It’s late August and thankfully, another cold front is approaching the thirsty Cape as I arrive at the home of Le Riche Wines in Stellenbosch. In paradox to the tangible calm before the storm, I’m met by the enigmatic driving force behind the Le Riche brand, Etienne Le Riche himself, surrounded by the happy chaos of lively grandchildren.
As one of the founding members of the Cape Winemakers Guild, celebrated winemaker at Rustenberg for over 20 years and twice named John Platter’s Winemaker of the Year, Etienne is as layered as the wines he creates… at once reserved, yet confident, careful to speak, quick to listen, always warm and reassuringly welcoming.
As I’m soon to discover, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Joined by his son and Le Riche’s resident winemaker, Christo, we soon escape family life and head off to 96 Winery Rd to enjoy a hearty meal accompanied by a seriously arresting red.
In my opinion, there’s no better way to spend a cold, wintery day than right beside the fireplace at 96 Winery Rd, glass of classy Cabernet in hand. Together with father and son, we grab a table and begin to connect over a bottle of Le Riche Reserve 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon. In a world where people increasingly change their dreams and occupations faster than a flat tyre, there’s something to be said, indeed cherished, when a singular passion and vocation is passed down from one generation to the next. The proof is in the pudding – or in this case – the glass.
Both Etienne and Christo share a singular vision: to celebrate the nuances of Cabernet as best as possible. Preferring to be uninhibited by estate classifications, they select grapes from the best possible terroirs Stellenbosch has to offer. “I’m more a fisherman than a farmer,” proffers Etienne with a knowing smile, “I like to cast my net wide to make the right catch.”
Growing up in a home surrounded by wine, it was a natural step for Christo to study winemaking and viticulture. After a handful of years gaining international and local experience with the best in the industry, he joined as winemaker at Le Riche in 2010. Staying true to Cabernet, Christo’s unwavering belief is that Stellenbosch is Cabernet country, adding, “It’s the backbone on which Stellenbosch was built upon.” Just like his trailblazing father, Christo is part of a small team of winemakers driving a new and exciting initiative to coordinate the story of Cabernet, showcasing the quality and longevity on an international stage.
“I’m very excited about South African wine’s global potential. Of course, our grape producers have to become profitable and we need to shake our cheap and cheerful image internationally, but we are working together, creating waves and producing better wines than ever before.”
With the 2014 Reserve Cabernet opening up beautifully in the glass on the table, I’ve no choice but to agree. The trademark elegance and finesse so consistently expressed over the past 20 vintages is a perfect partner to the succulent Wagyu beef served from the restaurant’s rare herd of Wagyu cattle. Already delicious in its youth, we all agree that this wine will only start peaking after 10 to 12 years from vintage.
While Etienne brings perspective, experience and wisdom to the fold, Christo displays a serious and gritty determination to ensure the integrity and purity of their wines continues for a long time yet.
“When it comes to my winemaking philosophy, I try to keep it simple, interfere as little as possible and let the grapes do the talking.” Christo continues, “I also enjoy the diversity of skill required in the winery - blending requires a great deal of concentration and attention to detail. It’s a great leveler.”
With little time to waste, father and son soon head back to the business of building an ultra-premium red wine brand. I hit the road back to Cape Town, trying to head off the fast approaching storm while contemplating what inspires good people like the Le Riches to continue to push the boundaries and set new standards despite the deluge of average so many often settle for. Perhaps it’s in the genes.