Back in 2004, former Château Pichon-Longueville-Lalande owner May de Lencquesaing purchased a 123-hectare estate (303 acres) in South Africa’s Stellenbosch district, just around the corner from the famed Rustenberg estate. At the time, de Lencquesaing was one of several outside investors to either start a winery or consult on projects in South Africa, a list that included Michel Laroche, Pierre Lurton, Alain Mouiex and Pascal Chatonnet.
“I have wanted to buy a vineyard outside of France for 20 years,” de Lencquesaing said when I interviewed her at the time of the purchase.
Now, with 60 hectares under vine (two-thirds of them in production) de Lencquesaing’s Glenelly Estate has its first few wines in release. I recently tasted both the bottled 2006 and 2007 vintages of the winery’s main cuvée as well as a barrel sample of the estate’s 2008 luxury cuvée, Lady May.
Both the 2006 and 2007 bottlings offer very good quality with the Glenelly Western Cape 2006, made entirely from fruit purchased from Quoin Rock (the newly-planted Glenelly vines were not yet in production at the time); the Glenelly Western Cape 2007 is made from 50 percent estate fruit and 50 percent purchased fruit.
“We wanted to experiment with potential blends and help establish the brand,” winemaker Luke O'Cuinneagain said of the decision to bring in purchased fruit before the farm was fully up and running. “And we wanted to see what direction we would go in.”
That direction is being pointed to by the '07, which is a step up from the ’06. The '06 is a solid, currant- and herb-filled red made from nearly equal parts Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In contrast, the '07 (officially being released in the spring after some additional time in bottle) shows more grip with its taut black currant, bacon and loam notes. It’s ripe and very solid with a hint of tobacco on the toasty finish. The '07 is a blend of 44 percent Shiraz, 31 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 24 percent Merlot and a drop of Petit Verdot, the latter grape always a distinguishing characteristic of de Lencquesaing’s wines at Pichon-Lalande. (Note: As always, official reviews based on a blind tasting of samples will appear in the near future.)
“It’s the grape that’s been the biggest surprise here so far,” O'Cuinneagain said about Petit Verdot, which may have an increased role in future vintages. “Usually Petit Verdot’s tannins are very angular. But here it’s very filled in and perfumy. We’re very happy with it so far.”
O'Cuinneagain joined the project two years ago to oversee construction of the winery facility and the start of production. Château Pichon-Lalande cellarmaster Thomas Dô-Chi-Nam had helped oversee the initial planting of the estate. O'Cuinneagain, who worked previously at neighboring Rustenberg, has also spent time at Screaming Eagle in California and Château Angélus in the St.-Emilion appellation of Bordeaux.
The Glenelly property features east-facing slopes, different from the more common west-facing slopes in the Stellenbosch district. Situated in a saddle between two hills, the estate gets a prevailing breeze throughout the day as well, making it a cooler spot in a generally warm area.
Grapes at Glenelly are hand-harvested, bunch-sorted, destemmed and then given an additional berry sort prior to fermentation. The wine is fermented in stainless steel with natural yeast for "more complexity," according to O'Cuinneagain. He then allows the malolactic to proceed naturally in the barrel, where the wine is aged for 12 to 14 months in a mix of new and used French oak. The 2008 Glenelly bottling will be the first vintage to use only estate fruit. Though not currently available in the U.S. market, the estate is looking to export their wine here. O'Cuinneagain estimates the wine would retail for about $17 per bottle.
In addition to the main wine, the Lady May cuvée is a lot selection of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. The barrel sample of the 2008 was very dynamic, showing outstanding potential thanks to its vivid purple and blue fruit flavors, a nice, jazzy, violet note and lots of spice and licorice on the finish. The wine will be aged entirely in new oak for 20 to 24 months before bottling.
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Dave Jefferson — Novato, CA, USA — February 3, 2010 8:25pm ET
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