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What our expert thought of Mother Rock, Force Majeure, Rosé

about this wine About this wine
This is our second rosé, and our second wine from South Africa.  But its main claim to fame is as our first natural wine… or as near to natural as we’re ever likely to get.
So what is Natural Wine?  It’s a growing movement among winemakers determined that their wines should express terroir  rather than winemaking, but you won’t find any examples on the high street.  Natural wine is what you might expect organic wine to be: wine made from grapes grown without any chemical treatments, and without anything added during winemaking.
It’s so difficult to produce entirely natural wine that a surprising number of chemical treatments, both in the vineyard and the winery, are permitted even for organic wines.  In the vineyard, both elemental sulphur and Bordeaux mixture (a solution of copper sulphate and slaked lime) are permitted treatments that can be used to combat fungal diseases without losing organic status.
In the winery, winemakers in cool climates are allowed to chaptalise (add sugar before fermentation) and to de-acidify.  In hot climates, they’re allowed to add acid.  But the main chemical additive used in the winery, even for organic wines, is sulphur dioxide.  This is “winemaker’s Dettol”, and is used at all stages to prevent bacterial spoilage and resist oxidation.
Natural winemaking avoids all of these, but it’s not just about chemicals.  Natural winemakers don’t irrigate their vineyards, and they work them by hand – machine harvesting is forbidden.  They don’t use cultured yeasts, relying on the wild yeasts that occur naturally on the grape skins.  New oak barrels (or the common shortcuts of oak staves or oak chips) are avoided because these add external flavours.  They don’t fine or filter their wines, allowing them to clear naturally or even bottling them while they’re still cloudy.
The results can be tremendously exciting wines that speak of their grapes, soil and climate – their terroir.  But they can often be hazy and oxidised, smelling of scrumpy and tasting downright weird.  Or both in the same box: natural wines have a tendency to vary enormously from one bottle to the next, which is why you don’t find them on the high street.
The main culprit is the absence of sulphur dioxide.  If your grapes are sufficiently healthy and meticulously sorted, and your winery and winemaking are scrupulously clean, then you don’t need SO2 to make great wine.  But it’s really difficult to get a wine to keep reliably in bottle without this pretty-much-essential preservative.
This wine, made by Johan Meyer of Mother Rock Wines, ticks almost all the ‘natural’ boxes, but a little SO2 has been added just before bottling to ensure that what comes out of the bottle is as good as what went in.  The grapes come from a single dry-farmed vineyard near Malmesbury in the Swartland region.  No chemicals are used on these unirrigated, 25-year-old Cinsault vines.
Johan picks early to preserve the acidity that would normally be added in the winery.  An added benefit is the modest (for South Africa) alcohol level of 11.5%. The grapes were hand-picked in the cool of the early morning, then taken to the winery in small lug boxes to avoid compaction and damage to the fruit.  They were not destemmed and crushed, but were instead very gently whole-cluster pressed, using the stems and stalks as a natural filter pad.  After a few hours of skin contact to pick up colour, the juice was run off for a cool (14°C) fermentation in temperature-controlled stainless steel.
The wine was then matured on its gross lees for six months before being bottled without fining or filtration.  Long lees contact like this is commonly used by natural winemakers as it stabilises the wine against spoilage without the need for sulphur dioxide.
the tasting The Tasting
Thankfully there’s no natural wine cloudiness here!  It’s a bright and lively pale pink, though not as pale as some Provençal rosés or the Channing Rosato we featured a few weeks ago.
There’s a softly-perfumed nose of red cherries and strawberries, supported by fresh herbs and a spike of citrus.  On first opening there are some reductive aromas which can mask the sweetness of the fruit, but these blow off with time in the glass, leaving just that little hint of damp plaster that seems characteristic of wines with long lees aging.
Dry without being austere, this has fresh acidity and clean, pure red berry fruit.  It’s light- to medium-bodied: there’s some stony, creamy leesiness adding weight to what would otherwise, at 11.5%, be a light-bodied wine.
The mouthwatering finish is sweet-fruited, although there is some stony minerality here too.
This is a lovely dry rosé, and nicely balances easy-drinking charm with food-friendly character.  It’s natural wine without the rough edges and Russian Roulette bottle variation, so you don’t have to be a convert to the all-natural cause to enjoy it.
It doesn’t have quite the pizazz of the Channing Rosato, but it suits food rather better and is much more modestly priced.  It’s the natural choice!

Tasting notes

clear pale pink

Intensity medium

Aromas red berries (cherry, strawberry), fresh herbs, citrus, lees (damp plaster)

Development youthful

Sweetness dry

Acidity medium+

Body medium-

Intensity medium

Flavours red berries, lees (cream)

Length medium

Flavours sweet fruit, mouthwatering acidity, some stony minerality
Other notes
Unoaked. Needs air, or damp plaster masks fruit.

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