For 21 years, the Le Riche family, first Etienne on his own and later together with his children Christo and Yvonne, have made it their business to produce the definitive expression of a Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon, to great acclaim.
“Focus on one thing and do it to the best of your ability” has always been Etienne’s winemaking mantra. Cabernet Sauvignon is his life’s work and his signature Stellenbosch Cabernet developed a deserved and enviable cult following. This steadfast pursuit and commitment has been passed down to the next generation, the future of Le Riche wines.
Staying true to Cabernet, Christo’s unwavering belief is that “Stellenbosch is Cabernet country” adding “It’s the backbone upon which Stellenbosch was built. We focus on the production of top Cabernet Sauvignon from the Stellenbosch region.” Both Etienne (owner and cellarmaster) and Christo (winemaker since 2010) share a singular vision: to celebrate the nuances of Stellenbosch Cabernet. Preferring to be uninhibited by estate classifications, they select grapes from the best possible terroirs Stellenbosch has to offer, small vineyard parcels specially selected for their unique expression of terroir. Etienne explains “We try to ensure that each vineyard is allowed to express itself fully, each making a particular contribution to the final blend, with the wines always reflecting the true nature of the vintage. Access to different vineyards does wonders for the complexity of a wine. The gravel soils on lower slopes produce grapes that ripen early, offer high sugars, low acidity, and some mint and cherry flavours, while grapes from decomposed granite soils on the upper slopes ripen later with good balanced acidity and tannin, which adds structure to the blend.”
“If you choose the right grapes, you don’t have to interfere – the terroir speaks for itself” says Etienne. “When it comes to my winemaking philosophy, we have a traditional yet innovative approach. I try to keep things simple, interfering as little as possible and let the grapes do the talking” Christo continues. The resulting wines show great elegance and class, consistently proving to be of superb quality and maturation potential.
1996 UNTIL 2009
Often referred to as the ‘King of South African Cabernet Sauvignon’, Etienne has consistently been making some of South Africa’s best Cabernet Sauvignon for over 35 years. After a glorious twenty-vintage winemaking era at Rustenberg Wines, during which time Etienne was heralded as John Platter’s SA Wine Guide 1990 Wine Man of the Year, he decided to go it alone and pursue his dreams at a modest cellar at Leef op Hoop, appropriately meaning Live on Hope, in the beautiful Jonkershoek Valley in Stellenbosch. He refurbished the derelict old cellar which was built in 1911, epoxy-coated the old kuipe (wine fermentation tanks), installed good second-hand equipment and a small bottling line, and set about sourcing the best grapes for his wines.
The first wine produced at Leef op Hoop, with the help of assistant winemaker Mark Daniels who is still with Le Riche Wines today, was the Le Riche Reserve Cabernet 1997. It was an immediate success, earning five stars in the annual John Platter guide and a Veritas Double Gold, amongst other accolades – an amazing debut. It was the beginning of a trend. The Le Riche Reserve Cabernet went on to receive four more Platter’s five-star awards, in amongst many other local and international accolades. Platter’s 2010 Guide also named the 2005 Reserve Cabernet their Red Wine of the Year. The Le Riche standard Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Merlot blend also reaped rich rewards. A founder member of the Cape Winemakers Guild, with yet another five-star Platter’s award – this time for his single vineyard selection CWG Auction Reserve Cabernet – Etienne’s pedigree is well proven.
As a small family winery, Christo and Yvonne both spent many hours at their father’s side, in the vineyards and in the cellar, so it was a natural step for them to follow in Etienne’s footsteps. Christo studied winemaking and viticulture, and after a handful of years gaining international and local experience with the very best in the industry, he joined Le Riche as winemaker in 2010. A deep passion for all things wine and a love for travel took Yvonne to various wine regions of the world, and to the UK where she gained valuable experience working in the very competitive British wine market. A Cape Wine Master and graduate in politics and economics, Yvonne looks after marketing and sales, including exports, and is always ready with an opinion on wine style and direction. With many years of winemaking experience at Le Riche and meticulous attention to detail, Mark Daniels, long-time assistant winemaker, is a vital part of the family business, bringing a relaxed stability to the winery. Etienne’s wife Marcelle, a ballet teacher, has always played a supportive role in the cellar and assists with the logistics of the business. Owner and cellarmaster, Etienne remains the driving force behind the winery, his humility and knowledge driving the style that is Le Riche. While Etienne brings perspective, experience and wisdom to the fold, Christo brings a fresh, modern view to the wines of Le Riche. He enjoys being at the cutting edge of research and integrating it into a traditional winemaking philosophy, with a gritty determination to ensure that the same golden thread runs through all their vintages: quality, consistency and elegance.
In 2013, after many years in the Jonkershoek Valley, the Le Riche family built a new winery on the lower slopes of the Helderberg Mountain, between Stellenbosch and Somerset West. The winery was designed to utilise the same winemaking practices as in Jonkershoek. With traditional open-top concrete fermentation tanks mixed with a modern minimum intervention winemaking approach, the winery provides a platform to create ultra-premium wines with Le Riche’s trademark elegance and finesse.
The Cabernet grapes are selected from top Stellenbosch growers in various different microclimates. A combination of soil, climate, clones and vine age determine the vineyard blocks selected. Through meticulous viticulture and a focus on canopy management and soil health, the various vineyards are assisted in developing their own unique expressions. Deciding when to harvest is done with rigorous visual selection, tasting and analysis. Typical fruit flavours, tannin structure and uniform ripeness are some of the major parameters for selection. The fruit is harvested by hand and transported to the cellar in small lug-boxes. Stringent bunch selection takes place before de-stemming and crushing.
The vineyard blocks are vinified separately up until final blending takes place. The basic vinification involves the use of open-top concrete fermenters and manual punch-downs under controlled fermentation temperatures. The berries are sorted after de-stemming and then go into the fermenters where yeast inoculation takes place. Fermentation on the skins follows with regular manual punch-downs to ensure maximum colour, tannin and flavour extraction. After fermentation the wine is pressed, and both free-run and selected press juice go to French oak barrels for the secondary, malolactic fermentation. After barrel maturation for 18 to 22 months, the wine is blended, bottled and hand-labelled. Throughout the process there is no compromise on quality.
LE RICHE CABERNET RESERVE 2014
The flagship of Le Riche, this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is the expression of the best Le Riche can make. Scrupulous vineyard selection, hand sorting, extended maceration and high-quality French oak ensure the pedigree of this wine. It is a wine where Le Riche spares no effort or cost to ensure a wine of quality and consistency. This is a wine made to age, a true investment. Reserve status is only endowed if the grapes and resulting wine measure up to an exceptional standard. The Reserve spends 22 months in 225-litre French oak, 62% new.
Tasting Notes: A wine in classic Cabernet style, the fresh vibrant nose displays blackcurrant, cassis and cedar aromas, which are mirrored on the palate. The structure is powerfully firm, with abundant sweet fruit, juicy tannins and a lingering finish. This wine is simply delicious: elegant and rich. The Reserve will benefit from at least 8 to 10 years maturation.
Yvonne’s food pairing suggestions: Red meat especially fillet or rump, on the coals or grilled.
Pedigree and recent accolades: In amongst many local and international accolades, this wine has received Platter’s pinnacle five-star rating five times: for the 1997, 1999, 2000, 2005 and 2011 vintages. The 2014 vintage recently received a 94-point rating on the 100-point quality scale in Tim Atkin’s 2017 SA Wines Report.
Retail price: It retails nationally at specialist wine stores between R500 and R580.
LE RICHE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2014
The backbone of the range, it is a wine that delivers all the qualities that a Le Riche Cabernet should. Supple, elegant and rich with layers of fruit, this is Le Riche’s expression of Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon. With fruit from the cool gravelly slopes facing False Bay to the rich red granitic soils around Stellenbosch, the wine gains its complexity by blending fruit from diverse terroirs. This wine spent 20 months in French oak barrels, 15 % new.
Tasting Notes: The bouquet displays ripe cherries, fresh plums and an array of red and black fruit. Hints of vanilla, pencil shavings and cedar round out the fruit. Soft, smooth tannins are balanced on the palate by a firm structure and a juicy, lingering finish. This is an elegant and approachable Cabernet Sauvignon with a maturation potential between 4 and 8 years.
Yvonne’s food pairing suggestions: Pepper-crusted tuna, lamb shank, venison pie and boeuf bourguignon.
Retail price: It retails nationally between R210 and R250.