DISCOVER THE DRIFT ESTATE WINES
Embraced by a mind-blowing biodiversity of indigenous plant and animal life, The Drift Estate sits halfway up the southern-most mountain range in South Africa only a few kilometers from the southern oceans. The mountain on which we sit was formed 330 million years ago when Antarctica crashed into ancient Africa. Because of our elevation at the southern extremity of the Overberg valley, this area is called The Overberg Highlands.
The soil, our bedrock of winemaking dreams, is different from anything else on this planet. It has been formed over the last 330 million years and is a unique mix of uplifted sandstone, decomposed granite and limestone, kneaded by time into the original African silica, iron-rich clay and shale.
Our weather further differentiates the estate. At altitude, so far south, the cold, ocean-borne winds scour our slopes and batter our vines, encouraging tiny, mightily concentrated berries. These in turn lead to unique, delicious wines.
We also farm in a politically charged environment where many South Africans, through a legacy of colonialism, slavery and apartheid (and more recently) government incompetence and corruption do not have access to land ownership. As a result, there is a strong desire for land to be confiscated without compensation and given to those disadvantaged prior to 1994.
At the last ANC conference in December 2017 it was agreed that confiscation of land in this way should be an adopted national policy. The cynical and corrupt alike are rubbing their hands.
But perhaps most determining of all is our business environment. The Drift Estate is an African farm – one without any tangible government support or subsidy. While we also harvest our own organic vegetables, olive oil and honey, our primary focus is crafting and selling very special wine, made in tiny volumes.
Somehow it works. I believe we are successful because we choose great partners and because we view our end consumer of our estate wine as one of our tribe.
Ultimately this project is an education in generational thinking. It’s a family focus. Sometimes, it’s a frank reflection of personal failure. But the mistakes and disappointments are only the slippery steps up a beautiful mountain slope. This is farming, after all. When you pause for breath and look around at the view, the stumbling is forgotten. You realise you are still going forward and upward for all the right reasons. What a privilege. Your eyes and nose and lungs are flooded with freshness and this seeps into your soul. Your weariness disappears. You feel more. You sense more. You can’t help smiling, and it starts in your heart. Life, and this clamorous endeavour called living, are put into perspective.
This is viticulture on the edge – simply put these are extreme mountain vineyards grown in a remote, wild place. As a result they have the ability to make astounding wine.
The Drift Farm provides a variety of altitudes, slopes, aspects and soil types; all of which add to the complexity of the wine we make, but it is the extreme weather, bitterly cold in winter and surprisingly cool in summer that creates the real difference.
We do not use any chemical fertilisers or pesticides on The Drift Farm, rather preferring compost as a fertiliser. Our vineyards are in conversion to full organic practices. Our olive orchards and vegetables have been fully organically certified since 2012.
To take advantage of specific soil types, angle and aspect of slope, etc. we have planted small, irregular shaped vineyards of various sizes. These are not what one would consider “commercially viable” either in size, or layout. However, if you want to make amazing wine, it starts with where and how you plant the vineyard.
Each vineyard is fermented and matured separately, before either being bottled as a registered single vineyard or being blended together to craft the final wine.
Each vineyard has been given the name of a maternal ancestor in our family tree, starting with my wife, Penelope, whose maiden name was Passmore.
Our vineyards are root-fed with earthworm tea from our own earthworm farm, and we make extensive use of compost and mulch to suppress weeds and create a naturally cool and moist environment for earthworms. The earthworms not only aerate the soil but bring life into the soil.
Healthy, life-enriched soil makes for healthy vines – and in these extreme growing conditions, the vines need to be strong to survive. We never use chemical fertilisers primarily because this unbalances the inherent chemical make-up of the soil and we would then not get a true reflection of the energy of the land in the final wine.
We also have an agreement with neighbouring farms not to use chemical sprays on the adjoining wheat lands.
Each marriage of vineyard site to variety has been carefully planned to provide us with subtly different wines, which when blended will contribute to layers and layers of complexity. Each vineyard’s character adds another nuance to the overall effect.
We believe modern humans have lived on the estate for at least 100 000 years, long before our ancient ancestors trekked up Africa and into Europe. Visual evidence of habitation, hunting, fishing and farming stretch back to at least 10 000 years.
An equitable climate and fresh water are obvious benefits, but there must have been something else as well. Impossible to prove scientifically, but I believe the energy of the place played a significant role. It still does so today. It’s the magic – the combination of comforting geographic beauty and presence. It is the way the sun creeps into kloofs and lights up the granite ramparts of the mountain. It’s the wildlife responding to our custodianship; the birdlife providing a constantly uplifting musical background to our work. It’s how the wind fills the valley and clears your head. Often on walks around the estate or up in the mountains something unexplained happens – a tingling heat seeps through the souls of your shoes and up your spine.
My main focus is to capture this energy in a bottle of wine.
Our winemaking style is based on three philosophical foundations –
- Grow perfectly ripe grapes from happy vines,
- Obsessive hygiene in the cellar,
- Management of truculent tannins through extremely soft, ancient winemaking practices.
In this way we can reflect the energy of our special terroir.
“ I believe we are successful because we choose great partners and because we view our end consumer of our estate wine as one of our tribe.”
– BRUCE JACK –