines, but they would have to “work” to get it. After looking deep into the soils – physically, through soil pits throughout the site, he felt he could grow small vines that would each carry restricted but intensely flavoured fruit. Our 40 hectare site has a diversity of aspects, elevations, and soils, plus our four red varieties and all taken together gives diversity of flavors, very “layered” wines.
Finally, we have the cooling breezes of the maritime climate of the Cape. People ask how we chose to grow wines in the Cape; we say, “the Cape chose us” – after visiting it seemed that the confluence of characteristics were perfect for growing the great wines we hoped to achieve.
What is the best way to express the Vilafonté site in your 2 wines?
Several years of winemaking each individual hectare as a “stand alone” revealed the diversity of expression of the Bordeaux varietals on our property. The Cabernet and the Merlot each expressed two different styles: deep, concentrated wines, and opulent showy wines. I was concerned that blending them together, we would achive an “average” and lose the specific personality, so I suggested two wines, each highlighting a single style, and the Vilafonté Series wines were born.
|Vilafonté Series C - all lined up|
Series M showcases the wines with forward fruit, expressive, engaging aromas and fleshy textures. Experience has shown Series M is generally made from our Malbec, the fleshy Merlot, with some structured Merlot, and the Cabernet blocks that tend to be more open and opulent.
Its “alter ego”, Series C, draws together the Cabernet blocks with deep, complex aromas, potent flavors and rich but firm tannins. Our powerful Merlots add some flesh, and elegant Cabernet Franc, finesse and fragrance.
What is your philosophy behind blending these two wines?
The site was chosen to grow wines of power and finesse. We attend to each hectare block of wine grapes as an individual, and due to differences of soil, aspect, etc, they are indeed each a specific personality. Then the challenge has been to tailor the winegrowing and winemaking to each to bring out its best qualities; I think of them like children in a classroom…helping each to reach its potential.
The job of blending is to find how they fit together to enhance, rather than overwhelm, or overlay, each other. We are looking for complementarity among the wines, not competition…using each to create a seamless, harmonious whole. I know from many years of blending that I favor wines that have a purity, a seamlessness, combined with a sense of depth; deep flavors that I can sense, and that over time will emerge, and hopefully explode into a mouthful of sensations. The blends when young, especially the Series C, have an underlying intensity that makes them restrained, with delicious fruit, but still restained, like a runner at the blocks, waiting for the signal to race forward…intense, powerful. And we want them to run the long race….provide pleasure over many years.
What is the most odd thing you have ever eaten?
In Spain, tiny braised baby eels, each with 2 eyes looking at me. I couldn’t finish them.
Best place you’ve travelled to in the last 5 years
|The Vilafonté vineyards|
South Africa; it is extraordinary, as travelers around the world are discovering and we spend 2-3 months a year here.
Last wine you drank
A Chene Bleu 2007 Abelard, from a 60 year old Grenache and Syrah vineyard , belonging to a client of mine in the Rhone Valley of southern France.
Favourite musical artist?
In South Africa, artist Johann Louw….art is music to me
Elsewhere, David Hockney, for the same reason
You can have one date with anyone in the world, anywhere – who, where, and what will you be drinking?
I would like to have had a date with Linus Pauling, the great American scientist who won two Nobel prizes, one for science and one for peace. I would have met him in central Oregon where he was born, near my birthplace, to find out how he came to be who he was, and to do what he did. We would have met in his hometown, in a bar (cowboy country) probably over steak and beer.
Continue the sentence:
Cats or dogs?
Both, and horses too.
Zelma Long, Vilafonte Winemaking Partner