Ξ August 28th, 2008 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, Tasting Notes, Winemakers, Wineries |
The Netherlands is not renowned as a wine producing nation, but there are several active wineries throughout the country and, hidden away in a quiet corner of the Brabant province, is one of them – Domein van Stokkom, run by the husband and wife team of Marius and Marthe van Stokkom.
Marius is a trained food technologist and used to be brewer for Oranjeboom at their now defunct Rotterdam brewery before developing his interest in winemaking in 1977, first working at another winery before setting up his own De Linie label in the town of Made in 1988. They grow all their own grapes on 1.5 hectares of land adjacent to the winery building, enough to produce 15-18,000 bottles a harvest. There are seven Alsace varieties planted, predominantly Pinot Noir but also Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer.
Arriving at the winery was a little confusing, driving though residential estates on the edge of this small town until you reach the end of the street and the De Linie signboard standing next to fields of Maize, then rounding a corner to see the winery building and its small adjoining vineyard. When I visited Marius and Marthe had just finished with a large corporate tasting group of 60 visitors (they normally offer tasting visits for groups of >20) and were clearing up prior to preparing for a short holiday.
Marius had just got off his tractor after turning the soil between the vines and was happy to sit down, drink some wine and have a chat. He was looking forward to a brief vacation – just over a week, any more is impossible with the work required in the vineyard – before getting back and preparing for the harvest. In 2007 the warm spring and summer meant it was all over by the end of September, but a cool and wet year so far for 2008 means the harvest isn’t due to start until early October, when the van Stokkoms will call out to the 200 or so “friends of the winery”, local volunteers who help out at the critical times.
It had been raining on and off throughout the week so I asked whether any form of irrigation is required over the year. He said that it is required in early spring, but only to protect the vines if night frost threatens, otherwise they get plenty of water! In fact the over-abundance of rain in August for this part of North West Europe (the U.K. is having its wettest in 100 years) isn’t helping the grapes – hopefully drier conditions in September will improve things.
We started tasting with the 2007 Rosé, 100% Pinot Noir with a light nose, a delicate aroma of creamy raspberries. Marthe presented two glasses, one straight from the bottle and the second using a “pourer” which gave much more noticeable aeration of the wine in the glass (it was frothier!). Then she asked me to smell – I was surprised at how different the two glasses were, the first had a more acidic nose with an earthier smell, while the aerated one was much smoother, I hadn’t thought about how just pouring wine from a bottle could have such an effect! As for the taste; this showed good acidity and a pleasant, long finish – an enjoyable dry Rosé and a promising start to my Dutch wine experience.
We then moved onto the 2007 White, which can be regarded as De Linie’s flagship style – a blend of all 7 of the varieties in the Vineyard the nose was very aromatic, delicate and floral. Unsurprisingly, considering the blend, there wasn’t a stand-out character or anything typical to pin down a grape, just a pleasing smell. The white is fermented dry to 12% abv (as are the Rosé and the Red) and had a medium body with good texture and balance, very nice.
This wine could be considered a variation on the Alsace Edelzwicker , the old style of a blend of noble grape varieties, designed to be a constant throughout the years, when one variety underperforms the rest usually balance and compensate. The use of Pinot Noir in the De Linie blend adds extra aging potential to this style. As we sipped I asked Marius several general questions on him and the winery to get some more background on both.
Currently De Linie is sold primarily to local restaurants and direct from the winery. Marius said he’d only had one export, a palette to the U.K. surprisingly enough, for a regional wine fair a few years back. In 2005/2006 the Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM, now part of the Air France/KLM group) served De Linie wines in Business Class on their intercontinental flights, although they did request that the labels be Anglicized first.
They proved so popular with travelers that their small supply lasted only a few months and they came back to Marius asking for a yearly supply of 20,000 bottles – more than the entire winery production! Unfortunately they wouldn’t negotiate anything more than a yearly contract and Marius, unwilling to drop all his other customers, declined this single basket for all his eggs.
As we finished the white I asked about the weather and if he’d seen any changes in the 20 years he’d been making wine at De Linie. He agreed that the wines had changed over the years, but surprisingly he feels the whites were better in the past, now the grapes ripen too easily and have lost some of their character and elegance, not the answer I was expecting for such a cool climate area, especially after just enjoying the delicate dry 2007 white. Grape ripeness would be the main concern once they had returned from their holiday, as by then the Maize in the neighbouring fields would have been harvested and the flocks of Sparrows would turn their attention to the sweetening grapes. He pointed to the large rolls of netting at the back of the winery, behind the tasting tables, and mentioned the hard work in setting up the nets over the individual rows.
I asked Marius what were the other major problems he had to contend with other that the rain and the birds, and the usual fungal suspects appeared – Oidium if too dry, Mildew if too wet and Botrytis near the end of the harvest. When I suggested that the Noble Rot may provide dessert wine opportunities he said he’d already made a sweet wine a few years ago but there wasn’t a market in the Netherlands, not at the boutique prices he had to sell at. For reference the bottle prices direct from the winery are €7.50 for the Rosé, €8.50 for the White and €10.00 for the red. Marius conceded there’s far more affordable wine on the market already and he was more interested in producing something distinct, a similar response to when I asked if he’d considered making single varietal whites instead of the blend.”I don’t like to copy, there’s enough Riesling and Pinot Blanc in the world”.
We ended up on the subject of corks when I asked if he suffered unduly from cork taint. He shook his head and claimed that he only had only 1-2 bottles per 1000 affected by TCA and said it wasn’t something he was worried about as he paid 20 cents each for top quality Portuguese Corks, rather than the 5 cents each that some of the cheaper ones could be bought for. Even so he is planning on moving over to the new 5-layer coatings being offered by ProCork. I’d never heard of this before but the Australian-based company which claims to “virtually eliminate” cork-taint seems to have been around for a few years and is slowly gaining a customer base, technical approval and media coverage.
Finally a glass red was poured. In previous years this was 100% Pinot Noir, but for 2007 Marius blended in something new, an unnamed grape of Cabernet Sauvignon parentage to add some extra robustness. This was a light-medium bodied wine with a delicate fruity nose. In the mouth there were noticeable but very agreeable tannins and I found myself savouring each taste, just as I had enjoyed the Rosé and the white before. I had no point of reference for Dutch wine prior to the visit, and I have to admit that my expectations were a little low, but each of the De Linie offerings was an easy 3 star effort, with the red being interestingly unusual and the white showing the most elegance in the glass (and capable of some aging I am led to believe).
We finished off with a quick tour of the business end of the building containing several stainless steel tanks. Marius showed me the cooling elements he uses if the fermentation gets too hot (he has an ice water machine outside which is pumped through the piping) and talked about some of the processes he uses for the different styles of wine, such as leaving the pressed Pinot Noir juice on the skins for 24 hours in making the Rosé.
I got the feeling that Marius really enjoys what he does and would have happily spent hours talking about his work and life had I kept going. He has an infectious personality and is one of the nicest people I’ve met for a long time, but we both had other things to do (him a holiday to prepare for, me a holiday to continue!) so we shook hands and said goodbye. I have a bottle of each of his three wines to come back to over the next year or so and remind me of that August evening. As it is unlikely that you will find De Linie in a shop near you then I urge you to consider a Dutch holiday in the next few years, so you can make a detour to te Made and experience the van Stokkom hospitality for yourself.