Well, whatever else I had expected to say after being invited to good-value cellar Van Loveren’s 30th birthday bash, it wasn’t that! But there is a lot more to this cellar than meets the eye, and a stunning spring day saw about 100 guests gathered in the gardens (first planted by matriarch Ouma Jean) to celebrate their success.
The Retief family have farmed this land for almost three quarters of a century, but it wasn’t until 1980 that they bottled the first wine under their own name. This was 500 cases of Premier Grand Cru – and it took them the entire year to sell out. One of the original founder’s two sons, Wynand Retief, recalled how whenever a visitor came to the farm, the entire family would down tools, race in from the fields and ply them with coffee and sweetcorn fritters – all in a desperate attempt to sell some wine!
Nowadays, customers need no such incentives and Van Loveren’s sales have increased to more than 1,000,000 cases a year spread amongst the five different ranges. The most popular label by far is the Four Cousins range of easy-drinking wines, now South Africa’s top selling bottled wine and celebrating a decade of sales this year. But it is the newly renamed Christina van Loveren range which was the real eye-opener of the weekend.
Previously known as the Wolverine Creek range (the name-change was in part prompted by Americans who wanted to know how many wolverines there were on the farm!), and now named after the original owner, these wines are the babies of Danelle van Rensburg, the first non-family winemaker at Van Loveren. New to the range are the Cap Classique, the Sauvignon Blanc and the Cabernet Sauvignon, but my favourites (as they have been for some years) are the Shiraz and the Chardonnay. Given the amount of fruit available to Danelle and her own, much-lauded talents, it should come as no real surprise that she has crafted such elegant and satisfying wines. But it is when it comes to the prices that Van Loveren enters a whole new level, and at R55 for the elegantly wooded Chardonnay, I challenge anybody to find a better example for the money anywhere in SA!
The afternoon lingered on with plenty of lovely food provided by Andrea Foulkes of Dish, lots of great wines and excellent music provided by the toe-tapping Flip a Coin, an ‘a cappella’ group from Potchefstroom. As we tucked into petit fours and fudge made by the various Retief ladies, surrounded by the next generation of little Retiefs chasing the chickens through the gardens planted by their great grandmother, it really felt like being part of a big, happy family. Here’s to the next 30 years, Van Loveren – I hope you invite me back for that party too!
My pick of the wines this weekend
2010 Van Loveren ‘Neil’s Pick’ Colombar R23
This is an astonishing example of an oft-disregarded grape - it got Danelle to the finals of the Woman Winemaker of the Year competition when it was up alongside wines more than 5 times its price! Slightly off-dry, but balanced by lively grapefruit acidity, it’s a great summer drink and an excellent match for Thai food.
2009 Van Loveren Cramond Cabernet/Merlot R39
A new wine made to partner the white blend, launched last year. This is 60%Cabernet/40% Merlot and is full of juicy black fruit with soft tannins and more than a hint of dark mint chocolate. Very good value for money.
2009 Christina van Loveren Reserve Chardonnay R55
Takes advantage of the natural limestone soils in Robertson – one of the finest areas in SA for Chardonnay – this is a wonderful example of balance in a wine with yellow stonefruit, lively acidity and creamy oak all together in perfect harmony. Excellent length with an almond flower finish.
PS – if you’re into them, then VL have also just launched a ‘chocolate/coffee’ Pinotage called African Java. Retailing at R45 it’s a good value option for lovers of this style.
Have you tried the Reserve Chardonnay? Do you know a better one for the price? Tell us below.