Achieving Platter’s maximum 5 star rating with a debut wine is a massive accomplishment, and in the case of vintner Matthew van Heerden, all the more impressive for being achieved under a proprietary label, MVH Signature Wines, which is also new.
So new, in fact, the official launch took place only yesterday (18 November 2015). The unveiling, appropriately enough, took place at Webersburg, the estate where Matthew has been a consultant for the past five years. Previously he was winemaker and viticulturist at nearby Uva Mira Vineyards, particularly noted for its Chardonnay (the single-vineyard bottling of the 2007 vintage earned 5 stars in the 2009 Guide).
Experience gained at these Helderberg properties, as well as at Iona Vineyards in Elgin in the early 2000s, is evident in the pair of wines Matthew makes for his own brand, namely a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The latter is from vines in different areas and of varying ages: an old block (1970s) in Stellenbosch, and younger vineyards mainly around the Helderberg and in Elgin but also in farther-flung Klein Karoo. The wide geographic spread is in line with Matthew’s goal of identifying prime parcels, chiefly in cooler climates, and reflecting “the diversity of terroirs we have in South Africa”.
All the Chardonnay components undergo identical (natural) vinification and maturation in French oak, about half of which is new.
Working with vines in various soil types gives Matthew a spectrum of characters with which to build an intricately layered wine. “The decomposed granite in Stellenbosch gives a dense, rich, weighty palate – which I like in chardonnay – while Elgin’s Koue Bokkeveld shales add fragrance and a certain linear elegance.”
The debut release, from the excellent-for-chardonnay 2014 vintage, gets 5 stars in Platter’s 2016 edition for its superlative structure, complexity and overall quality. “A symphony of nuts, citrus & stonefruit, sinuous & polished despite the flavour boldness,” reads the tasting note, which also praises the wine’s “wonderful purity” and “laser precision”.
From a farming family, originally in Tulbagh and later Kwa Zulu-Natal, Matthew says he’s deeply interested and immersed in the viticulture side of things. Among his focuses are the old vines in the portfolio – indeed old vines generally – and how to ensure their sustainability.
Noting that while chardonnay is a relative newcomer to the national vineyard, compared with say chenin blanc, the 2011 Diners Club Young Winemaker of the Year believes vines planted in the late 1970s and early 1980s are sufficiently mature to deliver the benefits associated with old vines, notably extra concentration and intensity.
EXPRESSING FRESH ELEGANCE
The other wine in MVH Signature Wines’ range is a Pinot Noir 2014, from 10-year-old vines in Elgin, partly bunch pressed and entirely wild yeast fermented. Matthew is aiming to express the freshness and elegance of Elgin fruit, hence the absence of any new oak for the maturation.
He also makes a Pinot Noir from a cool pocket in Stellenbosch, and notes a number of similarities between the two wines, including the ripening date of the grapes. “In fact the Stellenbosch Pinot gives the Elgin wine a good run for its money, but unfortunately volumes are too small to release commercially.”
The future for MVH Signature Wines is to continue specialising in Burgundy’s two great grape varieties. But like many young local winegrowers, Matthew aims to “highlight South Africa’s own identity” rather than emulate foreign models. “We want to show how much we believe in ourselves, how confident we are of our own winemaking styles and terroirs.”