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Les Jardins

Francophile: A person who is fond of or greatly admires France or the French.


Les Jardins

Entering the Le Lude Estate in Franschhoek (where Francophiles go in Africa), one tends to start listing the virtues of all things French. Starting with the landscape, as one approaches the tasting room and L’Orangerie restaurant along a tree-lined avenue, the surrounding gardens and vines are perfectly manicured, reminiscent of the gardens of Versailles or Tuileries. One ascends one’s carriage in faint hopes of meeting a prince, king or at very least, a courtier, though given the gruesome demise of the French court circa Marie Antoinette, it is almost preferable to meet a man Tim Atkin bills as “one of the New World’s greatest sparkling winemakers” or  “a sparkling wine magician”. After all, one enjoys a ration of Méthode Cap Classique on occasion. On entering the tasting room and getting a glimpse of the restaurant, L’Orangerie, one once again makes a mental note to revive one’s interest in all things French. The interiors here are magnificent, with gilded wall panels, imposing crystal chandeliers hanging heavily from a corniced ceiling, huge picture windows looking out onto the manicured gardens and the Franschhoek mountains beyond, a black and white checkered floor in the conservatory, plush chairs redolent of the animated furniture in ‘Beauty and the Beast’… One fights the urge to curtsy when an older gentleman approaches through the glass doors that seem to separate the tasting room from the cellar. 

The Barrows

Nic Barrow is the owner of Le Lude Estate in Franschhoek. Originally from Bloemfontein, he practised Law in Oudtshoorn, later owning numerous luxury boutique hotels in Oudtshoorn and the Cape and had a founding hand in both the Klein Karoo Kunstefees {Klein Karoo Art Festival}  and Karoo Klassique, a classical music event that combines music, art and wine into one (we can only imagine) enticing whole. His wife Ferda seems to be the aesthete in the family, who together with their daughter Olga, an interior designer, is responsible for the interiors and manicured, French-inspired gardens making up 0.5 hectares of the Estate. Their second daughter, Nicolene, a chef, who interned under Michel Roux at La Gavroche in London, now runs L’Orangerie full time, creating seasonal dishes that echo the opulent surroundings. Together, the Barrow family’s attention to detail, inherent style and love of the classical arts is imbued in every brick. The name Le Lude, in fact, taken from Château du Lude in the Loire Valley, France. The rose garden there is said to have inspired Nic and Ferda to recreate it on home soil. And they did, beautifully. Le Lude’s connection to the arts continues even today in their sponsorship of the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, which you’d be well advised to keep an eye on their line-up this upcoming festive season. Given the Barrows' very fine tastes, they were fortunate to find a winemaker that not only shared their vision but made good on it. Enter Paul Gerber, ‘sparkling wine magician’.

Paul Gerber

Paul is a soft-spoken man, which belies his imposing stature. Originally a math teacher at a number of private schools, one can tell that he must have been a hit with the students, given his patient, well-thought-out answers. He quietly takes me through his very precise brand of alchemy, given that Le Lude exclusively makes Méthode Cap Classique both using the traditional method as well as experimenting (winningly) with the agrafé method. So… you’re familiar with Méthode Cap Classique right? Basically, a copy of the Champenoise method, just done in Africa. Involving two fermentations, the second of which being responsible for the elusive bubble, its size denoting its status, influenced by whether the second fermentation occurs with a crown cap (a metal capsule that ensures zero interaction with the outside world) or a cork fastened by a staple (the agrafé) and responsible for a treasure trove of opulent flavour and textures. The crown cap is replaced with a cork and a muselet after disgorgement, while the agrafé method allows for ageing to occur on the cork. Paul explains the results of the crown cap to be clean, homogenous and fresh - a control group for those scientifically minded among you. While the agrafé method shows an evolution in flavour that seems to be the muse to Paul’s fascination with this particular style of wine. Something he shares with assistant winemaker Emma Bruwer, of Springfield Estate, having found a fellow disciple of the bubble in her. Unlike Dom Perignon, who championed the use of red grapes to make sparkling wine ascribing it to their assumed vigour, Paul’s goal wine is to make an enigmatic Blanc de Blancs. Chardonnay he says providing the perfect combination of clean, fresh and acidic flavours to create the TEXTURE so prized in an MCC. 

Rave Reviews

In Tim Atkin’s 2018 South Africa Report, Le Lude’s Magnum Cuvée 2012, Paul’s maiden vintage, is billed as the Overall Sparkling Wine of the year and rated a whopping 96 points. Together with rave reviews from Wine Anorak’s Jamie Goode and Master of Wine, Greg Sherwood, Le Lude’s wines, to a man, are rated 91 points and above - which given the winemaker, the Estate and the general ethos behind the brand, is not surprising. Even the bottles are sourced from Italy and upcycled where possible.

Travel Guide

Since he started making wine, Paul has been travelling to Champagne every year for 11 years, and when asked how long he’d suggest spending there, he candidly asks: Do we have to come back? My answer, of course, a resounding: YES! Given Paul’s experience, I thought it relevant to ask him for a few of his top tips when visiting Champagne, should you wish to go sample the region yourself:

Where do you usually stay when you visit? 

Épernay (The commercial centre of Champagne - home of Avenue Champagne where some of the Grandes Marques have a storefront) or Reims (For the old cathedral and 3 star Michelin Restaurant - L'Assiette Champenoise) or Hautvilliers (the village of Dom Perignon).

Favourite Café and why?

It’s a toss-up. The Glue Pot in Reims - amazing wine list. AU36 in Hautevilliers - local champagnes, divided by cultivar, one can really taste single varietal champagne there.

Favourite Village and why?

 Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, one of the few 100% Grand Cru villages in Champagne, the most sublime terroir for the finest bubbles.  

Favourite look-out bench? (A leading question to be sure, but I know you have a good answer.) 

Le Mesnil above Clos (meaning 'walled vineyard') de Mesnil - a Krug single block. Beautiful view of the slope that makes Les Mesnil unique in terroir. It's all in the chalk as it lies very close to the surface with almost no soil to cover it, making it some of THE most hallowed ground in Champagne. 

Favourite French dish? 

Cassolet, a workers’ meal (South of France), confit duck, Toulouse sausage, like a stew. Always finished with a fresh baguette and good cheese like Chaource from the village of Chaource in the Champagne Ardenne.

Where do you usually eat it in Champagne?

With friends who are Champenoise - cooking together. 

Favourite Vineyard and why?

Clos de Mesnil - the tradition of it, unique site, view. And the fact that the VIEW means something. 

Preferred wine bar and why? 

La fine bulle - The elegant bubble. Insane champagne collection by the glass.

Why do YOU keep going back to Champagne?

To learn, to taste, because I have a research project with the University of Reims, and because it’s as much about the soil as it is about the philosophy of the Champenoise - trying to understand how they interpret their terroir.

With that we invite you to sample the wines of Le Lude and utilise this handy Champagne Glossary, should some of the terms throw you. 

Glossary

Cuvée - There are two main uses of this word. In Champagne, it is the first 2050 litres of juice from a 4000kg press, representing the finest portion of the press. Outside Champagne, it refers to a particular blend of wine, typically from more than one grape variety. 

Agrafé - Literally meaning ’staple’, referring to a large metal clip used to secure the cork before the capsules were invented, typically used during the second fermentation and ageing in bottle. 

Crown Cap/Capsule - A metal capsule, as found on beer bottles, commonly used to seal a bottle during second fermentation and ageing on the lees, then replaced with a cork after being removed via disgorgement. In Champagne, it is illegal to sell Champagne bottled with a crown cap, though not so much in the New World. 

Riddling - A complex process of turning and tilting of bottles in an upright rack, to collect sediment in the neck of the bottle in preparation for disgorgement. 

NV/ Non-Vintage - A term used to denote wines blended from multiple years. 

Vintage Cuvée - Champagne made from the finest portion of the press from the harvest of a single year. 

Blanc de Blancs - Champagne made exclusively from white grapes and in most instances referring to 100% Chardonnay. 

Blanc de Noir - Champagne made exclusively from red grapes - but white in colour. 

Brut - The most common style of champagne, containing anywhere between 0-15grams per litre of dosage (sugar added after first fermentation). Extra Brut can be 0-6 grams per litre, while Brut Nature implies no dosage. 

Muselet - The wirehood that holds the cork in place after disgorgement.

Published On: 10/24/2018

Daléne Fourie

Twitter @DaleneFourie

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