Etienne le Riche’s reputation as one the Cape’s best producers of cabernet sauvignon has only grown since he left Rustenberg in the mid 1990s and set up shop under his own name and built up the reputation of his eponymous brand. For that time he has operated from rented acommodation on the wonderfully-named Leef-op-Hoop (Live on Hope) farm in the Jonkershoek valley, making wine in an old cellar which he resuscitated.
Now, nearly two decades on, and soon after Etienne handed over the prime winemaking resonsibility to his son Christo, at last the Le Riche brand has its very own cellar. A year or two back Etienne bought a house and three-hectare smallholding near the hamlet of Raithby in one of the most deeply rural parts of the Stellenbosch district (Anwilka is the nearest cellar). There’s a pinotage vineyard there at present, which is of no winemaking interest to the Bordeaux-oriented le Riches, but it is just alongside some of the cabernet vineyards which (on the basis of “long-term friendship agreements”) find their way into his wines, along with grapes from the Firgrove area – but, since 2010, not from Jonkershoek.
Most significantly, the le Riches (daughter Yvonne is also fully involved in the business as brand manager) have built a winery there. A proper home at last for Le RIche Wines. It can easily handle the 80 tons of grapes that they vinify – of which they bottle 60 tons under their own label. The traditional open-top concrete fermenters that they favour have been built (with some nice modern additons, like cement holding tanks directly underneath them).
New winemaker, new winery, but that’s not all. There’s a new wine from the 2011 vintage, rather cleverly called “Richesse”, to replace the discontinued Cabernet-Merlot – a blend of cab, merlot, cab franc petit verdot. And in fact, all the labels have been nicely tweaked – still recognisably family, but altogether more modern, sophisticated and elegant.
With all this, there’s a determination from the winemaking team (and don’t imagine that Etienne has entirely retreated to his computer after giving increased say to Christo) that the wines will continue on their present path. Although the meaning of that is not entirely certain, as the Le Riche wines do seem to have been gaining in ripeness, opulence and power in recent years, arguably at the cost of some of their famed elegance.
But as Etienne says with a quiet smile of satisfaction and with, I think, justifiable pride in what he has built up over the years: “Lots of changes, but really no change….”