Ken Forrester Wines
Philip Day discusses Ken Forrester Wines Dirty Little Secret ONE/TWO Chenin Blanc Piekenierskloof, South Africa
This feature about Ken Forrester Wines includes the company’s history and viticulture.
Chenin Blanc is a versatile white-wine grape variety, cultivated in France for over 1200 years. Most people associate it with France’s Loire Valley. Its high acidity levels mean it can be crafted to any level of sweetness, ranging from bone-dry, full-bodied still white wines, and light, honeyed sparkling wines, through to sumptuously sweet, botrytis-affected dessert wines.
The variety fell out of fashion somewhat in the early part of the 20th Century. However, renewed interest in the 1980s has restored Chenin Blanc’s position as a classic and noble grape variety.
The versatility of Chenin Blanc is reflected in the number of wine making techniques and maturation styles employed in its production, that include stainless steel, extended-lees contact and barrel maturation, for example.
In the vineyard, growers must keep Chenin Blanc’s naturally high yields of grapes in check, allowing flavours to concentrate and its floral bouquet to develop.
Without the determination and effort of men like Ken Forrester, affectionately referred to these days as ‘Mr Chenin’, South African Chenin Blanc would probably be little more than a footnote to the recent wine-making history of the country. Forrester saw beyond the variety’s destiny to be merely blended with other white grape varieties and consigned to bulk-wine production and was soon making award winning stellar Chenin Blancs to rival and surpass the best produced in the Loire Valley.
Over the past thirty years, a shift in attitudes to this noble grape has seen an upsurge in quality particularly in South Africa. Old bush-vines in Stellenbosch and Swartland regions produce concentrated, rich wines that tend to be more tropical in character than their Loire Valley antecedents, displaying flavours of guava, melon and pineapple.
‘Dirty Little Secret’ Chenin Blanc, ONE (sold out) and TWO (now available at Hedonism and Fine Wine Stores), is Ken Forrester’s latest iteration to garner international plaudits and awards but its availability is limited but worth tracking down if you can.
‘Dirty Little Secret‘ is Ken’s tribute to the age and concentration of the vines, planted in a dry irrigated vineyard in the Piekenierskloof in 1965 as well as to minimal interference winemaking, showcasing the terroir and more specifically the vintage in the wine. This wine is an extremely refined and elegant example of 100% Chenin Blanc that will continue to age beautifully for up to 10 years or more.
It comes beautifully packaged in a very special bottle. If you have tasted and liked any of his other award-winning Chenin Blanc bottlings, this is definitely a must buy.
With exceptional wines like this, it is no wonder that South Africa has surpassed France to become the largest grower and producer of superior quality Chenin Blanc.
Ken Forrester (a Zambia-born former hotelier and restaurateur) started the winery in 1994 with the hope to make Chenin Blanc in Stellenbosch that could rival Loire Valley Chenin Blanc. Impressively, Ken (aka ‘Mr Chenin Blanc’) sold 400 cases of his wine in the first year. Currently he is sells more than 80,000 cases. Not wishing to rest on his laurels, Ken is hoping to increase the production to more than 200,000 cases within the next 4 years.
Located south of Stellenbosch (approximately 6 km from the coast) near the Helderberg Mountain, most of the Ken Forrester estate wines originate from the family’s own 38 hectares of vineyards and then 92 hectares under lease.
The following serve as an overview of the wines produced by Ken Forrester’s company.
(For further information visit his website – details below)
The Petit Range includes the entry level wines of the Ken Forrester Winery. All the grapes for the wines in this range are bought in from other contracted vineyards.
The Ken Forrester Reserve Range is the next level and the wines offered here are from their own vineyard grape varieties.
The Icon Range which includes the highly successful FMC, Gypsy and Dirty Little Secret bottlings make use of grapes from standalone parcels of single variety vineyards grown around the estate.
In addition to ‘Dirty Little Secret’ “ONE/TWO”, I would recommend trying their FMC Chenin Blanc, which are, in my opinion two of the finest examples of Chenin Blanc in South Africa. Not only have they won numerous awards, they can easily compete with any top-quality Chenin Blanc from Loire Valley.
Forrester introduced his first Old Vine Reserve in 1994. At that time working in collaboration with Martin Meinert, farmer and winemaker, behind many of South Africa’s foremost wines: it was their ambition to produce the best Chenin in the world. They experimented for many years and gradually their efforts were rewarded, until in 2000 international wine experts tasted it and loved it and the FMC (Forrester Meinert Chenin) was born.
Then came the Sparklehorse Chenin MCC 2011 in 2012 a sparkling Chenin Blanc made in the traditional Champagne style (méthode traditionelle).
The Dirty Little Secret ONE iteration is 100% Chenin Blanc from old vines, sourced from a 1.6ha vineyard, planted in 1965, in the Piekeneerskloof (a two-hour drive from the Ken Forrester estate). In order to make a different sort of Chenin Blanc, he needed to find a new Chenin vineyard with similar characteristics as those at Stellenbosch.
The main objective in producing this wine was to let this interesting fruit source speak for itself and show off its naturally specific character through the wine it produced if necessary, across multiple vintages.
|Appellation||South Africa, Western Cape, Chenin Blanc|
|Planted Acreage||Piekenierskloof: 1.6 hectares (3.95 acres)|
[Estate: 38 hectares (93.9 acres)]
|Grape varieties||Chenin Blanc|
(Other estate varieties grown – see website)
|Wines produced||Dirty Little Secret|
(Other estate wines produced – see website)
|The area experiences extreme temperatures . The geology is a mixture of rough, fragmented sandstone with some occurrences of granite and deep retaining shale soils sustaining the unirrigated bush vines throughout the long summer season.|
|Production||Around 2000 bottles|
|Top Vintages Produced||2015/2016/2017|
Talking about the ambitious task he faced to create a different wine, Ken Forrester commented:
“I knew making this wine was going to be an extreme challenge, because somehow I had to make a wine that could show the age, experience of the vines and showcase the terroir. I wanted to present it as a unique one off, not just an extension of what I already do, but a single vintage by vintage challenge to show the year and the place in the most natural winemaking way possible and a wine that will hopefully lift the price ceiling for whites with its solid volume of production.”
The wine that is destined for ‘Dirty Little Secret’ is made by soaking the grape juice on the skins and stalks before pressing takes place in large wooden vats. Fermentation takes place using only wild or natural yeasts, after which malolactic fermentation is allowed to occur before the wine is transferred into French oak barrels for a 5-month ‘rest’ before finally being bottled with no filtration.
“We decided to make this Chenin completely natural. All wild yeasts, spontaneous fermentation, no sulphur until after malolactic fermentation with 14 days of skin and stalk contact pre-fermentation. It then went into beautiful old, neutral 400 litre French barrels for five months after which it was bottled unfiltered and unfined to comply with all-natural rules and laws.”
In many respects The Ken Forrester Winery has taken a trip backwards in time to make a thoroughly modern wine. ‘Dirty Little Secret’ is a wine that will age beautifully for at least the next ten-fifteen years. It is undoubtedly, a tribute to the age and concentration of the vines, as well as to very low interruptive winemaking techniques. The end product is a natural wine in every sense which has been equally bottled totally naturally with no cold stabilization or fining.
Many experts consider it to be more refined and focused than The FMC, demonstrating great energy and subtly of rich citrus and white flowers.
The resultant wine at 12.5% ABV is a tight, bright, well textured wine with good minerality and mouthfeel. It is elegant and soft bodied, with a complimentary fresh acidity. This wine has been built to age and gain in complexity in the bottle.
Production is very limited as only 7 x 400L barrels were produced.
Address: Ken Forrester Wines, Corner of Winery Road and R44,
Between Stellenbosch and Somerset West,
7600, South Africa
Telephone: +27 218552374
Fax: +27 218552373