Lammershoek is a beautiful Swartland farm with a long and illustrious history that spans many centuries and generations. Today the name is synonymous with a range of exceptional wines, as well as the visionary attitudes and guidance of the trio of well-known German businessmen and Abold family who took the helm in 2013. Andreas and Sonja Abold gave the reins to winemaker Schalk Oppermann, but the farm is still run as a family concern where a merry band of agricultural mavens believe to work closely with nature.
We recently met up with Schalk on a balmy autumn day in the Paardeberg to learn more about the farm, his approach to winemaking and why he believes the Swartland is one of the only wine regions that still offer visitors a hint of adventure.
The original Swartland farm
The first ever mention of the Lammershoek can be found in documentation that dates back to 1714, when it was granted as a lone farm to one Adriaan van Jaarsveld and his wife Cornelia Nel, a newly married French Huguenot couple. Official ownership was granted to the couple in 1718, and in 1719 we find the first mention of 600 vines being planted on Lammershoek. It was these vineyards that paved the way for the winemaking tradition that is still alive and kicking on the farm three centuries down the line.
“Back then, the farm extended all the way from the Paardeberg to Kasteelberg mountain,” says Schalk. “In the intervening years, pockets of land were sold off. Lammershoek was the original Swartland farm – the rest all used to be part of it.”
The interesting name is also a remnant of earlier days on the original farm, when Adriaan and his team noticed that their sheep kept herding their lambs to a certain corner that backed up against the mountain and was covered in lots of naturally occurring brush.
“This is when they realised that the ewes were stowing their lambs there to protect them from the Lammervanger eagles (black eagle in English) that had a tendency to come after their young,” explains Schalk. “This is why they started referring to the area as Lammershoek (‘lamb’s corner’). Our labels also reflect this history today. Our Innocent range is easy and approachable, paying homage to the meek little lambs; while the Terravinium Reserve range features bigger, more structured wines – a tip of the hat to the stoic black eagle.”
Treading lightly on the earth
Today, the day-to-day running of Lammershoek rests in the capable hands of Schalk Opperman. As head winemaker, he oversees a strong team that has been hand-picked for their dedication to their individual crafts and their common belief in treading as lightly on the earth as possible.
“Our main team consists of myself; Jonathan Ralph, our marketing and sales manager; farm manager Marius Kotze who hails from organic farm Org de Rac and is responsible for everything that lives and breathes on Lammershoek; and my assistant winemaker Jorrie du Plessis, who is a born Swartlander and a very capable young man who refused to drown when I chucked him in the deep end from his first harvest onward,” says Schalk.
“We farm like a family and all believe in taking a minimalist approach, which means that the way we conduct ourselves in the cellar and vineyard is based on the belief that future generations should be able to enjoy and cultivate this soil as well. We don’t farm 100% organically, but by drawing on solid experience and keeping our feet on the ground in the vineyard and in the cellar, we can tell immediately when something needs attention. This means we can let the environment do its thing without having to resort to drastic, unsustainable measures when a small recalibration would have done the trick.”
The team also works closely with the workers who live on the farm and tend the vines and livestock. “These families have lived here for generations, and make up an invaluable part of our team,” says Schalk. “They work the vineyards with us daily and they know the area like the back of their hand. So, instead of having to get in a consultant to show us where the water runs or where the Shiraz will grow best, we simply ask the people who have intimate knowledge of the soil.”
Celebrating the singular terroir of the Swartland
When Schalk was first given the opportunity to come to Lammershoek after honing his craft in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek for over a decade, he was excited beyond measure. “The farm had always been somewhat of a sweetheart of the wine industry. Big brands would buy their grapes from all over South Africa, and with good reason – the terroir is something truly remarkable,” he enthuses.
“There are so many nooks and crannies in this valley and it creates a magical environmental backdrop that yield exceptional wines. From one part of the farm to the next you’ll encounter gorgeous decomposed granite soils, sandy clay, slopes that front to the north, south, east and west, some higher, some lower – it’s amazing. Not to mention the heavy concentration of old vineyards that give us the opportunity to work with vines that have stood the test of time and just keep coming back with more interesting grapes year after year.”
“It was truly inspiring to see how these old vineyards stood their ground during the recent drought, reaching down with their deep root systems to find water and survive. For a while there I was sure we were going to lose a few, but last year when the rain came, back they were with strong, green shoots!”
Choose your own adventure in the hinterland
Keen to visit Lammershoek to try their wines in person? You are more than welcome – just remember to book ahead.
“Tastings can be enjoyed by appointment from Monday to Friday between 09:00 and 16:30,” explains Schalk.“It’s not that we’re trying to dissuade people from visiting, in fact we love it! It’s just that we’re all actively involved in running the farm and we don’t want to hand over the tastings to someone who memorised a story. When you visit Lammershoek to taste our wines, your wine will be poured by one of the winemakers who will share our philosophy and passion for our region. So just call ahead to let us know you’re coming.”
“The difference between the Swartland and other wine regions is that there’s still some adventure left here to discover. It’s still rugged and uncrowded; we still have sheep and cows. We make wines that we believe in. We set out to craft vintages that represent our area and make us feel proud as winemakers, then we seek the market for it; not the other way around. Come visit us, and let me tell you more.”
QUICK LINKS >> Website: www.lammershoek.co.za | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org| Telephone Number: (022) 482 2835