I was recently invited by Le Lude PR consultant Ann Ferreira to visit the Le Lude Cap Classique Cellar, and to enjoy lunch with her and cellarmaster Paul Gerber at the Orangerie Restaurant. Le Lude is the first cellar in our country to produce Agrafe Cap Classique, fermenting its wine under cork instead of crown cap.
I had attended a first Le Lude launch in Cape Town a few months ago, and had met Paul there, as well as owners Nic and Ferda Barrow, and their children Chef Nicolene and interior designer Olga. The Barrows come from Oudtshoorn, and moved to Franschhoek, the whole family being involved in Le Lude and Orangerie. Nic and his wife are very involved in the arts, and they have supported the KKNK Festival in Oudtshoorn, as well as the Klein Karoo Klassique and some of its musical protégées.
The Le Lude name comes from Châteaux Le Lude, which the Barrows visited in the Loire valley on a holiday, and they knew that they would like to call a future property by this name. Cap Classique production started at Le Lude three years ago, and they have 150000 bottles on the lees now.
Paul was previously a maths teacher at Wynberg Boys High, SACS, and Reddam, who switched to making bubbly, obtaining his B.Sc Viticulture and Oenology degree at the University of Stellenbosch. Paul knew that he only wanted to make bubbly. He is currently working on his Masters degree, and plans to do his doctorate afterwards. Paul is already making a difference, by using cork on the Le Lude Cap Classique, giving more creaminess and texture at the same age of maturation compared to using crown caps. This is the focus of Paul’s research for his thesis. Paul does as many harvests as he can, going back to Champagne, year after year. He has also worked in Northern Italy, and in Germany. This allows him to top himself up. Pieter ‘Bubbles’ Ferreira of Graham Beck is Paul’s mentor, and they exchange ideas. Paul said that a winemaker has 30 vintages in his/her lifetime on average, and therefore many try to stretch themselves by ‘squeezing in extra ones overseas‘.
Paul added that we can stand proud of our sparkling wine success in South Africa, and they have partnered with Le Mesnil, offering the champagne as part of their tasting. It is imported by Roland Peens’ Wine Cellar, at about R465 per bottle. Le Lude sells for R200 from the cellar. There is a good relationship between Champagne and our Cap Classique producers, said Paul, mainly because our country’s MCC producers do not try to emulate their Champagne counterparts.
We tasted the Le Lude NV Brut, a blend of 64% Chardonnay and 36% Pinot Noir, described by Paul as having ‘linear austerity‘. The Le Lude NV Rosé is a blend of 67% Pinot Noir (of which 5-7% is red wine for the colour) and 33% Chardonnay, being drier and more voluptuous than the Brut. Both Le Lude Cap Classiques are matured for three years, and are non-vintage, to maintain consistency. A Le Lude Prestige Cuvée 2012, being a blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir, will be released in 2017. They buy 90% of their grapes from Robertson, Elgin, Plettenberg Bay, and Sutherland, growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes in Franschhoek too. He praised the Pinot Noir from Plett, saying it is of ‘exceptional quality‘, ripening 2 – 3 weeks later than in other regions. It has higher acidity, and riper fruit quality.
Paul described it as ‘challenging‘ to make Cap Classique, the biggest growth category in the South African wine industry. He serves on the Cap Classique Association, which is chaired by Ferreira. This year their Technical Conference will be open to the media.
One enters the Le Lude building via the restaurant, an area with black and white floor tiles, and white cane furniture, dominated by two paintings by Thijs Nel, one of them cleverly matched with TWG tea cannisters which pick up the pastel colors from the painting. The menu holders pick up elements of the paintings too. There is ample seating outside too, with branded umbrellas protecting visitors from the harsh Franschhoek heat. Nicolene Barrow is the Executive Chef, and has compiled a delectable menu which raises the culinary bar in Franschhoek, having worked at Chef Michel Roux Jnr ‘s Michelin-starred Le Gavroche restaurant in London for two years.
Ferda Barrow and her daughter Olga designed and sourced all the furniture and fittings for the restaurant and wine tasting area, which flow from the restaurant, with lots of mirrors, and cupboards with collections of the finest glassware. Glass chandeliers dominate, and had to be bought when they were seen in France. The colour scheme is
green, cooling the interior, and the large wine tasting area has wooden floors, matching the wooden vats one can see at the start of the production area, most of the work happening one floor below, which one can see from a glass section of the floor in the tasting room.
We were seated outside, with a placemat and napkins. The menu was presented in the new menu holders, with a choice of six starters, six main courses, and five desserts. My starter choice was a perfect duck liver parfait, apple chutney, and toasted brioche (R80), while Ann enjoyed a very colorful tomato salad with fresh basil, crispy fried goat’s cheese, and kalamata purée (R60). Other starter options are Gruyere soufflé, grilled asparagus, and a light crème sauce (R75); sugar-cured Franschhoek salmon trout with cucumber, spring onion, and ponzu dressing (R90); West Coast mussels steamed in Le Lude Brut with gremolata cream (subject to availability), available in a starter or main course portion (R76/R140); and a trio of wild mushroom tortellini, warm vinaigrette, parsley, and Grano Padano, available in two portion sizes too (R80/R160).
The presentation of the glazed pork belly main course was exceptional, served with thyme and apple chutney, potato gratin, and buttered cabbage and peas (R180). Other main course options are fresh line fish served with homemade linguini, a prawn bisque sauce, and petit pois (SQ); crispy skinned chicken supreme stuffed with tarragon chicken mousse, creamy corn purée, and roasted chicken jus (R180); beef tagliata, wild mushrooms, sweet oven roasted tomatoes, arugula salad, Grano Podano, and pomme neuf chips (R180); and grass-fed rump, butternut, salsa verde, and chips (R190).
Paul is not a dessert eater, so Ann and I shared a beautifully plated coconut sponge, filled baked meringue, and lemon curd, served with granadilla ice cream and tropical fruit (R70). One can also order a traditional vanilla flan (R65); chocolate molten cake, raspberry sorbet, honeycomb, and pistachio dust (R70); seasonal fruit, butter biscuit crumble, and mango sorbet (R60); and a cheese platter with three local cheeses, preserves, and breads (R96).
Le Lude stands for excellence, both in terms of its Cap Classiques, as well as its Orangerie Restaurant, in which Chef Nicolene is hands-on in creating and presenting outstanding dishes, in what is now one of the best restaurants in Franschhoek.
Orangerie, Le Lude, Lambrechts Road, Franschhoek. Cell 087 7549926. www.lelude.co.za Twitter: @LeLudeMCC Monday – Saturday 9h00 – 17h00, Sunday 10h00 – 16h00. Tastings, Lunch, and High Tea.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog Tel 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@WhaleCottage Facebook: click here