Glenelly’s logo is nothing if not striking: a dignified young lady riding a perkily-trotting rhino, while balancing an ornate – and enormous – wine glass. Unusual, certainly, yet it captures the power, elegance and balance Glenelly strives for in its wines, as well as the estate’s three key elements: its aristocratic European ownership, African soul and, of course, wine.
Glenelly is owned by May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, who spent 30 years as managing director and owner of Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Pauillac and was voted Decanter’s Woman of the Year in 1994. Nine years later, at the age of 78, she headed to Stellenbosch in search of a new project.
Why South Africa? The story goes that de Lencquesaing had sponsored the Bordeaux blends category in a wine competition for many years, and her interest was piqued by handing out the trophy most years to winners from Stellenbosch. She realised there must be something special there and made her move, buying Glenelly Estate.
Not that it was a ready-made wine estate by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, at the time, it was just a fruit farm, with not a single vine. The new owners had to pull up an awful lot of plum trees to replant their 57 hectares.
Bordeaux reds and Chardonnay went in, and a spectacular gravity-flow winery over four floors was sunk into an old quarry. It’s far bigger than currently required, but the team at Glenelly are planning for the future.
On the foothills of the Simonsberg, Glenelly is one of the closest wineries to the centre of the town of Stellenbosch, its vast floor-to-ceiling window in the fermentation hall looking out over schools, churches and the estate’s after-school care centre for its workers’ children. Knowing that education is key to their future, Glenelly follows and supports the children’s progress very closely.
‘Because of our proximity to the town, we like to say that we are the Haut-Brion of Stellenbosch,’ jokes de Lencquesaing’s grandson, CEO Nicolas Bureau.
Glenelly has embraced regenerative viticulture, striving to nurture the life of the soil as much as the health of the vines. Most of the vineyards are in a natural amphitheatre, facing from south-east through south-west, and after 20 years the team are understanding the nuances of their terroir. Cabernet, for instance, is showing more promise than Merlot, which is more sensitive to the heat and is slowly being replaced. The best red blends are already Cabernet-dominant, and this looks set to increase over time.
There’s a genuine polish and elegance to the wines, which remain remarkably well priced, given their aristocratic heritage.
‘Quality is key, and with time, you start building a following for the style we are pursuing. You don’t create a reputation with [a high] price,’ says Nicolas Bureau. ‘We’d rather start from the bottom up and put our prices up slowly as demand increases.’
On this evidence, it most surely will.
Glenelly Estate – Four wines to try:
Lady May, Stellenbosch, 2017
With 24 months in barrels, most of them new, you’d expect this wine to be an oak bomb. But there’s so much fruit concentration here, it simply absorbs it. 90% Cabernet, it shows a tightly-coiled cassis nose, with a brooding inky liquorice element shadowing in behind. Further flavour elements appear on the palate – Christmas spices, graphite – as it moves with lithe power. Made with sensitivity and precision, it’s undeniably one for the long haul.
Drink 2023-2050 | Alcohol 14.5%
Estate Reserve Red, Stellenbosch, 2016
This used to be mostly Cabernet and Syrah, but now it’s a Bordeaux blend with a 12% dollop of Syrah – a formula that on this evidence works really well. There’s plenty of shiny blue Cabernet fruit on the nose, but the other varieties take over on the palate, with a gentle undertow of blackberries, a shading of graphite and a dusting of herbs. It’s full-bodied, but classily put together and excellent value, too.
Drink 2023-2035 | Alcohol 14.5%
Estate Reserve Chardonnay, Stellenbosch, 2021
‘Chardonnay can get fat,’ says winemaker Jerome Likwa, ‘and that’s not what we want.’ Despite 100% barrel-fermentation they’ve achieved their goal. This is a pretty style of Chardonnay – bright and light-footed, with crisp, clean pear and apple compote flavours leading onto a creamy palate with some minerality and tension. Elegantly crafted.
Drink 2023-2030 | Alcohol 12%
Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch, 2020
Glenelly are acquiring a strong reputation for their Cabernets, and it’s easy to see why; for the price, this, from their affordable ‘Glass Collection’ range, is excellent. Bright, pure blackcurrant fruit, with elegant tannins and a touch of cedary cigar-box, it’s brisk and refined, with perfectly judged oak use.
Drink 2023-2028 | Alcohol 14.5%