Another of the few interviews I made to a still wine producer. This time I was in Osaka with Nicolas Bureau, export director of Glenelly Estate, a wine producer in Stellenbosch, South Africa.
What is particularly interesting here is that owner and president May de Lencquesaing is member of the Miailhe family, one of the oldest in Bordeaux, and when she acquired the estate in 2003 she was also owner of Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (in 2006 she would sell it to the Rouzaud family).
The estate, through its website, declares to be making a South African wine with a French touch. Let’s see how this Bordelais tradition influences the Stellenbosch style of wine.

First of all, I would like you to define South African wines as opposed to the wines of Chile or other New World Countries, because many people probably do not know much about South African wines.

South Africa has been producing wines since the middle of the 17th century. People generally speak of the Old World and the New World and they tend to put South Africa in the New World, which is a mistake, both historically, because we have been making wine for so long, but also stylistically, because the styles of the wines are much more looking towards Europe rather than the rest of the New World.
I think that South Africa, as a whole, makes wines with great elegance, great balance in the fruit, the acidity and the tannic structure and again stylistically much more Old World than New World, which suits us very much because being French that is the kind of wine we like to drink and it made a lot of sense to my family to come to South Africa.

So, you are based in Stellenbosch.

Yes, so Stellenbosch is the heart of South African wine production, mainly for red Bordeaux varietals, which is something we focus in. More specifically in Stellenbosch we are in Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, an appellation which is very well known for its Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a bit like the “Pauillac of South Africa”.

So how would you describe the style of Glenelly wine?

Obviously we are not making the same wine we were making back in Bordeaux. The climate is different in South Africa than it is in Bordeaux, the climate is Mediterranean. So think Southern France, maybe Northern Italy, a little bit more sun, but overall I think we are making wines with great elegance. Our wines have long ageability, just like a good Bordeaux, but they have a slight austerity which Old World wines have that we really like.

I saw that you practice natural fermentation. What do you think is the difference in terms of flavours [compared to fermentation with cultured yeasts]?

Our philosophy is to interfere as little as possible with the winemaking, so doing a natural fermentation is part of it. We also do not acidify any of our wines, which I think is important.
For natural fermentation, what is interesting, especially in South Africa is that natural yeasts have a higher conversion rate, so basically they will eat more sugar and create a bit less alcohol. So that’s part of what makes natural fermentation interesting, but also the fact that it’s just the yeasts that are present in the year and on the skins of the grape which makes it more natural. We really like this idea and we are one of the rare ones to do this in South Africa.

So less alcohol production, more elegance.

Yes, it’s very slight, but still it will produce a bit less alcohol, yes.

So what kind of food, also Japanese food, would you pair with your wines?

We have only been in Japan for two years [ed.: as of 2016] and we found that the Japanese love our wines because they are not huge wines, they are elegant and more importantly they have got acidity. I think that acidity in wine is very important and I think that Japanese food is very delicate and to match Japanese food you need delicate wines. So we use a whole range of wines, two white wines and five red wines, obviously they all go with different styles of food, but the obvious one for our unoaked Chardonnay would be sushi, but also any kind of seafood, shellfish. Barrel fermented Chardonnay I think is much more of a wine to go with grilled fish or fish with a sauce and then our reds obviously with meat, beef, especially the amazing Kobe beef that you produce here in Japan.