Ackerman Winery – Saumur, Loire Valley

The more you read about this company, the more you like it. From the word go, Jean-Baptiste Ackerman, understood the principals of local and locality. He did his homework well and then transferred his store of knowledge applying it in a new place.

Ackerman Winery, Saumur, Loire Valley

From the caves of Champagne where this wealthy banker’s son from Antwerp, learnt the tricks of the trade, Ackerman proceeded to Saumur in the Loire Valley in 1810. His vision was to recreate those fine bubbles of mousse rising steadily to the top of the glass using the grapes of the area. He bought some of the best tracts of underground galleries consisting of cool, limestone caves and started implementing his ideas. Instead of importing experienced workers, he decided that local was best and launched forth in educating the people around him teaching them the ‘méthode traditionelle’. He even married locally. His bride was the daughter of a rich banker carrying the name of Laurance and hence the brand name Ackerman was extended. His sparkling wine, which he labelled ‘champagne’, a mistake that would cost him dearly, received high acclamation from a wine-tasting jury spurring the company on to export. Due to his efforts, an addition to the railway line from Paris to Rennes and Angers, ended up in Saumur and from there Saumur Brut became widely known in England, Russia, Sweden, Germany and Belgium.

Ackerman and Laurance, a formidable pair

Today, Ackerman has not lost the vision and passion that Jean-Baptiste Ackerman had for the product and the company. They operate sustainably, making sure that waste is separated, water re-used and their footprint minimised. They’ve been able to reduce pesticide-use by 40% without losing production, cut down the amount of water that is used mostly for washing the bottles and have encouraged their growers to plant grass in between vineyards which works against soil erosion.

The cellar master’s chilly office at 12C

Taking care of their labourers is high priority. The average age of their 150 workforce is 45 years, an ageing population and hence training in load carrying is vital. Planning for retirement with mentor-based training is another way this way company looks out for its own. Disabled people are employed in bottle-conditioning.

The products from this winery are held up as benchmarks for the rest of the region. In 1956, they joined forces with Rémy Pannnier and have gone from strength to strength in quality and quantity. Both still and sparkling wines are produced from the highest quality of grapes grown in the Loire Valley creating tannic, earthy Cabernet Franc from Chinon, delicate sparkling wines using Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and even Pinot Noir in their cuvées and nutty, intense Chenin Blanc.

Creamy crémant

The iPad guided tour takes you on an informative, delightful journey through the caves including an installation art exhibition with a writhing python, a beautiful blonde and a spider web stretched across a huge hall. The whole tour costs a meagre €5 including a tasting of their entire extensive range, if you so wish. When the personnel are chatty and genuinely friendly, you know you’re in the Loire Valley and not in Paris or some other renowned regions where egos outstrip generosity and kindness. The service here is superlative and when you can walk away with a stash of outstanding bubbly and a few robust stills, most of them for under €10 per bottle, you count yourself lucky.

No Pinotage Please

Wine clubs are growing faster than mushrooms in Finnish forests these days and one of them invited me to do a South African tasting for them. It was a tough choice, not to say yes to the invitation, but what to serve? Dare I leave out the trademark of SA wines, the iconic Pinotage, or not?

I took the plunge, a leap of faith in the direction of lean and mean rather than big and bold and held my breath. I’ve done many wine tastings in my time but this one made me nervous. The narrative of wine from my beloved country is sadly encased in descriptives like ‘high alcohol’, ‘in your face’, ‘jammy’, ‘robust’, the list goes on. But I was determined to show another side, one that would make these knowledgeable tasters sit up and think again.

The set for this tasting
The set for this tasting

Making history in Finland with the first showing of Mount Abora Wines in a public setting, these are all about ‘no’, ‘low’ and ‘minimal’. With their aim being to emulate the style of Alain Graillot from Crôzes-Hermitage, Burgundy, France, winemaker Johan Meyer and consultants Pieter de Waal and Krige Visser have succeeded in producing some truly bright, light and structured reds in their Saffraan and The Abyssinian. Their Koggelbos Chenin Blanc has a deep yellow colour and is so full in flavour that you could mistake it for a Chardonnay.

Johan Meyer, winemaker for Mount Abora (Photo: Indigo Wine)
Johan Meyer, winemaker for Mount Abora (Photo: Indigo Wine)

In contrast to Koggelbos, is Eben Sadie’s Skurfberg (Sadie Family Wines). From 88 year-old unirrigated vines from way up north on the west coast of South Africa in the Olifants River region, this Chenin shows you just how good this widely planted grape can be made. Pineapple, minerals and acidity explode in your mouth and the finish is steely and long.

Cinsault or Cinsaut as the South Africans spell it, has been the workhorse of South African reds used mostly in blends since before my student days which is a long, long time ago. “The family member that’s been in jail and that no one talks about” (Eben Sadie), has now come out of the closet to show itself in all its glorious structure. Mount Abora’s Saffraan is a great example, low in alcohol, fruity and layered. Lean and elegant, it expresses its terroir and the result is a memorable finish. On the other hand, Louis Nel’s Collaboration Cinsault is bigger and surprisingly bolder considering the fact that it was bottled in the same year as it was harvested. Never seen the inside of an oak barrel, this food friendly wine is rounded expressing yummy tannins.

Eben Sadie (Photo: Wine Anorak)
Eben Sadie (Photo: Wine Anorak)

They do things well at Morgenster Wine & Olive Estate. Owner Guilio Bertrand from Piemonte, Italy, calls in the experts when he is in doubt and has managed to produce one of the best blended olive oils in the world. Now their aim is to do the same with the wine. Henry Kotzé is the Cellar Master and Winemaker and works closely with consultant Pierre Lurton from Chateau Cheval Blanc in Bordeaux. Their Lourens River Valley Bordeaux blend is full with plenty of cigar box and eucalyptus showing in the nose and palate and the finish is so long you can still taste it the next day!

So, what did punters think? Finding the best of the whites and the reds was an impossible task. Each wine had its place, each wine was remarkable. The applause was loud and long. Hey, I got away with it! No Pinotage….

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