Springfield – Life from Stone
A wine with a quirky name from the Robertson Valley two hours east of Cape Town has become an iconic South African table wine. Life from Stone is an exceptional Sauvignon Blanc produced on Springfield Estate by a family with roots in the earliest beginnings of the South African wine industry.
WRITTEN BY RUSSEL WASSERFALL
IMAGES COURTESY SPRINGFIELD WINES ESTATE
In a beautiful valley two hours’ drive from Cape Town, a ninth-generation family of winemakers produces iconic South African wines.
The last thing I’d think to do before fleeing my home in France during a vicious round of religious persecution would be to get a few vine cuttings. Yet this is precisely what a Huguenot settler named Bruère did. He was about to take ship for the new Cape Colony in 1688, and as he blew out the last candle, he suddenly thought: “I’d better get some vine clippings. Not sure if there’s wine in Africa.”
He probably had the thought in French, but I’m paraphrasing for effect. The happy fact is that Monsieur Bruére kept the vines alive on the sea voyage to an uncertain future. Three centuries later, South Africa’s robust wine industry owes him, and other French Huguenots like him, a debt of gratitude.
I too owe a debt of thanks, as their descendants make my favourite everyday Sauvignon Blanc. Life from Stone from Springfield was the wine that introduced me to quality Sauvignon Blanc and I return to its fond embrace whenever I see it on a wine list or a store shelf.
The wine is imbued with a flinty minerality which comes from grapes grown on a section of the estate where the soils comprise up to 70% quartz. Of course the quartz has been broken down through millennia of wear into workable soils, whose character is reflected in the fruit.
Wine is made in the vineyard, and the careful treatment of the bunches results in an excellent fruit-forward Cabernet Sauvignon.
Ninth-generation descendants of the Bruére family, the Bruwers have been farming on Springfield since 1898. Today, it is the most beautiful farm in the Robertson Valley with sensitively restored buildings that house a generous tasting room overlooking a large dam that feeds many of their vines. It is a place of tradition and heritage, and the source of some astonishingly good wines.
The cellar was established in 1902, and from the very first bottle, they have made handcrafted wines that are produced as naturally as possible. To this day, the winemaking process is kept direct and uncomplicated, much as it was back at the turn of the last century.
Of course, the family has moved with the times and uses modern equipment where it makes sense and doesn’t impact natural processes. But their wines offer an honest expression of the estate’s terroir. Fancy machines can measure how much water is in the soil, but at the end of the day the farmer needs to look at the vine, see if it is under stress, and act accordingly.
Rest is needed to get the best from the wines after the trauma of the bottling line.
In the cellar too, there is technology to assist, but Springfield wines are made traditionally and according to ancient methods. Most of the wines are fermented using the natural, wild yeasts found on the grape skins, hence the catchy name of another of their wines: ‘Wild Yeast Chardonnay’.
Fermenting with natural yeast is an unpredictable and volatile process that takes months and is impossible to guide or control. It has also led to the loss of a vintage from time to time, but this goes with the territory if you are true to a code.
The ‘code’ of Springfield and the Bruwer family is clear, it is enshrined in the motto; ‘Made on Honour’ that guides their winemaking philosophy. It affects every facet of life on the farm. Every day, thousands of tiny decisions need to be made on the estate, and each one must be the best decision for the wine.
It is not always the easiest path, nor the most comfortable for the accountant, but they are determined to only ever release a vintage that has greatness, and nothing less. The family’s honour ensures that they will.
A final touch of care which takes a little extra time and dedication is the signature wrapping of every bottle of Springfield wine.
A basic philosophy of minimal intervention is followed throughout the wine making process. No pumps, crushers or presses are used in the red wine cellar. Instead, bunches of grapes are transported using a gravity flow system and fermented whole, to limit any spoilage or damage to the delicate berry. This is the basis of the name ‘Whole Berry Cabernet Sauvignon’.
Fermentation with natural yeasts, racking and one year’s maturation in oak barrels results in a velvety wine with softer tannins and classical varietal characteristics. It is bottled unfiltered and unfined, sometimes resulting in a fine sediment in the dregs. This is easily dealt with by decanting the bottle before you drink it. A fruity cab, it can be enjoyed immediately upon release, but does well if cellared for 3 to 5 years.
The care that goes into the production of ‘Life from Stone’ and the other sauvignon blanc, ‘Special Cuvée’ is definitely there to taste in every bottle. The team harvests the grapes at night, when the temperature in the Robertson valley is around 12°C. Starting at 2am, they only stop when the sun is fully risen to make sure the grapes stay cool and fresh, locking in volatile aromas and protecting them from oxydisation.
Within 20 minutes of being picked, the grapes are in our cellar in temperature-controlled tanks. Once they are crushed and vinification begins, the winemaker adds more complexity by leaving the juice on the primary lees for 100 days. Finally, after bottling, he lets the wines rest and recover from the trauma of running through a bottling line for around three months.
Apart from the care, honour and tradition that goes inside every bottle, a unique signature is added to the outside. A further step in the journey to the table is the wrapping in a fine, quality rice paper. This wrapping is a signature of Springfield and something I look out for whenever I scan shelves when shopping for wine. Even as I write this, I’m thinking of unwrapping another bottle of ‘Life from Stone’ and popping it in the fridge to go with a light supper later this evening.
Available at Vinmonopolet
10813501 Springfield Estate Pinot Noir, kr 319,90
Pinot Noir 100%
9523901 Springfield Estate The Work of Time 2013, kr 299,90
Merlot 24%, Petit Verdot 2%, Cabernet Sauvignon 29%, Cabernet Franc 45%
2676201 Springfield Méthode Ancienne Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, kr 459,90
Cabernet Sauvignon 100%
2124801 Springfield Estate Miss Lucy 2017, kr 189,90
Pinot Gris 19%, Sauvignon Blanc 46%, Sémillon 35%
1463601 Springfield Estate Life from Stone Sauvignon Blanc 2019, kr 209,90
Sauvignon Blanc 100%