Our final day on tour took us back to where we started in 2008, Stellenbosch. Our two visits provided a fantastic summary of the contrasting ways winemaking has developed in South Africa, and both delivered great wine.
At Le Riche Wines we met Yvonne Le Riche, a Cape Wine Master, and daughter of Etienne, the founder. He had been the winemaker at Rustenberg and is a founder member of the Cape Winemakers Guild. Le Riche was set up in 1996. Yvonne gave us a brilliant explanation about the family’s approach to winemaking (her brother Christo is the winemaker), explaining that they only make wine from grapes they source, having built up long term contracts with growers around Stellenbosch with a focus on Cabernet Sauvignon.
The winery was built in 2014, and has an emphasis on gentle handling of grapes – open top cement fermenters allow for softer manual punchdowns (up to 8 per day), with smaller cement tanks below for their Chardonnay. Their wines spend time in french oak – 3 months for the white, over 20 months for the reserve reds, with about a quarter of their barrels new each year.
We tasted their 2016 Chardonnay and learnt that there won’t be a 2018 vintage as the quality was not good enough in the vineyard – the advantage of sourcing grapes rather than owning vineyards. The 2016 had a lovely fresh nose, with a structured palate – Yvonne described their style as like Chablis, though this were richer and less steely than most Chablis I have ever tasted.
Their Cab Sauvs progress from ‘Richesse’ (blended with four other Bordeaux varietals), throuh Le Riche Cabernet to the Reserve. We tasted the 2014 of each, all had fabulous fruit and great structure, but the highlight of the tasting was the 2007 Reserve, which was very special – beautifully balanced, loads of fruit and tannin and interesting flavour. Sadly no longer for sale, so we were lucky to taste it!
We drove up the Upper Blaauwklippen Valley, passing Waterford and De Trafford (which half the group had visited in the first week) to reach Keermont pretty much at the end of the road with vineyards going up the mountainside. There Alex Starey talked to us about the history of the property, which was bought by the Wraith family in 2003, largely to enjoy life in the countryside and perhaps to tend some vines. Alex, who had grown up in the valley, joined them in 2005, having studied winemaking and done vintages in Chile and Catalonia, and was able to describe first hand the evolution of the estate from hobby vines, with wine made in buckets, through the conversion of an old spring water bottling plant into a winery, to the present with a growing range of wines which are having great success.
Unlike Le Riche, all the wine made under the Keermont label is made from grapes grown on the farm. Alex described his low intervention but not organic approach in the vineyards, for example the need to kill the ants that prevent ladybirds predating on mealy bugs was particularly fascinating and his description of the futility he felt releasing a matchbox of ladybirds into a bush environment teeming with insects was very amusing.
We tasted through the range, their Terrasse Chenin/Sauvignon Blanc/Viognier blend, their Syrah, their first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon and the Keermont Reserve, a blend of Merlot, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. All had had time in wood, and all showed lovely fruit flavour and great structure. We finished with their Fleurfontein Non Vintage, a vin de paille Chenin Blanc which they have maintained in barrel over several vintages, to add extra sweetness to their Sauvignon Blanc Fleurfontein which they make using the same cordon cut method that Gabrielskloof used in their ‘Broken Stem’ Semillon. The non vintage was gloriously sweet and I loved the Oxford Marmalade flavour. Sadly, with all the other activities they are dealing with (including a new range of single vineyard wines), spreading grapes on straw mats is no longer on the to do list, and we were tasting the end of an era.
Like Yvonne, Alex answered the group’s questions with enthusiasm and authority – a highlight of the tour has been now willing people with big to do lists have lavished time on us, and given every sign that they enjoyed the questions – we did Tim proud!
We came back down the valley for lunch at the Mont Marie Restaurant, overlooking the mountains, and enjoyed the sunshine which had luckily returned. Despite Tim’s entreaties we managed to turn a light lunch into three courses with a variety of wines, but we still made it to Le Grand Provence in Franschhoek for our final night dinner, where we managed to slip Zinfandel onto the list of wines we had experienced.
Final night speeches are generally concise on Tim’s tours, but it was very kind of Krysia Wood who with her husband Jim hold the record for the greatest number of tours attended (with 23 under their belts), to say some very nice things about how things have changed since the very first Champagne tour, with the important bits (good wine, great people, having fun) staying the same.
Looking forward to 2018…..