‘We’re not just a farm, we’re a neighbour’ says manager Cobus van Graan about Laborie wine cellar and it’s true – after all, how many farms have a street and street number in their address? Jostling for high street space with shops, restaurants and houses, Laborie has been growing grapes and making wine in the heart of Paarl for the past 300 years. The challenge facing Cobus and brand director Jeff Gradwell now, is how to keep going for the next 300.
The KWV, which owns Laborie, has undergone a whole raft of changes over recent years with new directors, board members, focus and integration. Purchased by the company in the 1960’s, Laborie has variously been used for board meetings, as a guesthouse, for corporate events and has made a wide range of wines onsite including their much-vaunted bubblies and brandies. As takeover looms (well, in the eyes of the newspapers anyway!), one wonders how Laborie will fit into anyone’s plans for the future.
Not that any of this matters to Cobus. As he quite rightly points out, if KWV were to sell Laborie or be sold themselves, it is extremely unlikely in this current economic climate that any buyers would preserve it as a wine farm which, given the history of the estate and its links with the birth of the Afrikaans language and the mentions by prominent poets of the time, would be a shame. He is resolutely upbeat about the estate’s future and is positively teeming with plans and ideas as to how to revamp and revitalise the estate with suggestions ranging from new roads, new staff accommodation, a new kids play area and new labels for the wines. More importantly, he has managed to convince the KWV board of the need for change and has the timescale and the cash necessary to get on and do it.
Cobus hopes to get the changes underway before Christmas, but if I were you, I wouldn’t wait for them to happen because there are at least three very good reasons to go and try Laborie right now:
1. The Restaurant. Although the décor is a little dated, Laborie has managed to entice a really exciting young chef to take charge. Alicia Gilliomee used to feed government grandees in Gauteng before moving to the Western Cape to take up this post. I was really impressed with the specials she was turning out made from good, fresh ingredients, but was even more impressed by the way she chatted confidently and knowledgeably about where they’d come from and how they were grown/farmed. I think she could do very exciting things here – remember where you heard it first!
2. The Brandy. Did you know that Laborie makes the Best Brandy in the World? According to the most prestigious International Wine & Spirit Competition held annually in London, the Laborie Alambic brandy beats all others – including top Cognacs and Armagnacs. And for a measly R126 a bottle, it’s a lot easier on the pocket than imported spirits as well.
3. The Prices. And since we are talking about prices, the last and best reason to rush to Laborie right now is that the prices are seriously, ridiculously low. In fact, I don’t know if I should be saying this, in case the bigwigs at KWV notice and put them up instantly. R62 for the Reserve Shiraz which won the Paarl Shiraz challenge is an absolute joke, and the wine is impeccable – classic Shiraz flavours of pepper and spice, great length and supple, juicy tannins. The fizz is cheaper than any other MCC on the market and is absolutely fabulous – and I’m a fizz-fan of note. And the Chardonnay is well worth the money with its balanced fruit-acid-oak integration. Go and stock up now – before they realise the prices are at least 30% below what they should be!