Hanging Head at Longridge

You don’t take a knife to a gunfight and you sure as hell don’t go doing lunch with wine-maker Jasper Raats and food diva Marilou Marais Ferreira with a weak constitution. Fortunately I have now employed a driver, Enoch Simelikizi, otherwise the road from Longridge Wine Estate, venue of aforementioned vinous interlude, would have been as precarious as kissing a nurse who is on leave from Ebola duty in Liberia.

Until Jasper called in his gravelly, Gunston Toasted voice, the thought of visiting Longridge in the Helderberg outside Stellenbosch had left me unaffected by any form of groin-warming excitement. I remembered being bored by images of a semi-corporate kind of spread with a frosty look and feel when the name was being bandied about 15 years ago, and I cannot actually recall intentionally drinking any of its wines. Ever.

Jasper Raats
Jasper Raats

And then, just prior to the 2012 vintage, Jasper rolled onto the Longridge spread. A former corporate lawyer and brother of wild-haired Chenin Blanc yogi Bruwer, Jasper had turned to the wine industry where he made a rolling stone look sedentary. I had encountered him making wine in the Hemel-en-Aarde, then he was off churning juice in New Zealand before helping resurrect Rudera after Teddy Hall’s departure – and these are only the episodes I am aware of.

Enoch dropped me at Longridge, set against the lower reaches of the Helderberg, and I was immediately impressed by all the gardening going on around the reception area and restaurant. A veritable vegetable oasis,  with all the stuff going into the kitchen. But enough of that, vegetables are great, I was here for the wine.

Jasper and I sat outside with a dark blue, inky Atlantic Ocean winking to the left while Table Mountain was clearly visible some 30km ahead. Dramatic mountain views such as those from Tokara and Delaire-Graff are great, yes, but there is a lot to be said for the clear space of rolling hills and vineyard-clad buttes.

Longridge
Longridge

We kicked-off with a Longridge Rosé Cap Classique just as Marilou arrived, having driven non-stop from the Kalahari. Marilou, a caterer, restaurant-consultant and all round femme a la party, helps out with the Longridge menu and was around to offer culinary advice, provide scintillating conversation as well as to ensure the wine steward got his aerobic work-out for the day.

I made it pretty clear that the reputation Longridge has for Chardonnay was a major attraction, so two bottles were duly ordered.

The first was the standard Longridge Chardonnay 2012. The vineyard is on the lower slopes of the Helderberg with iron-rich soils of decomposed granite, although looking at the pH just on three and the refined and balanced structure the wine shows through the French oak, there has to be some chalk in the farm’s dirt.

This is a pure, stunning wine. A distinct hit of Key Lime Pie instead of the more intrusive Lemon Meringue gives the Chardonnay a zippy, tart allurement and fine creaminess. In the background of this fresh decadence, light notes of toasted Zanzibar cardamom are offset by freshly grated mace to add a hint of the exotic, a bit of an edge. Like a Moorish flag hanging from the castle of a Burgundy Duke.

In a year of having drank some frantically good Chardonnay, Longridge is right up there.

The second bottle was a work in progress. It is made from an old vineyard which, according to Jasper, was planted by John Platter. This is on higher slopes and Jasper had resurrected the vineyard, made the wine and bottled the 2013 vintage.

jasper 5

Jasper calls it the Clos du Ciel, and this being no free lunch, Marilou and I asked when we thought the wine was ready for release.

The Clos du Ciel is vastly different to the Longridge Chardonnay, although fruit purity, a clean structure and that air of being well-made are evident in both wines.

The Clos du Ciel is all Chardonnay, but with a dry, sagebrush edge on the nose similar to the wines grown just on the northern edge of Meursault. This wine is obviously also wooded for structure and tone, giving it just the slightest grilled nuttiness. The fruit is citrus, but of the leaner, less opulent variety than the Longridge standard and in the background there lurks a spot of dried fig. An absolute stunner, and if it was up to me this wine would have to be released as in, today.

In between all this, mounds of rabbit terrine, cuts of duck and piles of osso buco were being eaten with buckets of Longridge Pinotage and crates of Merlot. Some Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin were called to chase pan-friend yellowtail and a succulent loin of lamb. The going was good.

But it being a Raats table, I had to command a big Chenin Blanc. The Longridge Ou Steen is a semi-sweet Vouvray kind-of-wine made from a vineyard over 30 years old. This was served with a pile of cheese varying from Boerenkaas to Gorgonzola to goat, and besides a chilled Tawny I can think of no better style of wine to match the fruit of the cow’s and goat’s udder.

The Ou Steen is textured and weighty in appearance with a surprisingly shy nose. But on the palate it is driven by honeycomb and stone-fruit; definitely on the sweeter side of the wine spectrum with gravitas, grace and a surprisingly fresh presence.

This is what Chenin must have tasted like 50 years ago, a full splash of succulent wet wine. Jump right in, the water is fine. Just be prepared.

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