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Top cellars in Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show have much to offer

Posted by peter | Articles | Posted on June 22nd, 2011

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1. Spier

Over the last 10 years, Spier has established itself as a one-stop shop for tourists and locals alike. Visitors staying at the 155-bedroom hotel and spa could easily be forgiven for not venturing off the premises for the duration of their stay and, in fact, many of them see no reason to do so. A choice of four different restaurants, animal encounters, kids activities, art and, of course, an extensive range of wines offering some of the best value and highest quality in the country, all mean that a day spent at this dynamic farm is almost certainly not enough!

Spier cellarmaster Frans Smit’s interest in viticulture began at an early age and informed his career choice, starting with a diploma in cellar technology. Frans spent his third year studying oenology, and joined Spier on graduating in 1995.
Since its inception, Spier has been one of the leading examples of sustainability practices and both the hotel and winery have won numerous awards for their efforts to conserve water, reduce their carbon footprint, preserve the indigenous flora and fauna, and provide jobs and education for local people. It was the first winery in South Africa to receive certification from the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association and is a key player in the Biodiversity in Wine Initiative. The newest addition to the farm’s culinary offerings, Eight at Spier, only uses ingredients either grown on the farm (thus providing employment) or sourced from around the local area, and Spier believes this is proof that a restaurant can offer great food while still being socially and environmentally conscientious.

Part of Spier’s appeal to visitors is the fact that it offers activities for all ages. The Cheetah Outreach programme is one of the most popular attractions and the chance to get up close and personal with a big cat in an enclosure is only surpassed by the fact that it is not uncommon to see one enjoying a ride in the back of a bakkie as it cruises around the farm. The Eagle Encounters project rehabilitates injured birds and holds flying demonstrations on a daily basis and, if you feel like a bit of activity yourself, Spier has a stable-full of horses, plus ponies and carriages which can take you all over the extensive grounds.

Cellarmaster Frans Smit has been with Spier for over 15 years and enjoys a high level of control over what the cellar produces. The farm’s flagship wine which bears his name is a regular 5 Star winner in the Platter’s Wine Guide and his most recent project – the Creative Block range – makes reference to the various art projects hosted by the winery. The name refers to Smit’s use of blocks of different grape varieties to blend and create exciting new wines and, as the results show, he has done this with considerable success. The other ranges – the Private Collection, the Signature range and the easy-drinking Savanha wines offer outstanding quality and value for money to suit all pockets.

Tel 021 809 1143;
Baden Powell Drive, Stellenbosch
Tasting room open daily, 9:00 to 16:30

2. Thelema Mountain Vineyards

It’s been almost 30 years since Gyles and Barbara Webb bought a run-down fruit farm at the top of the Helshoogte Pass, the link between Stellenbosch and the Drakenstein Valley. Much work was needed to grub up the old orchards and replant with vines, but they were excited about the cool slopes and the decomposed granite soils of the farm and firmly believed it had potential to become something truly wonderful. They quickly established themselves as one of the leading producers of both Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, while their Merlot is widely recognised as one of the few good examples of this variety in the Cape. Just over 10 years ago, they bought another ex-fruit farm, this time in Elgin. The Sutherland vineyards are planted with a much wider range of varieties, allowing for more experimentation and innovation in the blends – their success in this competition tends to suggest they are on the right track!

Thelema is very much a family affair with both Gyles and Barbara being directors along with sister-in-law Jenny de Tolly. Son Thomas is involved in the sales and marketing and, until a few years ago, matriarch Edna Maclean ran the tasting room – the Ed’s Chardonnay is a tribute to her energetic personality. The farm itself remains focused on its core product and so far has eschewed the example of its neighbours Tokara and Delaire Graff to open restaurants onsite. But the welcome here is genuine, the tasting room is relaxed and friendly and visitors are warmly invited to bring their own picnic baskets and enjoy them in the grounds with a bottle or two of Thelema’s finest. Just don’t bring a dog with you – the Thelema pack of pooches are particularly possessive about their farm!

Tel 021 885 1924;
Helshoogte Pass, Stellenbosch
Tasting room open Monday to Friday, 9:00 to 17:00, Saturday, 10:00 to 15:00

3. Hillcrest Estate

It’s the first release of Hillcrest’s Metamorphic range – named after the unique geological topography of the estate – and success has been with them from the start. Winemaker Graeme Read is a big believer in cool-climate red wines and has long been a champion of Merlot from Durbanville. The intention is for the Quarry Merlot and the Hornfels red blend (named after the baked shale deposits from prehistoric volcanic eruptions) to be joined eventually by a white Bordeaux-style blend and an additional 1 000 Semillon vines have already been planted in anticipation.

Clearly, the new big thing in the life of Hillcrest Estate is the Quarry. However, it’s not just the new Merlot, but also the brandnew entertainment venue which is causing a thrill. Fashioned out of an old quarry on the estate, the Quarry provides an incredible backdrop and wonderful acoustics for a whole host of different occasions. Already it has been used for concerts and live music events and plans for a full programme are on track for later in the year. The farm was also excited to host a Bollywood film shoot recently, complete with helicopter explosions and car rolls!

The farm restaurant is spreading its wings and now caters for a variety of different functions and events, accommodating larger parties and weddings in marquees on the elegant lawns. But weekends still see many families enjoying a wholesome breakfast or lunch on the sunny stoep and the tasting room buzzes with people enjoying the wines or sampling some of Hillcrest’s award-winning olives and olive products. Other attractions on the estate include trout-fishing in the quarry’s dam and a 13km cycle track around the vineyards.

Tel 021 976 1110;
Racecourse Road, Durbanville
Tasting room open daily, 9:00 to 17:00

4. KWV

The KWV iconic red blend Roodeberg uses ‘Making memories’ as its strapline, harking back to a past which stretches over the last century to a time when nearly all wine and brandy production was controlled by the cooperative. The company has seen a lot of changes in recent years, refocusing and re-evaluating brands and systems. Now 65% black-owned and with plenty of ideas and creativity bubbling out, the company is enjoying its new reputation for quality wines (as opposed to the mass-produced crowd-pleasers of the past), and success in competitions such as the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show is becoming the norm rather than the exception.

One of the reasons for KWV’s success has to be the appointment of Australian Richard Rowe as head winemaker. With The Mentors range, he has allowed his team of young winemakers the freedom to experiment intelligently, while ensuring that the wines are rooted in good vineyard practices, clean winemaking and that they display the key to all good wines – balance. In addition to newer brands, KWV also has a horde of vinous treasures squirrelled away in its vaults, several of which it is now making public to great acclaim, as these results show.

A visit to the Wine Emporium offers plenty of attractions for visitors, most popular being the guided tours through the world’s largest wine cellar complex to view the world’s largest wine vats. Tastings available include brandy and chocolate, biltong and wine and an introduction to food and wine matching and, if you want to stick just to wine, then the Emporium offers tastings across all the KWV brands. A coffee bar and wine curio shop, featuring an entertaining line of quirky vinobilia and souvenirs, complete the experience.

Tel 021 807 3007;
KWV Wine Emporium, Kohler Street, Paarl
Tasting room open Monday to Saturday, 9:00 to 16:30, Sunday, 11:00 to 16:00

5. Paul Cluver Estate Wines

The past 12 months have been celebratory ones for the Clüver family – Dr Paul Clüver Senior was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the inaugural Drinks Business Green Awards, winemaker Andries Burger was invited to join the prestigious Cape Winemakers Guild, the Green Mountain Eco Route (the world’s first Wine and Biodiversity Route, situated around the Groenland Mountain) was launched and Paul Clüver Junior got married! And just one year after their 2009 Chardonnay carried off the Old Mutual Trophy for Best Chardonnay, the same wine (although a different bottling) has done it again, this time with an even higher score – yet one more indicator that South African wines can definitely improve with age.

The Clüvers have been busy in other ways too. Following on from a friendship with Norwegian celebrity chef Andreas Viestad, a restaurant called Fresh was opened to take advantage of some of the weird and wonderful fruit and vegetables planted by Andreas and the family on the farm. The restaurant is operated by Joan Lancefield who offers seasonal, homegrown dishes throughout the summer with dishes changing on a daily basis. A tour of the orchards to see the bizarre ‘finger lemons’ is highly recommended!

Joan also provides the picnic baskets which can be pre-booked if you are heading to the Clüvers’ other main attraction – the Amphitheatre. This is a rustic semicircle, surrounded by ghost gum trees, which plays host to a series of Summer Sunset Concerts between September and March every year.

Tel 021 844 0605;
De Rust Estate, Grabouw, Elgin
Tasting room open Monday to Friday, 9:00 to 17:00, Saturday and public holidays, 9:00 to 15:00 in summer (10:00 to 14:00 in winter)

6. Delaire Graff

Previously owned by John Platter, Delaire has completed the redevelopment programme started in 2003 by new owner Laurence Graff. The Delaire Graff Estate now comprises luxury lodges, a spa, two restaurants, an art collection featuring the best of South African contemporary art, designer boutiques and, of course, the awardwinning wines which are beautifully showcased against the backdrop of the Wine Lounge – surely one of the most glamorous tasting rooms in the country.

For the last two years, making wine at Delaire has been Morné Vrey. Under his guidance and that of viticulturist Kevin Watt, an extensive replanting programme has formed part of Graff’s redevelopments. This has included much analysis and research as to the soil types and aspects of the steeply sloping vineyards, most of which have now been planted with specifi cally chosen clones. The cellar boasts some of the most technically advanced winemaking equipment in the world and, since Morné believes that he now has access to some of the fi nest fruit in the area, this clearly makes for an awardwinning combination and wines.

Visitors to Delaire Graff can expect jawdropping views of the scenic Banhoek Valley which are probably best enjoyed from the terraces of one of the two restaurants. The signature restaurant, Delaire Graff, is presided over by chef Christiaan Campbell who uses many fresh vegetables and herbs from the estate’s own garden in his cuisine. And if Asian food is your thing, then Indochine restaurant makes use of various exotic ingredients, many of them grown in the estate’s greenhouses and gardens.

Tel 021 885 8160;
Helshoogte Pass, Banhoek Valley
Tasting room open Monday to Saturday, 10:00 to 17:00, Sunday, 10:00 to 16:00

7. Bergkelder

The famous ‘cellar in the mountain’ has been home to Fleur du Cap wines since it was built in 1968 with the first vintages being released shortly afterwards. Stretching deep into the Papegaaiberg mountainside, the cellar is home to some of South Africa’s most famous wines stored in the dimly lit bins of the Vinoteque. Huge oak casks carved with views of the Cape are lined up at the end of the corridors, and several of the alcoves contain tables around which tastings can be conducted for the lucky few whose wines are stored within the cellar.

More history and tradition can be found at the visitor centre a little way down the hill which houses the Stellenryck Museum collection showing the history of winemaking in the Cape. The tasting facility offers samples of all the Fleur du Cap wines, but other Distell brands are also available to sample.

Cellarmaster Andrea Freeborough and her team are enjoying a wellearned run of success with awards flooding in from shows both at home and overseas. The Noble Late Harvest has been particularly successful, currently flagged up as Platter’s White Wine of the Year and garnering Andrea the title of Woman Winemaker of the Year into the bargain. The awardwinning Unfi ltered Range was launched in 1998 with the aim of showcasing the pure fruit flavours. The grapes used come from either single vineyard blocks or a combination of two different sites and, because they are bottled without filtration, they show added complexity and depth of flavour.

Tel 021 809 7000;
Die Bergkelder, Plankenbrug Road, Stellenbosch
Tasting room open Monday to Friday, 8:00 to 17:00, Saturday 9:00 to 14:00

8. Tokara

Passing the 10-year milestone seems to have triggered off a whole raft of changes at this modern designer winery right at the top of the Helshoogte Pass. Owned by dynamic businessman GT Ferreira, and with the avowed aim to ‘See how high we can raise the crossbar’, it’s not surprising that they refuse to rest on their laurels and previous successes. Even though those successes have been tremendous, including Top Producer at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show last year, 5 Star wines in Platter’s and awards aplenty both at home and overseas.

So what’s new? A reorganisation of the different labels now sees the Zondernaam range renamed as Tokara, the Tokara range renamed as Reserve Collection while the two top wines (a red and a white blend, both Bordeaux-style) are now known as the Director’s Reserve. Winemaker Miles Mossop is able to draw on fruit from three different vineyards, all owned by Tokara, to produce several versions of Chardonnay and Sauvignon using much cooler, more elegant fruit from Walker Bay and Elgin. His own range of wines also continues to do well with the red blend snapping up yet another medal at this year’s awards.

The other newsworthy change at Tokara is the exciting arrival of celebrated chef Richard Carstens into the kitchen. Richard was previously at Lynton Hall and Nova and cites Ferran Adrià of El Bulli as a major infl uence on his cooking. His return to the kitchen looks set to ‘raise the bar’ and probably gain him yet another entry into the Eat Out Top Ten this year. For families and for those wanting a lighter bite, the Tokara delicatessen goes from strength to strength, while The Olive Shed continues to produce a variety of extra-virgin olive oils, all of which are available for tasting and purchase in-store.

Tel 021 808 5900;
Helshoogte Pass, Stellenbosch
Tasting room open Monday to Friday, 9:00 to 17:00, weekends and public holidays, 10:00 to 15:00

9. Lomond

As you drive towards the edge of the Gansbaai peninsula at Cape Agulhas, it seems as if you are entering another world, one which is bereft of any human life and utterly desolate and barren. But tucked away behind the sweeping sand dunes lie the vineyards of Lomond, flanking the dam and facing the ocean which is a mere 8km away. The Atlantic is possibly the most important factor affecting the Lomond wines with the cooling sea breezes helping the whites to ripen slowly and the Syrahs to develop that distinctive peppery characteristic. But the soil types also play their part – all 21 of them – making for unique wines which clearly reflect the terroir from whence they come.

Winemaker Kobus Gerber has been making wine here since the vineyards were first developed seven years ago and his passion for this extreme region is evident as he enthuses about the health of the vines and the benefits of the soils and the winds. Visiting the vineyards is by appointment only (although all the wines can be tasted and purchased at Die Bergkelder in Stellenbosch) but a visit to the region is worthwhile if only to experience the beauty of the coastline and the surrounding areas. The rich diversity of indigenous flora and fynbos attracts many different species of birdlife to the area and the nearby towns of Bredasdorp, Struisbaai and L’Agulhas offer plenty of opportunities to enjoy a bottle of Lomond in one of their many restaurants and bars.

Tel 021 809 8330;
Tasting and sales at Die Bergkelder, Plankenbrug Road, Stellenbosch
Tasting room open Monday to Friday, 8:00 to 17:00, Saturday, 9:00 to 14:00

10. Chamonix

It’s been 10 years since Gottfried Mocke took up the post of winemaker at Cape Chamonix and just over 20 years since Chris Hellinger bought the farm previously known as Waterval. Renamed Chamonix because its picturesque mountain location reminded the former owner of a holiday in France, Hellinger also bought neighbouring farm Uitkyk a few years later and converted the manor house into what is now the restaurant, joining it to the ‘Blacksmith’s Cottage’ tasting room via an underground barrel cellar. Offering more than just wine, the farm is also famous for the bottled Chamonix Spring Water which comes from mountain streams running through the farm as well as the Chamonix Schnapps which uses fruit from Chamonix’s own orchards which is then fermented and distilled on-site.

Hellinger originally opened the award-winning La Maison du Chamonix restaurant in the Uitkyk manor house. Now renamed as Mon Plasir and run by Celine Mandaglio and David Sadeh, the restaurant focuses on authentic French cuisine served in summer on a shady terrace. With views overlooking the entire Franschhoek Valley, many guests want to linger a little longer and accommodation is provided in one of the 13 self-catering cottages dotted at scenic intervals around the farm.

But the focus remains very strongly on the wines, with Gottfried having won Diners Club Winemaker of the Year halfway into his current tenure at Chamonix – to date, the youngest person ever to win this award. The winning wine then was a Chardonnay, which is still considered the most successful variety for the farm, but the reds are coming up on the rails – as the results for this year testify. With awards for Pinotage and Cabernet as well as a fistful of medals for the white wines, it seems this Burgundy-loving winemaker can turn his hand to almost anything.

Tel 021 876 2494;
Uitkyk Street, Franschhoek
Tasting room open daily, 09:30 to 16:30

Author: Cathy Marston

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