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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES #153 (article first published : 2006-07-3)

Van Loveren is a name well known to wine drinkers, largely because of its blended River Red, which gives real value, high quality at a moderate price.

The Van Loveren Private Cellar, to give its full name, is in the Robertson valley, an area which generally offers value to those who don’t want to pay fancy prices for good wines. The farm, which straddles the Breede River, dates back to the late seventeenth century, but its modern wine history began in 1937 when Nicholaas Retief bought it for his son Hennie and his bride Jean .She did not like the name of the place, Goudmyn F, and gave it its present name after an ancestor, Christina van Loveren, who came to the Cape from Holland in 1699.

Hennie Retief died in 1982 and his sons Nico and Wynand took over the farm and began expanding it, a process which continued when Nico’s two sons, Bussell and Hennie, and Wynand’s, Phillip and Niel, joined Van Loveren in the nineteen-nineties. All of them are still there, the ultimate family business, with the senior Retiefs as advisers and the younger generation as business manager, winemaker and two viticulturists. One of their ranges of wines is called Four Cousins.

Today Van Loveren consists of seven farms. The first bottling of wine under the Van Loveren label was in 1981, five hundred cases of it. This year Van Loveren is producing about 300,000 cases of 27 different wines, about one-third red, one-third white and one-third rose. There is a strong focus on the local market; less than 15 percent of the wine is exported. To mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Van Loveren label the cellar has introduced some new wines in conjunction with a Black Economic Empowerment deal. Together with 116 of their staff and pensioners, half of them women, the Retiefs have bought a 138-hectare grape farm in the Robertson valley. The farm, which will be 52 percent owned by an employees’ trust and the rest by the Retief family, has signed a long-term grape supply contract with Van Loveren. This means it will be profitable from its first year of operation. And Van Loveren has launched a new range of wines called Five’s Reserve and made with grapes from the new property.

The name refers to the big five of the game reserves, and the bottle label carries a small picture of them: lion, elephant, rhinoceros, leopard, buffalo. The wines will be targeted at tourist destinations, particularly national parks and game reserves, and will also be exported to the United States and Britain.

The Five’s Reserve wines are chenin blanc 2006, rose 2006, merlot 2005 and cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend 2005. They are all of good quality. The chenin is fruity but crisp, and the rose, a light pink colour, has some lovely cherry flavours. The cabernet/merlot, a substantial red at 14 percent alcohol, has plum and berry character and a touch of mint in the bouquet. The pinotage has strawberry, spice and vanilla features and is quite soft on the palate.

All these wines would go well with a wide range of dishes or by themselves. And they sell at about R25 a bottle for the chenin and rose and about R30 for the reds, very good value.

Van Loveren have another new wine, a low alcohol (9 percent) Light White. This is made from semillon grapes harvested last January, and it has more character than most other low alcohol wines. Very pleasant as a drink at lunchtime, when one needs to keep consumption down.

Various Van Loveren labels have been smartened up, including that of the popular Papillon Brut dry sparkling wine which does, however, retain its butterfly (papillon). This is a refreshing and stylish drink at a moderate price.

The Van Loveren cellar is 180 km from Cape Town and is open for tastings, sales and functions and has guest cottages. Phone 023 615 1505. – Michael Green




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