Much to be cheerful about for Leeuwenkuil

Leeuwenkuil's lion is sad. Try as they might with modern design technology to manipulate the ancient image carved into the doorknob of the historic manor house in the Swartland, the folks at Leeuwenkuil just can’t get the poor fellow to look anything but mournful on their wine labels.

That’s a pity, because there’s much to be cheerful about these days at Leeuwenkuil (roughly translated as lion’s den, or lair, after the now-extinct Cape lion that once roamed the farmlands and watering holes of the area) – and no doubt the current owners’ ancestors, who planted some of the first Swartland vineyards in the early 1700s, would also be smiling down at what has become of those efforts.

In one of those history-come-full- circle stories of the winelands, the current Dreyer family acquired Leeuwenkuil in 1851, but their connection with the piece of land in the Malmesbury area dated back more than a century to 1705 when Dutch settler Arij van Wijk was granted the land. His daughter Sarah married German immigrant Johannes Augustus Dreyer, forefather of current owner Willie Dreyer.

Willie inherited half the farm and over the past 30 years expanded his 45ha  to more than 1000ha under vines, becoming one of the coastal region’s largest grape producers and quietly playing a key role in the “Swartland Revolution”.

Those young “revolutionaries” who revived the wheat-growing area’s wine fortunes and turned the international spotlight on the Swartland as the country’s trendiest up-and-coming wine region, were sourcing their low-yielding, old-vine, dryland bushvine grapes from Willie and family.

Leeuwenkuil’s single varietal wines from grapes more often used in blending, include a ‘beautiful’ grenache noir and blanc
Leeuwenkuil’s single varietal wines from grapes more often used in blending, include a ‘beautiful’ grenache noir and blanc

Despite this long history, it was only seven years ago that the Dreyers launched wines under their own label – Leeuwenkuil Family Vineyards, with a focus on Mediterranean and Rhone varieties, and that enigmatic lion taking pride of place on the label.

Success didn’t take long – in 2015 an international panel from wine magazine Decanter rated their 2013 shiraz an outstanding 92 points, making it one of the best value top-quality shiraz on the market at a mere 45 bucks at the time (by way of comparison, the Cederberg 2012 Shiraz, with a five-times higher price tag, also rated 92 in the same survey).

Still priced around R55, it remains one of the best value buys around, along with the fresh and vibrant chenin blanc (around R45) – both wines offering a complexity unexpected in a “cheap” wine.

Taking things up a notch, the Heritage range shiraz (around R300) and chenin (around R160) are multi-starred and award-winning – deservedly so for wines of elegance and complexity, the shiraz with wonderful Karoo fynbos notes that take you straight to the Swartland.

Where it gets seriously interesting is their range of single varietal wines from grapes more often used in blending – a super fragrant and fresh full-bodied grenache blanc, the big and complex marsanne (“a white that drinks like a red”) with its pretty floral notes belying a wine that packs a serious punch, a velvety cinsault, and the beautiful grenache noir with its bright translucent red, perfume, spice and soft tannins, superb depth and length.

These are all priced around R100 and seriously worth seeking out. Reasons to be cheerful indeed!

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