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Monday, November 3, 2008


Pic: Robin Hamilton and Jocelyn Wilson

La Bri is the oldest of the original Huguenot-owned farms in the Franschhoek Valley

La Bri is the oldest of the original Huguenot-owned farms in the Franschhoek Valley; a man named Jacques de Villiers settled there in 1694 and became a successful farmer.

In the modern era, it has been a wine farm for about 30 years and in recent times it has been owned by Robin Hamilton, a retired business man well-known (and well-liked) in Durban. He was the chief executive of the Suncrush company, in which his family had a controlling interest. When they sold the firm in 1997, to the soft drink division of South African Breweries, Robin Hamilton moved from cool drinks to wine. He bought La Bri and he has given the old farm a new cellar, redeveloped vineyards and new vitality. He lives there with his partner, Lindy Waterkeyn, and he has appointed a new viticulturist, Claude Uren, and a new winemaker and general manager, Jocelyn Wilson.

Jocelyn was 25 when she got the job. A top class tennis player, she spent a year at Texas State University in the United States and later completed an agriculture degree at Stellenbosch.

She seems to be doing very well, and she is certainly one of the best-looking winemakers in the Western Cape. She has a husband, Nick, who is co-owner of a flower farm and nursery at Banhoek, between Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. They have a son, Thomas, who was born only three months ago.

Incidentally, the name La Bri has nothing to do with brie cheese, which came originally from Brie in northern France. The farm’s name is derived, it seems, from the French l’abri, the refuge. The farm is not big. It has about 18 hectares under vines.

Robin Hamilton describes La Bri as “a small, quiet and very beautiful place; just being there makes you want to do things better”. In keeping with this sentiment the farm has released a new range of wines with distinctive labels. These depict various Cape flowers, including species of protea, watsonia, lily and clivia. The illustrations have been drawn by Tobie Beele. And the flowers themselves have been planted in a garden near La Bri’s new tasting room.

I have tasted two of the La Bri wines. The 2007 Chardonnay is first-rate, full-bodied with all the typical chardonnay characteristics in the bouquet and taste: apple, lime, lemon, guavas, with a pleasant touch of oakiness from the maturation of the wine for 12 months in French oak barrels.. Alcohol content is 14 percent. Retail price about R65 a bottle.

The La Bri 2007 Shiraz Viognier is a blend, 95 percent shiraz and 5 percent of the white grape viognier. The wine is a ruby colour and it is fruity and slightly spicy, with a mildly herbal bouquet. It is a very attractive soft-textured wine and would go very well with a large variety of dishes or just by itself. Like all the La Bri wines, it is oak-matured and has quite a high alcohol content, in this case 15 percent. Price about R85.

The other La Bri wines are Viognier 2008, a white with features of grapefruit, granadilla and pears, price R80 (at the cellar only); Merlot 2006, described a tasting of berries, plums and herbs, R75; Affinity 2004, a full-bodied blended red, mainly cabernet and merlot, R75; Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, scents and tastes of cloves, nutmeg, fruit, chocolate and cinnamon, R85; and a still unnamed 2007 red blend, R45, only at the cellar.

La Bri is open for tasting and sales. Phone 021 876 2593. – Michael Green