WINE AND WHEELS

When he’s not crafting award-winning Bordeaux blends in the cellar, Glenelly winemaker Luke O'Cuinneagain loves nothing more than to hit the road in his trusty Hilux.
When he’s not crafting award-winning Bordeaux blends in the cellar, Glenelly winemaker Luke O'Cuinneagain loves nothing more than to hit the road in his trusty Hilux.
“My daughter calls it ‘Butch’,” says Luke O’Cuinneagain with a chuckle. “She used to call it ‘The Bus’ because it’s so long, but for me, it’s just my trusty steed. It’s taken me everywhere.”

O’Cuinneagain is the cellar master at Glenelly wine estate on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, and that ‘trusty steed’ he speaks of is the dusty, mud-splattered Toyota Hilux D4D 3.0 parked outside the cellar. 

“I love to drive… it makes my wife crazy because it’s not uncommon for me to drive from Stellenbosch to Durban just to do some tastings,” says Luke. Little wonder that he’s clocked up more than 352,000km in just 15 years. 

When he’s not crafting award-winning Bordeaux blends in the cellar, Glenelly winemaker Luke O'Cuinneagain loves nothing more than to hit the road in his trusty Hilux.

Aside from eating up the highways, Luke’s Hilux makes short work of Glenelly’s steep gravel roads, and the large load bay is ideal for carrying both oak barrels and soaking-wet Labradors. But Luke loves nothing more than to take the family on long road trips, whether it’s to marvel at flower season in the Biedouw Valley or to explore the gravel tracks of the Tankwa Karoo. 

“I’m never worried about a road or a route. I love to drive and see where the roads take us, and that’s just so easy with the Hilux. The reliability is incredible, but you also know that if there’s going to be a car dealership in any remote dorpie, it’s going to be a Toyota dealership. It really does allow you to explore off the beaten track.” 

But eventually, those meandering tracks lead Luke back to the Glenelly cellar, where he’s overseen the winemaking since 2007. That was just four years after Madame May-Eliane de Lencquesaing – whose family had owned the iconic Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Bordeaux for generations – purchased what was once a humble fruit farm. For Madame May, Glenelly was a new start in Africa, on an amphitheatre of hills that had never been planted with vines before. 

Glenelly Wine Estate has become one of the most respected estates in Stellenbosch, acclaimed for its Bordeaux-style red blends.

With the wide hills carpeted in neat rows of trellised vineyards, and the latest harvest safely in the cellar, that’s hard to imagine now. It’s been a tricky vintage, says Luke, but with promising quality and “wonderful tannin structures coming through”. 

Today, almost two decades after the first vines were planted, Glenelly has become one of the most respected estates in Stellenbosch, acclaimed for its Bordeaux-style red blends. The estate stretches across 123 hectares of land on the northern outskirts of Stellenbosch. From Ida’s Valley, it scampers up the slopes of the Simonsberg in a patchwork of vineyards, dams and woodland. Roughly half the estate is under vine, with a hefty focus on the classic Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, although you’ll also find blocks of Syrah and Chardonnay. 

Glenelly Wine Estate has a hefty focus on the classic Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, although you’ll also find blocks of Syrah and Chardonnay. 

The mix of vineyards makes sense. Aside from Madame May’s family connection to Bordeaux, the Simonsberg is renowned for the quality of its Cabernet and “if you look back to the history of Bordeaux,” explains Luke, “in the 1700s the wines exported as Claret would always include a healthy dollop of Syrah.” 

As Glenelly approaches its 20th anniversary, the estate is also taking a major step forward in terms of sustainability. It’s now in its third year of organic conversion, adjusting procedures and protocols in both the cellar and vineyards. 

This shift, along with a commitment to retaining wildlife corridors through the property, has resulted in “an uptick in biodiversity on the property,” says Luke. “We’ve seen caracal, and we know there’s leopard activity on the property.”

When he’s not crafting award-winning Bordeaux blends in the cellar, Glenelly winemaker Luke O'Cuinneagain loves nothing more than to hit the road in his trusty Hilux.

At last count, the bird list for Glenelly stood at around 150 different species, and they’re best spotted from the sun-splashed terrace of the airy tasting room, where a choice of tasting flights allows visitors to explore the diverse portfolio of wines.  

The Glass Collection range is focused on single-varietal wines, crafted for early enjoyment, while the pair of Estate Reserve bottlings showcase added depth in the barrel-aged Chardonnay and a claret-style red blend. But don’t leave without a sip of the superb Lady May, the flagship Bordeaux blend built on Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s well worth cellaring a bottle or two for a special occasion. 

There are cheese and charcuterie platters to enjoy alongside your tasting, but rather save your appetite for the authentic French cuisine at The Vine Bistro downstairs. Here, chef-patron Christophe Dehossse delivers an impressive menu blending Francophile flavours with Winelands produce. Think pan-fried pork trotter with gribiche sauce, or a Bouillabaisse du Cap of fresh seasonal seafood, all enjoyed on the terrace with a side order of glorious vineyard views. 

After lunch, do wander through the remarkable Glass Collection downstairs. For decades, Madame May has been an avid collector of glassworks in all their artful forms. A handful of these precious pieces – from ancient vessels to contemporary art pieces – are on display to the public. 

It’s just one of the many reasons to pay Glenelly a visit when you’re next in Stellenbosch. As you wander past the cellar, keep an eye out for a dusty mud-splattered bumper, and be sure to say hi to Butch.

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