So what would you do if you were well into retirement age, and had owned and run one of Bordeaux’s most prestigious properties for 30 years? Then you decide to sell it, but being still active and keen to do more, you start scouting around for something else to do. Maybe you would learn a language or go on a cruise?

Or perhaps you might, like Madame May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, formerly chatelaine of Ch. Pichon-Lalande in Pauillac, find another project to fill your time, although Glenelly Estate is rather more than a retirement hobby.

May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, owner of Glenelly

When I arranged to visit Glenelly Estate, on the slopes of the Simonsberg mountains, just outside Stellenbosch in South Africa, I was expecting just that – a retirement project. Perhaps with a couple of hectares of vines, a nice Cape Dutch house in the middle and a small artisanal winery. What a mistake!

As I approached this estate the most outstanding feature was a long hillside of vines, meticulously planted in regimented rows marching up a slope, forming an amphitheatre of vines. The gravity-fed winery is long, sleek and nestles into the hillside – starkly modern but unobtrusive. Apparently there is also a rather nice Dutch Cape house, but I didn’t get to see that.

‘This used to be a fruit farm’, said Luke O’Cuinneagain, the winemaker who has been with the project since it started. ‘So we had to clear the land before we could plant vines. Now we have 60 hectares under vines, and if needed we have another 12 hectares available to plant.’

The winery is also rather impressive. I have seen lots of stainless steel tanks, but these shiny fermenters form a wide-spaced guard of honour leading to massive windows that look out across the vineyards to the mountains. ‘It is meant to bring the outside into the winery, so everyone remembers that the winery is the connection between vine and wine,’ said Luke.

Now 92 years old, Madame de Lencquesaing is still fit and active. She spends some of her time in South Africa and some in France, but her eye is always on her Glenelly wines. ‘Even before the vines were planted she had a definite idea about how she wanted the wines to develop and age.’ The wines are definitely South African with depth of fruit and supple tannins, but Luke’s experience at top properties such as Angelus in St Emilion and Screaming Eagle in California means that he knows how to bring out the best in them, with subtlety, finesse and elegance. Increasingly he uses a natural approach to winemaking, and lets the grapes speak for themselves.

Of the lineup at Glenelly I enjoyed the unoaked Chardonnay 2016 (around £10.99) for its bright lemon zesty character with delicate floral notes and a crunchy, minerally texture. Stepping up to the barrel-fermented Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2014, the oak was whisper quiet, supporting precise, melon fruit with lively freshness. Of the reds I enjoyed the Glass Collection Syrah 2014 for its Northern Rhône character with lifted, peppery fruit and Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (around £10.99) for its clear blackcurrant fruit, with structuring, silky tannins. Top marks went to Lady May 2011, a premium Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot blend, made in a style that nods towards Pauillac in a warm-hearted way. This was a delicious, consistent, elegant set of wines.

Find Glenelly wines at Bon Coeur in Melsonby (www.bcfw.co.uk), at Martinez Wines in Ilkley and Bingley while Majestic has Lady May 2010 at £35.00. At the winery I tasted the most recent vintages but older stocks are on shelves in retailers and this is a good thing. These are wines that can be enjoyed when they are young but there is a definite aim to make age-worthy wines – just like Madame de Lencquesaing herself.

A few miles down the road towards Franschhoek there is another French revolution taking place.

Philippe Colin is owner of some of the best Chassagne Montrachet vineyards in Burgundy and his excellent wines can command prices in excess of £150 a bottle. Clearly he likes a challenge, so when he discovered Topiary vineyard  and winery for sale 8000 miles away in South Africa, he joined forces with a sommelier colleague, and decided to buy it. When I called in, his son Simon has already arrived from France to get the winery ready for harvest and Philippe was expected within a few days.

This is an established estate, with 20 hectares of vines planted mainly to Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, but their pride and joy is the 2 hectares of Chardonnay above the winery, planted on steep rocky soil. The previous owners had made sparkling wine from these grapes but it seems the Colin family have new ideas. They have taken the Chardonnay in hand, dramatically cut the yield and are planning to change the pruning style, to get more concentration in the grapes.

‘First of all we have to get used to the terroir’, said Simon, so this is still very much an experiment but we are pleased with our first 2 vintages and hope to plant more Chardonnay in the next year or so.

Transformation is not just happening in the vineyards. The cellar is now home to new oak, sourced from the Colin’s particular favourite tonnellerie and used judiciously for wild-yeast barrel fermentation of the Chardonnay.

The result is in the 2015 Topiary Chardonnay that still retains bright lemon acidity, with delicious melon and tropical fruit and a creamy, minerally finish. (Halifax Wine Co., £19.95, also available at Harrogate Fine Wine).

 

They are also getting to grips with the Shiraz grapes too. For a Burgundian, learning how to make Shiraz is a completely new skill but their 2014 Shiraz shines in the glass, with flavours of white pepper and dark berry fruit. These are wines I will definitely keep an eye on.

Simon Colin of Topiary Vineyards, South Africa

What is it about South Africa that has attracted these French growers and winemakers? I think it comes down to potential. South Africa is poised on the edge of a fantastic wine revolution. The land, climate, grapes and the will to succeed are all in place. South Africa is already making extremely high quality wines and this French invasion demonstrates that top winemakers want to be part of it.

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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