PIONEERING SIJNN WINE ESTATE CELEBRATES 20TH ANNIVERSARY

One of South Africa’s remotest wine farms, Sijnn Estate (pronounced ‘seine’), has just celebrated its 20th anniversary.  To mark the occasion the winemaker Charla Bosman (nee Haasbroek) visited Edinburgh to host a memorable vertical tasting of wines back to Sijnn’s founding vintage.

Slim petite youthful Bosman looks like an unusual custodian of such an isolated estate, which is one hour to the nearest town and three hours east of Stellenbosch.  But Bosman has flourished here in this wild raw terrain since she began in 2014.  Her wines are now critically acclaimed, last year she was named ‘Young Winemaker of the Year’ by Tim Atkin MW in his special South Africa Report – and she has even found time to raise two young children.

Bosman is in her element here, but clear about challenges she faces.  “It is extreme living – our climate in Malgas is very harsh, dry and windy so the vines really have to struggle – but our approach is to work with what we have and farm as naturally as possible”, she says.  “I am more of a farmer than a winemaker – and it is the farming part that excites me”.

Sijnn was founded in 2003 when Stellenbosch-based architect-turned winemaker David Trafford and his wife Rita planted the first vines in the region.  The Traffords had discovered the land, 30km from the Indian ocean, whilst holidaying nearby in 2000.  The large riverstones, shale and schist soils reminded them of Chateauneuf du Pape and Douro.

They dug 200 soil profiles before purchasing an old 125 hectare ostrich farm and clearing the surrounding ‘fynbos’ bush.  The name ‘Sijnn’ means riverbank in the local Khoisan dialect, as the estate is close to the mouth of the Breede river.  The first wines were made in 2007 and for the first seven years Trafford trucked grapes to his Stellenbosch estate.  In 2014 he built his own winery on Sijnn estate in the heart of its 24 hectare vineyard – and employed Stellenbosch-trained Bosman to take charge.

“It is a very interesting piece of land, hardly land actually – more rock than anything else”, says Bosman.  “Our biggest challenge is weeds as we don’t want them to suck up what little water we have, so we pack haybales around the vines to retain moisture”.

With a low annual rainfall at 180-300mm, droughts are common (eg in 2016 and 2017).  In Malgas the diurnal shift is dramatic, ranging from 7 to 32 degrees in one day, which helps retain natural acidity in grapes.  “Vintage variation is not that great as we have such marginal weather here”, says Bosman.

It is relatively flat and very windy with the local ‘south easter’ wind literally ‘pumping’ from August to February, which keeps fungi at bay, but all vines have to be planted as low density bushvines.  If it rains, snails are a problem, but the team of ducks at Sijnn patrol the vineyards to keep things under control.

When Trafford planted vines here, the idea was to make mediterranean field-blends with varieties tough enough to copy with dry conditions.  Whites are based on Chenin Blanc – with Rhone grapes Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne – as well as Verdelho and Vermentino.  Last year Bosman planted Assyrtiko, a Greek grape which thrives in dry conditions, with high hopes for its success.

For the reds, which make up 60% of production, Syrah is the main grape alongside Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre, Grenache, Cinsault, Malbec, Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira.  “Tempranillo had been ordered from the nursery, but two years later they called to say that the vines were actually Trincadeira instead”, says Bosman.

Trincadeira is a Portuguese grape rarely seen as a varietal wine, but it has found a good home in Malgas and is one of Bosman’s favourite grapes.  Her challenge with the grape is that berries burst in hot weather, so she needs to pick at the right time.  Sijnn’s Trincadeira is very impressive in its first vintage 2007, but current 2021 shows it is a grape to watch.

“We cannot get to the lab to test grapes, so we rely on taste”, says Bosman.  In the winery everything is made as naturally as possible: all varieties for blends are picked and vinified separately, crushed and destemmed to open top fermenters before racking into barrel for 18-24 months in a mix of French and Hungarian oak.  When it comes to bottling, everything is done by hand: filling, labelling and waxing.

What I enjoy about Sijnn’s wines is their combination of rich succulent lush ripeness, fresh natural acidity and potential for longevity.  The wines are unlike anything else I have tasted in South Africa – and most definitely speak of a sense of place.  Due to the success of the venture, the authorities have now created a Malgas appellation specifically for Sijnn – who are currently the only producer here in this remote, ruggedly beautiful landscape.

Whites:

SIJNN MALGAS ESTATE WHITE 2019  ***STAR BUY***

£26.99 Raeburn Fine Wines

Sijjn’s best white to date: Chenin Blanc with Viognier and Roussanne blend with honey notes, creamy rich fruits, good acidity, minerally, spice and intensity.

SIJNN MALGAS VERMENTINO 2022 

£26.99 Raeburn Fine Wines

Bright attractive slight spritz, citric fruits with zippy acidity – first time made as varietal wine.

SIJNN MALGAS CHENIN BLANC 2021

£26.99 Raeburn Fine Wines

Impressive rich succulent fruits with a pithy zesty palate, good intensity and hints of salinity.

Reds:

SIJNN MALGAS LOW PROFILE RED 2020

£20.99 Raeburn Fine Wines

Soft approachable cherry-fruited with minerally edge; easy fruit forward style

SIJNN MALGAS TRINCADEIRA 2021 ***STAR BUY***

£28.99 Raeburn Fine Wines

So juicy and fine, raspberry fruits with herbal tea-leaf undertones; fresh natural acidity and delicate at just 12% alcohol.

SIJNN MALGAS ESTATE RED 2018 

£31.99 Raeburn Fine Wines

Five grape blend of Syrah, Trincadeira, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre and Touriga Nacional: fynbos and lavender aroma, plummy flavours with meaty leathery palate, soft fine tannins.

 

All wines available from Raeburn Fine Wines www.raeburnfinewines.com 0131 343 1159

By Rose Murray Brown MW    Published in The Scotsman 28 October 2023

 

Join Rose’s Escorted Wine Tour to South America in 2024 www.rosemurraybrown.com

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