Oldenburg, Banhoek, South Africa: Nic Van Aaarde is doing great work with this Stellenbosch producer
There’s a special place in Stellenbosch, and it goes under two variants of the same name.
Banghoek and Banhoek. Both variant spellings are used, but the word translates as ‘scary corner, and is pronounced ‘bun hook’. The vineyards are in the Banhoek conservancy, and this is one of the only plains in the area. As a result, animals would congregate here, and it used to have a large population of elephants, but the travellers who came here were more scared by the black-maned cape lions. Both species have now gone, but there are still lepoards, and many of the wine farms have motion activated cameras that have picked up pictures of these elusive residents. There are three small hamlets in the conservancy, including Pniel, a village that was established for freed slaves, and some families have been resident here since it was established in 1842. Originally, 19 hectares were donated by the de Goede Hoop farm for landless, homeless slaves after the British Empire abolished slavery in 1833.
This was a fruit-growing area, and Thelema were the first winery to pull out fruit trees, plant some vines, and make wine here. This was back in 1983 when Gyles Webb bought a run-down fruit farm on the Helshoogte Pass, and over the next two decades Thelema were to have a massive impact on the South African wine scene, making impressive wines that sold out quickly. But they weren’t the first to plant vines in Banhoek: Bartinney had some on their farm as long ago as 1912, although they didn’t make wine here.
One of the star properties in this special place, which is some 8 km from Stellenbosch on the way to Franschhoek is Oldenburg. It’s a beautiful property with 30 hectares of vines spread over several sites at around 400 m in altitude. The split of varieties is around 40% white and 60% red. The whites tend to be planted on the lower lying areas, on Dundee alluvial soils, while the reds are more concentrated on the upper parts with their weathered granite.
The modern story of Oldenburg begins in 2003, when Adrian Vanderspuy decides the time has come to revitalize this estate, which had been left untended for some time. Adrian was actually born in South Africa on a property adjacent to Oldenburg, but left in 1967. Oldenburg belonged to his grandmother’s partner, a German ex-pat called Helmut Hohmann, who’d bought it at an auction in 1955. It was previously called Rondekop (round hill), but Helmut renamed it. When he died in 1993 the property was put into a trust, and sadly the vineyards declined. Adrian replanted all the vineyards over the period 2004–2007, and in 2007 the first wines of the new era were made. But the real new era for Oldenburg began with the 2019 vintage when talented winemaker Nic Van Aarde (pictured top) had his debut vintage: he joined just before, at the end of 2018. I tasted these wines with him, some of which were made by the previous winemaker. The difference is quite significant, and I reckon this is now one of Stellenbosch’s very top wineries.
Oldenburg Chenin Blanc 2019 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Wild ferment in barrel with no malolactic. Lively, mineral and fine with lovely spicy notes alongside bright pear and citrus fruit. Very expressive with a touch of mandarin and nice precision. 93/100
Oldenburg Chenin Blanc 2021 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is fermented in a Stockinger foudre plus 300 litre barrels and some concrete eggs. Very fresh and linear with fine spices, a twist of mineral and lovely precision to the fruit. There’s real finesse here. 94/100
Oldenburg Stoneaxe Syrah 2016 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is supple and fresh with appealing cherry and berry fruit. Ripe and textured with a nice spicy flourish. 92/100
Oldenburg Stoneaxe Syrah 2019 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Wild ferment, one-third whole bunch. Fine, floral, peppery and bright with some precision. Vibrant and expressive, showing great balance. 95/100
Oldenburg Cabernet Franc 2015 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Gravelly, spicy, leafy with nice weight. Some spiciness and lots of blackcurrant fruit, with some berry and tomato leaf notes. Grainy. 91/100
Oldenburg Cabernet Franc 2020 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Taut and fresh with focused cherry and raspberry fruit and a slight leafy edge. Lovely intensity here: bright and expressive with nice intensity and focus. 94/100
Oldenburg Chardonnay 2021 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Textured and finely spiced with lovely citrus fruit, as well as some pear and spice. This is fine-grained and mealy, and has a nice weight in the mouth. 93/100
Oldenburg Chardonnay 2019 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Citrus and pear fruit with nice mineral undertones. Mealy and focused with some fine spices. Very expressive. 93/100
Oldenburg Per Se Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Fresh and vibrant showing amazing freshness and lovely blackcurrant fruit, with lovely focus. Structured with lovely balance and massive ageing potential. This is serious. 95/100
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