Following a tip-off, Roger Jones our Michelin-starred chef and mild-mannered reporter, heads off into the hills of South Africa’s Stellenbosch to become the first UK wine writer to meet Lukas van Loggerenberg, a winemaker who Roger believes is an exciting new discovery and worthy of every plaudit you can throw at him. Has Roger already found the most exciting discovery of 2017?
“The wines are compelling, pure, precise, wonderfully and refreshingly lower in alcohol, delicate, masterpieces that will evolve and excite and enthrall wine lovers,” is how Roger Jones describes the wines of Lukas van Loggerenberg, South Africa’s most recent hidden treasure. Take it away Roger!
As South Africa continues to interest and educate the UK with a perfectly balanced range of wines and excite us with their blends and value, I continue to learn and be educated and get very excited with what I find and see.
The UK market may be saturated with wines from all corners of the wine world, but when quality and value come hand in hand it would be foolish not to take advantage of South Africa’s bountiful treasures.
Of course Chenin is the current darling of the Cape for most of the press, whether it is funky Swartland style using bush vines or the purity of the 80-year-old Stellenbosch vines. However, there is a lot more happening here in the Cape, from a wonderful array of Chardonnay from the 2015 vintage.
So good was the harvest, I hear, that ‘The Platter Guide’ had to restrict how many 5 stars that were being awarded.
Pinot Noir, especially from Walker Bay and Bot River, is challenging New Zealand and Pinotage is no longer The Devil. We must not forget the wonderful array of Methode Cap Classique wines that can rival the English Sparkler.
But this hardly touches the excellence and diversity that we are now seeing from a region that excels with a young winemaking fraternity that works together.
I have luckily been involved in introducing a few South African winemakers to the UK market including, for example, Restless River, who are based in the Pinot Noir haven of Hemel en Aarde but produce a hugely impressive Cabernet Sauvignon.
This week I was given a tip-off and a long list of coordinates to visit a hidden-away winemaker high up in the hills of Stellenbosch and, with my back seat driver Dr Winnie Bowman on board, we duly arrived at his shed.
The name of the winemaker is Lukas van Loggerenberg
Remember this name, he has diligently done his time in numerous wine farms over the last few years, and he is now definitely starting to emerge as a superstar.
His first vintage is from 2016, and his story is told on the labels of the wines.
His ‘Break a Leg’ Cinsault Rosé is so called to reflect a double dose of surgery on his knee whilst harvesting. The label also depicts a tortoise, to reflect the speed at which he was working, and a donkey for his stubbornness not to give in to doctors’ advice.
His Kameraderie Chenin’s label reflects the support he had from fellow winemakers to the camaraderie that he believes there is between food and wine.
The Geronimo Cinsault label is reflective of his days as a youngster taking the risk of jumping into deep water gravel pools and demonstrates his risk of giving up a steady job making wines for others… to risk it all on a lone jump into the dark unknown.
However, the storytelling on the labels is just part of this artistic and fascinating talent that is emerging.
The wines are compelling, pure, precise, wonderfully and refreshingly lower in alcohol, delicate, masterpieces that will evolve and excite and enthrall wine lovers.
He has produced a few different wine brands – Carinus, Dancho Luka, Lowerland – some in partnership with others in return for favours, and some just under his own name.
So what about the wines? How were they tasting?…
My tasting notes… make way for the superlatives
Break a Leg Blanc de Noir 2016 – Still Rosé from Cinsault grapes
Delicate perfumed green herby nose, savoury, cranberry, finely textured, lightly tart. I had a hint of Fino at one stage which added structure and saltiness, but then the sweet cranberry nectar evolved making it a wine you could simply not spit out.
Lukas likes the saying “keep it straight and simple”, yes this may be straight and simple to him, but my word what a fantastic Rosé this is, reminiscent of the very best from Provence. Given their heady prices this is a bargain and will also age beautiful – a marvel!
Kameraderie 2016 – Chenin from 60 year-old vines in Paarl
The name (as discussed above) reflects not only his comrades that helped him through the harvest, as his kneecap kept popping out, but the way food and wine match so well.
The grapes are sourced from an 82 year-old farmer who planted these vines when he was 22 years old, and noted to Lukas, whilst Lukas was lovingly tending the vines, that this was the first time in the farmer’s life that he had seen a ‘white man’ prune his vines.
With only four barrels made, our tasting was only Lukas’s third time of trying the wine since bottling. Hopefully a Coravin that we are getting him will salvage any future bottles used for tasting.
Lukas calls this a “two minute wine”, in other words a wine that gives two minutes of enjoyment in the mouth after you have sipped it.
I think he is mistaken… two minutes? more like two decades. This is a wine that you will rarely forget. Peaches, white flowers, a lovely spiciness from old French barrels, precise, savoury, stone fruit, nutty, soft green herbs. I really cannot give it enough descriptions.
Dr Winnie Bowman said “Alice in Wonderland”, my word in this beautiful hilltop we certainly were in Wonderland.
Geronimo 2016 Cinsault
Ripe but delicate raspberries, lush green herbs, sage, lemon thyme, touch of mint, aromatic, this is a baby but already is shouting out its class, it’s a Burgundy married to a Rhone – purity of fruit balanced by a fabulous savoury background.
This is Cinsault but not as you know it, it is just pure liquid gold.
Breton 2016 Cabernet Franc
Made to age and for food, Breton reflects the old Loire name for Cabernet Franc. Restrained, focused, pure juice, structured, I have no idea how this will taste in five years time but, rest assured, I will wait with baited breath.
Under the Carinus label we tried two Chenin Blancs, made from a selection of barrels, which were filled with grapes picked at different times, three of the best barrels he put under wax and cork, the rest under stelvin – the ones we tasted had yet to be labelled.
Carinus Chenin 2016
The Chenin is sourced from Swartland, from 36 year-old dry land vines. Lukas wants you to be able to smell the Swartland Chenin experience but without too much flabbiness, this is focused, pure, linear, precise and wonderful, bright and clean. White peaches.
Carinus Rooidraai Chenin 2016
The best barrel selection, and under cork, reminiscent to the best Savennieres from the Loire, richer and more toasty than the above, golden colour, textured, gentle tropical fruit, gently spiced.
Other wines pillaged included:
An unlabelled 2016 Semillon which at 11.5% is reminiscent of the finest from the Hunter Valley – lemon peel, such clarity, soft cedar background – needs time but a great prospect.
A Shiraz picked from vines near his shed which had a stunning, peppery Syrah style – damsons, savoury, opulent – had great freshness as if there was some Grenache in the mix, but there is none.
And a Tannat 2016, called Lowerland Tannat sourced from Prieska in the Northern Cape, with the Orange River providing moisture in the heat. Luscious long and lingering, its very soft tannins are massaged by the beautiful fruit. This is a wonderful delicate luscious wine that defies the traditional taught Tannat style.
This tasting was a wonderful rare experience that will be treasured for many years.
So enough of all that Roger… how can I buy some?
The Carinus wines (Carinus Chenin Blanc, Rooidraai Chenin Blanc, Carinus Shiraz), Lowerland Tolbos Tannat and Dancho Luka wines are brought into the UK by Edgmond Wines whilst the Lukas Van Loggerenberg range will be brought in by Richard Kelley from Dreyfus-Ashby later this year. Other wines are just made to tender for grapes, machinery or friends.