SA Wine Trailblazer: Lukas van Loggerenberg

“The name ‘Graft’ has several meanings,” says own-label winemaker Lukas van Loggerenberg of his cult-status syrah, perched on a stool at his new Stellenbosch home. The soft-spoken winemaker is drawn to symbolism; his collection of wines all feature collage-like labels, a visual mapping (and over-lapping) of his life stories.  Even the directions here were enigmatic ‘turn left at the white gate’.

“My grandfather always told me that if you want to make a success of something you need to put in the hard yards and graft,” Van Loggerenberg says continuing his thread. “The word also refers to how two individual parts can be grafted together to form a stronger and more meaningful whole as shown by the vines being grafted in the image. The honeybee and finch are both very hardworking and despite not always knowing if what they are doing will work, still graft and get it done.”

We’re here today to taste his new 2022 releases. Crystal glasses on a scrubbed wood table catch the slant of autumn light, reflected from the dam in front; naked vines crosshatch off in the distance. It’s the very picture of wineland’s utopia.

The Van Loggerenberg family (they have a young son and daughter) have just moved here, from a smaller cottage on another Stellenbosch farm. Van Loggerenberg Wines is a boutique concern, with wife Roxanne running the show, while Lukas gets stuck into the business of bringing the grapes to bottle (at a cellar on Paarl Mountain). They make low-intervention, site-specific wines, often with low alcohols, from vineyards mainly in the Stellenbosch and Swartland. The Graft Syrah in particular is a stand out; the 2021 vintage was awarded 96 points by Neal Martin who called it ‘One of the best syrahs in South Africa’.

This is a wine all about tension; its pure red fruit walks the tightrope of mineral acidity. Expressive of its site it was hewn from the granitic soils of the increasingly lauded Karibib farm in the Polkadraai hills. The small cool ward on the fringe of Stellenbosch has become something of a holyground for new wave syrah producers, such as the revered Sons of Sugarland by Reenen Borman.

No stranger to international adoration, Van Loggerenberg was named Young Winemaker of the Year by Tim Atkin in 2018, and his wines hold a regular position in the lofty nineties of the 100-point scoring system.

Though before he came to this mountain, Van Loggerenberg was from anderkant die berg (the other side of the mountain). What used to be pejorative term for the Breedekloof wine region, producers there now proudly embrace the nomenclature, and have proven their mettle in producing some of South Africa’s finest chenin blancs. Yet another grape Van Loggerenberg has proven his adeptness with. It must be in the blood.

Growing up in Rawsonville he laments that at the time it was all bulk wine and co-ops. “Thankfully these days there are some small producers out there changing the image, making high quality wines.

“I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family that wasn’t wealthy. I say fortunate because I really had to graft to get where I am,” Van Loggerenberg says referencing the name of his star syrah.

Though growing up surrounded by vines, winemaking didn’t at first occur to him. The idea was to pursue medicine. “When I realised at 17 even that would cost money I gave up on that.” Looking for a way to keep busy in 2005 he worked as a harvest intern at Daschbosch, a boutique arm of UniWines in his hometown. There he met some Elsenburg graduates and; ‘I fell in love with the idea of making wine’.

This new found devotion saw him working another harvest there, earning the young winemaker a scholarship at Elsenburg, which was ‘a blessing from the hostel master, “‘Oom’ Willie van Zyl,” emotes Van Loggerenberg. He had six months to fill before his studies kicked off, so he worked as a second-hand car salesman in Worcester. “The very first car I sold was a green 1995 Honda Ballade, to a policeman from De Doorns,” he says laughing.

After completing his degree at Elsenburg (2009), he worked three harvests at Rijks in Tulbagh. His next adventure saw him heading to the East Coast in the USA, where he says he learned the crucial skill of selling and marketing wine. Business then met palate as he honed fine wine appreciation thanks to the cellar-opening generosity of his wealthy Connecticut contemporaries.

Van Loggerenberg quickly added Burgundy, Champagne and the Loire to his educational exploits. He drew from all of this to launch his own eponymous brand. Then, what do they say in show business for good luck, break a leg?

During the first harvest he broke his kneecap in a freak accident and had to undergo two major knee surgeries. “Someone suggested I make a barrel of rosé to sell to help with the medical bills,” reminisces Van Loggerenberg. Serendipitously Richard Kelley MW tasted the wine, and liked it. The resultant Break a Leg Rosé capitulated the nascent brand onto its on-going road of success.

As hackneyed as the phrase is Lukas Van Loggerenberg is that still river that runs deep. Plunge beneath the placid depths for stories manifold – and delicious, modern, light-footed wines. Of which, the Graft Syrah is the acme.

- Blog by Malu Lambert