*This post was originally published on Wine Whiskers – 29 January 2013*
“Like in life, you need a partner who is passionate to make it work” – Tom Breytenbach
These words encompass the philosophy behind the new and very noteworthy Brenaissance Wine and Stud estate situated in Devon Valley, Stellenbosch. Partners in crime, the husband-and-wife team, Tom and Hayley Breytenbach, own and run the newest gem of the valley.
Their story is quite unlike most estates in the winelands; from zero to fully operational in less than a year. The central theme of new beginnings is the essence of their story. They purchased the estate in 2011, developed the venue and accommodation and hosted their own wedding their less than a year later. In 2012 they added the restaurant, Cafe Blanc de Noir, and Brenaissance as it is now was born.
The Breytenbachs are not your typical wine estate owners. While they retained the previous farm owner as farm manager, they do not merely delegate the daily running of the estate to staff, but are involved in every aspect and every detail. This deep involvement imprints their unique style and vision onto every facet of the estate, from the cafe to the wedding venue to the wines.
When Tom tells you about his vineyards and wines, you can’t help but be charmed by the exuberance and passion he radiates. He emphasizes that their focus is on viticulture: “We grow them right, we give them (the winemakers) the power to make it right”. And yes, winemakers. Plural. They have 5. Having gone on an 18-month expedition to taste their way around South Africa’s wine producers, they noticed a trend; that every estate or cellar has one or two amazing wines, with the rest just not matching up. The observation makes sense, as it’s not unheard of that winemakers often have preferred cultivars to work with. So instead of hiring one winemaker to make all their wines, they hired five – each to craft his best possible product.
As for the Bordeaux-style blend, the Full House (R148) is all about the blending. And how do you know you’ve got the right blend? “It’s just a feeling”, says Tom. Seamless. Synergy. Sumptuous. A Cabernet-driven blend, with 3 other varietals, the wine is more than equal to the sum of its parts.
Brenaissance offers two estate wines, available exclusively on the estate and both for under R100. The Lady H (R68) is a smooth, elegant Sauvignon Blanc with a great mouthfeel and just the right amount of “tang” left on the tongue. A near-perfect balance between sugar and acidity makes this an easy drinking wine in the true sense of the word. The Lord T – Edition I (R78) is Tom’s own secret red blend. A non-vintage, non-varietal blend, Tom sources wines from wherever he fancies, and each blend doesn’t necessarily contain wines from the same year (or decade). 6000 bottles are produced, of which 1500 are immediately stored in the wine library for use in vertical tastings a few years from now. Members of the wine club are encouraged to guess the composition of the blend: the closest guess receives 200 bottles of the Lord T, but even if guessed correctly, Tom says he will never reveal the exact components or proportions of the blend. Fruity and with low tannins, the Lord T joins the Lady H in what the Breytenbachs call companion wines: wines made to enjoy with friends, whenever and wherever, with food or without.
The Knight of White (R128) is a provocative and seductive Chardonnay. Referred to as liquid gold, this wine will entice you to take it home with you. The grapes for the Chardonnay are made to sweat. Literally. The vineyard block is perpendicular to the sea breeze that blows into the valley and the vines themselves are lifted so the cool breeze blows underneath them but not directly onto the grapes. This unusual practice brings out an intense flavour in both grapes and wine. Heavy hints of pear with an almost salty aftertastes distinguishes this from your run of the mill Chardonnay.
The Jack of Diamonds (R168) is their 2009 Shiraz. The grapes are in Shiraz heaven, as far as terroir is concerned. In a bit of a rogue move, the vines are starved at the start of flowering, with no irrigation leading to a smaller, more concentrated berry. The indulgence of a survivor (of a long week), it’s classically spicy and made for meat, but goes down so smooth you’d forget it’s a Shiraz. Paired with Namibian biltong, this Shiraz really comes into its own.
A 2010 Merlot, their Queen of Hearts (R138) has a full plum flavour, most likely because the vineyard block is surrounded by the plum orchard. Touches of mint but without the grassy, herby finish often present in Merlot. Paired with 85% Valhrona dark chocolate, the touch of bitterness suddenly brings out a new dimension in the wine and really brings it to life.
Finally, the head honcho of the offerings: the King of Clubs (R228). This is a big wine that makes a big statement. Planted below the fynbos ridge, the natural flora infuses into the wine creating a “hospital effect”. Bold and herby, Haley suggests this would make a great Glühwein. When you’re feeling down and a little worse for wear, open up a bottle of this. It’s ok. It’s medicine.
Brenaissance does not follow your typical formula of Estate = farm + tasting centre + wedding venue + restaurant. While it does contain all these elements, Tom and Haley’s fingerprints are all over it, engrained into every detail, right down to the mind-map style tasting notes drawn up from Haley’s doodles.
Spend a day at Brenaissance, meet the team, experience the wines and have a droolicious pizza. And see how Tom and Haley are living the dream.