Satisfaction in Getting My Ducks (and Wines) in a Row
VERGENOEGD LÖW ESTATE
Friday 1 March 2019
I didn’t know much about Vergenoegd Estate before visiting. I had passed it several times travelling on the R310 from the N2 to West Stellenbosch, but had never stopped for tasting. I knew something about a duck run from social media but hadn’t sampled any of the wines before. I didn’t know even that the name had changed to Vergenoegd Löw in October 2015 when history Professor Dr Peter Löw acquired the estate.
Today was the day to put all that right as I turned off the N2. Closest to the motorway, I knew where to find the entrance. The white sign by the road was large enough if I was unsure, complete with 3 ducks atop it for good measure. I was surprised by how long the uneven dirt gravel road was to reach the estate buildings and Tasting Room. It wasn’t far but somehow I didn’t expect the farm to be away from the road, beside which the vines grow. I stopped several times. First to take photos of the ducks and the white buildings on the far side of a large lake and the ‘Please Drive Slowly – Duck Parade Ahead’ sign by the road. Second, of the vines that were heavy with dusty bunches of grapes.
The large open space made parking easy and the Tasting Room was well-sign posted from it. I walked between rows of vines to the Tasting Room, set on one side of several buildings and facing the historic Manor House. Large numbers of tables with shade umbrellas outside the Cape Dutch buildings told me that Vergenoegd was a busy place. I opted to taste the wines in the modern and small, intimate Tasting Room that made a pleasant contrast to the older surroundings.
My tasting host was Jan who, like his colleagues, was impeccably dressed in tan pants, a white shirt and black bowtie. I had seen similar dress at the Wildekrans Estate in Bot River, that had seemed out of place but Jan fitted well into the estate ambience. He neatly laid out before me an individual spittoon, glass of water and bowl of crackers as I perused the Tasting Menu. The choice for 6 wines was between tasting 2 wines each from the Runner Duck, Mid-Tier and Premium Ranges (R75) or the Premium Range (R160). Is it me, I wondered, or has the cost of wine tasting made a jump in the last 6 months? I was at Holden Manz in Franschhoek a fortnight ago and the fee to taste the Reserve Range (4 wines) was R200. I shall take note as I venture to more estates for tasting.
I opted for the R75 tasting and worked out with Jan that I had time to sample 6 wines before the first Duck Run of the day, at 10.30am (the other 2 are at 12.30 and 3.30pm). The first wine I tasted was the Runner Duck White, a 100% Sauvignon Blanc. It was classic watery pale straw in colour and made in the tropical style with aromas of guava and litchi together with more herbaceous asparagus and green pepper to give a pleasant complexity. The wine was less precise on the palate as the fruit aromas fell away for a bright, not tart acidity. It made for an excellent clean, refreshing wine.
The Malbec Rosé from the same range was similar in style, being refreshing but not big in flavour. I liked the attractive salmon pink colour that invited one to taste and enjoy the sweet aromas of strawberry, candy and a hint of raspberry. This was another very drinkable wine.
I had tasted white ‘red’ wines before: White Zinfandel at Blaauklippen and White Pinotage from Mellasat at the Pinotage & Biltong Festival. Made using minimal skin contact (grape juice in almost every cultivar is clear in colour), these wines always intrigue. They have a curiosity value too that makes me pause to wonder if they are a gimmick or worthy wines.
Eve enticed me as Jan removed the glass stopper that comes with the bottle as I tried to detect the aromas and flavours without being seduced by the wine colour, which was near identical to the Sauvignon Blanc. They were neither herbaceous or floral or typical white wine apple, stone fruit nor citrus fruity. There was a real difference but would I have thought Merlot in a ‘blind’ tasting? I doubt it. I wondered where I would have put it though with the aromas of redcurrant, white honey and raspberry, together with more weight on the palate that a white wine that was crisp, dry with medium acidity and a slight grapey finish. I liked the wine and its bulbous, wide bottomed clear glass and blue and gold embossed label. Jan explained that Eve usually is sold with Adam, a regular Merlot that was due replenishment from the current harvest. He showed me too the planted and mirrored Garden of Even ‘cave’ lit with plants to the left of the Tasting Room.
My eyes had caught the Schloß Frankenberg Riesling and Grüner Silvaner as soon as I had entered the Tasting Room with their elegant Alsace flute bottles and distinct chevron labels. Jan explained that Professor Löw was from Weigenheim in Southern Germany, a city in North-West Bavaria. The Silvaner was sadly not for tasting (though I bought a bottle for future reference tasting) as was the Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc) that I should have bought too. I was particularly interested to taste the Riesling at it is one of the white exam cultivars for my Cape Wine Academy Diploma exam in June, and I have been comparing those of South Africa, France, Germany and Australia as part of my tasting studies.
The Riesling, with the name Löw embossed on the neck of the bottle, was served far too cold as were the other white wines and the Rosé (the fridge was set at 7°C). Consequently, I did not get the intense, fragrant, more floral than fruity nose that I would expect from a Mosel. The wine was a delicate pale gold colour and, when I was able to warm it in my hands, showed complex aromas of lemon, sweet apple, pineapple together with defining hints of diesel. The palate surprised though should not have done had I understood the label. I had forgotten that ‘Feinherb’ loosely means ‘off-dry’. The wine was not the dry wine I expected but much sweeter with a smoothness on the palate and medium acidity. This made it very approachable and drinkable and my favourite wine.
For those who don’t know, German regional and quality wines are classified according to sweetness of the grapes at harvest, together with additional designations for their finished sweetness. Thus, in increasing level of sweetness, Trocken means ‘dry’, Halbtrocken (half-dry), Lieblich (semi-sweet) and Süß (sweet). Feinherb is an unregulated term for a wine that is slightly sweeter than a Halbtrocken but not as sweet as a Lieblich wine, often used for the more commercial wines.
Jan told me little about Vergenoegd and the history of the estate. It is possible he was mindful of the time, as I was ahead of the 10.30 Duck Run. He also had other guests to serve within the same timescale, sat outside beneath the ancient oak and plane trees with a constant chatter of starlings in their upper branches.
I learned after that the name Vergenoegd comes from the Dutch for ‘satisfaction had been achieved’. The property was granted rights to the fertile land beside the Eerste River in 1696. The Manor House (former Tasting Room) with it’s incorrectly spelt ‘Vergenoegt’ embossed on the gable dates from 1773. Six generations of the Faure family owned the property from 1820 until Professor Löw and the Livia group bought the property in 2015, bringing investment and new lift to the estate.
Vergenoegd is renowned for its red wines (90% of production) but is increasing the planting of white vines. Fifty seven hectares of the 161 hectare property are under vine. A wide range of cultivars are planted: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Shiraz, Tinta and Touriga, together with newer Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.
The next 2 wines for tasting were from the Mid Tier Range and the same vintage, 2015, which made them good to compare. Both wines were well made and priced at a competitive R120. The Merlot showed typical sweeter red fruit – red plums, red cherry and redcurrants and cake spice aromas – with good intensity. Tight but young tannins were surprisingly soft for the vintage.
I rated the Shiraz a little higher (though bought a bottle of the Merlot as good Merlots are harder to find than good Shiraz) that was made in similar style. The aromas were distinct – spicy peppercorns with deep, darker blackberry, plum and blackcurrant beneath – that followed through to a fruity rather than a spicy palate. The tannins were likewise more smooth than astringent to give the wine a good mouthfeel, aided by the 14.5% alcohol.
My tasting over, Jan afforded me the luxury of sampling the Cabernet Sauvignon, the cultivar on which Vergenoegd made its reputation for red wines, winning the National Wine Show 5 times as Champion and 4 times as Grand Champion. This was an older wine (2010 vintage) from the Premium Range. The wine oozed class from its cassis and dark berry fruit aromas (distinct pencil shavings too) and rich, smooth, dense and intense palate. I could easily have bought a bottle too but I had bought enough wines for the day.
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Getting my ducks in a row. Not just a gimmick but decent wines too at @vergenoegd_wine_estate. Look out for my coming tasting review on www.capewinelover.co.za 🍷🍷😊#capewinelover @duckhornwine @duckhunterwines @therunningduck @runningduckfood @iloveducks.hb #stellenbosch #wine #riesling #duck #winetasting #winereview #runningduck #merlot #chardonnay #ilovewine #iloveducks
I paid up before moving with the rest of the guests to see the morning Duck Run. There’s 800 runner ducks so they make quite a show, noise too. They are gathered by the farm workers at a gate at one end of the area bounded by the Manor House and Tasting Room (I later discovered a Deli next door). A duck ‘lane’ was roped off so when the ducks were released they paraded in front of the guests, from the gate to the front of the Manor House and around to the rear of the building. It was really quite a spectacle and I was fortunate to get a good view as there were not huge numbers of other guests. I can only imagine the scramble there must be in full season. The ducks serve another purpose in that they reduce the incidence of pests in the vineyard and thereby contribute to local diversity.
I left Vergenoegd with wines in hand and a smile on my face. The experience and the wines were excellent. I hadn’t known what to expect beforehand from either, though perhaps a little wary that the tourist and Trip Advisor experience might overshadow the wines. The historic buildings and backdrop of the spectacular Hottentots-Holland Mountains and dappled shade for outdoor tasting balanced both the wines and the duck run. With more than a little nod to the meaning of Vergenoegd, and with the entrance road being improved as I left, satisfaction had been achieved.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2018 Runner Duck White Sauvignon Blanc – R78
2017 Schloß Frankenberg Riesling – R220* FAVOURITE WINE
2018 Eve White Merlot – R160*
2017 Schloß Frankenberg Grüner Silvaner – R220* (not for tasting)
2018 Runner Duck Malbec Rosé – R78
2015 Merlot – R120*
2015 Shiraz – R260
2010 Cabernet Sauvignon – R290