Swartland organic wine farm Org de Rac, one of South Africa’s pioneering organic estates, maintained its reputation for exceptional quality Merlot wines by achieving a Top 10 spot in the inaugural Hello Merlot Top 10 Competition organised by the South African Merlot Forum. The Top 10 award went to Org de Rac’s Merlot 2019.

This competition was held for the first time this year and aims to recognise the Cape’s leading Merlot producers, as well as to establish a platform from which the quality of South African Merlot can be promoted. Merlot is the leading red varietal in terms of local sales, and also enjoys excellent exposure to international markets.

Johan Gerber, general manager of Org de Rac, says that a coveted spot in the Top 10 list of South African Merlots vindicates the decision to make this varietal one of Org de Rac’s focus areas.

“The Swartland is seldom associated with Bordeaux varieties, especially Merlot,” says Gerber. “But in the early days of establishing Org de Rac some two decades ago it was decided to pursue Merlot’s potential due to the estate’s unique terroir complemented by natural, organic viticulture.”

Shale soils rich in iron and south-facing slopes fanned by the breezes off the Atlantic Ocean to the west have proved to provide Merlot grapes of intense varietal character, with balanced fruit purity.

“Merlot might be South Africa’s most popular red wine variety, but to get it right there are many boxes that have to be ticked,” says Gerber. “Phenolic ripeness being one, as if your grapes are not perfectly ripe the variety can pass-on a weedy, green tint that is not pleasant and cannot be masked. Our farm’s terroir, however, has proven to get the grapes to the pitch-perfect degree of ripeness, the result of balance in the growing season. The east-west row-plantings ensure the vines are exposed to the westerly breezes, and the day-night temperature differential plays a profound role in fruit-development, both in terms of colour and flavour.”

“Besides the climate and soils, we believe this harmony to be the result of organic farming which was implemented from the day the first vines went into the soils just over two decades ago.”

The focus on Merlot sees Org de Rac having plantings representing six different clones that are picked and aged separately with only the best resulting wines selected for the final cuvée. The wine is aged in 300l barrels varying from 1st to 3rd fill for 13 months.

Gerber says the wine’s display of brightness and fruit-purity, coupled with the elegance and complexities of this well-known variety, were evidence from the beginning of the 2019 vintage.

“We are honoured to now officially be recognised as one of South Africa’s leading Merlot producers,” says Gerber. “Merlot is a large and competitive category, with some of the country’s best wineries and renowned regions vying for a Top 10 spot. Being the only Swartland producer in his illustrious line-up is recognition of our commitment to making fine wine through organic viticulture by a team committed to collective vision.”