Samantha O’Keefe must be pretty tough. She has a spectacular wine farm in the middle of nowhere, and she’s been running it pretty much single-handedly since the beginning, as well as being a single mum to two boys. And financially, this has not been the easiest of rides, either, with fluctuating yields plus the cashflow hungry nature of the wine business. In 2010, drought hammered the vines and there was hardly any crop. But on the flip side, this stress has had a positive effect, in that now the vines, which are approaching middle age, are much better able to deal with drought.
The farm in question is in Greyton, and there are no other vineyards nearby. When you see the soils and aspects here, though, you realize the appeal of this place: these are bony vineyard soils that look ideal for high quality viticulture.
She bought the farm in 2003, and began planting in 2004. Currently, there are 14.5 hectares, but there’s the potential to take this to 25 ha with further development. Initially, all the Lismore wines came from the property, but for the last couple of vintage she has been buying in grapes from other areas such as Stanford and Elgin, in order to meet demand for some of the more successful varieties. This move was prompted by the 2015 vintage, when Samantha’s 2.5 hectares of Syrah yielded just 1200 litres.
A new winery was built in 2016 that was up and running for the 2017 vintage. It’s a functional modern space. There are the usual oak barrels and tanks, but also some concrete and plastic eggs. Samantha points out that for the Viognier, the plastic eggs result in wines that are so perfumed it’s as if someone has added an extract to it. ‘It’s crazy,’ she says. ‘It would be over the top to bottle them on their own.’ But the wines in the concrete eggs are less exotic, and work well in the blend.
Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Cape South Coast, South Africa
This has 30% of fruit from Stanford in it. Whole bunch pressed and settled. 300 and 500 litre barrels, 5% new oak. 20% in eggs. This is precise and textural with nice weight in the mouth. Rich pear fruit with some grapefruit and fennel. There’s a touch of blackcurrant in the mix, and nice acidity. The oak is present but really well integrated. Has some nice richness, but remains fresh. 93/100
Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Cape South Coast, South Africa
This is quite exotic with lovely ripe pear and melon fruit, with a hint of tangerine and marmalade, as well as crisp lemony acidity. There’s a nice green hint, too. Has real richness on the mid-palate. This is a beautiful textured wine with lovely weight in the mouth, as well as some exotic fruit characters. 94/100
Lismore Chardonnay 2015 Greyton, South Africa
Older oak. Powerful and spicy with nice acidity. Mealy with some lemony fruit and a hint of pineapple. Lots of flavour here with great concentration (from thick skins and tiny bunches). Some toast and nut, but the fruit is dominant here. 92/100
Lismore The Age of Grace Viognier 2017 Cape South Coast, South Africa
So pretty! This is Elgin fruit, handled oxidatively and barrel fermented. Lovely apricot and pear fruit with a floral twist and lovely spicy citrus notes framing the fruit. Great concentration. Just so delicious and varietally true. 93/100
Lismore Reserve Chardonnay 2016 Greyton, South Africa
Large format new oak used here (40%, 2 out of 5 500 litre barrels). Beautifully expressive with lime and pear notes, as well as some nuts and spice. There’s a mealy edge, and even some minty freshness. Lovely acidity here: it has texture but also punchy acidity. Concentrated and fine. 94/100
Lismore Reserve Chardonnay 2017 Greyton, South Africa
35% new oak. Mealy, pithy and lively with intense lime and pear fruit, as well as some exotic pineapple notes. Nicely rounded with a spicy edge, and a juicy tangerine note on the finish. Very stylish. 94/100
Lismore Pinot Noir 2017 Cape South Coast, South Africa
30% Elgin, 70% Stanford. 30% whole bunch, 25% new oak. Much better than the debut 2016. Sweetly aromatic with floral red cherries and some sappy green hints. The palate is vivid with some pepper and lime hints and nice structure. It’s pretty and seductive but there’s also some savoury seriousness. Supple and intense with a nice silky texture contrasting with the grippy, spicy savoury character. 94/100
Lismore Syrah 2016 Cape South Coast, South Africa
50% Elgin, 50% estate, 40% whole bunch. Fresh, vivid and distinctive with some pepper and menthol as well as vivid raspberry and red cherry fruit. There’s a savoury twist here, and some olive notes, but the dominant theme is bright fruit. 91/100
Lismore Syrah 2016 Cape South Coast, South Africa (tank sample, final blend)
50% Elgin, 50% estate, 40% whole bunch. This is lovely: ripe, generous blackberry and raspberry fruit. Supple and fresh with nice peppery hints and a bit of grip. Pure, floral and expressive. Has some silkiness as well as a bit of wildness. 93/100
Lismore Estate Reserve Syrah 2017 Greyton, South Africa
Really minty and peppery with floral red berries and cherries. Supple and lively on the palate with fresh acidity and some tart raspberry notes. Really high acid here (pH 3.2) with distinctive fruit, some pepper and some meaty hints. Very distinctive. 93/100
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