Hooked on Lammershoek
Hooked on Lammershoek
by James Bisset
Driving out of Cape Town into the Swartland, it doesn’t feel like you’re heading into wine country. Before you know it you’ve left the city behind, and the landscape quickly becomes stark and beautiful.
You’re in farm country now. The wheat fields, rolling hills and neverending sky force you to relax a little more, breath a little less, and let your mind wander to things of little consequence.
After passing through Malmesbury, some of those wheat fields turn into vineyards. By the time you reach the Paardeberg, those soils have turned to decomposed granite, and when you start to see the winery names, you realise that you might have just arrived in the most interesting of all the Cape’s wine regions.
Lammershoek has been here since the very beginning. A storied farm with a proud history and a connection to many of the key figures to have come out of the region. Eben Sadie, next door neighbour and arguably the country’s most celebrated winemaker, spent plenty of time in the cellar. As did just about everyone else.
Their more recent history is prehaps even more compelling, as the farm was purchased in 2012 by three foreign investors, including former football World Cup winning captain and manager, Franz Beckenbauer. Another was Andreas Abold, a man who played a significant role in Germany’s World Cup in 2006 and in South Africa winning the rights to host the 2010 tournament.
Andreas and his family had fallen in love with South Africa and spent the next 7 years commuting in order to run the farm, ultimately realizing that this was a fool’s errand. It had to be all or nothing. And with that, the family packed their bags and moved their lives from Munich to 180 hectares of pure Swartland.
Which brings us up to speed. The last decade has been a tumultuous one for Lammershoek. A lot of change and uncertainty in a short period of time. But when I arrive, a new coat of paint is being applied to a cellar that also bears its 1718 date of inception. It’s a timely reminder that wine farms also work according to a different clock.
There’s a feeling of cohesiveness to Lammershoek now. Not us and them, but of one big family. From the baby bush buck that was being nursed back to health in the back of a bakkie, to the vegetable garden planted during lockdown to provide for all the families living and working on the farm. There’s a warmth and a unity that bodes well.
A walk through the cellar shows the order and precision that is such a proud German trait, and it’s immediately clear that the Abold’s aren’t here on holiday. This is their life now. A drive through the vineyards, however, doesn’t bear much resemblance to the Mosel. These are wild, untrellised, old bush vines. Sparsely planted, difficult to farm, weathered by the wind and sun, with a thirst forged by a casual relationship with the world’s most precious resource.
This is most definitely the Swartland, and these vineyards in their permanently stressed state produce some remarkable grapes. I’m excited to taste the wines being made on the farm. I’ve heard some very good things, but I wasn’t fully prepared for what was to come.
The Lammershoek Innocent range is meant to be their easy drinking lifestyle range; an accessible introduction to their wines. Well, head winemaker Jorrie du Plessis has a sheepish look as he pours his wines. I only realised afterwards why that might be.
The Innocent Rosé 2019 has a distinctly Provençal look to it, and this lightly pressed wine is a revelation. Made from Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre, it is a study in restraint. Red berries, citrus, herbs, remarkable acidity, summer and swimming pools, if there’s such a thing as a breakfast wine, then this is it.
The Innocent White Blend 2019 too is very impressive. It’s description as fruit driven and accessible belies its complexity. And it’s vinification suggest that it will age beautifully too. This is a white blend that tastes like the Swartland, with a significant percentage of old vine Chenin Blanc, complemented by Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc.
As impressive as they are, the highlight is Innocent Syrah 2018. This wonderful interpretation of Swartland Syrah might just be one of the best value wines in the world. Made with about 30% whole bunch fermenation, this technique removes much of the primary fruit and helps to produce a wine with a perfumed nose, a complex, savoury palate with already approachable tannins. It’s far too elegant for the price. Just a stunning wine.
If you were expecting the Innocent Pinotage 2018 to be the black sheep in the flock, you can think again. Like the others, it shows fantastic freshness, with low alcohol, high acidity, bright red fruit and a long finish. Closer in character to a Pinot Noir, it is everything that you don’t usually associate with South African Pinotage. So, I guess in that sense, it is something of a black sheep. Or a bright red sheep.
To say that these wines are impressive is an understatement. They are windows into the Swartland, showcasing very current winemaking with a focus on the more savoury and refreshing qualities. They are not just a good introduction into the wines of Lammershoek, or even the Swartland, they are a perfect gateway into the wines of South Africa.
That they are brought to you by a family that has just made South Africa their home, along with families that have been farming the land for generations just makes these wines even more special.