A little while back I got this PS to an email from Chris Alheit: “You should visit Lukas van Loggerenberg. He’s got something cool happening in a shed on a hill in Stellenbosch.”
Would I not be alert (and obedient) to such a message from such a person? I would not. So I found out where exactly the hill was (Devon Valley), and where the shed (on the top of the hill, on the Carinus’s grape farm with the pleasing name of Fransmanskraal), and there was Lukas, ready to take me on a taste trip through his barrels. And as Chris Alheit promised, there’s something quite special happening there.
A Rawsonville boy (though not with winey origins), Lukas worked at Rijk’s in Tulbagh after graduating from Elsenburg, and learnt a lot from Pierre Wahl’s skilful winemaking. Then he spent two seasons on the Finger Lakes – a cool climate are on the eastern side of the USA, but his motivation seems to have been to learn marketing as much as anything. Then back home, and a few years at the Druk My Niet estate in Paarl.
And then things conspired to finally knock him off the edge of being a salary-earner into the scary but apparently inevitable world of making his own wine. Friends helped push: Chris Alheit said “Just do it!”, and Lukas “actually made the final decision during a holiday with Reenen Borman [of Boschkloof] whilst sitting in the vineyards drinking some champagne”.
So here he is in his quite large shed (in exchange for which he will make an under-the-radar Swartland chenin for its owners) with fermenting tanks and barrels, and in the barrels some extremely promising wines.
The difficult 2016 vintage, his maiden one, seems to have been comparatively successful for Lukas, surely partly owing to his intimate involvement with the vineyards he makes his wines from: in fact he likes to think of himself as “a farmer rather than a winemaker”, and says he was constantly in the vineyards. Foreseeing the problem of lower acidity, for example, he picked the Swartland chenin in three goes, starting somewhat underripe in order to gain freshness for the final blend.
Lukas’s own chenin is from high old (1960) Paarl vines whose fruit used to go to Simonsvlei, and presumably get lost there. The 2016 yield was pitiable – from two hectares he got just 1.7 tons. He made two pickings and vinifications, giving very different wines. That from the lower part of the slope is pure delight, with fresh fruit forwardness, lively acid and a real intensity; the wine from the higher part is less immediately charming, with much more stone and spice in its character. The blend should be fascinating and complex and fine.
Incidentally, it wasn’t only El Nino making things difficult for Lukas in 2016. He says: “At what was supposed to be the start of the new (and first) vintage of Van Loggerenberg Wines I broke my knee-cap and had to undergo two major knee surgeries during harvest. But friends and family helped out in the cellar doing punch-downs when I was in hospital and arranging for a cellar hand to assist me when I got back and to be my ‘extra set of legs’.” This support was part of the reason why Lukas decided to call his chenin Kamaraderie, as I described in a blog on Wine magazine. The smashed knee-cap was undoubtedly behind his rosé being called Break-a-Leg.
For, also in old barrels (and also of course made without the aid of any additives, including commercial yeast) are a pale but sultry and sweet-fruited blanc de noir from Faure cinsaut, and a rather serious cinsaut red which includes a component from Jacobsdal – the ever-supportive Chris Alheit gave the maimed Lukas a barrelsworth of his own grapes as a birthday present (no wonder Lukas wants to celebrate camaraderie).
I’m looking forward immensely to tasting all these wines once they are blended and bottled, but the one that perhaps intrigues me most is the cab franc. Like Lukas I have a particular love for the cab francs from the Loire (they remind me in their expressive modesty of old-fashioned bordeaux, before it became so ripe), and this one is clearly being made in that tradition – including being bottled, Lukas says, in a “burgundy” bottle, under the name Breton. It’s from two rows of Stellenbosch vines, picked earlier than is usual – with just 12.5% alcohol (like old bordeaux generally was!) it is lively and youthfully very tight, with dry-leaf, herbal and spicy notes, but nothing that could be sneered at as green.
The Stellenbosch hills and mountains and valleys do not as yet harbour too many outposts of the Cape avant-garde, and this one is more than welcome. Look forward, as I do, to these wines being bottled. I don’t think they’ll be very cheap, and I don’t think they’ll be plentiful – there’s already a British importer who’d love to take them all, I think – but they will be excellent.