The social side of wine is often as important to me as what’s in the glass. I’d prefer to split an awe-inspiring bottle with company that might equally appreciate what the wine is showing (talking a whole load of rubbish), and drink the good value stuff by myself as I seat in front of the computer.
The Verburgs that produce the famed Luddite wines are living examples of where genuine personalities resonate wholly with their philosophy of wine. Having been invited into their hallowed slice of God’s country to not only help make the 2014 vintage, but break bread, share in wine and spend a night; I have come to taste a little bit of their souls in each bottle of Luddite I open (it didn’t sound as creepy in my head).
Penny, the viticulturist, a vibrant duchess, is hysterically entertaining and direct, clinically organised and capable of unmatched kindness all the while being a breath-taking chef: while Neils, the wine maker, a towering rock of a man, is stupendously experienced, laid back and a blatant technophobe, with an attention to detail second to none. Together, they have shown resilience and consistency churning out phenomenal wines from the Bot River locale.
Their approach to wine seems rather simple: start off with great quality fruit followed by minimalist intervention with as little technology as possible in the cellar. This is echoed in the name they chose, “Luddite“, which was drawn from the 19th century British workers that, opposing the industrial revolution over fears of losing their jobs, vandalised various machinery to ensure their continued relevance. Through this approach, the resultant limited range of wines they offer exhibit titillating purity of fruit and personality, affected gravely by the prevailing climatic conditions of that year (known as vintage variation).
Their Shiraz has become an industry wide bench mark with the grapes increasingly being sourced from their own vineyards. In an attempt not to obliterate the fruit, the wines are aged in no more than 30% new oak, majority of which is French. As a side note, Neils has experimented with differing barrels from differing coopers for years now and has a good understanding of what works best for the style they go for. Regardless of this, he is always keen to try a new product as such is his drive to never stop learning.
I seem to prefer the Shirazes from cooler vintages: case in point 2007 and 2009. The 2007 I found to be spicy yet perfumed. It had ripe red fruit with an elegant and tight structure. It certainly will be phenomenal with age. The 2009 is mineral and starting to show some slight savouriness. It is equally as spicy with red fruits such as plums, and a parma ham like character. It drank unbelievably well as it is already approachable, but riddled with dark tannins that could carry it much further. The 2008 on the other hand, the only warm vintage I have tried, was bigger and jammy. It shows good integration with darker fruit. Though still impressed with it, the nobility/finesse of the others shall surely be achieved in age.
The Saboteur (from Sabotage), a red blend follows in tow with majority of the grapes being Shiraz, then Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre. It’s half the price of the Shiraz despite being placed in 100% new French oak for a completely different tone. The 2009’s palate is riddled with dark fruit, liquorice, pencil shavings and lingering tannins. It is certainly a well crafted wine, but tasted next to the more elegant Shirazes, was a little too “sexy” for my liking (NB: it flies off the shelves faster than they can produce it).
Ever since 2012, they’ve added Chenin Blanc to their offerings. The ’12, sourced from between 30 and 60-year-old vines, was a sheer delight to drink. Naturally fermented in barrel with a percentage fermented on the skins, it starts off reductive but opens up to produce almonds, straw, peaches and lemon acidity; that are all in perfect balance.
With the 2013, they’ve produced majority of it in a similar style (which I’m yet to try). However, with a selection of few bottles (and for those adventurous enough) they’ve stepped out off the reservation and injected about 75 ml of lees into each finished bottle! The lees will continue to impart more rich flavour into the wine the longer the bottles stay un-drank (the very principle underlying the Méthode Champenoise approach to sparkling wine); with the idea being interactive winemaking where you, the consumer, decide at what point of lees contact you would like to drink the wine. I think the concept is brilliant. And the wine equally so! It lead with honeyed pears and bright fleshy fruit. Following this there was creamy depth, beautifully lengthy acidity and richness. I could picture this going very well with a number of dishes.
Keep watching for what the Verburgs shall do next, I have a feeling it shall be astonishing…
Technology and mechanization will never be a substitute for passion.