A new bubbly star in the making

You have to know when a winemaker speaks about research into bubble burst rate, you’re in for a geekful of a tasting.

It, nonetheless, fascinated me to hear Paul Gerber expand on this theme when explaining the higher burst rate gives a more aggressive C02, whereas in a smaller bubble there is less aggression.’The aim is for the perfect ratio,’ Gerber further clarified, going on to recall Picasso’s six sketches of a bird, where in each the ratio grows more perfect.

Plenty of geek speak, yes, but also intriguing insights into creating the perfect bubble (rub off from Pieter Ferreira there; he also shows enthusiasm for this new venture) from a mathematician who so obviously enjoys his new career.

Back to basics. Le Lude, just the Franschhoek Pass side of the monument, was purchased by Nic and Ferda Barrow in 2010; they gave it the name Le Lude after a village in the Loire they particularly liked. The Barrows are from Oudtshoorn, Nic is an attorney by profession, but the pair have also owned and run several hotels and property developments. They are also environmentalists, philanthropists and keen supporters of the arts: Nic initiated the KKNK and the KKK art festival. Franschhoek will be the benefit of Le Lude sponsorship of classical music events. Their love of Cap Classique and Franschhoek were the driving forces behind them buying the farm and establishing this specialist cellar.

Paul Gerber, Le Lude's winemaker
Paul Gerber, Le Lude’s winemaker

I’ve already mentioned winemaker, Paul Gerber , is a mathematician. His BSc in maths and chemistry led him to teach maths at SACS, so following in the footsteps of that other fizz fanatic, Allan Mullins. Wine resonated with him after his mother-in-law sent him on a Cape Wine Academy course; he then returned to University to study Oenology and Viticulture. It was here bottle fermented sparkling wine stirred his imagination. He subsequently worked a harvest at Neethlingshof with De Wet Viljoen, a friend from rugby-playing days (although I asked out of politeness, I had little doubt he played prop!); he also worked in Franciacorta, Northern Italy, Germany and Champagne, where he returns annually to hone his skills.

Although Le Lude has 3 hectares planted to chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, all the fruit is currently bought in from a wide range of origins. ‘Classic bubbly is all about blending,’ Gerber rationalises. Elgin, Robertson, Bonnievale should not surprise as fruit sources; Plettenberg Bay and Sutherland probably do. Gerber likes Plett fruit, despite its higher rainfall, as it ripens later. ‘We picked on 8th March, a date unheard of in other areas which harvest well over a month earlier, but still with an acidity of 9 grams/litre,’ he notes. The Sutherland vineyards are due to come on stream in 2016. ‘I’m trying to get the sheep farmers there to grow pinot meunier because it’s much closer to 100 days of ripening; down here there’s too much sun.’

To the nub of my visit; tasting a few 2015 base wines followed by the embryonic NV Brut and NV Rosé, both still on the lees with dosage under consideration, but due for release in October.

During fermentation, the cork is held firmly in place by the Agarfe, which looks similar to a large staple.
During fermentation, the cork is held firmly in place by the Agarfe, which looks similar to a large staple.

There have been experiments with ageing these NVs on both crown cap and cork (the latter known as Agarfé; the full story is on the Le Lude website); I was tasked to tell which was which. I chose correctly with the Brut, a 60/40 chardonnay, pinot noir blend, preferring the cork sample for its freshness, greater expression and completeness, but was less lucky with the rosé, which, under cork, seems more adolescently awkward. Under crown cap, the wine has soft strawberry aromas and flavours, gentle waves of creamy mousse and an incisively clean finish. The blend here reverses the Brut, its pearly pink blush deriving from the addition of red wine rather than skin contact.

Gerber is an enthusiastic believer in magnums – he claims they make the perfect start to the day, something he demonstrated by opening one under crown cap. It proved richer, more vinous, complex and integrated than the 750ml bottle.

A mock-up of Le Lude bottle, with its back-to-back embossed Ls. The packaging follows the less is more approach with minimal fancy foil.
A mock-up of Le Lude bottle, with its back-to-back embossed Ls. The packaging follows the less is more approach with minimal fancy foil.

Dosage, as already mentioned, is still under debate but I was lucky enough to be offered trial samples of both NVs.As discovered at the Graham Beck function, dosage has more to do with the drinking experience than any figure.

The trial comprises three different levels, one with zero dosage. My preference in both was for the highest dosage, though ‘highest’ is relative: the rosés had 3.5 and 4.5 g/l respectively, the latter creamy, integrated and subtly fruited, winning by a nose. Dosage on NV Brut is being trialled at 4 and 6 g/l; gratifyingly, Gerber agrees with me that the latter is more interesting.

Zero dosage held little appeal in either wine but maybe that would change with longer on the lees, something Gerber admits makes less change necessary. ‘I prefer creaminess from lees than sugar, which can leave a unpleasant “wet sticky” impression,’ he explains.

It wasn’t surprising the best type of glass for bubbly was raised. The traditional flute has come in for criticism, but Gerber believes it’s better to show off younger bubblies, while a white Burgundy glass captures the aroma intensity in older ones.

You will note I’ve made no comment about quality of the Le Lude MCCs; that’s only partly because there’s as yet no finished wine. More importantly, I wanted to end this piece with my view that their elegance, refinement and personality will surely see them settle among the Cape’s top echelon of MCCs very quickly.

Close up of Le Lude label and embossed bottle.
Close up of Le Lude label and embossed bottle.
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