VREDE EN LUST
Wednesday 20 March 2019
Some tasting reviews are easier to write than others. There may be a particular story or ‘hook’ on which to hang an article. There may be a particular moment or wine or piece of history or name origin that gives a thread to the body of the review. Vrede en Lust posed me that challenge. I knew of the estate and had tasted their wines before but I did not know what to expect. I was curious to know what Vrede en Lust means. I did not learn at the tasting and it was not easy to find out on the website. Google eventually came to my rescue. Look at the final sentence under ‘The Estate’ and it will tell you. Flemish merchant Jacques de Savoye gave the name to the farm in 1688, derived from the Dutch meaning of ‘Peace and Delight’. Even now, I cannot navigate to The Estate page from the homepage.
The dilemma continued when I wondered if I should list Vrede en Lust as a Franschhoek or a Paarl estate. I guess I had always thought it a Franschhoek winery. Franschhoek is South of the N1 whilst Paarl is to the North. Vrede en Lust is on the Franschhoek side so it must be a Franschhoek estate. Look at a map and Vrede en Lust is closer to Paarl than Franschhoek. The Platter’s 2019 Wine Guide did not assist me either: it lists Vrede en Lust as ‘Location: Paarl. Map: Franschhoek’. The Wine Guide does not even review the Vrede en Lust wines.
Further, click on the ‘Directions’ button on the website and the function is not working (the word ‘degrees’ is in the GPS coordinates) so it seems Vrede en Lust is reluctant to reveal. Aha, I thought, the Wine of Origin (WOO) will help. Three of the 6 wines I tasted (the Riesling, Viognier and Pinot Noir) were WOO Elgin! This is because IT entrepreneur Dana Buys, the owner since 1996, bought the 90 hectare Casey’s Ridge farm in Elgin in 2005. The former apple orchard has been replanted with vines. Platter’s does nevertheless help here. Vrede en Lust owns 3 farms to make for a total of 275 hectares under vine. There is Vrede en Lust itself (66 hectares), adjoining Ricton (127 hectares) and Casey’s Ridge.
I digress. Nonetheless, I made it to Vrede en Lust that is just a short turn from the R45. The white entrance gate with its flags showed business and I parked besides manicured hedging and amid the thatched and whitewashed historic buildings. The Tasting Centre was just a short walk away with its impressive symmetrical design. The roof is covered with solar panels as part of Vrede en Lust’s ‘vinified by the sun’ programme that was started in 2016. The farm is off the grid for all its cellar, restaurant, office and tasting activities during sunlight hours. The benefit must surely have been reaped during the recent Eskom load shedding.
The Tasting Room was large and spacious but broken down into smaller areas – some with seating, some with tables – as well as an outdoor section with views over the vineyards and towards the imposing Simonsberg Mountains. Intriguingly, I wrote in my notes that there were many television screens (pamphlets and literature too). After, I read that the owner has an IT background. Upbeat 1970s and 1980s music added to the modern, contemporary but functional feel. The staffs were smart in red polo shirts/tan shorts and long, off the shoulder, red dresses.
The Tasting Menu listed 26 wines. These were not all the wines made either either as I spotted more in the Enomatic dispenser cabinet by the entrance. The large range is testament to the warm and cool climate regions that grow all the noble grape varieties together with less common ones such as Riesling, Viognier, Sémillon, Pinot Grigio, Grenache, Cinsault, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The wines are grouped into 3 ranges: the Premium Range (the lowest priced – you just have to laugh at the marketing) – 6 wines, including 1 from the Black Label Range, R50; Black Label Range – all 4 wines, R75; and the Artisan Range (winemaker playground) – for Wine Club members. There was a Lindt Chocolate Pairing of 6 wines too (R100). I chose a selection from all 3 ranges, mindful of my needs for future tastings that I am holding.
The Early Mist Weisser Riesling was the first wine I selected. The name Weisser is usually dropped as a Weisser Riesling is a true Riesling as distinct from a Cape or Paarl Riesling which is made from Crouchen Blanc. The Elgin wine showed classic diesel, lime citrus and honey notes that were fruity and forwards. There was a high acidity on the palate that was not quite in balance with the fruity flavours that fell away all too quickly.
The heavily stickered Viognier, made with grapes from both the Elgin and Vrede en Lust vineyards (hence WOO Western Cape), was aromatic and floral, fruity with aromas of jasmine, acacia, white pear and vanilla. The floral notes were prominent on the oily palate which showed subtle oaking from 7 months maturation in French and Hungarian oak.
I tasted next the Black Label Barrique that showed on the Tasting Menu as a blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. It could have simply been labelled a Sémillon as there was only 5% Sauvignon Blanc. I chose later not to taste the Artisan Sémillon for this reason. The wine was barrel-fermented and matured for 11 months in French oak. This showed by the vanilla notes that complemented the sweet lemon and pineapple aromas. The mouthfeel was less creamy than expected whilst the Sauvignon Blanc acidity brought a little bite and firmness. I would have liked more flavour on the palate.
I did choose from the Artisan Range next. Blanc Fumé is usually associated with smoky-flavoured French Pouilly- Fumé and often used to describe a wooded Sauvignon Blanc. This is an uncommon style as it can be difficult technically to make. There are a small but growing number of South African producers who make it – I can think of High Constantia and Black Oystercatcher of Elim that do. The wine was similarly matured to the Barrique (2,600 bottles are made) and I could also detect vanilla notes amid herbaceous, green pepper aromas. Beyond a green and bitter finish that lingered from the high acidity, I could not really taste the oaking much or any smoky minerality.
Vrede en Lust dates back to 1688 when Governor Simon van der Stel granted 66 hectares of land to Jacques de Savoye who had fled Europe due to religious persecution. The farm began by growing wheat and barley but, by 1692, there were 10,000 vines which grew to 80,000 vines in 1780. The current vineyards reflect the plantings of 1745. It is believed that Vrede en Lust was home to the first Sunday trading in the Cape and to the first Protestant church. As stated above, the Buys Family acquired Vrede en Lust in 1996 – the 17th owners – who have given the business a new lease of life. It is a popular wedding and conference venue, with accommodation in the grand Cape Dutch Manor House and 3 Jonkmanshuis cottages, and home to the Lust Bistro & Bakery.
I tasted 2 red wines. The Black Label Pinot Noir, of Elgin origin, showed a pleasant smoky, meaty savouriness to fruity bittersweet cherry and cranberry aromas. Clove spiciness came to the fore on the palate, ahead of fruit flavours, with a bright, clean acidity. My favourite wine was the last, and one of the cheapest that I tasted. It was the Cotes de Savoye from the (entry) Premium Range. The Rhône-style wine was a Syrah/Grenache blend, with a dash of Viognier. This gave it a great complexity of smoky, spicy redcurrant, cranberry, plum, mulberry and cherry fruits. Though light in character, there were enough tannins to give structure and grip.
Vrede en Lust teased. Like Dornier and Plaisir de Merle that I have visited recently, I wanted to know so much more about the history, the farm and the terroir, and the rest of the facilities on site. I wanted to know, for example, that the gold logo – prominent on every bottle – is an adaptation of the original Huguenot Cross softened by fleur-de-lis from the Buys family. The dove beneath represents freedom of spirit and a soaring future for the estate. I found this out later, together with most of the background information above.
The wines and the experience so easily could have been better. I wanted to feel the ‘passion of more than 300 years’ as the website so boldly and proudly proclaims. I rated the quality of the wine as average (the Cotes de Savoye was promising). Not all the wines were served at the correct temperature. The service was patchy and slow too. My tasting host was more distracted by his colleague servers than me and I had to go find him on more than one occasion. I said at the start that I did not quite know what to expect. As I went for a walk among the historic buildings before leaving to collect my thoughts, I had a clue. I knew now what I should have expected for a self-proclaimed upmarket, superior wedding venue. Like Meerendal and to some extent Avontuur, I wondered if all the ‘vinotourism’ add-ons and the dual vineyard location distracted from the prime business of winemaking (if it is anymore?). The list of wines was certainly impressive but altogether Vrede en Lust left me feeling rather flat. The experience did not quite match up to the expectation of ‘Delight’.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2017 Early Mist Weisser Premium Riesling – R89
2017 Premium Viognier – R129*
2016 Black Label Barrique (95% Sémillon, 5% Sauvignon Blanc) – R150
2016 Artisan Blanc Fumé Sauvignon Blanc – R155*
2016 Black Label Pinot Noir – R200
2015 Premium Cotes de Savoye (50% Shiraz, 44% Grenache, 6% Viognier) – R109* FAVOURITE WINE