Keermont is a place
Keermont is a place
by James Bisset
Driving the Upper Blaauwklippen pass, criss-crossing the Blouklip River en route to Keermont Vineyards, you could be forgiven for thinking you are visiting another world. Barely 30 minutes from the center of Cape Town, you pass wine farm after glorious wine farm, from Daschbosch to Dornier, Waterford to Kleinood. The scenery is sublime. And as you climb towards the apex of the Stellenbosch and Helderberg mountain ranges, you start to believe that the best is yet to come.
Then when you can just about go no further, you reach Keermont. A wine farm of such exceptional beauty that you expect to see a young hobbit and his eight companions crossing the ridge in front of you.
Instead, you’re likely to be greeted by Alex Starey. Head winemaker since day one, Alex is a calm, relaxed gentleman. Even when there’s no surf, it’s hard to imagine him being too stressed. Whether he is the cause or the result of his working environment is unclear, but everything about Keermont shares a similar serenity.
He talks about the early days of of the farm, and you get the sense that its evolution into one of the country’s most celebrated producers was about as natural and unhurried as their wines. In fact they only began producing in earnest in 2010, having previously sold their grapes to their neighbours, De Trafford. What began with 1,500 bottles has been growing steadily, and now sits near 60,000 bottles a year.
A quick zig-zag in the Land Rover gets you to the highest vineyards on the west facing slopes. From here, you have a brilliant view of Table Mountain, and an even better idea of what the vines endure in the lead up to harvest. If you’re fortunate enough to be there in Spring, you’ll be greeted by King Proteas, other fantastic fynbos (the diverse shrubland vegetation endemic to the Western Cape) and stories about the small mountain buck trying to feast on newly formed buds in the vineyard. It turns out their Cab Franc is not just a favourite of human beings.
This harmony (and sometimes, struggle) with nature is an everpresent theme at Keermont. It comes through in how they tend to their vineyards, and how they make their wine. There are no extremist ideologies, no “organic or else”, but in keeping with their easy going nature, a philosophy that tends towards the natural and honest reflection of their site.
And that site is nothing if not diverse. There are cool slopes that face west, warmer slopes that face North. There are soils that vary in type based on their proximity to the river. There’s a formidable terrain that ranges in altitude between 200 and 400 meters above sea level. And speaking of sea, there’s a maritime influence from both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
“Keermont is a place”, says Alex, and a line that might seem trite from someone else hits home with clarity and sincerity here. Their vineyards offer diversity, and their wines are produced only from grapes grown on the farm. You can taste Keermont in every glass.
And what of those wines?
The first thing you notice is that the current releases are anything but current. They are released when they are deemed to be ready, not after a year or two when commercial interests demand the freeing up of cellar space.
The 2017 Terrasse White Blend is an absolute joy. It tastes like the mountain, the trails, the citrus farms, the apple orchards and the sea. It has both texture and wonderful vibrancy. It’s what you might call a quintessential Cape white blend, and includes Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne.
The 2015 Syrah is both powerful and elegant. With many South African Syrah’s showing lighter, crunchier characteristics this is altogther more serious and Southern Rhoney. And with its herbal edge it can’t help but bring to mind the environment in which it grows.
The 2017 Merlot is something of a revelation. In part because South African Merlot is often underwhelming. But there are some sites where it really shines, and this is one of them. This wine is deep and dark, yet soft and refreshing. It shows the very best of this variety.
Finally, the 2014 Estate Reserve is quite something. This more than any represents the place it was grown. The fynbos and ripe red fruit abounds in a wine that is wonderful now, but will continue to develop for years to come.
Alex gives assistant winemaker, Shane De Vries, a huge amount of the credit for the wines that come out of the cellar. Essentially, he points out, Shane manages the cellar, while he takes care of the vineyards. Shane was brought up on a neighbouring farm and along with Alex has been at Keermont since the beginning. It’s a credit to the Wraith family – the farm owners – that the entire Keermont team has remain largely unchanged over the years. It speaks to a happy team, and one that is built on trust and respect.
And in this environment, it’s no surprise. Everything happens when it needs to, but there is no sense of rush or unease. It all makes complete sense when you raise your wine glass and consider what’s in it. These are exceptional wines, grown and made in an exceptional place.