Ernie is a cheerful little cement egg. Or rather, he is little in comparison to the steel tanks he tends to hang around with. When you’re next enjoying a spot of lunch at Steenberg’s Bistro 1682, take a peek through the big glass windows into the wine cellar and you’ll spot him.
How does Ernie, um, earn his keep? (See what we did there?) Interestingly, cement adds no positive or negative charge to the wine, and is neutral when it comes to flavour, unlike oak which imparts that woody character. It does, however, have a similar density to wood, which means it lets a bit of oxygen through, giving a comparable chemistry without the flavour compounds.
You’ll notice Ernie’s shape is similar to a Weber grill. Inside, the wine moves constantly; heat causes the wine to rise in the centre, cool and drop down along the outer edges, creating a convection flow. If, for example, the temperature is 12 degrees Celsius at the bottom and 12.5 at the top, it’ll keep the wine moving but without barrelling around, if you’ll excuse the pun.
Now, you may have admired Ernie’s nice big bottom. This gives the yeast cells a lovely, large surface area in which to settle, and the percentage of yeast cells to the rest of the tank offers a better ratio of wine-to-yeast in comparison to the huge stainless-steel tanks which have about a meter of yeast cells at the bottom and a lot of tank above.
As the yeast cells are continuously and slowly moved around, they break down and release things like fatty acids and glycerol, adding a textural component, which, at the end of the day, is the reason you leave the wine on the lees for longer.
Steenberg’s 2017 Rattlesnake Sauvignon Blanc has been part barrel fermented, and ‘part Ernie’. JD intends to increase the role of the cement egg in this particular wine, over time moving toward ‘more Ernie, less wood’ fermentation to honour the Sauvignon Blanc aromatics which he feels can be prone to being overpowered by oak.
This year (2017) Ernie has done a great job as the only egg in Steenberg’s nest. Next year, they might just get him a friend. What do you think they should name him? (Or do you think they should get a ‘her’? 😉
JD Pretorius, Cellar Master, on the Five Steenberg Sauvignon Blancs
Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc
“This sparkling wine is made in the same way as MCC up until the three-month mark – we leave it on the lees, disgorge and riddle it in the traditional method – but it is aged for 3 months instead of 9, to retain the pungent aromatic Sauvignon Blanc character and aromas.
We secretly wish we could call it ‘bottle fermented sparkling wine’, (because doesn’t that sound great?) but the law for bottle fermentation and Cap Classique is almost the same, so it’s not allowed.”
Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc 2017
“If you had to take one of our wines to the rest of the world, this would be our business card. It’s a blend of the whole farm and is our biggest production from a scale point of view. We pick grapes from about 15 to 17 different vineyards, depending on the year, and they’re all picked at different times and at different ripenesses. We ferment some in old barrels, some in the tank, some on the skin, and then blend them in a way that keeps the flavour profile similar each year.”
Rattlesnake Sauvignon Blanc
“2016 was barrel fermented. 2017 – coming soon – is part barrel fermented, and part Ernie-the-cement-egg fermented. This was the first year we used Ernie, and so the most expensive, but this clever little rotund invention has an indefinite lifespan and lives far longer than wood barrels. Also, the flavour profile of wood can overpower the nuances of Sauvignon Blanc, so over the next few vintages we’ll be giving Ernie more work, to give this varietal some elbow room to impress.”
The Black Swan Sauvignon Blanc 2016
“Named after the one black swan we have on the farm. Which is actually not a swan but a rather aggressive black Spur-Winged Goose. He’s a sturdy male with an orange beak, so perhaps if he were a long way away and you’d had too much wine, you might think he were a swan…
It was called the Sauvignon Blanc Reserve until 2011, and was picked solely from block 28. If you have one of these vintages in your wine collection, you’ll see there’s a note at the back: ‘The king is dead! Long live the king!’ to signify that the position keeps going, despite one king dying and a new one taking the throne. In 2012, the Black Swan took the reign of Flagship Sauvignon Blanc on the farm, this time a combination of block 28 and 13.”
Magna Carta 2016
“40% Semillon, 60% Sauvignon Blanc, and our cream of the crop.
This year (2017) we picked just over 400 tonnes of Sauvignon Blanc on our estate and used about 3.5 tonnes to make Magna Carta. We barrel ferment it in 30% new, and second, third and fourth-fill barrels.
We ferment the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon separately. Halfway through the year we select the best of each to blend together, and return the blend to the barrels to marry the flavours, again using second, third and fourth-fill. After bottling, Magna Carta matures for another year before release.”
We’re happy to report that Steenberg’s farming methods are environmentally conscious. We asked JD about it, who let us know that they farm biologically, encompassing many of the methods and mindsets of biodynamic or organic farming. Like, for example, growing ‘weird and wonderful things’ between the vines to suppress the bad weeds, enlisting the help of ladybugs and wasps to eat ants and mealybugs, and planting lupins (a genus of bean) to take nitrates out of the air and put them into the soil.
They also happen to have a lovely farm manager, Johann de Swardt, who can often be spotted fishing ladybugs and frogs from the water-feature in the front of the tasting room. He tends to look for opportunities to honour nature.
They currently offer great discounts on wine, as well as special deals with their hotel, spa, and restaurants. And apparently you can expect the deals to get even more attractive in the near future!
What You Get:
15% discount (sometimes even 20%) + free shipping on a minimum of 12 bottles of wine within main centres in SA…
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