LOURENSFORD WINE ESTATE
Thursday 6 July 2017
It was more than a year ago when I last visited Lourensford and that was not for wine tasting. I was there for Mountain Rescue search dog training. I remember lying in dense grass on slopes above the vineyards waiting to be found by one of the dogs. My partner and I visited the Saturday market afterwards and to taste some wines. Today, I was visiting in more comfort and for tasting only. I had a recent connection too for it was only a few days ago that I had reviewed the humorous and informative little book called ‘The Lighter Side of Wine’. This charming book is illustrated by the wine cartoonist Frans Groenewald, who is the resident artist at Lourensford. I was hoping I might meet him too.
I remembered the wide approach between the entrance gate and parking beside the Tasting Room. A stream runs between the entry and exit lanes, complete with trees and landscaped plantings beside. To the left is a wide expanse of vines, with orchards too on the right later, that give foretaste to this vast property.
Lourensford estate, like Vergelegen, was once part of the original 30,000 hectare farm owned by Willem Adriaan van der Stel in 1700. The land was divided into four farms and sold after he returned to Holland in 1706 following charges of corruption. The property was bought in 1998 by industrialist Dr Christo Wiese who planted the first vines 2000. Wine was made just 3 years later in 2003.
The estate remains huge today: 135 hectares of the 4,000 hectares are under vine. Red and white wines are made in similar amount. All the big name cultivars are grown: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Sémillion, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Pinot Noir and Durif (Petite Syrah). The grapes are planted in blocks of up to 8 hectares in size that are spread throughout the upper slopes to make best available use of the terroir.
Fynbos makes up a further 1,200 hectares with the remainder being forest or fruit farm. Lourensford is a big wine farm that has embraced the current fashion for ‘vinotourism’ as have other vineyards like Boschendal, Groot Constantia, La Motte, Meerendal, Solms-Delta and Vergelegen. The many visitor attractions mean that a whole day is needed to explore all: coffee roastery, chocolate shop, restaurant, art gallery, resident artist, craft brew and, of course, wine tasting.
I parked close by the impressive Tasting Room building. Planted outside in old wine barrels were examplar cultivars, a nice touch that will look even better when in leaf and fruit in the summer. Inside, the décor was grand hotel or gentleman’s club in style: wooden panelling, brown leather sofas and Persian carpets. Kaylis was my attentive tasting host, R40 for any 4 wines and waived for any bottle purchase. I selected 8 wines from the extensive range of MCC, white, red and dessert wines.
The Chardonnay-led Brut MCC made a welcome start to the tasting. The 60 months on the lees showed in the yeasty, toasty and green apple nose and gave a creamy feel to the moussante mouthfeel. I liked too the Estate Sauvignon Blanc made with grapes from the upper slopes of the estate. Bright and very pale straw in colour, the nose was a vibrant mix of gooseberry, green pear, herbaceous and greengage notes that invited more. Fresh lemon emerged on a palate with typical fresh acidity.
I sampled the First Fruit next. Like the MCC it was a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The pale salmon blush colour and shy nose made for an easy drinking wine. It needed more oomph for me and I found the thin mouthfeel, follow through and light finish wanting. The Estate Chardonnay was much more to my liking. Light caramel notes from 6-8 months in 2nd fill French oak complemented fresh baked apple for a good intensity. The wine was crisp rather than creamy on the palate and with a moderate finish.
My favourite wine of the tasting was the Limited Release Viognier. Viognier is not widely produced yet one of my favourite wines. The nose was superb and I can understand why this is an award-winning wine. It contained a typical fruity, floral mix of honeysuckle, violet, jasmine, white peach and nectarine. The aromas followed through well to the dry palate with a moderate acidity.
I tasted 2 red wines only: the Estate Shiraz and Limited Release Rhone Blend. The Shiraz showed cool climate character and was lighter in style than most I have tasted. The nose was nonetheless bold berry fruity and peppercorn spicy with dry tannins emerging on the finish. They left a slightly bitter aftertaste that could have been from the Hungarian oak (the wine is matured in 50% French and 50% Hungarian oak). I rated the Shiraz Mouvèdre Viognier slightly higher. Shiraz led (94%), it could easily have been sold as a Shiraz though was less bold and dryer than the single variety Shiraz. The Mouvèdre and Viognier softened the spiciness on the nose and brought better rounding of tannins on the palate.
I finished with the 2014 Sémillion Noble Late Harvest. This was the last vintage produced as there was not enough botrytis in the 2015/2016 harvests. The deep gold colour gave way to delicious, warm fruity aromas of baked peach, ripe sultana and blue-gum honey on the nose. This dessert wine was sweet though not sickly so and with the aromas well integrated on the palate. I bought a bottle.
The highlight of my visit was yet to come though. Kaylis said that Frans Groenewald was likely to be in his studio and gave me directions. His office was a short walk away and easy to find. I had wanted to meet Frans not only because I admire his creativity and humour but also because my father was a humorous cartoonist. I have always enjoyed the observation and skill to see life from a different angle. I felt I had burst into Frans’ office – unannounced and in his workspace – but he could not have been more welcoming. His paintings and cartoons covered the walls of his small well-lit studio.
Much of Frans’ work was for private commission that I did not expect. The work I had seen, the ‘The Lighter Side of Wine’ book included, had been for general sale and enjoyment. Frans told me how much research and detail goes into the private drawings and showed me their development, from sketch to completed painting. As soon as I entered the studio, I remembered that I meant to bring the book to ask Frans to sign. He very kindly drew a little cartoon on my tasting folder that I shall treasure. I did not stay long as I did not wish to impose.
Lourensford impressed. The wines were decent and priced for their quality. This is not always so for the iconic and big name estates, where premium pricing can result in wines that are not value for money. I shall return when I have more time – and with the book to ask Frans to sign – as there is so much more than wine-tasting at Lourensford. A summer visit for more fun is a must!
Wines tasted (bought *):
2011 MCC Brut (85% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir) – R250
2016 Lourensford Sauvignon Blanc – R85
2015 Lourensford Chardonnay – R90
2015 Limited Release Viognier – R155 FAVOURITE WINE
2016 Lourensford Forest Fruit (60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir) – R70
2015 Lourensford Shiraz – R115
2015 Limited Release Shiraz Mouvèdre Viognier (94% Shiraz, 3% Mouvèdre, 3% Viognier) – R180
2014 Limited Release Noble Late Harvest (375ml) – R135*