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Franschhoek Sémillon 2018

The vineyards for the Damascene Franschhoek Sémillon 2018 were planted in 1942 and 1962, with the majority of the fruit coming from the latter. A blend of blanc and gris, bright aromatics of fresh citrus and white blossom peel off to reveal layers of honeyed stone fruit as well as a dense, savoury lanolin note. The palate is creamy and round with pithy grapefruit joining apricot and peach at its crystalline core. The acidity is a taut line, along which crushed stone and smoky roasted hazelnut stretch into a lengthy, oily finish.

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Semillon Gris: South Africa’s old-vine oddity

There’s something strange happening in South Africa’s Semillon vineyards. Green bunches turn red the one year, then back to green the next. Hung like Christmas baubles on gnarled bushvines, the shapeshifting clusters are an enduring mystery.

Viticultural juggernaut and protector of old vines, Rosa Kruger thought she was losing her mind when she first noticed this phenomenon known as red Semillon or Semillon Gris.

‘I started marking the mutated [red] vines while taking cuttings for planting material,’ she explained when I asked her about the variety. ‘The following year the bunches on the vine would be green again. I thought I was making a mistake, but after a couple of years I realised that Semillon Gris can actually mutate back to Blanc. In general though, the Gris vineyards are fairly consistent once they’ve mutated.’
Semillon Gris is largely unique to the Cape winelands and appears to be an old-vine oddity. One of the Cape’s oldest varieties, Semillon was widely planted in the early 1800s. It was so ubiquitous it was simply called Groen Druif translating to ‘green grape’ from Afrikaans.

These days plantings of Semillon have fallen massively, though there are still pockets of heritage vineyards, some more than 100 years old, carefully guarded by viticulturists and winemakers.

In the early 1800s it’s said that 80% of the vines in South Africa were thought to be Semillon. By the mid-1800s half of these had mutated into Semillon Gris.

Jean Smit (right) of Damascene

Green and Red

Is the secret the Cape’s sunshine? One such sun-soaked day before the Covid-19 lockdown, I made my way to Swartland for the weekend. My first stop was to track down Andrea Mullineux of Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines to pull at the threads of this red-skinned mystery.

It’s big sky and big sun country here, and the aspect of Roundstone Farm – tucked into a mountainside in Swartland’s heartland – is tilted just right to soak up those life-giving rays.

Since purchasing Roundstone in 2014, Andrea and husband Chris have planted Syrah, Chenin Blanc, Cinsault, Clairette Blanche, Roussanne, Maccabeu and Semillon Gris. The vineyards fan over a bedrock of deep schist.