Samantha O'Keefe makes scintillating wines in remote Greyton

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Samantha O'Keefe“I’m multi-faceted”, Samantha O’Keefe jokingly responded when I wrote to her, with some trepidation as to what to say, asking for an interview. So much has already been said in the press – of herself, of Lismore, of the story which brought her here, and left her here with her two sons on the most beautiful farm, to make wine. I hadn’t been sure I could add to it meaningfully. Yet I felt compelled that I should.

What drew me back was a memory of a first visit to the farm, more than a year ago. Driving up the bumpy trail with a friend to her home, I was horrified at our wheels crushing hundreds of what I took to be crickets, jumping in the road. Later I saw they were frogs – tiny black ones, in their thousands. What brought me back now, so much later, was as much a sense of these frogs as of the burned but unmoved mountains, of a white dress in a box seen through a basement window as a sentence remembered: “love is supposed to be simple”. But mostly of a wine I’d had, and the person who made it.

 

The origin of the name Viognier isn’t clear. It’s assumed to derive from either the name of the French city Vienne or the Roman pronunciation of Gehenna, the Judaic valley of death, or hell – the latter, it’s said, because of how difficult Viognier is to grow and to vinify. My original hope was to draw Lismore as some kind of local Château-Grillet, the traditional home of rare, ageworthy Viognier from ancient, low yield vines; a single-estate appellation of only 4 ha, high up in the Rhone valley. Lismore’s Viognier has been compared in the press to the adjacent Condrieu, itself not a small compliment, an area known for producing many of the world’s best Viognier wines – beautifully sculpted, concentrated white wines displaying flavours of peaches and dried fruit, white flowers, spice and melon. Mostly, due to lowish acidity, Condrieu is meant to be drunk young, with notable examples lasting up to eight years. As apt and as flattering as some of these comparisons may be, they also diminish. Lismore’s Viognier is unlike any other I’ve tasted, locally or elsewhere, its charm, richness and complexity, not to mention its almost European cool-growth acidity, far outshining even well-made local examples. And not only those.. A small wonder that Lismore wines are now listed at many top restaurants, in Europe, the UK and locally.

With only 12.5 ha under vines, Lismore isn’t a large estate. One cannot help but wonder how she has done it – how she’s made it work here, as a woman alone. (She was once assured by a critic, who may or may not have worn heels, that she would never succeed. Doesn’t one’s most dire opposition oftentimes come from those on the inside?) Samantha herself keeps referring to how blessed she has been, with the exceptional terroir, with friendships and well-timed advice, with having been supplied with the exact French clones she now grows so well. As someone once remarked, who says luck is not a skill? But what I see is care and perseverance and sensitivity and, most of all perhaps, a natural sense for winemaking. At one point I couldn’t help but ask whether she was sure she wasn’t as part of this terroir she so praises as the slopes and the snow and the broken-up shale, as even the clouds of starlings swooping on her vineyards. Bluntly put, Greyton is a ward because of her vision and efforts, with a terroir so profound that, perversely, it’s difficult to get excited about. There’s merely a sense of surprise that it hasn’t always been that way. And maybe it has. The maps just hadn’t shown it thus, and no-one known had made any wine yet.

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About Kinnegar

Kinnegar Wines was born almost by accident and been growing organically since.

In 1998, I was in the midde of a two year diploma course with the London Wine & Spirits Trust when an opportunity came up to visit South Africa's Western Cape. Naturally, I was keen to avail of the opportunity to learn more about viticulture and winemaking in South Africa.

We had an excellent guide who brought us to a number of the Cape's leading estates including Thelema and De Trafford where we had in depth vineyard and cellars tours. At the end of the day, I wanted to take back some of the wonderful wines we had tasted for our own use. It was not possible to take two or three cases of wine with us on our flight and shipping such a small quantity was more than the cost of wines. So I had the mad idea of shipping a pallet! Clearly, I had to start selling these wines and so began Kinnegar Wines. Ashford Castle took many of the wines and continue to list them and newer arrivals ever since.

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