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The inspiration of the Southern Rhône

We often hear wines described in relation to regions of Europe, in particular, a Bordeaux or a Rhône blend. These are specific Old World French wine-growing regions that are governed by strict rules which control many aspects of winemaking including what varietals are allowed to be grown. These rules have developed over time from what particularly works for an area and to protect the perception and quality of the production of an area.

Taking a closer look at the Rhône region which is in the Southeast of France and takes its name from the major river that originates in the Alps and flows to the Mediterranean Sea. The region is divided into North and South, each of which are distinct. The North is cooler with steep vineyards with a focus on Syrah driven wines, and the South offers a much more varied landscape led by Grenache and supported most notably by Syrah and Mourvèdre.

In South Africa, we have specific standards in our wine production but there are no restrictions on what you can grow in a region, so it is up to each estate to carefully select what to cultivate.

Ken Forrester is situated in Stellenbosch district and the unique terroir of the Helderberg. Here the climate closely mimics the Mediterranean climate experienced in Southern Rhône, meaning hot summers and cold wet winters. There are strong summer winds from the cold False Bay which help moderate the hot summers and ensure a steady ripening of the grapes. This is akin to Southern Rhône where there is a prevailing wind called the Mistral, both winds create challenges in the vineyards where trellising and foliage management are closely watched. The soils have some similarities in that there are clay and stony deposits with much lighter tops soils that result in well-drained vineyards. The similarities continue with the terrain where the Southern Rhône has a variety of topography and grape varietals are selected appropriately, where Grenache thrives in the heat and Syrah requires cooler areas to ensure healthy fruit. At Ken Forrester, there are vineyards in the rolling terrain of Stellenbosch and specifically on the slopes of the Helderberg mountain, the topography is utilised to best support the vineyards.

As a result, Ken Forrester offers a collection of Southern Rhône inspired wines, starting with the red Rhône blends of the Gypsy, Renegade and Three Halves. The Renegade is part of the Reserve Range, and an almost three-way blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, offering an Old World wine with New World fruits.

The Gypsy is part of the Icon range and is led by Grenache with Syrah and Mourvèdre in support. The result is a concentrated wine of layers of deep red fruits with hints of spice and vanilla, with a brambly character that solidifies the South African take on a traditional Southern Rhône blend. The wine is carefully cellared at the estate to ensure harmony before release, this means the wine is perfect for aging and yet accessible now.

Three Halves is a cellar exclusive and is a demonstration of Ken Forrester’s keen eye in creating something special and unique. This wine is led by Mourvèdre, which creates an earthy backbone, with fruity Grenache and spicy Syrah to create a wine that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Ken Forrester also offers cellar exclusives Roussanne and the Silver Rose that are inspired by less common yet traditional wines of the Southern Rhône. The Roussanne is a single varietal white wine that is wild yeast fermented in carefully selected oak barrels and allowed to mature on the lees. The result is an elegant yet complex wine with floral hints and a full mouthfeel. The Silver Rose is a Grenache rosé from free run juices that carry the beautiful pink hue. The wine has hints of strawberries and pomegranate with a balanced mouthfeel from 9 months lees contact during maturation.

The Southern Rhône is steeped in tradition and is a source of great inspiration, Ken Forrester has taken this on and captured a collection of handcrafted wines that truly reflect the best that Stellenbosch and the Helderberg have to offer.