Alexandra MCC is a 2010 vintage. Tell me a bit about its history, what makes 2010 such a special harvest, the grapes, your process? It’s a blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir. The wine underwent alcoholic fermentation in stainless-steel tanks as well as full malolactic fermentation before it was bottled at the end of 2010. It was then bottle-fermented - matured on lees - for five years prior to dégorgement. This extended lengthy bottle fermentation process gives the wine that extra complexity and depth that I adore in a special prestige cuvée. The style of this wine is very much an expression of my passion and personal taste. On a personal note, I proposed to my wife in the middle of the 2010 harvest, so naming this maiden vintage after our daughter has created a wonderful serendipity.
Many believe that cellar and vineyard practices go hand in hand. However, with the huge costs involved in maintaining estates, we are seeing more and more independent winemakers such as yourself who select their grapes form various growers. Is your style to work in collaboration or do you have your own cellars? A bit of both actually. My late grandfather, NC Krone - one of the great legends of the SA wine industry - told me that I should ‘never try to do everything yourself. Remember that God also likes to make wine’. I believe you already start making the best wines in the vineyards, so it is important to be actively involved and know where your grapes are coming from and, if necessary, adjust your winemaking practices to suit the grapes. I’m in the fortuitous position that I can select the best grapes from the best growers. I’ve identified specific blocks, and in some cases specific rows within those blocks, with my growers and constantly monitor their vineyard practices and specify how I want my grapes to be handled and harvested. In that way, when the grapes arrive at the cellars where I am renting space, the quality of the wine is already expressed in the grapes.
Blind tasting Champagne and other MCCs: where in your mind does Alexandra fit in? That’s a loaded question that could get me into a lot of trouble! My personal preference leans towards beautiful vintage and prestige cuvée Champagne’s, so that has also been guiding my winemaking style and objectives. I would therefore like to think that the Alexandra would compare favourably to most evolved prestige cuvée’s, both Champagne and MCC alike, and I will certainly not be shy to pip it against some of the Grande Marque Champagnes.
Looking at your website, you have been pitching yourself as a winemaker for hire with a few of your own speciality labels in small batches? What’s your next ‘big’ project? I do some winemaking contracts and consultation to pay the bills, and I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of starting my own premium quality boutique brands, which has gained wonderful reception. For me, the most important promise I made to myself is that I would never again work with someone that I did not like or trust. I’m really enjoying what I do now and the passion with which I can make my wines. My next ‘big’ project is still a bit of a secret, but I can say it involves bubbles. Lots and lots of bubbles.
How do you separate yourself from the old family brand and re-establish yourself as brand Matthew Krone the independent? After our family had to leave the farm, it took me quite some time to come to terms with myself and what I actually wanted from life. We built up the old family brand (our surname) into something really special, and I was extremely proud of the quality we produced and the integrity with which we made it. Since we left there has been so many changes at the farm and the wine style and production techniques. I’ve had no contact or input in the old brand, and I feel I would rather disassociate myself from it completely.
In the end I realised that my winemaking heritage was not limited to a place or brand, but rather the winemaking philosophy of my family over the years. I was extremely fortunate to learn winemaking from my father and my grandfather, and they instilled in me a sense of honour and passion in everything I do. My dad always says you must ‘give back more than you take’, and I believe this applies to every facet in life.
The SA consumer is generally looking for something younger and less ‘complicated’. How do you think your 2010 vintage will be received? The majority of our local MCC's are produced with only around 12 months bottle fermentation, and this produces a young fresh style bubbly without much complexity or depth on the palate. The production of MCC is very costly, so from a cash-flow perspective it makes sense to get the wine out as soon as possible. However, it does not give the MCC time to properly develop so that it can be released at optimum. In the Champagne region, the average non-vintage champagne bottle-ferments for around three years, vintage Champagnes for five years and prestige cuvée Champagnes sometimes up to nine years. This gives a wholly different dynamic and taste profile compared to our entry level MCC’s that are released 12 months after being bottled. SA consumers are used to the younger and less ‘complicated’ styles, but as they start to experience more complex bubblies so too does their taste evolve towards the vintage and prestige cuvée’s.
What do you do to relax? Mountain biking with mates around the breath-taking MTB trails in the Cape, and on quiet days just lie in a hammock and read. My wife and I recently bought a small house in Muizenberg so my next challenge is to learn to surf. I’ve already managed to stand up on a board a couple of times, but I think the little kids in the shallows are still laughing at me so I have a way to go yet.
Assuming you get some time between shifts at home, what are you reading at the moment? I always have a book next to my bed and I try to read a chapter or two before going to sleep. However, since our baby came into our lives and with the 2016 harvest happening, I'm normally so tired that I don’t read more than a page or two before I pass out. I’m busy with two books, Catch 22 by Joseph Heller and Plugged by Eion Colfer.
Alexandra launched on February 29 (R260/bottle), and thereafter the next vintage will only appear every leap year — 2020, 2024 and so on. Ancient tradition has it that this is the only time that women can propose to men. Four years is also the perfect time for MCC to bottle-ferment and reach optimum development. Even more reason for us all to start popping those corks.