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A Look at the Wine of Stellenbosch, South Africa: Part 4 – Raats Family Wines

raats_logoFor our fourth Stellenbosch, South Africa review we’ll move somewhat west to Raats Family Wines, where Bruwer Raats presides over an apparently fanatical approach to making the absolutely best Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc that South Africa, or the world for that matter, can produce.  They specialize in those two grapes, although they do make two blends and also add some Malbec to their Dolomite Cabernet Franc.  We’ve been nothing but impressed as we have roamed the Stellenbosch district vicariously through the farms and their wines.  Would it continue?  Let’s investigate.

Raats’ location on the Stellenbosch map is shown below.

 Raats Map

 Some Background:

Legend has it that it was an earlier Raats generation that brought the Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc vines to South Africa fromimage4 the Loire Valley, France.  Today, idealistic winemaker, Bruwer Raats, continues this legacy by focusing on these varietals.  In early 2000, he began cajoling ancient vines on a two-hectare Stellenbosch farm. He cut back the crop to virtually uneconomic volumes, but the vines ripened vigorously.  Today, these superb quality wines are a testament that the Raats family never let go of their idealism.

Bruwer finished his studies in 1995, and then worked in Bordeaux, Tuscany and Napa Valley.  He started with basically nothing, and the obvious passion he has for wine making has sustained him until now, when his wines gain significant international image3recognition.  More on that later.  The attention to detail is evident in everything they do.  All the grapes that go into his wines are either from Raats vineyards or sourced from joint venture vineyards that his neighbours planted to his specifications and grow to his management instructions.  Bruwer commits to buying the fruit.  Nothing goes into this wine that wasn’t produced exactly the way he wanted.

As we mentioned, Raats Family Wines is focused on crafting world class Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, best known as the premier grapes of France’s Loire Valley. Bruwer firmly believes that South Africa’s proliferation of older Chenin Blanc vineyards bruwer in vineyardprovides a unique opportunity to craft terroir-driven wines that serve as international benchmarks for the varietal. Raats owns several hectares of estate vineyards in the Polkadraai Hills and also sources Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc from several extremely low-yielding old vines parcels characterized by complex soils of sandstone and decomposed granite. Again, Bruwer maintains complete control of viticulture at these sites, located at an average of 820 feet above sea level in the prime Bottelary Hills, Simonsberg and Blaauwklippen areas of Stellenbosch.

The Raats Family range consists of five wines,  six actually when you include their premium Mvemve Raats de Compostella, which is a Bordeaux blend and retails around $65 and also gets rave reviews. The crisp, unwooded “Original” Chenin Blanc, whose name reflects the fact that there is no oak to mask its vibrant fresh fruit character, is packaged under screwcap. The partially barrel fermented and aged Chenin Blanc strikes a balance between elegance and power. While Raats is best known for their Chenins, Bruwer also crafts scant quantities of an Cabernet Franc that aims for the heights this under-the radar grape can achieve.  Bruwer also produces Red Jasper, which portrays the varietal in a Bordeaux blend and Dolomite Cabernet Franc, a slightly lighter, less serious “little brother” to the flagship Cabernet Franc.

For Bruwer, the greatest part of crafting wines under your own label is that “you don’t have to worry about shareholders or catering to a market, or to keeping within a cellar’s style. You can have freedom of expression in something that you believe in.”

Bruwer travels to the US and Europe each year to visit top restaurants and loyal customers, and believes that personal relationships with the sellers of his wines are vital. “Because our wines should essentially be enjoyed in the company of good food by people appreciative of the passion and dedication that go into the making thereof.”

All the efforts have apparently paid off. Raats Family Wines are enjoyed in the UK, USA, Canada and Europe and his wines are consistently rated highly by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Decanter, Wine & Spirits, Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate magazines, etc.  Here are just a few examples:

* 2010 Raats Family Cabernet Franc scored a 92 by Neil Martin from The Wine Advocate (January 2013)

* 2010 Raats Family Cabernet Franc rated 4.5 Stars, John Platter 2013 (October 2012)

* 2009 Raats Family Cabernet Franc rated 4 Stars and voted as the ‘Classic Investment’, Classic Wine Magazine

* 2010 Raats Family Red Jasper scored a 90 by Neil Martin from The Wine Advocate (January 2013)

* 2010 Raats Family Red Jasper rated 4 Stars, John Platter 2013 (October 2012)

* 2010 Raats Dolomite Cabernet Franc scored a 92 by Neil Martin from The Wine Advocate (January 2013)

* 2010 Raats Dolomite Cabernet Franc rated 4 Stars, John Platter 2013 (October 2012)

* 2011Raats Family ‘Old Vine’ Chenin Blanc scored a 91by Neil Martin from The Wine Advocate (January 2013)

* 2011Raats Family ‘Old Vine’ Chenin Blanc scored a 93 by Michael Franz, Wine Review Online (October 2012)

And they go on and on……clearly Neil Martin is a big fan.

Here are some fast facts on the farm:

ESTABLISHED: 2001

OWNER: Bruwer Raats

APPELLATION: Stellenbosch

LOCATION: Polkadraai Hills area of Stellenbosch, with fruit sourced from select sites in the Bottelary Hills, Simonsberg and Blaauwklippen areas of Stellenbosch

SOILS: Table Mountain sand – and decomposed granite

WINES IMPORTED:

“Original” Chenin Blanc,

Estate Chenin Blanc,

Red Jasper,

Dolomite Cabernet Franc,

Cabernet Franc

Mvemve Raats de Compostella

You can learn more about Raats Family Wines at their webite: http://www.raats.co.za/.

The Wines

IMG_1052We have four of the Raats line to evaluate, three reds and one white.  While distributed in Rhode Island, you’ll have to search around to find them.  It’s probably better to go into your favorite shop and ask them if they can help.  Raats is distributed in the US by Cape Classics, and you can check out their website here: http://www.capeclassics.com/.  They have a wide portfolio of South African wines.

Here are the tasting notes on the Raats wines we were lucky enough to open:

2012 Raats Old Vine Chenin Blanc Raats produces two Chenin Blancs.  Their Original Chenin Blanc sees no oak, although it does rest on the lees for six months.  This one, the Old Vine, is comprised of 100 % Chenin Blanc IMG_1053grapes from three separate parcels grown in two distinct soil types.  The grapes from the granite soil blocks are originally fermented in stainless, and comprise 70% of the blend.  The remaining 30%, from the sandstone soil blocks is fermented in French oak barrels, or which 20% are new.  After nine months they’re blended together and the final wine spends seven months on the lees prior to bottling.  All of the vines are greater than 45 years old, and the season was one for a long hang time and slow ripening.  Here’s what we think:

This wine is a pretty serious white, with a light but brilliant golden color.  One hundred percent Chenin Blanc, the nose brings pear, melon (we got cantaloupe specifically, and quite distinctly) and honeyed notes.  On the palate it is dry, medium bodied and highlights the pear as well as some citrusy, tropical fruit flavors.  There are some complex notes as well.  At first opening the oak was a little aggressive, but that faded and the second day the oak was quite in the background.  This is another wine that anyone who likes Burgundian Chardonnay should try.  Not Chardonnay, but very elegant and very good.  Suggested retail of $25.

2011 Raats Dolomite Cabernet Francfrom the same vintage as the Old Vine Chenin, this Cabernet Franc saw a long hang time and developed concentrated flavors.  The individual blocks were handpicked as they achieved ripeness.  Malbec does find itsIMG_1054 way into this wine, checking in at 5% of the blend.  Berries were hand sorted three times prior to the crush and 5 day cold soak.  Malolactic fermentation occurred in stainless.  Subsequently the wine was transferred to French oak for 12-14 months.  Half of the barrels were seeing their third season, with the other half seeing their fourth, so this was all basically neutral oak.  The wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered.  Notes follow:

This is brilliant ruby, and has an explosive nose of ripe, red fruit, tart raspberry and bacon fat.  It’s medium to medium+ bodied, and the fruit is balanced with a vibrant acidity.  It’s meaty, smoky, fruity and quite complex for an entry level wine, as this is considered the baby brother of the Raats Cabernet Franc.  It got deeper and more integrated over the next two days, and the third day was still delicious.  Very good, with a recommended retail price of $20, probably available for less.  Value list juice for sure.  I really liked it.

2013 Raats Red Jasper this is a blend of Bordeaux grapes, with 85% Cab Franc, 5% Malbec, 5% Cab Sauvignon, 2.5 % Petit Verdot and 2.5 % Merlot.  So it’s mostly Cabernet Franc, much like Chateau Cheval Blanc in St. Emilion.  Unfortunately we don’t IMG_1056have any Cheval Blanc experience to compare to, but maybe in the future.  From vineyards on dolomite granite soil, the wine should gain acidity and minerality.  During the season periodic high winds caused some damage and the result was a lower yield of concentrated berries.  This wine saw similar attention to the berries as in the Dolomite Cab Franc above, and spent 18 months in French oak, this time a mix of two, three and four year old barrels.  So once again no new oak here.  Our impression was:

This is dark purply red, with dark fruits permeating the nose.  Those berries coat the palate, and you’re immediately tempted to label this as fruit bomb, but it’s more than that.  Complex notes carry along with the fruit: leather, a tiny bit of oak, maybe some violets.  The product page on this wine from the winery lists the tannins as “silky”, but I wouldn’t agree with that.  There’s a little edge there, and it’s holding firm.  This wine will last a while yet.  It’s full bodied, very long and simply delicious.  Cheri loved it, labeling it a great “full bodied sipping wine”.  I agree.  It’s really good, and in the under $20 category an easy addition to the value list.  We will buy more of this.

2011 Raats Cabernet Francthis is 100% Cabernet Franc.  The 2011 growing season saw an early harvest.  A very dry season resulted in healthy but smaller than usual berries.  The fruit received the same meticulous attention as the other reds above.  IMG_1055Maloloactic fermentation in stainless was followed with 18 months in French oak, although here 25% of the barrels were new.  Once again the wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered.  Here is what we think:

This wine displays a dark cherry color, and cherry is the predominant aroma and flavor to the wine.  It really carries an amazing core of fruit, along with anise, spice and some savory notes.  The nose is downright explosive.  It’s very long, and you can feel it for at least a minute as it warms your throat.  Big legs on the glass accompany a medium+ bodied wine, but it is the core of cherry that just mesmerizes your.  This is great wine.  With a suggested retail of $35, it is probably available for less.  On the Value List it goes.  In the $20 to $40 range this is a no brainer.  World class Cabernet Franc here.

It just keeps getting better as we go through the Stellenbosch farms.  The wines are almost all very good, and in some cases remarkable.  This is a wine making area you must try.  We have two more to go in this series, and next up is Glenelly.  We can’t wait.  That said, we should not be in too much of a hurry to move on from Raats.  These were seriously good wines.

To see the previous article on the wines of Thelema, click here.

To see the next article on Glenelly, click here.

A votre sante!

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