Thorne & Daughters, some of South Africa’s finest whites

John Seccombe’s Thorne & Daughters wines draw on some top Cape vineyards and show amazing finesse

John Seccombe is the man behind Thorne and Daughters. John has a calm, reassuring presence, and a voice made for radio, and the locals – who can’t pronounce his name (it should be ‘secc-comm’) – know him as Seccom-bee.

John met his wife Tasha while they were both studying at Stellenbosch, and after they got married they moved to the UK. Here, John, who had been working as a computer dude, switched careers to work in restaurants, and – bitten by the wine bug – ended up studying winemaking at Plumpton College in Sussex. He began doing vintage around the world, and set up a consulting company servicing the UK’s expanding wine industry.

In 2008, Tasha and John moved back to South Africa, and John did vintage at Thelema before being recruited as winemaker for Iona in Elgin. Before long, though, he wanted to set up his own project, and Thorne & Daughters was born in 2012.

His project is mainly focused on white blends, which he does really well. Winemaking is sensitive and pretty natural, and where necessary he’ll do a bit of skin contact. ‘For me, Clairette and Semillon have the right soft tannins that work well with skin fermentation,’ he says. But the key is good vineyard sources. The main wine is Rocking Horse, which is now around 12 000 bottles a year, and the other lines are 1200-2300 bottles. ‘As we find vineyards that we can work with we open up new ideas,’ says John. In 2016 he made 18 000 bottles. The wines are made at Gabrielskloof, which is also home to Peter-Allan Finlayson and Marelise Niemann, and the three work well together.

John talked about the influence of the drought. ‘As the grapes have ripened, the vines have taken a bit of a strain,’ he says. He was looking forward to the 2019 vintage with some water in the soil. ‘Most of our vineyards have survived well. A block of Chardonnay above Bot River died and there’s nothing left.’

[There are duplicate notes below: this is because if I try a wine on separate occasions, I like to publish all the notes – I think it’s honest and open to do this. It shows that wine tasting isn’t an exact science.]

Thorne & Daughters Cat’s Cradle Chenin Blanc 2017 Swartland, South Africa
This is from a vineyard in the Paardeberg planted in 1979. Bush vine Chenin on granite soils. It’s taut and mineral with lovely spiciness, some pear fruit, and good acidity. There’s a lovely fine-grained mouthfeel to this wine. Superb. 94/100 (09/18)

Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse 2017 South Africa
This is a Cape white blend with lovely focus and structure. Very fine with good acidity and concentration, showing precision as well as weight. Mandarin, pear and lemon notes with a grapefruit freshness on the finish. Fine, bright and pure. 94/100 (09/18)

Thorne and Daughters Rocking Horse 2016 South Africa
One third Rousanne with Semillon and Chardonnay, as well as a dollop of Chenin and Clairette. Very aromatic and taut with spicy grapefruit character, a fresh palate and great concentration of complex citrus fruits. There’s richness here as well as freshness. Lovely stuff. 95/100 (10/17)

Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse 2017 Western Cape, South Africa
A blend of Semillon/Chardonnay/Chenin Blanc/Clairette and Roussanne. Supple and fresh with sweet pear and citrus fruit. Textured and pure with some brightness. Lovely wine. 94/100 (02/18)

Thorne and Daughters Rocking Horse 2016 Western Cape, South Africa
Semillon, Chardonnay, Clairette, Roussanne and Chenin Blanc. Really fresh and lively with lemon, tangerine, wax and spice notes as well as complex citrus fruit. Lovely acidity here with a bright, lively personality. Complex and taut. 93/100 (03/17)

Thorne & Daughters Paper Kite Old Vine Semillon 2017 Swartland, South Africa
56 year old Semillon vines have yielded a very fine, harmonious wine with citrus fruit, a hint of toast, white peach and pear notes. Such harmony and finesse here. 95/100 (02/18)

Thorne & Daughters Paper Kite Old Vine Semillon 2017 Swartland, South Africa
This is Semillon Blanc and a little bit of Semillon Gris (pink-skinned) from a Paardeberg vineyard planted in 1963. It’s the farm owned by Franziska Wickens called Kweperfontein. It has real delicacy with fresh, fine lemony fruit and amazing texture. Unfiltered this year, it’s a lovely wine of great precision and delicacy. 95/100 (09/18)

Thorne and Daughters Paper Kite Old Vine Semillon 2015 Franschhoek, South Africa
This comes from Basil Landau’s 1905-planted Semillon vineyard in Franschhoek. Fine, textured and a bit spicy. Nice density to the lemon and pear fruit with some waxy notes. There’s a hint of wax and some lanolin, with a bit of mandarin and a saline twist on the finish. Really fine. 94/100 (02/18)

Thorne & Daughters Paper Kite 2016 Western Cape, South Africa
Semillon Blanc from two old vine vineyards. One in the Swartland, planted in 1964, with 5% Gris in it. The other is La Colline, in Franschhoek. There’s a creamy edge to the direct, pithy citrus fruit. Lovely acidity with great concentration and freshness, as well as a bit of structure. Some green tea hints. So good. 94/100 (03/17)

Thorne & Daughters Man in the Moon Clairette Blanche 2017 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Taken from the same block as the Cravens, which means there will be no more after 2019. 50% skin contact. Complex, fresh and grippy but with prettiness. Lively and juicy with dense lemon notes, some fine herbs and a bit of spice. Very stylish. 93/100 (09/18)

Thorne & Daughters Tin Soldier Semillon (Gris) 2017 Stellenbosch, South Africa
The grapes are destemmed into poly bins and have a couple of punch downs a day, and a ton was done whole bunch. This is powerful and expressive, pure and detailed, with amazing finesse as well as purity and interest. It’s a little bit saline with some aniseed hints, and has an amazing mouthfeel, finishing with some green tea notes. Profound and detailed. 96/100 (09/18)

Thorne & Daughters Tin Soldier 2016 Western Cape, South Africa
Semillon Blanc and Semillon Gris, destemmed and skin fermented for 7-10 days and aged in old oak. Some Franschhoek and some Swartland. Full yellow colour. Lovely intensity here with lively, pithy lemon and pear fruit with nice grip to the lively fruit. Has depth and structure. A bit of green tea and lime oil. 94/100 (03/17)

Thorne & Daughters Zoetrope Chardonnay 2014 Overberg, South Africa
12.5% alcohol. From clay shale soils, fermented in old oak. Some oatmeal and spice here as well as ripe citrus and pear fruit. Subtly nutty, too. Refined and expressive with lovely weight. 94/100 (02/18)

Thorne & Daughters Wanderer’s Heart 2017 Western Cape, South Africa
This is a blend of Grenache (decomposed granite, voor Paardeberg and Bot River), Cinsault (Darling) and Mourvedre (Bot River). Very refined, pure, fresh lighter red but with some substance. Bright red cherries dominate with some grippy structure underneath. Has finesse and purity. Savoury and linear with nice grip on the finish. 94/100 (09/18)

Thorne & Daughters Wanderer’s Heart 2017 Western Cape, South Africa
40% Cinsault, 10% Mourvedre and 50% Grenache. Early picked with light extraction. So pure and fine with lovely fresh raspberry and strawberry fruit. Elegant and supple with a juicy, bright personality and fine spiciness. 94/100 (02/18)

Thorne & Daughters Driftwood Boat 2016 Western Cape, South Africa
Grenache from Bot River and the Voor Paardeberg, Cinsault from the Bottelary and Mourvedre from Gabrielskloof. 40% whole bunch, destemmed on top. ‘One of our fights is to get the growers to pick the Grenache when we think it’s ripe, not when they think it is ripe,’ says John. Floral and perfumed with lovely fresh, supple raspberry and cherry fruit. Fresh, vital, grippy and a bit peppery with nice focus. Fine, powdery tannin and good acidity. Lovely stuff, with freshness and brightness. 94/100 (03/17)

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