We first met Richard Kershaw, a winemaker and Master of Wine, in 2014 – Richard, originally from the UK, had been making wines in South Africa for many years, but had recently started making his own wines under his own name in Elgin, situated to the west of the Cape. We were suitably impressed, in fact I commented that I hadn’t tasted a finer South African Chardonnay when we first offered his 2012 Chardonnay – amazingly his very first vintage.
Richard had become fascinated by the cooler climate offered by Elgin, a relatively high-altitude region that benefits from the moderating effects of the ocean. Back then, he sourced fruit from five separate vineyards; since then, he has expanded his sources to include areas outside Elgin, as well as sub-dividing his vineyards to focus on plots with specific soil types and specific clones. These have become the focus of his Clonal Selection range. You might get the impression that Richard is a highly detailed person – and that is very much the case; he is clearly fascinated by the intricacies of matching vineyard and clone if it leads to elevated quality. That sense of drive and perfectionism is common to many great winemakers and explains why Richard’s wines have gone from strength to strength since his very first release. I should add that there is a distinctly Burgundian feel to his wines, and this is intentional; Richard’s vineyards are planted with Burgundian Chardonnay clones, and he employs the barrels of Burgundian coopers for his wines.
So why didn’t we follow up our initial offer of his Chardonnay back in 2014? Well, it was simply a question of distribution – he appointed a new agent, and it was no longer commercially viable for Atlas. Fortunately, such arrangements don’t last forever, and his wines have arrived with a new partner, and Atlas has gained access once more. It doesn’t always work out this way, but when the wines are as good as this, and impress me to this extent, I am very pleased when it does! I tasted the following two 2018s just recently and stylistically they show so differently and offer complete vindication for Richard’s site selective approach. 2018 was a relatively dry vintage with significant variation between day and night temperatures slowing ripening and aiding the retention of aromas and acidity.
The Clonal Selection is an Elgin Chardonnay which shows a fine ripeness with plenty of stone fruit – nectarine and white peach, and an impressive complexity with notes of toasted nut and lees. What sets it apart from so many examples is the enlivening note of acidity that comes through to the finish creating a sense of poise and precision. The GPS Series Chardonnay is from the Lower Duivenhoks River – it is grown on limestone soils, which are uncommon to the Western Cape. The resultant wine shows a more citrus-oriented palate with a terrific acidity and notes of smoky minerals – a beautiful, mouthwatering example. These are very classy Chardonnay that will age well over the next decade if required, but they can easily be enjoyed early on.
I have included Neal Martin’s reviews below. In the introduction to his review, he bemoaned the complex labels of the top bottlings, but concluded that, intricate labelling aside, the wines are outstanding: ‘I had to be careful not to mix up the assorted labels specified by soil type and geographic coordinates. God knows how they are supposed to trip off your tongue when asking the sommelier for a bottle. However, once you overcome identifying exactly what you are drinking, then the tremendous quality makes it all worthwhile.’