The combination of exceptional wine, masterful architecture, sustainability and a Franco/South African legacy, make for an intriguing story. Chris Buchanan spent an afternoon at Glenelly Estate and got very close to a Salvador Dali.
The name May de Lencquesaing is well known in two of the world’s most reputable wine producing regions, Bordeaux and Stellenbosch. In 1978 she took over the Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in the Pauillac appellation of Bordeaux which had been in her family since 1925. Her vision for the 300 year-old Chateau saw a modernising programme introduced over 30 years of personal management of the estate.
Madame de Lencquesaing’s passion as an ambassador for Bordeaux style wines and quest for new markets brought her to South Africa in 1988 where she saw the potential for blended wine in a sanctions starved market of single varietals. Her eye turned to the Ida Valley in Stellenbosh and a fruit farm on a terroir as old as the Chateau she owned in France, and she bought Glenelly in 2003. It’s on the southern slopes of the Simonsberg mountain and has east and west aspects that are perfect for different varietals needed for blending.
The fruit trees were removed and extensive soil analysis saw the planting on half of the property of Cabernet Sauvignon 41.7%, Syrah 19.2%, Merlot 13.3%, Petit Verdot 8.3%, Cabernet Franc 8.3% and Chardonnay 9.2%. Planning also began on a production facility and cellar while wine was made with grapes from surrounding properties.
Luke O’Cuinneagain arrived as winemaker from working experience locally, Rustenburg and abroad, Chateau Angelus, and he and Madame de Lencquesaing shared the vision immediately.
Luke says the soils on these slopes are particularly old, made up of decomposed granitic quartz on top of lower levels of clay. Clay, he adds, is important on the eastern slopes because Merlot likes to get its feet wet and the clay holds the moisture. The new vines also mean no viruses, minimising infection in the fruit and allowing an earlier harvest.
Glenelly’s innovation lies in the cellar – a Modernist structure that settles into the hillside, providing ideal conditions for an energy efficient, gravity flow winery. “Winemakers spend a lot of time in dark places” says Luke so natural light was a priority in the winery.
An ambitious concrete structure houses four levels of production under South Africa’s largest single span concrete roof. A hydrothermal system keeps the massive spaces at ideal cool temperatures for wine production despite the glass façade that opens it up to natural light. “The grapes go in at the top and the bottles come out at the bottom”, says Luke and that makes for very little pumping and a 70% energy saving.
The tasting room is also housed in the building, as are the glass museum and the vintage library. Madame is an avid glass collector, recognising the relationship between glass and wine, and pieces dating back to early Roman times sit beside modern works, including Salvador Dali’s Cross Leibniz.
Luke believes wines are judged by their vintages and a space within the complex is set aside to store Glenelly’s vintage wines in controlled conditions. You won’t get to see this on a day’s tasting because it’s a piece of history in the making and the less interference these wines experience the better. “Holding vintage wine equals cost and space”, but that seems to be the ethos of Glenelly – to ensure that wine making remains an art form, allowing the wine to express itself under the many circumstances that influence it.
Tel: +27 21 809 6440
Fax: +27 21 809 6448
GPS Co-ordinates: S33°55’6.1″E018°52’45.1″
Lady May 2010
Lady May is Glenelly’s Flagship Estate wine. Elegant and complex, the wine develops flavours of cassis, blackcurrant, dark cherry, touch of graphite and delicate spicy plum. Fresh and vibrant, the evolution of the wine introduces flavours specific to Glenelly’s terroir. Deeply coloured and perfectly balanced, the wine displays an exquisite structure with velvety tannins and a very good aging capability. Can age during 12 to 18 years.
90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot
Grand Vin de Glenelly Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2009
Grand Vin de Glenelly is the signature red blend of the estate. The wine has a deep, dark and rich colour. The wine offers an elegant complex bouquet developing aromas of cassis and spicy plums, cedar and blond tobacco with notes of toast in the background. The palate has a great intensity and concentration with fantastic freshness and fine, elegant, but well-structured tannins, which lead to a long luscious finish.
42% Shiraz, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot
Grand Vin de Glenelly Chardonnay 2013
The Grand Vin Chardonnay displays a wonderful bright crisp colour. The nose displays vibrant lemon and lime zest, with hints of apple, pear drop, lychee and rose which overlays the minerality. The palate is lush, the creamy texture is underpinned with beautiful mineral notes and hints of toasted almond and vanilla. The finish is fresh with great minerality and has a nervous energy about it.
Glass Collection Chardonnay 2013 (Unwooded)
The Glass Collection Chardonnay has a bright and brilliant colour with a slight green hue. The wine has complex aromas of citrus, lime zest, marmalade and melon. On the palate there is a beautiful round comforting texture with wonderful length and intense fruit complexity and a mineral oyster shell finish.
Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
The Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon develops a very complex nose with flavours of Cassis, blackcurrant, cherry, a touch of spices and chocolate. The wine has a good tannin structure, perfect balance and length, with layers of flavours which have followed through from the nose to the palate.
Glass Collection Merlot 2011
The Glass Collection Merlot is a deep rich coloured wine. It displays intense dark fruit aromas and spicy plums with touches of spearmint on the edge. This Merlot shows tremendous concentration, richness and generous fruit on the palate with fine but well structured and balanced tannins to embrace it all.
Glass Collection Syrah 2011
The Glass Collection Syrah has a wonderful dark and rich colour with deep purple undertones, yet there is still brilliance to the wine. The aromatics of the wine are intense with floral tones such as Yasmin and Violet coming through with white pepper spice, spicy plum and dark berry core. The palate is well balanced and textured with soft round tannins and a pure fruit core shining through.