Jamie Goode and Treve Ring taste the latest releases of this exciting Cap Classique producer.
Pieter Ferreira, who for a long time has been winemaker at Graham Beck, is known in the business as Mr. Bubbles. He’s been very important in the Cap Classique scene (the term used to describe South Africa’s traditional-method sparkling wines) and now Graham Beck is a sparkling-only house making two million bottles a year, spanning a range of price points, but all high quality.
Now he makes traditional method sparkling wines under his own name, although this brand is actually owned by Ann Ferreira, his wife, for reasons I’ll soon explain. In September 2022, Pieter and Ann hosted Ring and me at their home for a tasting of these wines.
How did the project first come about? ‘In 2011 we realised that Pieter was racing towards retirement age at Graham Beck, which was 60 at the time,’ explains Ann. Sixty is pretty young these days, so what was Pieter going to do when he retired? It made sense to start thinking about a sparkling wine project in his own name, but because making serious fizz takes time, this would have to be initiated several years before the first wines were ready for the market. ‘We approached Graham Beck who was still alive at that point and he said no problem,’ says Ann.
In 2012 they started by making and laying down a Blanc de Blancs, and 2013 added a Rosé. The Cuvée, a blend, came in 2015. But embarking on a project like this requires investing quite a bit of capital. ‘In 2014 we did a serious revisit to see if we could make it,’ says Pieter. They decided to go for it and Ann used her entire annuity money to start the company.
Then a speedbump. Graham Beck died, and the new CEO stopped everyone from making their own wines. This was a problem that had been faced by John Laubscher, another sparkling wine producer, whose brand was Silverthorn. He worked at Steenberg, and they offered to buy the brand or he’d have to leave. Silverthorn was already well established, so he decided to leave and focus on that. But Pieter was very attached to Graham Beck and didn’t want to leave, so the work around was that Ann owns the brand, and it’s her project, which it very much has become.
The Graham beck retirement age has come and gone, and the company changed the rules, so Pieter is still there. He’s not allowed to be seen to marketing his namesake brand in any way, but he is allowed to act as winemaker.
They make 2500 bottles of each of the three wines. ‘Our holy grail would be Champagne,’ says Pieter. ‘We want to focus on making what we believe is the best.’ To this end they only use the cuvee from the press, which is the first 400 litres, and all the wines spend six years on lees. The grapes are sourced from different areas, but the Blanc de Blanc always has a majority Robertson Chardonnay in it because of the limestone and the extreme diurnal shift. ‘Everyone who makes serious Blanc de Blancs tends to use some Robertson fruit,’ says Pieter. Ann has just sourced some Pinot Blanc from Tulbagh and they are experimenting with a 100% Pinot Blanc.
Everything is extra brut (3-6 g/l dosage, with most of the wines around 3 g/l). ‘Extended lees ageing assists us to show wines of lower dosage,’ says Pieter. They also keep the wines on corks for 6 months before release. ‘We decided we wanted to make a wine that suits us,’ says Ann.
‘Fortunately, stylistically we love the same things,’ says Pieter. He says that although he’s the winemaker they do everything together. Ann has 30+ years experience in the wine industry, and this project allows her to get in the vineyards, work on the blends, deciding the dosage levels, and everything in between.
Initially they decided to start with a firm footprint in South Africa, focusing on the domestic market. But then lockdown and alcohol bans came in, which stopped them in their tracks. The delay on sales meant they discovered time on the cork is great, especially for the rosé. Now they are focusing on export, too.
Pieter Ferreira Cuvée Extra Brut 2016
Durbanville, Slanghoek and Stanford. 2015 was the first vintage of this and the first two vintages were predominantly 60:40 Chardonnay to Pinot Noir, but from 2017 they have done 70% Chardonnay. Extra Brut style. This has a little bit of colour. It’s lively with some pear and citrus fruit, as well as a bit of baked apple and toast. Lovely depth here with some richness, a touch of fruit sweetness and bready depth, and also lovely citrus drive. Such refinement here: it’s a complete, harmonious wine of real depth. 93/100 (JG)
This year’s blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay sees the the Pinot Noir from Paarl (Glen Carlou) and Elgin (Shannon Vineyards), and the Chardonnay from Robertson, crossing soils from limestone to weathered shale to Table Mountain Sandstone. It was fermented and rested on lees in stainless, and rested at least 54 months years on lees. There’s a lovely toasty biscuit note leading to a structural palate with crisp green apple, white blossoms, lemon pith, through a chalky, vibrant finish. 92/100 (TR)
Pieter Ferreira Cuvée Extra Brut 2017
Robertson, Stellenbosch and Napier. Some subtle toasty notes on the nose with pear and citrus fruit. Lively, pure, precise palate with a lovely lime and lemon fruit, with a slight pithiness and some saltiness. This is so pure and fine with nice precision and purity. Linear and precise with a sense of freshness and a hint of cherry and grapefruit on the finish. 94/100 (JG)
With Chardonnay from Robertson, and Pinot Noir off Stellenbosch and Napier, this vintage is showing very chiseled, chalky, pointed, and linear fruit, with lovely Rainier cherry filling a complete core. They upped the Chard to 70% this vintage, where it will remain going forward. 93/100 (TR)
Pieter Ferreira Blanc de Blancs 2016
100% Chardonnay from Robertson, although in some vintages they have sourced from Darling. Full yellow colour, and showing the ripeness of this drought-year vintage. Powerful, crystalline and toasty with intense citrus fruit with a touch of marmalade and spice. Lots of intensity here with boldness and precision. I love the way there’s toastiness, nuts and spice adding richness, but also some precision. 94/100 (JG)
The drought in 2016 worked to concentrate the fruit here, entirely Robertson Chardonnay. Quite chalky, with a focused nose, sweet lemon, green apple, and a lick of anise on the core. Lovely depth and layers here. 92/100 (TR)
Pieter Ferreira Blanc de Blancs 2012
Six years on lees. Complex, taut and lemony with intense citrus fruit, tending to crystalline, with a lovely mineral quality and refined toastiness. Intense and concentrated with lovely acidity and pristine fruit. Age has contributed a hint of marmalade and almond, and there’s a really fine finish. This is beautiful: bracing, intense, complex and finely toasty. 95/100 (JG)
This was their first vintage of Blanc de Blancs, and it’s showing brilliantly at this stage, with wonderful evolution yet still maintaining freshness. Very chalky, with deep layers of toasted biscuit mixed with sweet wild lemon, anise, and a smouldering salinity through the finish. 93/100 (TR)
Pieter Ferreira Rosé 2015
Full orange/pink colour. This is powerful and lively with great acidity and a lovely core of cherry and citrus fruit. It’s bright and intense with some redcurrant. Such precision to this wine with a bit of grip. Really serious with a bit of structure, but also lovely direct fruit. Combines purity and precision. 95/100 (JG)
Pouring a lovely pale salmon hue, 2015 was the first vintage for this rosé. Wild strawberries, raspberries, light biscuit works across a doughy core, with lovely development. Pinot Noir certainly likes more time under cork. After 7 years on lees, this spent 6 months on cork before release.
UK agent: Rakq
Canadian (Ontario) agent: Le Sommelier
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