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The Noble Origins of Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc is known as one of the noble varietals, meaning a collection of varietals that have been around for a long time and are intrinsic to Old World regions. It is steeped in tradition which paved the way for the New World, like South Africa.

Chenin Blanc has been traced back to about the mid 800s AD in the Anjou region of France and took its modern name in the 15th century from Mont-Chenin in the Touraine region east of Anjou. These regions are part of the Loire Valley which is famous for Chenin Blanc (of all styles), dry Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc. The region follows the Loire river, which is the longest in France and is peppered with fairytale châteaus.

Chenin Blanc is known for having a good level of acid and high natural sugar which opens it up to be used in a wide variety of styles from sparkling wines to dessert wines and everything in between. The vine has a high natural vigour meaning special care is needed to guide the growth which can mean specific rootstock selection, trellising and training of the vine and green harvesting to name a few techniques.

It is believed that this noble varietal found its way to South Africa in 1655 when Jan van Riebeeck received a shipment of vine cuttings to propagate in the Cape. For a long time, the vine was known as Steen, which seems to come by way of language adaptation by the Dutch. It was only in 1963 that Professor Orffer, the head of Viticulture at Stellenbosch University, finally confirmed that Steen was in fact, Chenin Blanc. Some interesting facts about Chenin Blanc in SA are that it is the most planted of the wine grapevines, SA is the world leader in its production, it is a major contributor to the base wine of brandy, and it was the cultivar used for the first Method Cap Classique in 1971.

Ken Forester’s first wine was bottled in 1994 and sourced from vines on the farm (bought in 1993), some were planted as far back as 1970. Soon Ken was at the forefront of the Chenin revival in SA and went on to be one of the founding members of the Chenin Blanc Association and serves as the current chairperson.

At Ken Forrester there is a Chenin for every occasion, the Petit is an easy-drinking unwooded and fruit-forward wine and the Sparklehorse is a Cap Classique, both perfect for sipping for sundowners and partner with food. The Old Vine Reserve is an example of a harmonious balance of fruit-forward wine with skilful oak and vanilla integration, this will enhance full flavoured meals, even spicy ones. The FMC is one of SA’s most celebrated Chenins, it is mostly from goblet bush vine planted in 1974, offering low yields with intense character. The pressed juice is naturally fermented in oak barrels and aged for 10-12 months before careful selection of only the best wines for the final assemblage. Another full flavoured Chenin Blanc is the Ken Forrester Terre Noire with soft, gentle white peach and melon flavours. This beautifully textured wine is from the Swartland region and a winner in the 2021 Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top Ten Challenge. It is perfect with seafood or prawns infused with lime and chilli.

Ken Forrester also has the T Noble Late Harvest which takes advantage of the perfect pairing of terroir and the thin-skinned Chenin which enables Botrytis to work its magic. This dessert wine comes from 40+ years old vines and is matured on the lees for 18 months in oak barrels, which provides the full mouthfeel and acidic structure for the intense flavours to sing. Finally, there is the Dirty Little Secret Two, sourced from ancient bush vines in Piekenierskloof, this wine was created as gently as possible, it is unfiltered with only seven barrels made. The result is a bright mineral wine with pear drop intensity and is a tribute to the age and concentration of the vines.

As in Chenin Blanc’s ancestral home of the Loire Valley, Ken Forrester demonstrates the versatility of the cultivar to make outstanding quality wines in all styles, offering the perfect collection to match your taste and occasion.