Linton Park Wines was my first tasting in the Wellington Wine District – and one I want to forget. I had special reason to visit. My daughter and her wife, Libby, were visiting from England and the excuse to taste and buy Libby’s Pride wines was too great to resist. I contacted Libby, aka Elizabeth Petersen, before they left the UK so we would be sure to taste. She explained that her wines were available by appointment at Linton Park, as per the Platter’s Guide, and so I called Libby to arrange in advance.
The 80 kilometre journey from Cape Town to Linton Park, North of Wellington town centre, took over 1½ hours. The distance mattered not as this was a special occasion and one of the planned highlights of their holiday. I was excited too to taste in a new wine growing area.
The winery was easy to find and, as so often, the Tasting Room and Cellar were housed in former outbuildings of the Manor House. The origins of the farm, set in the Groenberg Mountains, date back to 1699. The property was known then as the De Slange Rivier Farm due to the winding stream that runs from the mountain. It was in that same year that Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel granted the land to Louis Fourie, a French Huguenot, who planted vineyards amid the agricultural landscape.
The classic white painted and gabled Cape Dutch Manor House was built in 1809. Extensive restoration and refurbishment took place following several generations of use in 1995 when Camellia plc – a UK-based global multi-national group with interests in food production – bought the property. The 1921 Cellar was refurbished at the same time.
Despite the age of the historic property and its buildings, the Tasting Room had a modern feel. It was bright and airy, with typical South African beige colour scheme, and wines neatly displayed in a large bookcase besides the main table. Further tasting space was available at the bar serving area and outside to the rear. Since it was lunchtime, I ordered a Platter for Two (R180) that had a nice selection of local cheeses, kudu salami, ciabatta, grapes, olives and chutney.
Linton Park has 8 wine ranges, one of the largest I have seen for one winery. The tasting menu – free but with donation to the Street Smart charity instead – included wines from the Linton Park Estate Range (single vineyard, super-premium) and the Rhino Range (R1 per bottle is donated to rhino conservation). Libby’s Pride wines, though listed on the Linton Park website, were not included for tasting. More on that later. There’s the Linton Park Reserve (single block, ultra-premium) and Pinnacle (within single block, ultra-premium) ranges together with those made under the Louis Fourie and Kaapse Seleksie labels.
Our tasting did not get off to a good start. I explained that our purpose was to taste and buy some of the Libby’s Pride wines, my wine-loving daughter-in-law being called Libby and on holiday in South Africa from England. The ‘sommelier’ was so rude that I did not even record her name. Later, I picked up a business card that showed she was called Susan Smith, Cellar Door Manager. ‘We don’t offer Libby’s Pride wines for tasting or sale’, she abruptly told me. This despite the fact that the Linton Park website and the Platter’s Guide advise so, that Libby’s pride wines were on display in the Tasting Room, and my reminder call to Libby at the start of the day. I persisted and refused to accept her blunt denial. Fortunately, and with much muttering, she just happened to find a few bottles in the Cellar store. It mattered not on this occasion that they were mostly at the wrong temperature for tasting.
I sampled first 3 wines from the Rhino Range with simple label design featuring a large rhino in silhouette. The White Rhino Sauvignon Blanc was of average quality but pleasant and drinkable. It showed a moderate intensity of lemon, lime, grapefruit, melon and gooseberry aromas and had a bright acidity. The bouquet had moderate intensity and the finish was of average length.
I rated the Chardonnay with a lower score. It too was a pale straw colour but the nose was shy and indistinct. There may have been some oak aromas but the apple and citrus notes were limited and not easy further to define. Apple flavours came to the fore on the simple palate but the wine left me wanting more.
The Pink Rhino Rosé was made in sweet style and from 4 cultivars, mostly Pinotage. Deeper in colour than most – medium salmon to medium copper – the wine promised intensity and depth but failed to deliver. The nose was vaguely strawberry in aroma which picked up a little on the palate. Nonetheless, there was little flavour and the finish was short. The wine made for the very easiest of ‘easy drinking’ Rosés.
Libby is the nickname for Elizabeth Petersen. The Cape Wine Academy Introduction to South African Wine course was, as for me, the start of her passion in wine some 10 years ago. She is a wine entrepreneur with vision to become the industry’s most successful black women-owned company. Her motto fittingly is ‘Never think your dream is beyond your reach’. The 6 unoaked wines are produced under the Linton Park management team and winemaker. ‘Pride’ stems from her star sign, Leo, which is emblematic on the wine label. Appropriately for Libby’s chosen profession, the Leo characteristically possesses strength, courage, flair and self-expression.
The full bodied Merlot showed a reasonable bouquet of red plum, redcurrant, black cherry and blackcurrant notes, together with some earthy, cedar aromas. The mouthfeel was drying and slightly bitter with an astringent finish. In contrast, the Shiraz was a simpler wine and definitely one for a braai. It showed little complexity of aroma and flavour but I was able to pick out perfumed notes of fruity currants and blueberry.
The non-vintage Sweet Lullaby was a sweet red blend containing Ruby Cabernet and Cabernet Sauvignon. I rarely taste sweet red wines and this benefitted from being slightly chilled. The full body and deep ruby appearance were attractive. This was another lifestyle wine – the flavours were of indistinct red fruits – that demanded little of the drinker.
I ended with the tasting with 2 Linton Park wines from the Estate Range. The 294 hectare farm contains 75 hectares of vines that produce mostly red wines (60%). Varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Shiraz and Pinotage, together with some Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Linton Park aims to increase vineyard size over the next 5 years to 100 hectares. Rich soils in the 30 blocks vary, with plantings on slopes that catch the sun and high rainfall at altitudes from 200 metres to over 550 metres above sea level.
The Shiraz was my favourite wine of the tasting. It was a better wine all round. Barrel-fermented and matured for 12 months in French, Hungarian and American oak barrels, the nose showed complexity of fruit (blackberry, blackcurrant, mulberry and dark plum), spice (black peppercorn) and oak (vanilla). The flavours were similarly oak-forwards with a tight palate.
The Café Malbec is the first vintage for the cultivar that was planted in 2016. The small amount of wine produced has aromas of blueberry and red plum and, yes, coffee. It was heavy and tannic on the palate – from oak staves in stainless steel tanks – with a dry mouthfeel.
I left Linton Park feeling better than when I arrived. My daughter and her wife Libby did at least buy some Libby’s Pride wines to take home to England. I am not here to apportion blame but there should not have been a mix up with a pre-arranged booking. Miscommunication occasionally happens, of course, but there is little excuse for rudeness. Wine estates and wineries are as much a part of the hospitality industry as the drinks industry, and especially so their Tasting Rooms that are open to the public. The lack of professionalism – dare I say, pride even, in knowledge of the wines and vineyard being showcased – is far too common. Many offer excellent tasting experiences too of course but the overall picture is distinctly uneven. This makes for an unpredictable experience for the wine taster and drinker.
That said, Linton Park has a most attractive setting and tasting facilities. I am sure their easy drinking, affordable wines make the winery popular with the locals from Wellington. However, I don’t think I shall drive there again from Cape Town based on my experience today. There are hundreds of other Cape wine estates who welcome visitors with open arms than Linton Park to go to.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2016 Linton Park White Rhino Sauvignon Blanc – R50
2016 Linton Park White Rhino Chardonnay – R50
NV Linton Park Pink Rhino Rosé (Pinotage, Shiraz, Merlot, Ruby Cabernet) – R50
2015 Libby’s Pride Merlot- R50*
2016 Libby’s Pride Shiraz – R60*
NV Libby’s Pride Sweet Lullaby (Ruby Cabernet, Cabernet Sauvignon) – R50
2015 Linton Park Estate Shiraz – R100* FAVOURITE WINE
2017 Linton Park Estate Café Malbec – R85*