LOMOND WINE ESTATE
Thursday 23 November 2017
Where was the Tasting Room? The path down led to a Milkwood thicket with outdoor picnic tables and chairs and a make-shift wooden bar. There seem likely little beyond so I went back to where I had parked. There was a path ahead but it looked little used. The stepped path up onto the dam looked the most promising but there were no signs of the tasting room. I called my contact for the tasting visit but the mobile went straight to voicemail. Aaaargh! The landline number in my 2017 Platter’s Guide would surely help – but it was no longer in use.
I returned to the car and retraced my route to the last Lomond Wine Estate sign I had seen. It had been all too easy so far. The road from Black Oystercatcher Wines – via the pretty village of Elim with its traditional white and pastel coloured cottages with their thatched roofs – was empty of traffic, passing through low land of fynbos mixed with pastures containing sheep, cattle, ostrich and the occasional horse. Lomond was signposted off the road leading west from the R43, 15 kilometres North North East of Gansbaai on the Cape’s South coast. The farm signs continued to direct me along a well graded gravel road that gained slightly in altitude. A kilometre later the signs pointed to a dirt road in less good condition and to a car park beneath the dam wall. The signs to the Cellar ended there, to be replaced by signs for mountain bikers to join the Klippspringer Trail.
I drove to the top of the dam wall and across it. Very soon, I was doing my own impromptu vineyard tour. It did not seem right as the road showed little signs of use but, as I turned around, my phone rang. I had been spotted from the opposite side of the dam to where the Tasting Room was. Even then it was not so easy to navigate to the road to the Tasting Room but it gave clue to my confusion. The regular road to the Tasting Room was flooded as the dam was completely full. However, the direction signs were unchanged.
I had reason not to give up beyond the fact that I was 3 hours from Cape Town and had left at 6.30am to visit the Elim vineyards. I have a friend called Sarah Lamond and wanted to buy some bottle of Syrah for her as the play on names – Syrah Lomond – was tantalising close. Lomond was my 100th vineyard tasting in a few days shy of a year since I formed the Cape Wine Lovers’ Society. A few wrong turns were not going to stop me.
Andrea met me outside the Tasting Room with a smile as she explained how life was changing for the 800 hectare estate that was founded in 2004. Originally a joint venture between Lomond Properties, the drinks giant Distell and a staff trust, Lomond had parted from Distell to become independent. This was why much of the available information was incorrect: the landline number not in use; Platter’s Guide stating that tasting was by appointment (the farm is open from 10-4 on Tuesday to Saturday); and the website outdated.
She described how the majority of the farm is fynbos and forms part of the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy. Three hundred and fifty hectares are under vine. The diverse terroir, containing 18 different soil types on slopes at 50-100 metres above sea level, support a broad mix of cultivars: Cabernet Sauvignon, Sémillon, Nouvelle (a rare blending variety that is a South African cross between Sémillon and Ugni Blanc), Viognier, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Mourvèdre).
Further, the cool climate is dominated by uninterrupted South East and South West breezes direct from the ocean. These reach even the lowest of slopes to delay grape ripening until March, several weeks later than the Stellenbosch vineyards. Consistent temperatures rarely reach 30°C to offer ideal conditions for slow ripening. In keeping with the conservation ethos, organic and natural methods are used wherever possible, including straw mulching, predator release and the use of ‘islands’ of fynbos for predator breeding and movement.
Lomond produces wines in 2 collections: the Single Vineyard Range, with the vines grown on virgin land, and the Classic Range, that makes optimum use of the various soil types. Many of the wines are named after fynbos species which makes a pleasant change to ‘daughter of the owner’. The Tasting Room was simply furnished but beautifully decorated with vases of fynbos stems and flowers. The highlight was the open view across the dam and to the vineyards, with one side of the building made almost solely from glass.
I suspect the Platter’s entry may have put people off for I was the sole taster for my visit that lasted well over 2 hours. Not that I am complaining, for I had Andrea’s undivided attention throughout as we sampled a vast choice of wines. We began by tasting and comparing 3 Sauvignons Blanc. The first, from the entry Classic Range, was very clear pale watery in appearance. This was a classic cool climate Sauvignon Blanc, with fresh herbaceous lime and fig flavours, decent acidity and a clean mouth feel.
We sampled the Pincushion and Sugarbush Sauvignons Blanc together, ‘the twins of the family’ as Andrea called them. They were as close to each other as possible – cultivated with the same C11 grafts, grown in adjacent 3 hectare blocks, from the same vintage, and made in the same style. The sole difference is their soil: the Pincushion in sandy loam, and the Sugarbush in white clay sand. Subtle but clear differences were apparent in their flavours. The Pincushion showed good complexity of lemon, lime, gooseberry and greengage flavours. The Sugarbush was more forwards on the nose and with a fruitier nose, of melon and green fig.
Andrea poured a glass of the SSV Bordeaux style blend. Sauvignon Blanc-led, each cultivar contributed to give a complex nose of citrus and green fruits of lemon, lime, greengage and with slight floral undertones. It was excellent for the style and with slightly more body that a single cultivar sauvignon Blanc that made for pleasant drinking.
We talked broadly about wines and I was impressed by Andrea’s product knowledge and her general knowledge of wines. It made for easy chatting as we tasted. She offered me a cheeseboard – complete with rainbow trout from the farm in the lake (soon to be moved as temperatures rise) – that was large enough for more than 2 people. We shared it as she laid out 4 very special wines: a vertical tasting of the Snowbush SSV from vintages 2010 to 2013.
I recalled how I had presented the ‘8 Rows’ Sauvignon Blanc from Diemersdal from 2014/15/16 at a Society evening and so I was keen to taste another vertical tasting, again unusually for white cultivar. My focus had to be high and concentration good as the differences were subtle between. Each year has its own characteristic that reflected the particular growing season: 2010 was tough for the winemaker, with varying temperatures; 2011 even more variable; 2012 was good year with an unusually hot January; and 2013 had moderate conditions with a large crop.
I rated the first 3 vintages equally, but down scored the 2013 wine due to a lack of intensity on the nose and a weak palate. The 2010 wine showed citrus lemon, lime and sharp kiwi flavours with honey, whilst the 2011 vintage was greener, more overt, and with warm greengages notes, being creamier and more rounded on the palate. A cleaner mouth feel described the Snowbush from 2012, with interesting, soft, complex and integrated flavours of green fruits, melon and fig. The 2013 wine was the last made, due to the split with Distell, and showed more pronounced Sauvignon Blanc flavours of asparagus and, oddly, tulips. It was a privilege to have tasted these wines together and beside each other. It adds to my passion and excitement for wine. No 2 wines are ever the same, even if as close as possible to being so.
Time was passing past and the red wines beckoned, beginning with a Pinot Noir. Cool climate Pinots Noir are among my favourites but this one fell slightly short. A darker pale medium ruby than most due to extra skin contact, the rose, sweet cherry, cranberry and maraschino notes promised much. It was lighter on the palate than I would have liked but nonetheless showed a spicy and earthy character with silky tannins.
I much preferred the athletic Belladonna Rhone style blend. Belladonna is an odd name for a wine. Atropa belladonna is a plant I was heavily warned to keep away from as a child in the English countryside. Fortunately rare, and known as ‘Deadly Nightshade’ or the ‘Devil’s Berry’, a small quantity of leaves or berries can be fatal to humans. It is said that the ‘beautiful women’ of Renaissance Italy took it to enlarge their pupils to make them more alluring. It was allegedly taken by Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to make her appear dead.
Back to the wine … The Belladonna was a classic of the Rhone style and my favourite wine. Warm fruity cranberry and red plum aromas invited more. Smooth and well balanced in the mouth, soft tannins from 16 months maturation in 2nd/3rd fill French oak were rounded. It was. As Andrea said, the ‘beautiful one’ and a ‘wine that wants to hug you’.
We were not yet finished! Three Syrah – the cultivar I had been waiting for! – followed. The ‘love child’ to the 2 other Syrah (Andrea liked to give ‘her’ wines names) was my least preferred. The vines are planted on the far side of the dam so I could see where the where the grapes were grown. White and black peppercorns aromas gave an overt spiciness that overpowered fruity blackberry and black plum. The wine was weaker in the mouth than expected.
The 2 ‘big boys’ were far better. The Conebush, from sandy loam, was rich and smooth whilst the Cat’s Tail, grown on koffieklip granite, spicier. Complexity of aromas of the Conebush was excellent with flavours of white and black peppercorn, cassis, dark blackberry and violets. The Cat’s Tail was the fuller bodied of the 2 though less pronounced on the palate. I liked the floral, fruity aromas that gave way to spicy ones beneath.
We ended with a Merlot that I wanted to taste. Merlot is not an easy grape to grow as it is thin skinned and prone to over ripeness so it was good to be sampling a cool climate Merlot. This was another excellent wine. Classic medium to fill body with red berry, plum and cherry flavours, prominent cedar and cigarbox aromas delighted from 16 months in 2nd/3rd fill French oak. The tannins were a little tight but will improve with age.
This was a comprehensive, varied and interesting tasting. The setting by the dam was glorious and the Lomond wines were made to a high standard. I could not have been better looked after by Andrea either. It was rare to enjoy a vertical tasting and a treat to sample wines from different soils that otherwise are identical. This was a perfect estate for my 100th tasting also. I sampled my first Wine of Origin Cape Agulhas wines too. Oh , and I can’t wait to taste the Syrah Lomond with Sarah Lamond too …..
Wines tasted (bought *):
2016 Classic Sauvignon Blanc – R70
2015 Pincushion Sauvignon Blanc – R130*
2015 Sugarbush Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc – R130*
2015 Classic SSV (75% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Sémillon, 5% Viognier) – R75
2010 Snowbush (50% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Sémillon, 15% Nouvelle, 5% Viognier) – R130
2011 Snowbush – R130
2012 Snowbush – R130
2013 Snowbush – R130
2014 Phantom Pinot Noir – R130
2016 Belladonna (75% Syrah, 20% Mourvèdre, 5% Viognier) – R140 FAVOURITE WINE
2014 Classic Syrah – R95*
2014 Conebush Single Vineyard Syrah – R250
2014 Cat’s Tail Single Vineyard Syrah – R250*
2015 Merlot – R95