Founded in 1997 in Paarl, South Africa, Vilafonte is a joint venture between American Zelma Long, who spent 18 years at Sonoma's Simi Winery as winemaker and CEO; her husband, viticulturist Phil Freese; and Mike Ratcliffe, whose family owns and runs Warwick Estate in Stellenbosch.
The 100 acre property – of which 40 acres are planted to vine – sits in the shadow of the Simonsberg Mountain range. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc are planted on gentle slopes facing northwest, and all the rows run parallel to the downhill slope. Vine spacing is quite dense (around 2,110 vines per acre) and before harvest, approximately 300 berries from each parcel are collected and analyzed to test for Brix amongst other critical elements. The grapes are hand-sorted in the winery and the wine is encouraged to ferment naturally – in other words, commercial yeasts are used with discretion and as appropriate. Maceration and skin fermentation is managed per parcel and also driven by vintage.
The team only uses estate fruit for its two wines: Series C is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, along with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, whilst Series M is comprised of Merlot that is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The wines are intended to express provenance – ergo there is minimal interference in the winery and the majority of the team’s effort is spent on viticulture and vineyard management. The winery was named after the regional soil found in the area – Vilafontes – which is one of the oldest recorded soil types. The age of the soil implies low production potential; from a viticultural perspective this is ideal because it encourages the development of smaller vines, lower yields and highly concentrated fruit.
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