South Africa – Cape Winelands in Style – Wendy Torrien and David Rogers
A fabulous journey through the best of South Africa's Cape wine farms
By Robyn Lewis
This is a sumptuous book that makes me want to leap on a plane immediately and fly to South Africa.
It’s a long time since I toured the wine regions around Capetown and next time I will certainly be doing it with Cape Winelands in Style in hand. Evocatively written by South African wine writer Wendy Torrien, the book has been released in the 350th anniversary year of winemaking in South Africa.
New world wine region? Hardly. South African grapes were first pressed on 2nd February 1659, a mere seven years after Europeans first landed on the Cape and more than a century before Captain Cook claimed Australia for the English. Even back then the Constantia region – now an up-market rural suburb of Capetown – was exporting sought-after wine (a muscat blanc à petit grains) to Europe, a practice which continues today, although with far greater variety and quantity of wines.
Cape Winelands in Style is lavishly illustrated with stunning photographs by David Rogers, who specialises in photography of lodges and wild places in Africa. He runs a ‘lodge and hotel photography academy’ in Cape Town. It shows. His images are simply superb. (Will someone in Tourism Australia please invite Rogers on a wine region photographic safari around Australia?)
Of course the raw material with which he has to work makes his job slightly easier. The Cape and surrounds would have to be one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world, with many winefarms (as vineyards are called in South Africa) either overlooking the sea, with backdrops of craggy mountains, surrounded by well-tended farmlands or flowering native vegetation, or all of the above. You feel like you could simply dive into the pages and just be there – it’s the closest you will get to time travel in a book, anywhere.
The architecture of the winefarms featured in Cape Winelands in Style hasn’t been spared, either – from the old to the new, they are immaculately presented and maintained, in a way that is only possible in a country with cheap labour or where expense is not an issue. Attention to detail is not only economically achievable but clearly a way of life, as is good design, at least in the wine farms included.
The thirty wine farms featured have been selected not only for the quality of their wines but for the variety of the experiences they offer. The book begins near Cape Town at Steenberg in Constantia, where tasting room manager Lida van Heerden continues a tradition of hospitality that stretches back three centuries, serving their signature semillon and sauvignon blanc in what is now a golf and wine estate.
The journey then heads for the hills of Durbanville, with its sweeping views across rural farmland to Table Mountain and Table Bay. From the impressive Durbanville Hills to boutique winemakers like Nitida, and Meerendal with three different restaurants all featuring the farm’s own-grown food, this wineland has become a destination in its own right.
Stellenbosch has long been the epicentre of Cape winemaking. At Hazendal a Russian émigré has imbued this old family wine farm with eclectic charm, combining fine wine and food with Cape Dutch history and Russian art and culture in a laid-back environment. Villeria makes affordable wines in unpretentious style, and hospitable Delheim is home to three generations of the Sperling winemaking family.
Rustenberg is one of the Cape’s most venerable wine farms, making world-famous wines including chardonnay and Bordeaux blends, where the Barlow family continue the restoration of its historic buildings and gardens. Rustenberg is part of the ‘Biodiversity and Wine Initiative’ (BWI) which focuses on eliminating alien weed species and other conservation projects, and also has a trout-breeding scheme in its dams.
Still in the Stellenbosch wine region there’s ultra-modern Tokara set against a spectacular mountain backdrop, Zorgvliet in an idyllic valley which offers vigorous vineyard walks and soothing spa treatments, and Spier in Stellenbosch south. Spier is a destination in itself (you’ll need your own map of this wine farm), with everything from a CITES-registered cheetah breeding centre and an open-air bird of prey rehabilitation facility to picnic areas and a sprawling Moroccan-inspired tent town called moyo that caters for a mere 1500 diners. Oh yes, they’ve been doing wine tasting for nearly 300 years, too.
Jordan, Middelvlei – with a reputation for the Cape’s own grape hybrid, pinotage – Kleine Zalze, the gem that is Waterford, Vergelegen with its pristine fynbos (native protea and other shrubland)… the list goes on. I am already thinking I will need a month, and we’re not even in the Paarl yet. Fortunately Cape Winelands in Style also lists outstanding places to stay, like Lanzerac Hotel and Majeka House.
The Paarl winelands border Stellenbosch to the north and northeast, with the granite outcrop of Paarl Mountain as its epicentre. Its climate is hotter and drier than nearer the coast, and the red wines more of the Rhone style, but the region also produces classic whites on the cooler mountain slopes. It’s also in the Paarl that there is much experimentation with new grape varieties and wine styles.
Plaisir de Merle – a 17th century restored Huguenot outpost - at nearly 1000 hectares is one of the largest wine farms in the Cape. Backsberg is another BWI champion, and was the first South African wine cellar – and the third in the world – to gain carbon-neutral status. Tradition they may have, but they are certainly not stuck in it and appear to have their eye very much on the future.
Fairview is one of my favourites, almost as famous for its cheeses and the Swiss Saanen goats that produce them as for its wines. Goats appear everywhere, from climbing its iconic goat tower to the quirky names of its wine labels (the French must surely love Goats do Roam), former barrel room now restaurant (The Goatshed), its olive oils and of course its cheeses. Fairview also makes and bottles wines from small single vineyards in the region, for labels such as Beacon Shiraz and Pegleg Carignan, a locally rare variety of red grape from Spain.
But it’s Boschendal at Franschhoek that is to me the epitome of South African wineries, and to where every wine traveller should attempt a pilgrimage. Its stunning Cape Dutch homestead – imposing even though dwarfed by Groot Drakenstein peak behind it – was once owned by Huguenot Abraham de Villiers and later by Cecil Rhodes, is now a museum housing antique furniture made from local timbers and other relics of colonial glory. Only a tenth of the 2240 ha property is under vines; the reminder is preserved fynbos (another BWI member) and it is famous for its birdlife and native flora.
A multimillion dollar upgrade in the late 1990s now sees Boschendal produce 250,000 of high quality wine every year – its specialities are sauvignon blanc and shiraz. Tastings are held in a converted barn dating from the 1700s and of course there is a restaurant serving Cape cuisine.
History is also everywhere at Solms-Delta, where there’s an archeological display of artefacts dating from the Late Stone Age and a Huguenot museum which unusually also records the story of former slaves. There’s high-tech at Graham Beck, where more trout are farmed beneath the craggy Groot Drakenstein mountains, 18th century La Motte which is moving towards organic farming and is part of the world’s first biodiversity wine route, and Cape Dutch meets France at Grande Provence. I am becoming very thirsty for some wonderful Cape wines.
Possibilities seem unlimited. The four-part BBC series The Devil’s Whore was filmed at Oak Valley in Elgin, still an exporting 350 ha fruit orchard as well as vineyard set in what was once disparagingly described as sourveld, who also have a 30 ha oak forest, 16 ha of native gerberas for cut-flower production and more protected fynbos as well as pinot noir on its mountainside blocks. This is true diversified agriculture, not just wine farming.
Heading towards the southern coast, Anthony Hamilton-Russell’s eponymous vineyard is located just behind the town of Hermanus on Walker Bay, one of the world’s top whale-viewing sites. Hamilton Russell Vineyards specialise in the two Burgundian classics, pinot noir and chardonnay, and Anthony’s wife Olive runs a restaurant serving truly local cuisine right down to periwinkles, Cape waterblommetjies (a pond flower) and their own fynbos honey, cooked from her own book of recipes.
Cape Winelands in Style also includes some winelands further afield in the more arid areas of Robertson, Bonnievale and Tulbagh. The book has good maps both giving an overview and more detailed regional layouts showing vineyard locations, contact information, provision for children and opening hours.
I challenge any wine lover to read it and not want to visit – but if you can’t, it’s a fabulous armchair journey - or buy it to satisfy your inner photographer. Cape Winelands in Style might also inspire other New World vignerons towards further environmental and traveller-focussed refinements, too.
Cape Winelands in Style is published by Africa Geographic (sc, 2009, Australian RRP$44 including postage), who are also a full service travel operator and can arrange travel to and within the Cape and elsewhere in Africa, specialising in tailor-made itineraries and safaris.
The book can be purchased from The Cape Club (email email@example.com) for A$44 including postage within Australia.
The Cape Club is offering all VisitVineyards.com site subscribers and Members the opportunity to participate in a small group tour of some Cape winelands in March 2010.
The full itinerary can be seen here. For further details and to book your place, please email Jean Wethmar and quote booking reference VV SA2010.
VisitVineyards.com Members who book this tour using the code VV MO2010 will each receive a free copy of Cape Winelands in Style plus a bottle of selected South African pinotage to whet your appetite before your journey.
- South Africa - all (SAF)
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