Pieter H. Walser, the man behind BLANKbottle, is one of the most inventive, energetic and productive winemakers in the Western Cape. He produces 30+ cuvees a year, each with its own unique story and presented in a "blank" bottle... well not exactly! The bottles have no mention of varietal but tend to have an artistic interpretation of what’s inside. It is the stories behind the wines that give you the best insight into this uniquely creative character and the wines he produces. As Pieter explains: “Life is all about the stories you have to tell, and we all have ours to tell”.
Describe BLANKbottle in one sentence:
Clothes maketh not the man; judge my wines on what's in the bottle, not the varietal on the label.
When and how did BLANKbottle start?
In 2004, a lady came to my house (then also my office) to buy wine. She asked for anything but Shiraz. "I don't drink Shiraz", were her exact words. I poured her a glass of wine. She loved it and bought three cases. It was a straight Shiraz. It's a fact - we do judge the book by its cover.
When I started BLANKbottle, my goal was to create an honest wine brand that had no limitations when it came to style, vintage, area or cultivars in order to break down any preconceived expectations. Having no indication of cultivar on the bottle makes this possible. Not only does it demand complete honesty when it comes to quality, but it allows me the opportunity to introduce one-off, limited runs of interesting wines. Its flexibility turned out to be BLANKbottle's edge. Something for someone with an open mind and an adventurous heart.
What's your winemaking philosophy?
Hide your similarities and celebrate your differences.
What has been the best influence thus far in your business?
No family money! Having to do everything myself lets the creative juices flow.
What are your passions?
Stories, weird cultivars, weird wines, weird people, weird wine producing areas, travelling, surfing, figuring out my wife and embracing who my kids are. I am constantly amazed by people who have the ability to be true to themselves and thereby differentiate themselves from the norm.
We were fortunate enough to catch up with Pieter a couple of weeks ago, fresh off the beach after his daily morning surf. We held a Skype call from our office to his beach hut in Somerset West in the Western Cape of South Africa. As we tasted through a selection of his wines at the office, he explained how each of the cuvees came about and what went into them. Every tale gives you a snapshot of the energy of the man behind these inventive bottlings.
One of the highlights of the tasting was the 2017 PhD, a Cabernet Sauvignon blended from a selection of different casks. It's the result of Pieter having his brain activity monitored and measured by neurologists when tasting various barrels of wines. The barrel samples that rated most highly based on his brain scans were then blended together into this unique cuvee. The result is a beautiful bottle of Cabernet – very pure concentration of fruit with an elegant tannin structure and bursting with black plum, blackcurrant and blueberry fruit. It will get the endorphins rushing in anyone’s brain!
Our second highlight was 2017 Rabbitsfoot, an equally entertaining creation that is another one-off production made from Sauvignon Blanc. However you would be hard pushed to recognise it as such – aromatic, honeyed, unctuous and ripe with mango and tropical fruit but not without a lovely salinity and freshness. Fermented 100% in oak barrel giving the wine a lovely multi-layered texture. The grapes were taken from a top vineyard in Stellenbosch in which stems are normally broken to allow the grapes to raisin on the vine – producing an unctuous, premium sweet wine. Normally the vineyards first five rows are eaten by baboons so the labour intensive breaking of the stems are left on these five rows. But in this vintage the baboons didn’t come and following Pieter’s desire to get hold of these premium grapes, the winemaker agreed to sell them to him, hence why it is unlikely to be repeated again. Rabbitsfoot is another brilliant example of the quality of wines coming out of BLANKbottle’s cellars. A perfect example on why you should not judge the bottle by its varietal. The wine is exceptional and is about as far away as what you might expect from a 100% Sauvignon Blanc.
With very little made of each cuvee, and many never repeated, these individual cuvees are actively collected by a growing fan base from around the world and are completely sold out at the winery. F+R are thrilled to have secured an allocation of the PhD and Rabbitsfoot from BLANKbottle to be officially released next week. Watch this space...