Elemental Bob – a South African Gem
Posted on August 18 2016
The wines of Elemental Bob are made by a man named – you guessed it – Craig. These carefully made South African wines are making a bit of a name for themselves among sommeliers and in the best wine bars. Winemaker Craig Sheard studied agriculture in school and college and originally worked on farms. This led his brother to give him the nickname ‘Farmer Bob’. Craig later studied winemaking and began working as a winemaker on larger estates before founding his own side project in 2004. Wine is made as much by the elements as by man and this gave rise to the name Elemental Bob.
Craig rents space in a small corner (overlooked by decorative gargoyles) of a winery in Somerset West about 30 minutes outside of Cape Town where I was lucky enough to visit him in May of 2016. Here he vinifies the best parcels of fruit he can lay his hands on from wherever he can get hold of it, relying on tip offs from various friends and local winemakers as to what interesting grapes are available. A true one man band, Craig drives the truck to collect the fruit himself and brings it back to the winery. The wines are made with minimal intervention using wild yeasts and only the lightest filtration. A small amount of sulphur is added to prevent spoilage. Until the 2015 vintage all the wines from the Elemental Bob stable were literal ‘one-offs’ with production of between one and three barrels – too small to think of exporting. In 2014 Craig began to pursue the Elemental Bob project full time and now has sufficient access to fruit to make the core range of two wines currently available, although in 2015 only 17 barrels of white and 10 barrels of red were made.
The Elemental Bob My Cosmic Hand White Blend changes proportions depending on the conditions of the vintage and the grapes available. It is blended by ‘feel’ rather than laboratory analysis: Craig sees the different parcels of different grape varieties as ‘colours’ and blends them until the wine matches the vision he has in his mind’s eye. In 2015, the blend is 34% Viognier (from Durbanville and Elgin), 29% Chenin Blanc (Durbanville and Swartland), 20% Verdelho (Bot River) and 17% Semillon (Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley). 60% whole bunches are included and some parcels of grapes undergo around 7 days skin contact. This is a wine of great complexity showing citrus, orchard, and stone fruits with subtle, pleasant vegetal character and smokiness. There is a wonderful balance to the elegant and saline palate that has some weight but no heaviness and gives plenty of refreshment.
The My Cosmic Hand Pinot Noir is a blend of two parcels grapes (60% is from the Hemel en Aarde Ridge, with the remainder coming from Overberg) and is made with 40% whole bunches, giving a pleasant savoury character that is often missing from many ‘New World’ Pinots while still being full of enticing ripe fruit. As with the white blend, this is aged for 10 months in old French oak barrels and made with minimal intervention. There is real complexity here alongside plain and simple deliciousness and drinkability, a rare combination at this modest price point.
A closer look at the label reveals that these two wines carry the moniker ‘Crystal Edition’ and we noticed that some of Craig’s barrels had various crystals strategically placed around them. One of our group curiously asked him ‘are they decorative or functional?’ to which Craig replied – with an enigmatic smile – ‘definitely functional’. Perhaps this goes some way towards explaining the uniqueness of these brilliant wines.
Much is made in the wine world of ‘small production’ wines, but in there is no hyperbole here: our stock of these wines is sadly extremely limited. Contact the Chiswick or Kew stores to secure your bottles.
Click here to view the rest of range of South African wines.