Peter F May
BellaOnline's Wine Editor
Le Vin de Francois - A Remarkable Wine
Vin de Francois is an extraordinary wine. It is a blend of the best barrels from top wineries chosen and crafted by an award winning winemaker recognised as an expert in the variety. The variety is Pinotage which, like its parent Pinot Noir, challenges winemakers yet when made well is sublime.
Vin de Francois is a personal project of Francois Naudé, a pharmacist who changed careers to make wine in 1991 and who was the viticulturist and winemaker at L’Avenir Estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa from 1992 till 2005 when the winery was sold to the Laroche international wine company.
Francois’ retirement was brief. He was in demand as a consultant and while advising wineries he decided to make his own wine. He selects and buys barrels to blend into his Vin de Francois. The wine is sold by auction at an invitation only black-tie dinner.
The wines are not available retail unless a successful bidder sells them on. I was lucky to buy a bottle from a winery that had purchased more cases than they needed.
With such a special wine it’s tempting to keep it as long as possible, but I decided to broach my only bottle of the 2009 vintage. At 6½ years since the vintage the wine is still young but tastes wonderful.
The 2009 vintage was mostly cold and wet and the harvest was two weeks later than usual, but the grapes reached phenolic ripeness with small berries giving good colour intensity because of the juice to skin ratio, and quality was deemed excellent.
Francois chose 10 barrels from 7 wineries to produce a maximum of 250 cases.
The wineries are a roll-call of top Pinotage producers. Beyerskloof (made by winemaker Anri Truter), Delheim (Brenda van Niekerk) and L’Avenir (Tinus Els) each supplied two barrels, L’Avenir came from vineyards originally planted by Francois. One barrel each came from Kanonkop Estate (Abrie Beeslaar), Lanzerac (Wynand Lategan), Simonsig (Johan Malan) and Freedom Hill (Francois Naudé and Kowie du Toit). All the wines come from Stellenbosch apart from Freedom Hill which is in Paarl.
I rate Francois Naudé highly as a winemaker. When at L’Avenir his wines were made from those grapes grown on the estate. At the time of his retirement he’d been a Pinotage Top 10 winner more times than anyone else, and had won the Perold Trophy for world’s best Pinotage three times at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London.
But with Vin de Francois he can and does have his choice of wines from the top vineyards and top winemakers that he blends into a world class wine by any standard.
If you visit the Cape winelands ask your contacts if you can get your hands on this remarkable wine.
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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.
Peter F May paid for his bottle of Vin de François