Le Lude: a Franschhoek fairytale

Creating a wine estate based on a Loire village was a dream come true for Nic and Ferda Barrow, discovers Jacques Dommisse. Producing award-winning Méthode Cap Classique wines is the cherry on top.

Living a real-life fairytale that recently culminated in being rated the finest creator of Méthode Cap Classique in the country is a journey of nearly 40 years of experiencing and learning from the best how to produce the finest.

FROM LEFT: Master bubbly taster and blender Ferda, chef de cuisine Nicolene, entrepreneur Nic and the interior designer Olga.

For Nic and Ferda Barrow, this journey of constantly striving for excellence started in 1984 in the Little Karoo town of Oudtshoorn, far away from the bustle of city life or the picturesque landscapes of the world’s acclaimed wine regions.

While Nic started a law practice in Oudtshoorn, Ferda taught accounting. Soon they wanted to spread their wings and on 7 December 1992, Rosenhof Country House opened its doors. Ferda always had a love for gardening, fine cuisine and the delicate detail of interior designs. It was her love for roses that gave Rosenhof its name.

The diverse achievements of Nic and Ferda are characterised by far more than their combined traits of entrepreneurship, creativity and business acumen. Attention to detail and an insatiable drive to improve and do more for others – like expanding significant parts of a town – define them. Nic received a special award from the Oudtshoorn Business Chamber for enhancing tourism, job creation and the local economy. Among their many accolades and achievements, they both have been honoured by the Simon van der Stel Foundation for their role in preserving old heritage buildings in the southern Cape and have won the Sanlam Business Partners Entrepreneur for the Eastern Cape and Western Cape provinces.

And in 2013, for the Klein Karoo Klassique concept it founded, the Barrow Family Trust was a finalist in the category for Business and Arts South Africa’s Increasing Access to the Arts Award.

While travelling in France, Nic and Ferda explored the Loire Valley, which is widely known as the Garden of France thanks to its abundant vineyards, orchards and fields of artichokes and asparagus. It is also notable for its historic towns, architecture, wines and majestic chateaux. One of the beautiful villages they came across was Le Lude, with its incredible rose gardens. They fell in love with it immediately and knew this was what they wanted to establish in Franschhoek.

After all their years of tastings in the Champagne region, the Barrows were sure they had a sound idea of what a good Méthode Cap Classique should be: bubbly, lightish, with exceptional refreshing colour – and as playful as a prima ballerina on her toes.

Specialising in Méthode Cap Classique, Le Lude has won numerous accolades for excellence, including a 97/100 rating from the Decanter World Wine Awards, the highest score to date for a Méthode Cap Classique wine. The estate’s success is built on the essential traditions of winemaking coupled with an excellent crafting method. Only when the grapes distinctly express the site and terroir of their vineyard are they coaxed into a premium product of unrivalled excellence. Innovation in the cellar and a restless, uncompromising pursuit of perfection in the bottle have made Le Lude one of the most exciting new producers of Méthode Cap Classique with a brand that is becoming internationally renowned for its finesse, elegance and refinement. The distinctively dark and heavy bottle in the Italian style is unique in the South African market.

Le Lude’s pioneering approach is underscored by its cellar becoming the first in the country to produce an Agrafe® (Tirage Liège) Cap Classique, paving the way to greatness for a sector of the South African wine industry. Agrafe is fermentation of the wine under the cork instead of the crown cap, resulting in a more integrated aroma profile and texture.

A recent accolade for Le Lude is the joint top score of 95/100 for its Reserve Agrafe 2013, as scored by French wine experts Gilbert & Gaillard in a selected summer 2021 rating of Crémant de Bourgogne and Western Cape bubblies. The tasting panel of seven, which included five expert tasters from France, stated that the Le Lude Venus Brut Nature Millésime 2014 “will age forever”.

Paying tribute to his wife, Nic says the many gold and silver accolades underscore Ferda’s delicate touch in the blending and master crafting of the bubbly offerings of Le Lude.

The cultivated hospitality found on refined wine and Méthode Cap Classique estates in the Franschhoek Valley gives visitors to the region a premium opportunity to experience the Cape Winelands, and the accommodation in Le Lude’s Lily Pond House accentuates this custom.

Situated at the far end of the estate, Lily Pond House is a spacious home-away-from-home with all the requirements for contemporary living and comfort.

Harmonising with the winery and accommodation of Le Lude, the Orangerie Restaurant is tucked just around the corner from the cellar. Here the most refined cuisine is prepared by Chef Nicolene, daughter of the Barrows. After studying at a hotel school, Nicolene honed her skills by working with chef Michel Albert Roux (previously known as Michel Roux Jr.) for two years at the famous two-star Michelin restaurant Le Gavroche in London.

Her gourmet dishes are complemented by excellent service and an impressive wine list, including an ample selection from cellars in the valley and region to pair the best food with delectable wines. Chef Nicolene provides an exciting and sumptuous à la carte menu to suit all tastes. She is also prepared to share some of her culinary secrets with curious guests, not shying away from explaining exactly how a specific dish was prepared.

While still a scholar, the Barrows’ oldest daughter, Olga, began assisting her mother with design projects at the family’s various hotels. She graduated from Stellenbosch University and completed a DipISD at the renowned Inchbald School of Design in London before going on to work for leading architectural design firm Lawson Robb in its King’s Road office in Chelsea, where she focused on high-end residential projects in the UK and abroad. Now an international designer, Olga still makes time to work hand in hand with her mother, designing the impressive Orangerie at Le Lude and the renovation of other parts of the estate.

Nic and Ferda Barrow are ardent about the finer things in life and they put heart and soul into everything they undertake. As the masterminds of the Franschhoek Chamber Music Festival that will take place over the last weekend of February 2022, they are very excited that their town will host such a premium event for those who love not only chamber music, but also the finest-crafted Méthode Cap Classique wines.

As a special celebration during the Chamber Music Festival, Le Lude will be hosting – among concerts and haute cuisine events – a Champagne tasting of the finest from France and the best of Franschhoek, says Nic.