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The wines of Lomond, Cape Agulhas, South Africa

Wayne Gabb is the man behind South African newcomer Lomond, a joint venture with Distell. I met up with him to look at his wines and generally engage in a bit of nerdy wine talk.

Wayne's background is in fruit growing. Before Lomond came along, he farmed apples and pears in Elgin for 16 years, and he comes across as an immensely practical sort of guy just what you'd want for establishing a new vineyard from scratch.

What are the business arrangements behind Lomond? Lomond Properties owns the vineyards, and the development of the land and making of the wines is the responsibility of Lomond Wines, a partnership with Distell that allows Lomond to tap into a significant bank of expertise, cellar space and marketing and distribution clout. Let's remember here that Distell control 70% of the domestic market in South Africa.

Lomond chose Agulhas, the most southerly point of the Cape, as their location. It's near Elim, in the southern-most wine producing region in Africa. Located 8 km from the ocean, the main influence here is maritime breezes, which typically run from 20 to 40 km/h. This is the coolest ripening area in South Africa, with average temperatures of 19.2 C during the ripening period.

Lots of work was done before planting, which started in 1999. The entire farm is a sizeable 800 hectares, with 100 hectares now planted, and the potential for this to rise to 440 hectares. Before planting, profile holes were dug every 50 metres, and soil analysis was carried out. In tandem with GPS measurements, these data were used to build a map of the soils throughout the property.

This survey identified 18 different soil types, which can vary even over scales as small as 20 metres. No irrigation is usually needed here because rainfall is good. Prior to planting Wayne used a D9 bulldozer to deep-plough the vineyards to 1.2 m, which was necessary to break up the compact layers in the soil.

Wayne recalls that ostriches were a big problem in establishing the vineyards. The solution? They were shot at 150 m, and made into biltong. A further difficulty was water. While the vines don't need irrigation once they've established themselves, it's needed to get them going. In order to get planning permission to plant, Gabb made a deal with the local authorities. First he agreed to construct a huge lake, that runs for 3.5 km and occupies 108 hectares. This is larger than the farm needs, and agreement was entered into with the local municipality to allow them annual rights to 2 million cubic litres of water. A full environmental impact study was carried out, showing that the dam and lake have enhanced the local wildlife rather than destroy it.

BEE (black ecomonic empowerment) is an issue at the forefront of South African consciousness, and Lomond have done their bit, purchasing the property next door, a 79 hectare farm called Uylenkraal, for this purpose. Farm workers have a 58% share in this venture, which currently has 12 hectares of vines. It is managed as a trust.

Overall, seven varieties are planted at Lomond. The most significant are Shiraz, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, with a bit of Viognier, Nouvelle (a white variety that is a crossing of Semillon and Crouchen Blanc, grown for its strong grassy aromas), Semillon and Mourvedre. So far the range consists of single vineyard wines (Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz) as well as an Estate series of varietal wines. Initial signs are very promising indeed.

First, two single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc wines have been made from adjoining 3 hectare blocks with different soil types in each: the Pincushion and Sugarbush. Consistent differences have carried through the first two vintages, even though viticultural and winemaking practices are exactly the same.

Lomond Sugarbush Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Cape Agulhas
Classy, crisp, minerally, subtly grassy nose. The palate is precise with a crisp gooseberry character. Lots of concentration, with an almost spicy minerality. Deliciously fresh and expressive. The clone Nietvoorbij Weerstasie SB11, known for its grassy, asparagus flavours.

Lomond Pincushion Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Cape Agulhas
Again, there's a fresh, bright, grassy nose, but with a bit more fruitiness. The palate is broader, but still fresh and bright. French clone SB 159 is used here, which yields flavours of fig and tropical fruits.

Lomond Merlot 2005 Cape Agulhas
A whole range of clones and practices were employed to make this wine. It has smooth red fruits on the nose, which is a bit spicy and chocolatey. The palate has some structure and is very elegant with a bit of spiciness. Really lovely: one of the best South African Merlots Ifve had. Very good/excellent 91/100

Lomond Syrah 2005 Cape Agulhas
Soft, smooth and sweetly fruited, with some chocolatey richness. Very stylish and smooth with lovely concentration and smooth tannins. Soft but dense. A lovely elegant modern-styled red wine, with attractive peppery freshness to the fruit. Very good/excellent 93/100

Wines tasted 10/06
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