The most unique wine-tasting venue in South Africa is the enclosed, cavernous space where Lomond-headman Wayne Gabb and I are spitting Sauvignon Blanc on the floor. Sheltering our fragile and frail physiques from Africa’s southern elements is a wild, cool wall of leaved branches growing out from the gnarled trunk of a 650 year-old milkwood tree.
The old tree is doing a good job of protecting us. The wind is howling in from L’Agulhas. The local abalone poaching gangs can smell a glass of wine at 14kms – against the wind – and we are secluded from the leering eyes of nearby Baardskeerdersbos’s banjo playing residents.
Gabb is my kind of guy. Straight-talking. Soil and slope and farming and vine is what brought him to pioneering Agulhas as a wine region. He lets the wines speak for themselves, keeping comment to a minimum in-between sharing tips on tiger-fishing and the paucity of galjoen.
Between the still, quiet room provided by the ancient milkwood, it is going to be difficult for a wine not to taste great due to the effect of peace and solace the setting provides. An oxidised Swartland orange Chenin will taste like Chablis under this tree.
But the two site-specific Sauvignons – Lomond’s Pincushion and the Sugarbush, both 2014 – are freaking me out with such terrific raw wine purity, someone’s about to swing on the branches.
Both wines come from land within casting distance of the ocean. The wind blows salt and kelp and shell-spice, while the mists hang heavy with maritime influence. And here are the wines.
Sugarbush 2014 is brightly coloured wine, pale yellow with a slight green tinge found on the outer lip of the greater Cape abalone. The nose is alive with fennel, crushed radish and grated crab apple. On the attack, Sugarbush smacks the palate like an expected dumper piling into a Chinese body-boarder. It is all heady spray and freshness, pyrazines are there in cool comfort while a hint of cantaloupe and white flower lie on the mid-palate.
The wine is kept on lees for eight weeks, perfect timing as the follow and aftertaste are brisk and energetic, but with a dreamy oyster-shell character. Balance, that’s what it is. Sure, the acidity is no subtle flirt, being direct and focussed. But it makes the wine alive, instead of the dead-pierce clumsy acids bear.
A brilliant wine.
I found the Pincushion 2014 as expressive of wild, virgin, breezy and savage terroir as the Sugarbush. The same perfect balance, but with an edgy and neurotic desire to please, which it does.
Here, however, the Sauvignon Blanc shows a smack of salt, the kind that is left on the edge of the rock-pools once the tide has gone out. The refreshment is more severe, like a bucket of defrosted calamari being dropped into the Jacuzzi you are sharing with Uma Thurman. But the tastes are superb, with dried gooseberry, dune sour figs and a dream-like line of de-sugared sherbet.
My eye caught a fish-eagle circling the trout dam, a slant-eyed badger and a tidy pourer behind the wine counter. But I was more interested in the Pinot Noir. Lomond’s 2013, a hit of red to wash down the breezy zest of the Sauvignon.
It, too, is a lovely wine. Surprisingly warm with chilled stewed prune and bramble, the wine displays enough varietal character to make the Pinot monster in me begin to roar and bleed purple juice from my gnashing jaws. The wine is on the fuller side – Chevrey-Chambertin – mainly due to the tight soils and the grapes that in the climate of the Deep South are longer-hung than a Zanzibar beach-boy during a German women’s African.
The colour is deep, it lies rich and lush in the mouth, hauntingly complex as Pinot Noir is. There is forest floor and mushroom, but vivid chunks of black, ripe fruit are thrown around the mouth like drumsticks at a Buddy Rich jazz-gig.
In the forest, covered by it, the wine is going bos.
- Emile Joubert