It was definitely a roar. As we sat on the sunny stoep at Glen Carlou overlooking the lovely Paarl valley and watching the swallows swoop in the fynbos garden, both Chef Caro and I were sure we could hear something large and hairy in the distance. “Oh that’s the lions” confirmed new MD Johan Erasmus nonchalantly, waving an arm in the general direction of the woods below. Mmm – not quite what we expected at this pristine, modern, Swiss-owned winery, but when it transpired that they were actually inside the Drakenstein Lion Sanctuary, we relaxed once more in the sunshine and took another sip of Tortoise Hill White.
Johan may be new to Glen Carlou, but winemaker Arco Laarman is celebrating his decade this year and has seen many changes in his time. Before taking us downstairs to the cellar, he showed us briefly round the Hess art collection, housed in large rooms next to the restaurant. Modern art does nothing whatsoever for me, but owner Donald Hess is one of the world’s leading collectors and even I recognised some of the names on show. Such is Arco’s devotion to perfection, he continues the art theme into his cellar and admits to ‘painting’ parts of his barrels with red wine in order to make them look even better to visitors peering through the glass floor to the cellar below!
Glen Carlou has a fairly large range which Arco plans to trim slightly over the next couple of years, instead concentrating on their strengths of Chardonnay and red blends (their Chardonnay was Madiba’s choice of tipple for his 85th birthday - local is lekker for that president!). The farm is becoming increasingly drawn towards organic and biodynamic viticulture, although no drastic changes are planned immediately – “it costs money to go organic, and right now, we are concentrating on people issues such as upgrading staff housing, building and supporting a crèche on the farm and participating in the Klaapmuts Community Trust kids meals project.”
And, rather surprisingly, this does seem to be the key to Glen Carlou – one big happy family. The Hess organisation extends to other wineries in Argentina, Australia and California, but the winemakers and other key staff meet on a regular basis to swap ideas and offer support over a bottle or four of their wine. Back at Glen Carlou, the departure of David Finlayson last year meant the last link with the Cape’s ‘First Winemaking Family’ was severed, but both Johan and Arco are adamant that the rest of the staff, some of whom have been at the farm for more than 20 years, come first. Sitting on the stunning stoep with the gentle buzz of staff and customers in the background, glass of good wine in hand and Arco’s gorgeous 7 month-old beagle, Mannix, nosing and wagging his way amongst the tables, it all felt very familial to me. All it needed was a few arguments about whose turn it is to do the washing up and fights about who’s in charge of the remote control and I could move right in. Cheers!
Glen Carlou has a wide range to suit most tastes and pockets. These were our favourites:
2009 Glen Carlou Tortoise Hill White – yummy glugger made from Viognier with Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Perfumed nose with gingered apricots – wickedly good food partner.
2008 Glen Carlou Quartz Stone Chardonnay – Caro’s favourite by a country mile ‘This is completely divine to me!’ Limes, lemons, melons and a toasty, minerally finish.
2008 Glen Carlou Pinot Noir – stunning Pinot colour. Loads of raspberries and cranberries with nice juicy tannin structure and good length.
2006 Glen Carlou Grand Classique – their bestselling red. Complex black fruit flavours with grippy tannins and a smooth, spicy finish.
2007 Glen Carlou Gravel Quarry Cabernet Sauvignon – herby, fynbos nose. Rich and generous wine with expansive black fruit and wild garrigue notes.