Fine-tuning perfect ‘bubble’ of the Cape
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Johannesburg - You needn’t be a Type-A personality to understand Pieter Ferreira’s obsessive pursuit of the perfect tiny bubble.
Since 1990, the man nicknamed “Bubbles” has been fine-tuning Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) production at Graham Beck, but his quest started in 1984 at Haute Cabrière in Franschhoek, where he worked for seven years under Achim von Arnim – the country’s first specialist MCC producer.
Having narrowly escaped dentistry as a profession, today he’s cellarmaster for Graham Beck Wines, assisted by MCC winemaker Pierre de Klerk.
Ferreira, chairman of the Cap Classique Association, said recently over lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel in Westcliff, that 25 vintages under the belt at Beck Wines is only the beginning because innovation drives success.
Of course, he has many stories to tell of the industry and his time at the estate but the pursuit for perfection is never-ending.
“I will eventually write a book; it will be called Bubbles Unplugged or something like that. Our quest remains ‘in search of the perfect bubble’ but I believe every year, we get much closer. Long may we not find that perfect bubble,” Ferreira joked.
But while there’s a need for constant innovation, which is vital to staying on top of the game, it must be driven by quality.
“You’ll see a beautiful golden thread – of quality, finesse and elegance – coming through the tasting, through the evolution of better planting material, better soil practices and canopy manage-ment,” Ferreira said.
To Chris du Toit, the chief executive at Graham Beck Enterprises, it’s about gratitude at how far they’ve come. “In 1981, the farm washed away completely in the Laingsburg floods. Beck bought it two years later. Last year we won the best bottle-fermented sparkling wine in the world award at the International Wine and Spirit Competition, which was very special to us, and in our 25th year we sold a million bottles in a single financial year.”
Their maiden vintage in 1991 was literally produced under the stars because their first and original cellar wasn’t yet completed. Since then, the Graham Beck portfolio has grown to seven MCC brands, including the prestige Cuvée Clive (named in honour of Graham and Rhona Beck’s eldest son Clive, who died young) and flagship Blanc de Blanc, which this year was the only recipient of a 5-star Platter rating for its 2009 vintage, and won last year’s best IWSC bottle-fermented sparkling wine and a gold medal at the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships.
Most of their fruit is grown on their own properties in Stellenbosch and Robertson, though grapes are sourced from cooler climate regions such as Elgin, Hemel-en-Aarde, Darling and Stanford. It’s been a hell of a journey, said Ferreira.
“We produced our first blanc de blanc vintage in 1991. We didn’t produce any in ’94 and ’95 because our cellar was full of thousands of bottles (for ageing) and Beck wanted to know when we were selling them. We said, ‘when it’s ready, Mr Beck.’ In 1995, when the ’91 vintage hit the market, people were writing wonderful things about us and he asked: ‘Why did you ever stop producing it?’ From 1996, we have Blanc de Blanc vintages again,” he said.
Unlike Stellenbosch and Constantia, Robertson wasn’t at the forefront of wine production.
Many believed it was ill-suited for quality grapes. Ferreira is proud of their role in turning around the Robertson region.
“We made it an important area for cap classique. Years ago that was not the case – people said it was too hot. Today, other produ-cers buy Robertson grapes for MCC. So many producers – big growers, specialist producers – are now sourcing chardonnay from Robertson.”
It all comes down to working with sunshine, not against it.
“We are producing awarded MCC from a region once best known for co-op wines. A highlight of our tasting of vintages from 1992 to 2010 is the 21-year-old Blanc de Blanc, which spent six years on the lees and 21 years on the cork, still gloriously youthful and fresh.”