It perhaps didn’t seem so at the time, but it was the best thing that ever happened to Craig and Carla Hawkins when they left Lammershoek not long after an ownership and management shift on that substantial Paardeberg estate. They are now really happy at an amazing farm of their own further north in the Swartland and are set for great things there, I have no doubt, including pursuit of their negociant range of ‘natural’ wines, Testalonga (see here for an account of my visit earlier this year). Craig’s assistant in the cellar at Lammerhoek, Jurgen Gouws, has also prospered since the split, certainly in vinous terms: his own range under the Intellego label seems to get better each vintage and is as exciting as anything in the Swartland.
And – to make it an all-round triumph – the change was the best thing that could have happened to Lammershoek too. Craig’s devotion to organic viticulture, to very early picking to achieve light freshness in the wines, and to radically non-interventionist winemaking were all fine things – and his earlier picking had, I’m convinced, a wide and good influence in the Swartland. But that style wasn’t suited to all the vineyards at a large estate like Lammershoek, nor was the winemaking always suited to the commercial requirements (including predictability!) of comparatively large bottlings (comparative to Testalonga, for example).
Schalk Opperman came in to generally manage and to make the wines at Lammershoek, and Charl van Reenen to nurture the vineyards – organically where possible. That was in time for the 2015 harvest. And we can see more easily now, after a few years, that both Schalk and Charl are doing a fine job, with no compromises in terms of integrity and interest, all in the spirit of the continuing Swartland revolution.
The German owners, with footballer legend Franz Beckenbauer at their head, have spent generously, improving the cellar and establishing a new tasting facility. Sandmining aside, the Paardeberg, where that Swartland revolution really took off, has never looked more promising; it’s hard to believe that less than two decades ago Eben Sadie, Adi Badenhorst, and David and Nadia Sadie weren’t settled here, and that Lammershoek fruit was going to the co-op. Not to mention what established farms in the area are doing (notably Annex Kloof, perhaps), with Môrelig Vineyards – abutting Lammershoek – now in the early stages of developing a range of wine, as well as providing raw material for many others.
Recently I met Schalk Opperman (in the pic), at ever-wine-friendly A Tavola restaurant in Claremont, Cape Town, for lunch and a chat and to taste some of his current, new and forthcoming releases. Not only are the wines all stuff to savour, but the regular top-level bottlings have a most pleasing new label design – with a clever visual pun made between a close up of an eagle’s wing (what it actually is) and rolling vineyards (what it looks like at first glance). There are now three clearly delineated ranges: Terravinum (no longer for just the top blends), The Mysteries – for small or experimental wines; and the great value entry-level The Innocent wines.
The hot dry 2016 vintage seems to have presented no real problems for Lammershoek. Far from it – in fact 2016 is turning out to be, with some exceptions in red wines, as generally good a vintage for the Swartland as for more coastal areas. Chenin Blanc Reserve 2016 (about R155) is a fine example of the Swartland’s signature white grape: fermented and matured in old oak, it’s bright and fresh, with some sweet-fruited (quince notable) richness at its core, a good natural acidity and just 12.5% alcohol encasing the rather elegant restraint.
Terravinum White 2016 (R185) is, as usual, a chenin-based blend, with 30% viognier (giving a subtle peachy perfume) and 10% chardonnay. It’s richer than the chenin, with a gentle but informing acid, and a touch of phenolic graininess; nothing pushy or obvious.
Showing that Schalk can do a touch of weirdness at least as well and attractively as his predecessor is Die Haarde Blaar 2016, an example of the rare but fine hárslevelű grape in the Mysteries range (R265 ex farm). Half left on skins for four days to give a phenolic tightness, with a rich, ripe, subtly succulent acidity that is the most exciting element in the wine, and just 12% alcohol. I took the bottle home (as I did the others too) and it got even more fascinating over the next three days.
I’m not going to say anything now about the 2016 reds; they’re not going to be released for a few months – and even then I’m sure they’re still going to be tight and raw. But they are very promising indeed. Actually, I will properly mention the Mysteries Die Ou Man, which is selling now (R280). From a 1960s block of tinta barroca, it’s another very special and exciting wine: spice, plum, wildness; fresh and vital, beautifully dry, with some balanced richness, at 13.5% alcohol.
And I tasted some 2017 reds ex barrel, Die Duiker from grenache (I believe the 2016 is available soon if not already), and Die Onderstok from a 1960s block of carignan. This is all really interesting stuff. Lammershoek remains – and is more dependably so than ever, in fact – a core component of the strength of the ongoing Swartland revolution. The wines are not widely available, I don’t think, but I don’t know why – even Wine Cellar seems not to stock them. Since Lammershoek started shifting from being yet another mere supplier to the co-op in the late 1990s, it hasn’t made a better range than it does now.