Paul Gerber, winemaker at Le Lude, was teaching mathematics when he got married. “Within a few months of getting married, I convinced my wife to let me go and study oenology at Stellenbosch.”
When he finished, he specialised in bottle-fermented sparkling wine and worked in Northern Italy, Champagne in France and Germany. On his return to South Africa he did an internship at Graham Beck. This is where he met Nic and Ferda Barrows in 2011.
The Barrows bought a property in Franschhoek, and they had a very specific vision of creating a specialist Methode Cap Classique cellar. They offered Paul a job and the rest is history.
Le Lude is a real family affair. The interiors are done by Ferda and the Barrow’s one daughter, Olga, an interior designer. Their other daughter, Nicolene, trained as a chef in Europe and worked in London at La Gavroche for two years before returning and opening Orangerie, the restaurant at Le Lude.
The Le Lude Approach
Paul takes a traditional approach to making sparkling wine and uses all the traditional cultivars, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier. He says, “I don’t see Champagne or for that matter Cap Classique that comes from various areas losing terroir identity. It’s everything but: each component brings something specific to the blend and therein maintaining terroir. The bigger definition of terroir encompasses the philosophy from the region, from the winemaking family and that’s all so much more than just a piece of soil. I think terroir is much deeper than just the soil and we need to see it as this more complex matrix, together.”
“For me the characteristics in Champagne and bottle-fermented sparkling wine are the length of the wine, the texture on the palate, the finesse and the elegance of the wine. It’s not a big wine. White wines, red wines, they’re the extroverts of the wine world. They give you a lot, whereas Champagne, there’s a bit of mystique there. The nose gives you complexity, but it’s not an exuberant aroma. And the same on the palate. It should start softly and build and that complexity is built with many fine layers. Almost like little pieces of rice paper, that together make something big and full but on their own as they lift up they pull away easily. That is how we see this style of wine.”
Paul told us about how his background in mathematics has influenced his approach to producing Le Lude’s wines. “Cap Classique is a process driven wine and in some way mathematics is process driven. It’s about solving problems, having a systematic approach to doing that. These wines love that. It’s not just about ticking the boxes, it’s about ticking the little boxes in between those boxes. Every decision you make in the vineyard, every decision in the winery has an impact on the bubble that’s going to rise in the glass one day. If you keep that in mind, it means that you look at the wine completely differently when going through the process.”
When asked about the difference between Champagne and South African MCC, Paul said, “With South African Cap Classique, you should taste the ripeness and fullness. This gives the wine texture and persistence but at the same time it remains elegant with finesse.”
“Pieter Ferreira of Graham Beck says you can taste the sun in the fruit. You taste the ripeness in the Pinot Noir and the Chardonnay in South African grapes but you still want the finesse of the wine. That’s the characteristics that we see as important for Champagne: finesse, elegance, length. And we want to have all of those ripe fruit characters because that’s our terroir. In Champagne you’re going to have fresh lemon, lime, fresh zesty character. Here you’re going to have a little bit more lemon meringue, or creamy lemon tart. So you are still going to have that ripe, rich flavour, but it’s just that little bit riper.”
The Brut is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The idea behind the Brut is to highlight the character of the Chardonnay. A little Pinot Noir is added to give a bit of width and density to the palate.
Tasting notes: elegant citrus blossoms with fresh lime aromas and secondary aromas of nougat, roasted nuts and hints of proving dough. Bright, fresh and elegant palate entry. Aromas of grapefruit, ripe lemon and pear forms a structured mid-palate. The mousse shows finesse and texture with a restrained presence. Length develops delicately on the palate with fine tertiary aromas of caramelised honey, vanilla and dried fig.
The Brut Rose is to display the character of the Pinot Noir. Paul uses a little Chardonnay in the blend for brightness. The Rose is bigger, fuller, softer and a little more robust than the Brut. It is drier than normal Cap Classique rose but it has a lot of strawberries and cream and raspberry notes on the wine without the weight.
Tasting notes: ripe cherries, red lollipop and raspberry aromas provide a delicate profile to the wine. These are followed by some hints of grapefruit and wild rose. The palate opens with a voluptuous texture supported by elegant acidity. Initially fresh red berries, wild plum and spice. The length and richness of the palate develops a complexity with raspberry compote and hints of blueberries and aniseed.
Le Lude’s first vintage wines were blended in 2012. All vintage wines are the premium selection of the tanks and from the outset the idea was to mature them for at least five years.
“The agreement has always been the wines are ready to drink today but must show the potential to age. When we blend, we focus on that because I want to be able to sell you a bottle of non-vintage brut and tell you, you can drink this in three years’ time,” said Paul.
“The vintage wines have been matured but taste pristine so we know we can say for at least the next five years this wine going to mature beautifully. So then you have a wine that’s ten or twelve years old.”
Le Lude’s first Blanc de Blanc was harvested in 2015. It took three years and nearly four harvests before Paul decided which blocks to use. “This will become Le Lude’s flagship wine and the benchmark for everything we do at Le Lude. But it’s only for release in 2022.”
Pairing Le Lude Wines
Sparkling wine is very versatile when paired with food and Le Lude’s wines are no different.
Paul told us, “Now that we have the vintage wines, we are going to start doing wine dinners. We have seven wines now that you can serve right throughout the dinner; so six courses plus aperitif. This will be a unique experience to show different styles and how they work with different foods yet are not completely dominated.”
Sparkling wine is becoming very popular due its versatility and often times more affordable alternatives to Champagne such as MCC.
“The fact that people are drinking a lot more bottle-fermented sparkling wine is fantastic. It’s good for business but it means all of us need to improve our game, improve the quality that we’re producing. It’s the one thing at Le Lude we keep questioning: how can we do something better? What can create a better experience for our guests?” said Paul.
“And you don’t want to say at any point to yourself, this is good. I think the day that you say that about your own wine, it’s dangerous. I like the idea of thinking there’s always something that I can improve.”
Keep an eye on our blog, and look out for Le Lude - Part 2 where you will learn more about the beautiful Le Lude, their wonderful restaurant Orangerie, and Lily Pond House, the perfect getaway to include in your next trip to Franschhoek.