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Scherpenheuvel: Why Alvi’s Drift’s Cool-Climate Wine Ward Is One-of-a-Kind

In cooler wine wards such as our scenic Scherpenheuvel, grapes ripen slowly, producing balanced wines with complex flavours and preserved natural acidity.

Our third-generation wine farm, situated in the beautiful Scherpenheuvel wine ward, is well known for its breathtaking natural scenery, incredible soil diversity and, of course, our superb, multi-award-winning wines. Adding to our farm’s uniqueness is its singular terroir and rich heritage. But did you know our winery is one-of-a-kind for another reason?

Alvi's Drift - cooling Atlantic Ocean nighttime breeze
Our vineyards benefit from the cooling Atlantic Ocean nighttime breeze.

Situated in relatively close proximity to the cold Atlantic Ocean in the southern reaches of the Western Cape’s picturesque Breede River Valley, our wine ward, Scherpenheuvel, also boasts a somewhat cooler average temperature.

This makes our Alvi’s Drift vineyards especially suited for the production of cool-climate grape varietals like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, the latter two of which form the cornerstone of our Cap Classique and Sparkling wine portfolio.

Read on to learn more about our bountiful Breede River Valley, the 2012 climate study at Alvi’s Drift that brought about the demarcation of our Scherpenheuvel wine ward – and why cooler climates are famous for bringing forth some of the finest wines in the world.

“All the world’s top wine-growing regions, including Bordeaux, are situated close to very cold oceans. During the day, hot air rises. Then the cold sea air comes across the valleys to cool down those areas. This cooling effect is very important. In order for sugars – and flavours – to develop, grapes need daytime temperatures of 21 °C - 28 °C. They also ask for cold nights to preserve their acidity.” – Alvi van der Merwe

The Breede River Valley: A Paradise of Plenty

Originating in the Skurweberg mountains near the Western Cape town of Ceres, the 337 km Breede River is essential nourishment for its self-carved valley’s multitude of pastures, orchards and vineyards. This scenic region further boasts a unique microclimate, making it ideal for viticulture, fruit cultivation and other agricultural endeavours.

The origins of the Breede River Valley’s fertile soils can be traced back all the way to the Devonian Extinction. This geological period occurred about 419 million to 359 million years ago. As Earth became increasingly warmer, shallow seas dried up, instigating a marine mass extinction. This gradual-yet-cataclysmic event killed off approximately 20% of all marine life on our planet. Ultimately, this extinction created the abundantly fertile soils that now nourish the Breede River Valley.

The Study That Reclassified Our Wine Ward’s Climate Status

“In 2012, we had a climate study done, and the research showed that it is indeed sufficiently cold in our region to cultivate soft citrus. As a winemaker, this was incredibly exciting for me to learn.”

In 2012, while planning our farm’s citrus orchards, Bertie van der Merwe and his sons, Alvi and Johan, commissioned a climate study. The results of this study confirmed our head winemaker’s suspicion that our wine ward was indeed cooler than most of its Breede River Valley counterparts.

“A soft citrus consultant from Capespan did an assessment here in 2012. He also shared some research done by Elsenburg College in Stellenbosch with us,” recalls Alvi. “This research was done here over a 10-year period in the 70s and 80s. Over that time, it recorded our area’s average daily temperatures, the coldest nighttime temperatures, the hottest average daytime temperatures, evaporation statistics, and so on.”

Alvis Drift - Grapes grown in cooler climates ripen slower, as they enjoy a longer growing season
Grapes grown in cooler climates ripen slower, as they enjoy a longer growing season.

Why a Cooler Climate Makes for Superior Wines

The result of the 2012 climate study was great news for our winery, as grapes grown in cooler conditions are known to bring forth wines of exceptional quality. This is because grapes that ripen in a cooler environment benefit from a longer growing season, which allows the fruit to mature at a slower pace. This enables the grape berries to preserve their natural acidity while developing increasingly complex flavours over an extended period of time.

“You want the cool ocean winds to dry out the moisture in the air to prevent fungus from growing. This is crucial because every time you spray for fungus, you’re affecting the flavour of both the grapes and the wine.”

Distinctive and Unique Expressions of Terroir

Grapes grown in cooler climates also tend to develop thicker skins, which contribute to their colour, tannin, and flavour complexity. Additionally, a cooler growing environment is associated with lower vineyard disease pressure, something that makes for both healthier grapes and vines. Combined with cooler conditions, these factors often lend unique and distinctive terroir expressions to such wines.

The Birth of Scherpenheuvel Wine Ward

“In 2012, we started winning a lot of wine awards. I was curious to learn about the environmental factors that could be contributing to the quality of our wines. We invited the Demarcation Committee over to come and see what is so special about this area.”

Soon after learning the results of their soft citrus climate study, Oom Bertie and his sons invited SAWIS’s Demarcation Committee (then headed up by SA wine industry stalwart Duimpie Bayly) to Alvi’s Drift.

Although his recommendation proved pivotal to Scherpenheuvel’s demarcation, Mr Bayly’s contribution to the SA wine industry extends far beyond.

Known widely as a legend of our country’s wine industry, Duimpie Bayly was involved in numerous technical and eco-advances in this sector. Among many other achievements, he was instrumental in creating the Distell Tabernacle. This wine library houses and maintains thousands of South African wine bottles as a record of vinous experiments.

In 2012, Bertie and his sons were excited to share the climate study’s findings with the Demarcation Committee. After conducting an intensive study of their own, the committee approved the demarcation of the brand-new Scherpenheuvel wine ward.

“As tradition dictates, we had a celebratory glass of wine with Duimpie and his committee after the study was done and the demarcation was approved,” says Alvi. “This was an incredibly exciting time for us as a winery, of course. The demarcation confirmed that there was something unique about our wine ward and our area.”

One of the many fossils discovered in rocks at Alvi’s Drift
One of the many fossils discovered in rocks at Alvi’s Drift.

Scherpenheuvel: Breathtaking Beauty – and an Abundance of Soil Types

“We’ve found fossils of organisms that predate plants contained in stones here. The history and geology of this area is so fascinating. We just keep discovering new things.”

Surrounded by mountains in a pocket of incredible natural beauty, our Scherpenheuvel wine ward is characterised by a wide variety of soil types, including alluvial, rocky, stony, shale, sandy loam, sandstone, limestone, and gravel. This soil diversity contributes to Scherpenheuvel’s unique viticultural terroir that enables the cultivation of a wide range of grape varieties.

“Beyond wine production, there are so many things that make Scherpenheuvel special,” says Alvi. “A lady came and did the research for her PhD degree on the plants in this area. She found that basically the entire area where we farm used to be the estuary of a prehistoric river. Some fossils in stones here predate plants. They are over 450 million years old.”

Explore our Award-Winning Sparkling and Cap Classique Wines

Scherpenheuvel’s cooler climate and diverse soil types allow for the cultivation of grapes with higher acidity levels and more complex flavours, like Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Our area’s conditions are especially favourable for the cultivation of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These are the varietals from which our multi-award-winning Sparkling and Cap Classique wines are crafted.

Our popular Reserve Chardonnay boasts inviting aromas of creamy lemon and vanilla with just a hint of toast. This 2021 Michelangelo International Wine & Spirits Awards Double Gold winner has a full, well-balanced and elegant palate, with a well-defined body and refreshing acidity.

Our third-generation, family-owned wine farm is committed to fair labour practices and sustainability.

Alvi’s Drift: A Winery Steeped in Heritage and Passion

Named after the little low-water bridge crossing the Breede River on our farm, our family-owned winery is the culmination of generations of winemaking heritage. Here, our pursuit of excellence and passion for crafting exceptional wines have come to define the story of our unique, temperate wine farm nestled in the mountains.

Learn more about our wine farm’s rich legacy here, or visit our online shop to find your favourite among our selection of award-winning wines.