We all love a success story. But what is success? For a wine producer, surely being profitable; that would account for a meagre handful. As for grape growers, according to Vinpro, just over a third of the approximately 3000 farm at a financially sustainable level.
Winelovers might have other ideas about what constitutes success. Their top 10 list of Successful Producers might look quite different from winewriters’ list of Top Producers; the former possibly influenced by visibility, the latter, wine quality. Both lists would be pretty subjective.
So what is success and how to achieve it? My view (subjective, of course) is that a plan, a philosophy and personality are crucial elements. The plan comes before anything else; even with adjustments along the way, a well thought-through plan should always lead forward rather than sideways or backwards.
A philosophy about style of wine can lead to consistency and regular customers to whom it appeals. It starts in the vineyard, continues through to the bottle and beyond to the wine’s maturation potential. A recent tasting with Glenelly’s winemaker, Luke O’Cuinneagain provided a good example of a philosophy both well-defined and adhered to, one that produces an ageworthy wine reflective of both site and vintage. It’s a philosophy shared by owner, Madame May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, previously owner of Bordeaux Classed Growth, Ch Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. She chose to invest in South Africa’s winelands because of the several South African red blends awarded the Pichon Lalande trophy on the IWSC and which enlightened her to the potential here.
O’Cuinneagain has benefitted from working with the vineyards, planted on virgin soils, from the start in 2003; every year brings a better understanding of these still young vines.
A mini-vertical of the cabernet-based Lady May was illustrative: 2008 (remarkable for a challenging year and still very much alive, also available from the farm for R950); 2009 (R1200 ex-cellar), a ‘crowd pleaser’, says the winemaker, who admits he prefers the tauter 2008; 2010 and newly-released 2012 well reflecting their respective vintages, the common factor in all being a truly dry finish with ripe grape tannins, unusual in Stellenbosch reds. A tasting of 2017 components promises a vintage of great depth – cabernet with fine, integrated tannins; cabernet franc, taut and linear and assertive petit verdot for perfume and freshness. Despite a later-release date than many, Lady May deserves further maturation.
Being French, the plan also included a restaurant; ‘We found the ideal fit in Christophe de Hosse,’ says a delighted Arthur de Lencquesaing, Madame’s grandson and Marketing Manager of Glenelly. Dehosse, Chef Patron of The Vine Bistro (and Joostenberg Bistro fame), and his unfussy, flavoursome dishes, are indeed the ideal fit.
Madame’s extraordinary glass collection is open to the public; definitely worth the proverbial ‘detour’. Madame herself is extraordinary; one of her secrets to her long 90-years plus, is to ‘wake up every day with the idea of doing something creative.’
The Glenelly plan has no discordant edges; each component is of a standard and compatible with the others. The wines’ consistency should encourage loyal customers, the estate’s other attractions, many returning visitors.
The Cluver family have also attuned their plan to their setting. De Rust, their farm on a sweeping Elgin hillside, is somewhat further from Cape Town than Glenelly; their attractions for visitors, other than wine, include an MTB trail and summer concerts in the amphitheatre; both are proven hits.
The wines in the early years (from 1991) were made at Nederburg, where Andries Burger, the Cluvers’ son-in-law, then worked; so he has known the vineyards for nearly 30 years. Cluver Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are probably the farm’s (Seven) flag bearers (!), Burger keeping well informed drinking top Burgundies and visiting there. Thankfully, he loves riesling too; in fact Cluver is the single largest producer of riesling in South Africa. The variety’s evolution and its growth in this cool climate area hold exciting promise. Sales to enthusiasts are proving the worth of dedication and financial input from the family.
Half of the new 2017 Riesling (both Close and Dry Encounter discontinued) was fermented in 2500 litre foudres, an expensive barrel whose oval shape increases suspension of the yeast and adds to textural richness without diminishing riesling’s desirable and natural tension. Geeky stuff, but believe me this 2017 will delight, tasting drier rather than sweeter but with arresting tension. It’s excellent value for R100 ex cellar. A few years’ ageing will do no harm.
The same vintage has produced the first Noble Late Harvest for three years (‘the others weren’t up to scratch,’ admits Paul Cluver Jnr, confirming their philosophy of quality), also from riesling, but apparently locals see it as a dessert wine, only international customers find the variety important. Either way, a delicacy worthy of a vintage to remember.
Glenelly Estate and Paul Cluver Estate Wines – both successful? I’d say so.