Imagine you are a widow in your late 70’s and you own a beautiful chateau in the premium wine region of Pauillac in Bordeaux. The chateau has been world famous for more than one and fifty hundred years because of the superb wines it produces. It is the Grand Cru Classé Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande and you are May de Lencquesaing, a member of the Bordeaux wine establishment. Supposing you decide to sell the Chateau. What would you do next? Retire into luxury, travel the world?
Not Mme de Lencquesaing: she bought an old quarry surrounded by fruit orchards 12,000 miles away on the outskirts of Stellenbosch in South Africa and there built a state of the art winery and planted vines.
I visited Glenelly Estate last week. Little can be seen from the quiet road outside but once past the security gate I drive up a narrow road through vineyards and up a crest to the winery building. Put aside any notion of a crude factory that makes wine.
The three storey building nestles in the excavation cut into a hill by the quarrymen of old and you enter at the top into a cool marble clad room set with white leather armchairs and sofas and tables and chairs. When comfortably seated Glenelly’s charming hostesses will bring you samples of all the wines. Measures are goodly and the stemware is large fine crystal glass. There is no fee for tasting ‘Madam does not believe in charging for tasting,’ I was told. Which makes the winery popular with groups of students from the local university who sit for ages outside on a patio drinking the wine and having a good time.
The building is also registered as a museum as it contains Mme de Lencquesaing’s historic and fabulous collection of glassware.
Glenelly’s vines are still very young and the first few years the winery has been using grapes bought from nearby growers. The Glass Collection is the name given to the basic range of wines, four varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Shiraz. The Grand Vin de Glenelly is a super blend of Shiraz with the Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Lady May is the name of the estate’s flagship wine which is a Cabernet Sauvignon with around 10% Petite Verdot.
The winery operates on the gravity principle where grapes are delivered to the top level to ferment in steel tanks and from there descend through pipes by gravity to the barrel room and finally to the lowest floor for bottling.
The tank room is huge with a slightly arched roof which doesn’t need supporting pillars and the end wall is glass offering a superb view over the vineyards to mountains on the other side of the valley (pictured above). The building is cooled by piping water through embedded pipes.
The wines are fairly priced, lower than some other nearby premium wineries but I expect as the 90+ points from famed American critics mount up and Glenelly uses its own vines that the prices will head skywards.
I liked all the wines. The Glass Collection Chardonnay was particulary expressive but the wine I bought was the Grand Vin de Glennelly 2007 red blend.
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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle.
Peter F May visited Glenelly at his own expense, paying all travel, accommodation and meal charges. As noted, wine tasting at Glenelly is complimentary for all visitors and he paid full retail price for the wines he bought.