Shawn Thomson, winemaker at Du Toitskloof Wines in Rawsonville and winner of the only Platinum Award for Red Muscadel handed out at the recent Muscadel SA Awards, says the making of a quality Muscadel is all about timing to get optimum flavour and complexity in the finished product.
“Like all good wines, a fine Muscadel requires great grapes,” says Thomson who won his Platinum Award for the Du Toitskloof Red Muscadel 2014. “The Breedekloof Valley, where Du Toitskloof is situated, is the ideal region for growing the Muscat de Frontignan grape from which this wine is made. These superb grapes come from the farm Dagbreek, owned by farmer Peet Smith. Plenty of sunshine, alluvial soils and a healthy, natural environment allows our Muscat de Frontignan vines to ripen to a state of sunny sweetness.”
But once the grape are harvested and the process of making Muscadel begins, the winemaker’s skill is tested to the maximum.
“To capture the full ripe sweet complexity of the grape, making Muscadel requires that we stop the fermentation process by adding wine spirit,” explains Thomson. “But deciding when to add the spirit demands tact – adding it too early without giving the grape juice enough time on the skins does not allow the wine to reach a state of completeness. Leave the juice to start fermenting in full, and you don’t have a Muscadel.”
So after the grapes were crushed and destemmed they were cooled to 7°C to 9°C to extend skin contact for as long as possible. “That’s where the character comes from.” says Thomson, “You thus want decent skin time, in my case if I can get it on the skins for a week I know the wine is going to be a good one”.
The tanks were rotated as frequently as possible to extract more sugar and character from the berries. The sugar level was tested three times per day to ensure the grapes did not ferment more than 0.5° Balling. Fermentation was stopped by adding wine spirit to the juice, after which the wine was then stabilised and filtered before bottling.
“That’s what we love about Muscadel,” says Thomson, “it is a rewarding, satisfying wine but expresses the natural sweetness of the grape. Sipping a good Muscadel must be like biting into a bunch of ripe grapes and it is truly a wine expressing the fruit in its fullest state.
“South Africa’s Muscadel wines are the best in the world, and to be the only winner of SA Red Muscadel’s Platinum award is truly an honour."