15 June 2014 by Andrea Weiss

Sijnn – a winery close to the southern tip of Africa

Down a windy dirt road, high above the Breede River in the Western Cape, you’ll find one of South Africa’s more unusual wineries.

Architect-turned-winemaker David Trafford prepares for a wine tasting at Sijnn winery

In France it would be called a monopole (an area or ward with only a single winery to its name). It's a fact that architect-turned-winemaker David Trafford is quietly chuffed about. 

Known as Sijnn winery, this little estate with only 16ha under cultivation is the only winery in the district of Malgas and known for experimenting with interesting and unusual cultivars. 

It’s a spectacular location. From here you look out on to the Potberg, with its breeding colony of Cape vultures, and you have a commanding view of the Breede River ('Sijnn' is the old Khoisan name for the river).

Not far from here is De Hoop Nature Reserve, and down the road from that is Agulhas, the southern tip of Africa.

Although the farm is about 140ha in total, David and his partners have only used old cultivated farmlands and left the indigenous Renosterveld (a kind of highly endangered fynbos vegetation) intact.

From here, the river winds down to its mouth for a further 25km, but as the crow flies it's only 15km to the sea, which moderates the temperature of this otherwise harsh, dry land. 

The view of the Breede River Valley from Sijnn winery, with the Potberg behind The view of the Breede River Valley from Sijnn winery, with the Potberg behind

Glance around and you’ll notice the soil is full of rounded stones scattered across the remains of an ancient, elevated alluvial plain. 

It was these rolled ‘pudding’ stones that first caught David’s eye and made him think that the terroir here might be suitable for winemaking.

‘It reminded me of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in France,’ he says as he uncorks the first of several bottles for us to taste. 

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is one of France’s most famous winemaking areas located on the banks of the Rhône River. Its soil, too, is characterised by river stones, or ‘ galets’ as they are known in France.

So David and his partners decided to branch out from their original winery, De Trafford, in the mountains outside Stellenbosch, and acquire land here.

Ten years ago they started planting vines in the unforgiving soil. They opted for low-growth bush vines that could cope with the low sporadic rainfall and would provide shelter for the grapes. 

Because of the local conditions and because they were aiming for quality wine, their yield per hectare is only around three to four tonnes, compared with the South African average of 15 tonnes. Consequently, their output is small and the wines expensive (most in the R150 to R190 a bottle range). 

And sought-after. The winery has already garnered mentions in the international  Wine Spectator and Irish Times.

When we taste the first wine, simply called White 2012, it’s something of a revelation – a delicious barrel-fermented blend of Chenin Blanc and Viognier (only one hectare is planted with this cultivar). 

What follows is Saignee, an unusual rosé made from Mourvedre, Syrah and Trincadeira (not a cultivar well known in these parts).

Sijnn winery does tastings on Saturday mornings Sijnn winery does tastings on Saturday mornings

As David takes us through the rest of his bouquet of wines on offer, including the Sijnn 2009, a flagship field blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira, it’s clear that he’s on to something pretty special here. 

‘Natural, handcrafted’ is how the wines are described. Just like the winery.

If you're in the area, Sijnn winery holds tastings on Saturdays between 10am and 1pm. It's possibly the best chance you have of getting your hands on their wine.

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