Chatting to Luke O’Cuinneagain, Winemaker at Glenelly, Stellenbosch

Words: Crush

Glenelly has recently undergone extensive renovations and now the Stellenbosch estate has re-opened as a world-class Winelands destination. The new offering includes a hospitable bistro, a tasting room with spectacular views. Launching a series of new vintages across the range, the team took the opportunity to refresh the brand, creating a clearer, more distinctive identity that better conveys the three key elements that define these award-winning wines: power, elegance and balance. Crush chats to winemaker, Luke O’Cuinneagain, to find out a bit more about his winemaking style as well as ask him a few questions about the estate’s Chardonnay offering…

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I grew up in the Constantia Valley surrounded by vineyards. After my studies I travelled Europe, working first at Château Fieuzal in Bordeaux, before moving on to Alsace. In 2006 I spent time in the Napa Valley in the USA and then moved on to Château Angelus under the tutelage of Hubert de Bouard. Upon returning home I spent five years at Rustenberg Wines before joining Glenelly.

Where did winemaking start for Luke O’Cuinneagain?

My winemaking journey started when I came to Stellenbosch to study Veterinary Science. While studying, I worked in various cellars, which peaked my interest in wine and started this adventure.

What is your winemaking style?

Minimalistic influence; let the fruit express itself.

During your time at Glenelly; has there been a memorable/favourite wine that you have produced?

A favourite wine of mine has always been the 2008 Lady May; it was our first vintage of this wine and it was a difficult vintage with weather conditions at the time. We managed to produce a great wine that has been confused for left bank Bordeaux in blind tastings by Masters of Wine.

Do you ever get a ‘sixth sense’ or a hunch that tells you “this is going to be a great vintage”?

Looking at the weather conditions gives you pointers as to the potential, but you can never be sure until the wine is in the bottle.

We’re talking specifically about Chardonnay this month; can you tell us a bit about growing Chardonnay in South Africa?

Chardonnay is a fantastic variety and is so versatile. You can make Champagne, oaked wines, crisp unoaked wines, all of which are fantastic in their own right. It is also very expressive of where it is planted, from clay soils to more sandy soils. Then you have the temperature that plays a role as well, with warmer climate versus cooler climate. All of these factors play a role in producing wines that have their own unique ‘fingerprint’ which is a snap shot of that period.

We’ve heard that producing a great, balanced Chardonnay is a bit of a rite of passage for a winemaker; do you think this is true?

I think this is true, but, balance must apply to all wines, not just Chardonnay.

What is the most rewarding part of being a wine maker?

Seeing people purchasing and enjoying your product.

What excites you most about the wine industry in South Africa today?

The diversity that we have; there are new areas and varieties which are be discovered and used. At the moment I think South Africa is a dynamic place to be making wine and the world is starting to discover this more and more.

If you are not enjoying your own wine, do you have another one that is a favourite?

I truly don’t have a favourite, it all depends on my mood and whether I am having food or not.

What is your perfect food pairing with Glenelly Chardonnay?

Our Estate Reserve Chardonnay is fantastic with roast pork belly or short rib pot pies with heavily buttered puff pastry. Our Glass Collection Chardonnay is fantastic with a light tuna tartar.

Interested in getting to know Chardonnay better? Let us be your guide.

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