Lusan loosening its grip

I can’t say I was sorry to hear gossip yesterday that Le Bonheur has been sold. In fact, if I was a whooping sort of person, I’d have whooped for joy. Those whose memories and tastebuds go back to the 1980s will remember that one of the not-too-plentiful highlights of that decade was Le Bonheur Cabernet Sauvignon, made by Mike Woodhead, who’d bought the Stellenbosch farm near Klapmuts in the 1970s.

The wines were marketed by Distillers Corporation’s* Die Bergkelder, and somehow (I don’t know the full story but there were those at the time who were shocked by the way Woodhead was allegedly treated), by the early-mid 1990s it was owned by Die Bergkelder, Woodhead was eased into retirement, and Le Bonheur was never the same again.

In time it became part of the Lusan Premium Wines portfolio, the joint venture between Distell and German financier Hans Schreiber which included some other historic Stellenbosch names – notably Alto, but also Uitkyk, Neethlingshof and Stellenzicht. Let’s put it politely and say that the Lusan estates never aimed at the highest levels of quality – certainly they never achieved them, though perhaps Le Bonheur continued to make the most pleasing (small) range of all of them.

But wouldn’t it be great, I thought yesterday, if le Bonheur has indeed been sold to someone who wanted to get those vineyards back to producing something more than decent, pleasant wine? The rest of my informant’s gossip was, in fact, that all of the Lusan farms were on the market, with the exception of Alto. Better and better.

So I asked Razvan Macici, Distell’s head winemaker, about it. He didn’t confirm all the details – for example, that Le Bonheur had already been sold, but, he wrote to me “Yip! There is certain movement in LUSAN…” And he appended a formal media statement in marvellous corporate-speak that’s sufficiently comprehensible if you concentrate hard.

Distell, it seems, has developed “a clear strategy that will guide our future journey to help us to achieve our aspiration of doubling the size of our business in revenue and profits by 2020”. (Gosh!) Part of this strategy is an “aspiration” to “leverage a core portfolio of wine brands in the ‘power’ and ‘luxury’ segments of Distell’s broader product portfolio.”

“As part of this process, we will increase our investment on a select portfolio of wine brands and farm assets, while others may not necessarily be core to our strategy. The Lusan Board, of which Distell is an equal partner, is therefore considering the disposal of Le Bonheur and Uitkyk provided that the terms would be sufficiently attractive to its shareholders including the protection of jobs on these farms. This process is at a sensitive stage of being executed and further updates will be provided in due course.”

There you are then. No certainty as to Le Bonheur actually having already been sold. And Razvan confirmed to me that Stellenzicht and Neethlingshof, as well as Alto, are not on the market. Pity – but at least Le Bonheur and Uitkyk (both with lovely old Cape Dutch manor houses providing nice local pads for some international plutocrat, perhaps) could be liberated back into high quality. Depending, of course, on who buys them – with any luck it’ll be a winelover rather than a financier. I look forward to those promised “further updates”, and will pass them on.


*Corrected from first publication of this blog.

3 thoughts on “Lusan loosening its grip

  1. Oldies like me, of course, primarily remember Le Bonheur for it’s famed Blanc Fumé in those days. That delightful 1983 sauvignon scoring five stars in Platter and living on for a good number of years.

  2. Le Bonheur is our neighbour (Natte Valleij), the old timers still refer to it as Weltevrede, I think Mike Woodhead changed the name? I have very fond memories of having drinks or supper with the Woodheads. Unfortunately I was to young to enjoy Mikes hand, but I do remember being particularly partial to the prawn flavoured chips! My father being a horse breeder, we occasionally would pop over during harvest and take a look at the hustle and bustle, maybe in my subconscious a catalyst to my winemaking career. Apparently Mike would sit on his press with a french beret, never saw this or just can’t remember seeing it. As a wine student I would pop over to taste the wines and it always saddened me how little was spoken of Mike Woodhead and when his name was mentioned (by me), nothing overly positive was said. I look forward (can’t wait) to the next phase in Le Bonheur’s history!

  3. Alex, thanks for the story. It seems the name was, more precisely, Oude Weltevreden. Means the same, I suppose – but I wonder why Mike Woodhead changed it from the Dutch. Signs of the times (the 1970s), perhaps. Melvyn – I’d quite forgotten about the Blanc Fumé (eVen in those days not quite AS interested in sauvignon blanc as its red offspring!).

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