Lammershoek grows caution to the wind

Suddenly, while sniffing and sipping, there arose an old memory from my first-year fine-arts oil-painting exam at Wits.

Giuseppe Cattaneo, our teacher and invigilator, stopped to look at my still life. I imagined myself to be profiting from my history of art studies, happily deploying techniques associated with some of the greater Post-Impressionists. “I’m not sure,” Cattaneo couldn’t stop himself from murmuring, “that an exam is the best time to carry out experiments.” My borrowing from Cezanne was apparently not entirely successful.

This came back to me while I was tasting the wines of Lammershoek, one of the new-wave Swartland wineries. Wine sales generally are bad, exports less lucrative than they should be — the industry is bleeding. Is this the best time, I wondered, for experiments from a producer that has been making some really attractive but fairly conventional wines? At which my tastebuds linked arms with my instincts and all shouted “Yes!”

Much of the change since young Craig Hawkins took over the winemaking in 2010 is very simple. In fact, simplicity is almost the essence of the Lammershoek project — be as natural and organic as possible in the vineyards, pick the grapes before they get ultra-ripe (giving moderate alcohol levels) and then don’t muck about with them in the cellar with acidification or additives, or compromise fruit purity with new oak barrels.

Excellent value
If one word could sum up the result, it would be “freshness”. And don’t underestimate genuine freshness — it’s not easy to come by or even to define, but wonderful to find. There’s a lot to be said for the rich glow of a warm afternoon or balmy evening, but what is more exhilarating than the freshness of a fine, tingling early morning after a showery night?

The first observable changes in Lammershoek’s wines have appeared in their new range called Lam. The label is as funky as the name and the wines are excellent value at about R60 a bottle. Unfortunately the initial vintages of the White Blend, Rosé and Pinotage were made in small quantities and have sold fast, but are worth looking out for.

The Lam Syrah 2010 was released recently so should be found (or contact the cellar). It’s fragrant, with dried herbs and berries, light-feeling, lively and, yes, fresh.

There are a few other reds from the revolutionary Swartland offering extraordinary value and quality at this price: Kloof Street Rouge from Mullineux and Secateurs from Badenhorst. I’ve bought all three for myself but perhaps my softest spot is for the Lam.

Also being released are the first 2010 whites in the senior Lammershoek range: Chenin Blanc and the blend called Roulette, also based on old-vine chenin. Both beautifully combine light, steely elegance with subtle richness and a quietly penetrating intensity. The Chenin is more expressive now but both are still young. Excellent value at R90 ex-cellar (a bit more retail).

The first fascinating but rather intellectual wines under Lammershoek’s label used for more radical experiments, Cellar Foot, are also coming up.

There’s a spicy, austerely grand example of the rare white grape Harslevelu (no sulphur added, 11.5% alcohol) and, from a slightly less unusual red grape, a thrilling, succulent Mourvèdre.

Lammershoek is arguably the most exciting biggish winery in the Cape. It’s also producing eminently drinkable and interesting wines, which is the important thing.

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