Fresh off a Springbok Rugby World Cup 2023 final win, the Vilafonté new vintage release on November 1 2023 for their Series C 2021 could not have been better timed. A time for celebration indeed for our sons of our soil, as well as the raising a glass or four to the new vintages released from Vilafonté’s soils.
Vilafonté has been around for 27 years, which is young in the years of wine making, but the name harks back to times of old. While many of us have enjoyed the dark berry and spice notes in a glass of the farm’s better-known wine, Seriously Old Dirt, the name’s origin is also very interesting and gives us a better understanding of the fame.
One of the three co-founders of Vilanfonté, Dr Phil, (not the Oprah one), Dr Phil Freese did his PhD on the ancient soils of the world and how they affect the greatest wines of the world. In his research he found that the oldest soils of the world were in Africa; he did further research in the Cradle of Humankind. In addition, he discovered that of the oldest of the oldest soil types in Africa, there is one particular soil type that is the oldest of all, and that soil type is called, Vilafontes. As an American, when Dr Phil was describing this old soil type, he said, “that’s some seriously old dirt”.
If you love a good play on words, as much as a great red blend, Arlene Mains, head winemaker of Seriously Old Dirt, has done it again with the Seriously Old Dirt 2021. Mike Ratcliffe, co-founder and managing partner of Vilafonté, was thrilled to add that it’s already seen global recognition with Wine Spectator in the US naming Seriously Old Dirt by Vilanfonté as the only South African red in the, “100 Global Values” feature and with a 92 point score. This wine received an even higher 94 points when reviewed by Greg Sherwood.
While this is often the better-known wine from the farm, it also has the Series C and Series M. The Series C 2021 was released on November 1 2023 to excellent ratings as well. With strong notes of blackberries, hints of violets, herbs, vanilla and spice, this wine has a great fruit definition and bright acidity. Christian Eedes says of Vilafonté Series C 2021 that it is “a wine of structure and poise — succulent on entry, properly dry on the finish. Alc: 14.5%.” One can almost imagine this wine as a person leaving a dinner party with that description.
Series C 2021 was recently voted best wine in the Wine Advocate SA Report my Anthony Mueller.
Eedes has also rated this latest vintage 96 points, saying, “This may be the best vintage of this wine ever.”
Too soon to call it perhaps as they have big plans at Vilafonté, well into their 100-year plan, as Ratcliffe speaks of passionately. Vilafonté has big moves planned over this time, with the vineyards, people, water, soil as well as the wine, and Ratcliffe is clear to add that they ask themselves how they will make it all, “tangibly and obviously better”.
This relatively small team of Ratcliffe, the owner, Edward Pietersen, head wine grower, Chris de Vries, head winemaker: Series C, and Arlene Mains, head winemaker: Seriously Old Dirt, really likes to dig deep into what they do. Part of the team are pursuing PhDs in some rather interesting topics that will influence how they make wine now and more so in the future. Five years ago the Vilafonté team decided to redesign and reimagine what irrigation is. Again, they do enjoy getting dirty at Vilafonté with the acronym for their own proprietary irrigation system being DIRT (direct injection to root technology), which is an underground, direct to the root irrigation system and the property has retrofitted almost 60% of their vineyards and their water consumption has dropped to about 70%. They noted a drop in water consumption, but also an increase in vine quality with the irrigation system going direct to root.
Ratcliffe says that for the first 10 years of Vilafonté they always viewed it as a project, a project to uncover what to express with these ancient soils. Twenty-seven years on and succession and legacy are ever present on their minds and part of the big plan at Vilafonté, perhaps that is why people are form a major pillar to their future plans.
While South Africa remains euphoric over the Springbok win, the team at Vilafonté are no doubt equally ebullient over their new vintage releases and their 100-year plan, all deeply rooted in these ancient soils. We look forward to seeing and tasting what Vilafonté puts forward well into the future and what Ratcliffe so aptly put will be Vilanfonté’s, “best expression”.