Winemaking raised to a fine art
As Waterford Estate celebrates the release of The Jem 2014, we take a closer look at the different varietals that go into this one-of-a-kind red blend.
When it comes to selecting the wines for each new vintage of The Jem, Waterford Estate winemaker Mark le Roux is spoilt for choice. Like an artist who gets to work with the world’s best paints in the most brilliant colours, Mark gets to choose from several batches of eight different red varietals grown on the Stellenbosch property to create a single masterpiece.
When the winery was established 20 years ago, managing partner and cellar master Kevin Arnold carefully matched different varietals to specific areas on the plot of land that makes up Waterford Estate. He planted each varietal with the goal of creating a single, magnificent red blend – a work of art that’s a true expression of the terroir and its remarkable diversity.
This strategy bore fruit and, today, Mark is lucky enough to work with wines that are perfectly suited for inclusion in one of the best red blends South Africa has to offer. Set for release in the third week of January 2019, The Jem 2014 once again scored five stars in the Platter’s by Diners Club South African Wine Guide 2019.
Cabernet Sauvignon, the strongest varietal on Waterford Estate, serves as the backbone for The Jem – named after owner Jeremy (“Jem”) Ord. Reliable, sturdy Cabernet Sauvignon adds structure and longevity to the wine, with Shiraz also making up a significant proportion of the blend. This is a well-rounded varietal that also adds spice and richness to the wine.
With each new vintage of The Jem, Merlot, Cabernet franc, Mourvèdre, Barbera, Petit Verdot and Sangiovese are also added in percentages that range from 14% to 3%. These varietals, says Mark, are truly missed when not added, yet their addition must be carefully controlled. “Some of these Mediterranean varietals are quite potent. They’re absolutely delicious in miniscule amounts, but can quickly dominate.”
All these varietals are cultivated on the farm, in soils that echo those found in their countries of origin. Merlot and Cabernet Franc are included for backbone acidity and dry texture, while Mourvèdre brings a hint of leather and spice. Barbera, with its chunky texture and thick acidity, add more interest to the blend. In turn, Petit Verdot is included for its aroma and acidity, while Sangiovese adds bright-red, zesty fruit flavours.
“The Jem pulls together all the different elements that make up the farm,” Mark says. “It also tells our story, and speaks to the farm’s history and our day-to-day activities. It’s an expression of our winemaking philosophy and approach, as well as our climate, soils, and proximity to Stellenbosch and False Bay.”
For Mark, part of the beauty of The Jem is the fact that, 20 years ago, it didn’t came into being to serve commercial goals. “We didn’t start off by making wines that the market demanded. The Jem genuinely started off as an authentic, slightly different blend that speaks of the terroir.”
To this day, there are no other red blends in the world that combine these eight varietals in the same way.
Visitors to Waterford Estate often wonder if the different varietals that go into The Jem are aged separately. “They aren’t,” says Mark. Shortly after undergoing malolactic fermentation, about 20 different batches of the various varietals are meticulously blended to make up The Jem. “This is done to give the wine the maximum amount of time to integrate and bond.”
If you’re enjoying a bottle of The Jem 2014 this summer, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate all the subtle flavour nuances that speak of the different soil types and slopes on Waterford Estate. This vintage also speaks of a hot harvest season and a good yield. The tannins are wonderfully soft and round, making it a very approachable drinking wine that’s both elegant and strong – another masterpiece.
If you haven’t tasted our flagship wine yet, now is the time to book a The Jem Tasting Experience. Get in touch to reserve your spot.