Leeuwenkuil, where the grapes do the talking

Ask Leeuwenkuil winemaker Madré van der Walt about the vast Swartland winery’s winemaking process and her answer is an unusual one. Quite simply: “We don’t mess with the grapes.”

“We’re lazy winemakers,” she says, laughing.

“We just let the process happen.”

Obviously there is a bit more to it than that, but the underlying message is one of “let the grapes do the talking”.

One key is selecting the vessels in which to leave the grapes alone to do their thing and Leeuwenkuil has an impressive array to select from — from massive stainless steel and concrete tanks to new and old oak barrels and vast 5000-litre oak foudres that tone down wood influence.

Fermentation is mostly natural, avoiding commercial yeasts, and minimal addition of sulphur.

They specialise in Rhone varieties, chenin blanc and shiraz especially, because of how well they do in the warm, dry climate, telling the Swartland story in clean fruit purity and chalky minerality.

Tasting through the three tiers of Leeuwenkuil — the everyday, Reserve and Heritage ranges — is an interesting exercise in seeing how different wines from the same varietal can be.

This is due to different farming methods of different blocks, the length of time and type of vessel in which they’ve matured in the cellar, and in the case of the Reserves, the addition of other blending components.

Leeuwenkuil Chenin Blanc 2024 (usually a shade under R90) is a great everyday go-to — “it’s supposed to just be lekker and drinkable”, Madré says, and that’s exactly what it is.

Bananas on the nose, the wine fresh with pineapples and grapefruit, light and crisp. Lekker indeed.

The Reserve Chenin Blanc 2022 (±R149) has a Platter’s 5* rating and is great value for a wine that can be taken seriously, paired with food, but is also refreshing and pleasurable on its own.

Chenin blanc here is blended with touches of sauvignon blanc and viognier to lend complexity and layered intrigue.

Fresh, crisp fruit notes of yellow apple and grapefruit are layered with toasted nuttiness, a savoury hint, the wine is rich and fine-textured, balanced with lingering chalky minerality.

Leeuwenkuil Heritage Chenin Blanc 2019 (±R449), from a single vineyard more than  30 years old, is a sophisticated wine, made for sophisticated food and for being allowed to age gracefully for up to 10 years.

Wood influence is subtle, just lending backbone and structure, the wine complex, elegant, ripe with yellow fruit and a hint of ginger, rich and textured with a fresh mineral lift.

Similarly, on the red side, Leeuwenkuil Shiraz 2022 is a great under-R100 everyday go-to with juicy fruit, spicy notes and soft, rounded tannins.

“Easy to buy, easy to drink,”  Madré says.

The Reserve Red 2021 has fast become a new personal favourite.

Almost pinot noir-ish in its light, bright colour and deeply savoury flavours from the Rhone-style blend of shiraz, cinsault and mourvedre.

Lovely fragrant nose, florals and caramelised fruit, with a palate bursting with juicy cherries, cranberries and plums, finishing with pepper, spice and a lick of salty-savouriness (R149, but found on special at Preston’s last week for R115).

Meanwhile, the Heritage Syrah 2019, the current vintage, is intriguingly complex and vibrant, a real reflection of what the Swartland does with this grape — laden with fynbos, buchu, woody herbs and the distinctive Mediterranean vibes of salty black olives, alongside florals and deliciously juicy fruit.

Leeuwenkuil’s under-R100 easy everyday range is rounded out with Leeuwenkuil Rosé 2023 (Platter’s 4*, nogal), from cinsault grapes for savouriness underpinning fresh zingy red fruit.

I reckon I’ll be taking Madré’s advice and keeping one of each of the value trio around, because they’re great for when you need a bottle to take to a supper, braai, book club or anything involving friends and fun.


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