Niels Verburg, Winemaker and Co-owner of Luddite
“It’s about time, I need a drink”
These were the first words to interrupt Niels Verburg’s giant smile when we found him at Luddite one Monday morning. Sofi took one look around before announcing “I like it here”. She’s a great judge of character and aesthetics, but could have called this one with her eyes closed.
But her eyes were open, so she fell in love with the tasting room right away. It isn’t pompous or showy, but if it were, that would have worked too in an ironic, anti-Niels kind of way. Instead it's bold, colourful and unique – much like the 2009 Shiraz that brought us here in the first place.
Tracking this wine down only required a trip to Bot River, but we would have driven to the Orange River if we had to. It’s a big wine. One that’s hard to forget: A powerhouse of dark fruit, fynbos and spice with a long fresh finish. We received a bottle when our daughter was born, and I can’t think of a more appropriate gift apart from a good night's sleep.
So we rewarded our winemaker’s impatience and while he scurried around for wine, we watched workers outside building a deck that would be ready when it’s ready. In the mean time we were forced to sit inside, with a 2010 Shiraz, a 2014 Chenin, and the latest release Saboteur Red and White blends.
This story isn’t really about those wines specifically, although they were all absolutely fantastic. It’s more about how all Luddite wines are the quintessential expression of personality and place. The "perfect package" if you will.
It feels like nobody but Niels on that farm in Bot River could have made them. Besides maybe the Jolly Green Giant. On Niels' farm. In Bot River.
And having subsequently met his wife Penny (Luddite’s non-6’6” viticulturist, brains, driver, conductor etc.), I'm confident that she is responsible for whatever subtlety you might experience with their wines.
Niels and Penny are an impressive team, having made wine all over the world since the late 80’s. In 1995 they returned to South Africa and began at Beaumont. About 10 years ago, they moved 1km up the road and started their own gig. And that largely brings us up to speed. A no-bullshit duo who complement each other and produce small quantities of really great stuff. They don’t suffer fools, don’t compromise on quality and don’t release their Shiraz too early. A strong set of attributes.
A luddite is someone who is resistant to new technology or new ways of working. Our repeated attempts at email correspondence before and after the visit suggest that they are wholeheartedly living the brand:
"Niels, my emails were returned undelivered".
"Are you still using your Telkom e-mail address?"
"What's a Telkom e-mail address?"
On the occasion that you do reach him, something that you immediately sense is how much he enjoys the graft. Because running a fully operational wine farm is no picnic:
“Don’t become a winemaker unless you absolutely love it because it’s hard and the market’s hard and there’s a lot of stuff they don’t tell you and you have to figure out things that having nothing to do with making wine and if I never have to worry about admin and certification ever again it will be too soon...”
At least I think that’s what he said. I wasn’t listening by this stage. It’s hard to hear anything when your face is literally burrowed inside a glass of Chenin. It has a fascinating and very different nose to it, probably because of Niels’ natural approach to his craft. I found it totally beguiling. If beguiling means "delicious".
Finally, you can and should seek out more in-depth descriptions of the various Luddite wines. Alternatively just get hold of them and discover them for yourself.
But if you're looking for summaries and bullet points:
1. Luddite wines are big, bold, delicious and full of character. Your budget is the only thing that should prevent you from bathing in them. They are full of character, dedication and hard work and these qualities resonate as much as the intrinsic ones that can read about all over the place. Highly recommended for special occasions, like the birth of your first child. Or Fridays.
2. Visit Luddite if you have the chance. And if you don’t, then see point 1.
Luddite Shiraz 2010 – Woof! Not much has changed from 2009. They just made about 4,000 bottles less because some of the grapes were not up to their lofty standards. Get your hands on a bottle, they're like hens teeth.
Luddite Chenin 2014 – Old barrels, old vines, skins on, natural fermentation, on the lees, no intervention – all the good stuff. I poured myself a few extra glasses while Niels wasn’t looking. Sorry, not sorry.
Saboteur Red 2014 – Not too different in style from the Shiraz. It’s also a big red, Shiraz dominates, but fresh and balanced. Also gets a resounding Woof.
Saboteur White 2015 – It’s under a crown cap. I repeat, you open this like you open a beer. Fantastic. This Chenin-based blend also contains Blanc de Blanc. (Niels refuses to say “Sauvignon” for fear of being overheard by the wine illuminati)