The winery that pioneered the renaissance of winemaking in Belgium, is a beautiful chateau, like something from the Loire or Bordeaux, with extensive rose gardens. It provided the backdrop for a local version of Dallas, where Belgian viewers could tune in for an hour a week for ten weeks to watch two families fighting over the legacy of a vineyard, the ‘Zuidflank’, South Flank, a fictional Grand Cru plot.
The Kekkos first planted their vines in 1990 in Riemst, between Tongeren and Maastricht; their son, Stephan, is now married to the winemaker. They only grow Chardonnay and Pinot on their 25ha, from which they produce three Chardonnays, White, Blue and Gold, a Pinot Noir, Red, or in poor years, Rose. In addition, they have three sparkling wines, named Pearl, Black, Silver and Red. Stephan’s father-in-law also distils a range of ‘Leveswater’ from the Chardonnay marc. Since 2000, they are part of the newly created AOC ‘Haspensgouwse’.
Currently their wines are sold mainly in Belgium. Thanks to the success of the TV soap opera, they had to stop supplies of wine to large wholesalers and for export. Demand for their wine was so huge, that they have practically ‘sold out’. Stephan doesn’t think this is necessarily a good thing as he doesn’t want to reach the point where he doesn’t even have a glass of wine to offer visitors to the chateau. They wanted to keep their top Chardonnay for eight years before release, but are now having to release significantly younger wines just to meet demand. Stephan hopes this will change when 11ha newly planted vines become productive and they are able to reach an ideal capacity of 100,000 bottles per annum.
They mostly supply small wine shops and restaurants. Stephan is not too keen on supplying to supermarkets, despite being approached by one following the TV series; it would not only eat up most of their production, but they would relinquish a certain amount of control. Wine is not Coke, a standardised product that consumers expect to be the same year after year. They do not blend, even the sparkling wines, but produce a vintage wine, reflecting the year.
It is difficult to get people to buy Belgian wine, if indeed, they are even aware it exists; they assume it will be bad. They generally drink French wine, especially Champagne, bringing it back from France by the carload. However, Belgian wines consistently perform well in blind tastings and often likened to Burgundy.
Stephan is confident that Belgian wine will benefit from global warming, as many southern European countries will be unable to produce balanced wines with good acidity. The future’s bright, the future’s Belgian.