Leeu Passant Chardonnay 2020
“Andrea Mullineux sent me a detailed overview of Leeu & Mullineux with useful summaries of growing seasons. “In the vineyard, we continue to strive for true sustainability by working with self-sowing and permanent cover crops as well as letting our own indigenous cows graze on the farm’s pastures, making manure that we use in the compost that will feed the ground and improve soil carbon. This has, over several years, created healthier soil that retains more moisture, allowing us to dry-farm even in the drought years. Natural soil nutrition also improved so no chemical fertilizers are used. For both wineries, we have a strong base of making wine from old vines, but you cannot get old vines without young vines, so we are also planting young vineyards with the pace and the idea that they will one day become very old. This means that we want the vines to grow slow and even, pruning always with the focus on quality and longevity. We have also planted ‘experimental’ blocks of varieties that may work in the Swartland, especially if the climate continues to change, including Rousanne, Assyrtiko and Vermentino. We have already had wonderful results with Macabeo and Verdelho.”
“As business owners, we have seen how vulnerable so many have been during the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns and prohibition in South Africa. We decided to help create more sustainable futures for our loyal employees by starting an additional winemaking company that they could have ownership in, Great Heart Wines. Each employee maintains the same role that they have within Mullineux and Leeu Passant, but they have shareholding and the opportunity to be a director of Great Heart Wines. The only employee with a different role is Gynore Fredericks, who is a graduate of the Cape Winemakers Guild Protege Programme and my assistant winemaker for Mullineux. I am on board to oversee the wines as a cellarmaster for Great Heart, but Gynore is the titled Great Heart winemaker, which has been a great opportunity for her to grow.”
“As the winemaker for the Mullineux and Leeu Passant wineries, even though I was heavily involved in the vineyards, I am now even more intimately involved with them, taking accountability through to the final wines. Nothing has changed stylistically or philosophically with the wines, but as I have matured, so has my approach in the cellar, knowing more, after years of trial and error, about where to step in and be the custodian and where I can let the wines achieve everything they were set out to do with minimal interference.
Now for the vintages. The 2019 was the fourth vintage of the ‘Great Drought’ and was characterized by naturally low yields from vines. Winter 2018 was, again, exceptionally dry, but also cold, and this allowed the vines to rest well before the growing season. Spring was relatively dry, but not excessively warm, and this resulted in smaller canopies and smaller bunches and berries. Summer 2019 was also warm and dry, and harvest started at roughly normal dates (last week of January in the Swartland and mid-February in Stellenbosch) with tiny berries and small loose clusters. Cool evenings allowed the freshness of the wines to be maintained. There was some higher disease pressure in Stellenbosch later in the harvest, brought on by some mid-season precipitation, but our Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards, our last to come in, are not late-ripening for the region and we evaded rot by getting the grapes off the vines in time. In the Swartland, an interesting observation is that glucose and fructose ratios had returned to normal and therefore the alcohol-to-sugar ratio significantly improved within our vineyards and our natural/indigenous yeast metabolisms. We saw higher alcohols in the previous years, even though the picking sugars had not increased, and we attributed this to the higher fructose levels in the earlier drought years. The good news is that all of the wines were sugar dry in the end, but in 2018 and before, the alcohols were 0.5%+ higher than what was expected.
“After the drought we experienced from 2016 to 2019, the 2020 harvest produced yields that were closer to normal. Also, the weather in 2020 was just perfect. We had a lovely wet and cold 2019 winter and very little rain during the growing season, so the grapes were super healthy with small, intensely flavored berries. The irony of the social/government/health challenges we were facing as a country is that we probably had our best vintage in 2020. The season started relatively late and we were able to harvest Chenin and Syrah for Mullineux a few weeks later than the past few years and at moderate potential alcohol levels. The Chardonnay, Cinsault, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon for Leeu Passant ripened at ‘normal’ times due to a warmer second half of harvest, so this created a bit of an accordion effect with a huge mid-harvest crunch. However, with the looming lockdown that we were facing, this ended up being a blessing, as there was no scrambling to complete harvest. Though we were still experiencing very dry conditions in the Cape, the hard work that we had been putting into our vineyards over 5-plus years was clearly evident during this season.””
Neal Martin, Vinous (11/21)