It is always exciting to discover a new place – be it a town or a winery that you have never been to before; or both. I recently enjoyed such an experience when I left the heart of the Cape Winelands to venture out to a small, peaceful town called Greyton, in the Overberg district.
It is just under 2 hours drive from Cape Town, with a long and winding stretch of road through rolling wheat lands. While driving, I was wondering where, and why, are the vineyards planted all the way out there. Even as I reached the town, I still could not spot one single vine.
This does make sense once you learn that the area has only one commercially registered wine estate. Tucked into the foothills of the dramatic mountain range called Riviersonderend, lies Lismore Estate Vineyards founded in 2003 by Californian Samantha O’Keefe. She came to South Africa in 2000 and fell in love with this old dairy farm that was for sale. After the purchase, she planted vineyards in 2004 and released her first vintage in 2008.
The farm is 242 hectares in total with just under 19 hectares of vineyards planted. As I was standing in the Chardonnay vineyard with Samantha, 325 meters above sea level, I was in awe of the magnificent view and the extreme element to it all. Not only did Samantha move to another country and take on such a big project in the middle of nowhere, building a house and a winery, she also planted vineyards in one of the coolest climates in South Africa. Along with the altitude, the farm also has varying slopes and soil types adding to the extreme terroir where her grapes ripen weeks later than most other wine wards.
Lismore ‘Winery to Watch’ – Wine & Spirits 2020
This all sounds very challenging, but Samantha made an extreme success of it. To mention a few of the outstanding achievements:
Lismore Estate Vineyards is the pioneer of Wine of Origin ‘Greyton’, with the area gaining this designation in 2009, recognising the ward for its unique and special terroir.
Samantha became a member of the Cape Winemakers Guild in 2018, currently one of only four women, with her hand-crafted wine being sold on this special auction.
She opened a beautiful tasting room in the middle of the village of Greyton where they can now welcome guests and share the Lismore wines.
And her wines have received attention from top wine critics and journalists from around the world, achieving many awards and high ratings.
“Samantha O’Keefe of Lismore Estate is a trailblazer who is making some of South Africa’s most focused, precise and thoughtful wines. Lismore – Wine Advocate 2019
As if this is not enough, Samantha and her team, including Assistant Winemaker Adèle Botha, has just released a brand-new wine. The Estate Reserve Cuvée Blanc 2022 is a blend of 90% Roussanne and 10% together of Chardonnay and Viognier. Tasting it during my visit, I was captured on the nose of the wine already with its intense aroma and the palate offering a true sense of site. Samantha mentioned that the farm on paper is a lot like the Northern Rhône, which led her to the additional planting of Roussanne vines in 2016 with the intention of producing their first ever cuvée.
The rest of the Lismore wines are all single-varietal wines offered in 2 ranges. The one being the Reserve range with all the grapes being harvested from the farm and the range of wines including grapes harvested from different areas in the Western Cape, such as Elgin and Standford.
The Reserve range focuses on the low-yielding vineyards, all dryland-farmed, growing in the extreme terroir on the property, to express the sites and their uniqueness. Which they certainly do; you just have to open a bottle of any of the Reserve wines (Estate Reserve Chardonnay, Estate Reserve Viognier and Estate Reserve Syrah) to get a sense of Lismore, the quality and all the hard work that has gone into the property, vineyards and wines.
Samantha’s passion and dedication has not only brought success to Lismore Estate Vineyards, but has also set the foundation for great potential in the Greyton ward. With the area seeing new investments, the future is looking bright and exciting and with Samantha and her team as your neighbours, the opportunity is great.
As Neal Martin once said in a wine review (August 2018) of Lismore – “Is there nothing Samantha cannot do?”
-René, Restaurant Mosaic Sommelier