Twelve hours on a plane, and we arrive at Heathrow Airport after a successful buying trip discovering new wines and tasting the latest vintages of old favourites.
The wine we purchased is now on the sea and should be with us in just over four weeks.
Back home, Sunday lunch in the oven and looking out the window Spring has arrived. A small glass of Rose whilst I make the gravy.
Home sweet home!
The best way to celebrate a good trip is a special meal with friends at a very beautiful venue.
Grand Dedale is a small boutique Hotel which has won Africa’s Best Classic Hotel for the last five years it nestles at the end of the valley below the picturesque Bainskloof Pass. The exclusive and elegantly restored Cape Dutch Manor House has 7 rooms and serves imaginative cuisine al fresco on the grand veranda overlooking the mountains.
As I say a perfect way to end a trip, fantastic views, good food and great evening with friends.
Our final destination is Wellington and we are traditional staying in The Gatehouse at Nabygelegen Private Cellar - the building is a Cape Dutch Cottage dating back to 1700’s.
Nabygelegen is situated in the heart of the Bovlei upper valley wine-growing district just outside Wellington. The estate was first established in 1712 and James McKenzie began restoring the vineyard in mid-2001 with the extensive planting of new vines and rejuvenating the existing ones - some of which were planted in1940’s.
We stock 5 wines from Nabygelegen – firstly a great Sparkling Rose called Beulah - this delicious Methode Cap Classique is named after James’s late mother, it is made in the same manner as Champagne and at a blind tasting it would be difficult to taste the difference - a fabulous wine at a reasonable price.
Harvest is well under way here with 50% of the grapes picked.
Today we have been in the cellar tasting the juice already in tanks fermenting - firstly we tried the Sauvignon Blanc which at this early stage will have 8% alcohol - apparently in Germany they drink copious amounts of this juice with onion tart! We move onto the next tank which contains a mix of grapes - chenin, sauvignon, chardonnay & muscat -they have been stored on the lees for a time befor a contract filter machine is hired which takes out all the sediment leaving a juice which will be used for blending at a later date. In the very near future. the final decisions will be made for this year’s white wine blends - this is where the Winemakers skill comes into play - knowing what to add and in what percentages.
30th January – 6th February
Our final visit is to Lynx Wine Estate.
Last year this vineyard was owned by Dieter Sellmeyer but he has now retired and sold the estate to a fellow German. As we drive in, changes can be seen immediately, the land beside the entrance has been cleared and poles erected in readiness for new vines to be planted.
The good news is that Helgard who has been assistant winemaker here for many years has been made a Director and is in charge of the wine making- this ensures that this very popular product will keep its out-standing quality.
We are here to sample this years released vintages but before we taste any wine we try direct from the tanks, 2019 Blanc de Noir - it has only been in the tank for 10 days and there is very little alcohol present at this stage - it is very misty but tastes delicious and would make a lovely soft drink!
We then start tasting properly and try the new vintages – one change is the popular SMV (Syrah, Mouvedre, Viognier) blend has been changed to SMG (Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache) - this resulted in a slightly more fruity wine with less stone fruit on the nose.
Helgard advises us that there will be other new varieties available here over the next few years- they are going to plant Chardonnay grapes in the land prepared at the entrance. As vines take at least 3 years to produce grapes ready to be harvested -therefore this is a long term project which will not be appreciated for a few years yet.
They are also renovating the properties on the estate and soon will be able to offer guest accommodation.
There are changes being made here but all are positive steps to make sure this lovely vineyard will go from strength to strength.
A little way along the main Franschhoek road we turn off to La Chataigne Winery, we have stocked wine from here for 8 years and everyone knows a La Chataigne bottle by the distinctive hand-written label.
Each bottle is hand signed and then coated with a resin so it doesn’t rub off in the wine cooler. By next year the writing will change slightly but still be in the distinctive La Chataigne style.
Richard, the owner’s ethos is to make the wines in a sustainable way, which in simple terms is to leave the land in a better shape for the next generation, i.e the process of maintaining change in a balanced environment.
For this reason it has been decided to use natural cork on all but one wine – their blanc de noir which is to be drunk young – thereby making cork closure unnecessary. Also Richard is investigating different sources of cork to minimize the possibility of TCA taint to his wines.
We always enjoy spending time visiting vineyards and deciding which wines to import to the UK and La Chataigne is a perfect example of the Artisan vigneron we seek out- they make a superb product with a responsible ethos looking after the planet for the future.
Second visit today is to Four Paws- this artisan vineyard is a one off and perfect example of our philosophy #dontjustneckit, quality not quantity. There is a small team here and each wine is made with Anne overseeing all the process from grape to bottle.
The name, Four Paws originated from their love of animals, particularly cats. They aim to infuse the wine with elegance and balance, the same characteristics shown by a cat as it ambles confidently along a garden wall! Cats exhibit fine senses, and this is what they want people to experience when they see, smell & taste the wines.
Today the winery is getting ready for the grapes to arrive. Empty barrels have been vacated from the cellar and given a thorough clean-up, so as soon as the grapes are harvested the wine making process can commence.
There is a small tasting room here and you share the bench with a cat! All wines sampled we stock up and move on.
Fun over - now back to work!
We have four vineyards to visit in Franschhoek and then, decisions have to be made as to which wines we will be buying this year.
First stop is to Stony Brook Winery.
We have an appointment to meet Craig McNaught.
The farm has been in the McNaught family since 1995 and Craig, son of Joy and Nigel is now the wine-maker.
The wine-making philosophy here is firmly rooted in the old world as they have drawn inspiration from some of the most revered wine regions over Europe.
While the approach is traditional, their outlook on planting and assemblage is an exploratory one, allowing them to find a unique way to express the soils, climate and this remarkable site in Franschhoek.
Each year the blends may change depending on conditions during the growing season. Lack of water or high temperatures will challenge the process of growing, moderate water stress can be beneficial in making a good wine, however care is taken to make sure there is enough water, the grapes are protected by a canopy cover of leaves and pruning the smaller berries makes the yield lower but the grapes have intense flavour.
There are so many factors to be considered when making wine!
Craig is always looking for new ways to improve the range and has this year bought Sauvignon Blanc grapes from an estate in Stanford - this has meant a lot of travelling as he has overseen the growing of the plot, so being able to have input in the way the vines have been cultured. The aim is to make a more subtle flavoured wine reminiscent of Sancerre in style.
Being a winemaker is like being a chef knowing when to add or take away!!
A few days off just to holiday, one last lunch with our friends before they return to the UK.
Today we sample the delights of Le Lude, the restaurant is called Orangerie a beautiful setting and again very good food, I had fresh figs and goats cheese salad very simple but delicious.
Sunday morning up and over the Franschhoek Pass, sun shining with beautiful views over the town, we have a lunch appointment at La Paris Bistro, the entrance is opposite the detention centre where Nelson Mandela was finally incarcerated and on 11th February 1990 he walked to freedom.
There is a table set up for four under the trees where we spent a very jolly lunch!
24th – 26th January
We have moved the Robertson Wine Route and have an appointment to meet Lourens the winemaker and owner at Arendsig Wine Estate.
The estate is situated at the foot of the Langeberg Mountain range. Arendsig translates into “Eagle view” and is just one hint at the wealth of natural beauty here.
Lourens van der Westhuizen and his team, select only the finest grapes from which to craft the wines of distinct aroma, flavour and character for which they are famous. The farm has been blessed with a diverse selection of soils in which to root their vineyards, from the sandy soils near the river, the deeper and richer soils in the middle and right up against the mountains the vines have taken root right in the rocks.
The farm is lucky as even last year when there was a serious drought in the Western Cape all was fine - here the water used to irrigate the vines originates in the Du Toitskloof and Ceres Mountain Ranges, it is then stored in Brandvlei Dam and finally makes its way down to the estate by a network of small canals. As with most passionate farms, there is always something happening on Arendsig; Lourens, due to lack of space on his farm, searches out special parcels of vines from the nearby area and then negotiates a price to purchase the best grapes to make his individual wines.
Whilst we were there, we tasted 3 different Sauvignon Blanc wines made from different parcels of vines and it was surprising what a difference there was and this is presumably
due to the terroir, age of vines and which clone of the sauvignon grape used.
What a fantastic way to spend an afternoon!
We stay with friends at a Guest House outside of Robertson called Mo and Rose a real oasis with a garden unique to South Africa full of cacti and other succulents a joy to walk around and relax in.
This year the restaurant has been taken over by a new chef Wiener Snoek and the food being prepared in the dining room is to die for. Whilst eating our supper we look out at the garden and see we are being checked out by an owl
On our free day we spent time at Montague Market, then after a cooling beer we made our way along the R62 said to be the home of the longest wine route in the world it is in fact very beautiful you make your way through mountain passes and see stunning views over varied countryside. Lunch with friends then we travel through the Tradouw Pass back for a swim and supper!
It is time to move on, we travel over the Franschhoek Pass and stop to catch up with friends at Stettyn Winery.
Remember this blog is not just about our wine buying but food we sample during our travels. Stettyn was a real find we sampled their Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend and shared a platter as I say a real find in the middle of no-where!
20th-24th January - Somerset West
We have had a great stay in Somerset West at a lovely great Guest House Vredenberg Manor House, remembering this is not just a wine blog here’s some info on the restaurants we have eaten in.
Longridge Wine Estate the food is good here but really you go for the view of the sunset over Table Mountain.
2nd evening Cavalli Restaurant, sitting outside here is best as it is so beautiful, unfortunately tonight was too windy so we ate in the dining room – food very good but ambiance missing
Another day and today 2 wineries to visit.
We have an early start at Bellevue Winery.
Again, as at Peter Falke there is an original Cape Dutch homestead here built in 1803. After careful restoration in 1993, the house has been declared a National Monument. Together with the historical home, there is also a signal cannon which formed part of the important defence system of the original Cape Colony.
Wilhelm, the winemaker, welcomes us and talks us through their portfolio. The vineyard was taken over last year and the new owners are investing time changing the range. 2 new wines are to be added, they are a Sauvignon Blanc and a lightly oaked chardonnay which replaces the unoaked version being sold at present. The most important aspect here is the quality of grapes at this vineyard boasts vines aged over 70 years, these plant produce excellent fruit but their yield is low.
As with all estates here in South Africa they keep making improvements to their facilities and this year they have completed a restaurant area where you can enjoy freshly made oven fired pizza washed down with a glass or two of their lovely wine!
Bellevue is not only home to vines but also the Spotted Eagle Owl - there are several breeding pairs. Every year during September / October, quite a few newly hatched owlets appear; often near the farm entrance. They are not only beautiful but help keep the rodents under control. Visitors to Bellevue may be lucky to see these beautiful owls.
All wine tasted, we have decided to add a new variety to our list- the Pinotage.
Back on the wine trail today and we visit Peter Falke Estate in Stellenbosch.
They say “ Welcome to the Groenviel land of Peter Falke, leave your worries behind, let the emotions come through your soul”
This exclusive winery is nestled against the slopes of the Helderberg mountains, the farm is home to rambling magenta bougainvillea, scented roses and wild lavender grown alongside the carefully cultivated vineyards. The traditional gabled Cape Dutch buildings date back to 18th century- these old buildings partner this boutique winery with a contemporary tasting room and beautiful outdoor area- a perfect place to have lunch and stay on to watch the sun go down over the mountains.
Carte-du-Vin started to stock Peter Falke wines last year and we are visiting today year to taste the new vintages and see what has evolved here. All tasting beautifully and by next year new labels will appear, there is a designer creating the new template.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the largest area of grapes grown here their flagship Exclusive Blend is 88% Cabernet taken from the oldest vines which give the wine great quality, this year we try their dessert wine made from Muscat grape and have been recommended to mix this as a long refreshing drink by adding tonic water, buckets of ice and slithers of orange peel - we shall see!
Today we start work with a meeting in Stellenbosch with Dirk, he helps us collate all the wine we buy on our trip and organises the freight and custom form for us. Invaluable help.
Kristopher the owner and winemaker is there to meet us and today he is joined by a new member of the family a 12 week old ridgeback, who is settling into vineyard life well, greeting customers who visit the tasting room.
Glasses lined up we start tasting the range of wines made here. Things do not stand still there are two new wines available, a white Estate Blend and red Gloria Mundi we try these and taste new vintages of our old favourites.
Then a walk around the cellar, Kristopher has bought two large concrete tanks, they have been installed in the past month. Which was a trauma in itself, as the supplier who had been commissioned for installation hadn’t quite realised they wouldn’t fit through the cellar doors! At one time he was suggesting taking the roof off, this was not an option as it is one unit over the whole cellar/tasting room. Eventually they overcame the problem - a little re-building required!
As unused they are being cleansed by using tartrate salt which helps neutralise the natural alkalinity of concrete and make the tanks ready for grapes which will be harvested in the next few weeks. Move onto next tank which is stainless steel and already full of chardonnay grapes which will be used for Noble Hills MCC at this stage the juice which we taste has no element of alcohol and is cloudy but even at this stage has a great taste.
Outside everything is ready for this years harvest, a new de-stemmer has been purchased which will be greatly superior to the old one separating the grapes from the stems more efficiently and less damage to the grapes.
Sun shining and we leave Barton Winery and travel to Elgin for lunch at South Hill. Today we tried several of their tapas - all freshly cooked and delicious. Jan and I tried out the maze in the garden where I got lost. perhaps something to do with the glass of wine
Saturday morning sun shining and five visit Hermanus Market here you can buy local produce and hand made crafts. Such a great atmosphere here all ages enjoying themselves, a quick visit to the shops to have a mosey round the various art shops. Back home to relax by the pool!I had with lunch!!
15th – 19th January
Saturday morning sun shining and five visit Hermanus Market here you can buy local produce and hand made crafts. Such a great atmosphere here all ages enjoying themselves, a quick visit to the shops to have a mosey round the various art shops. Back home to relax by the pool!
Another day another tasting experience!
Five go to Creation in the Hemel en Aarde (Heaven and Earth in Afrikaans) wine route to have a wine and food pairing experience. Here you can taste 7 wines all accompanied by food pairing to enjoy the wines at their best (carte-du-vin customers - does this sound familiar??) if you have been keeping up with this blog you will see that we have been eating our way round SA so with sensible heads on we decide just to taste 4 wines with cheese and meat platters. This is not our first time here but the experience is always superb and today was brilliant.
Back at the villa more friends join us so what do we do? Go out to supper of course.
We have been given a recommendation to visit a Portuguese restaurant in Bot Rivier called Manney’s. This is a different experience to Creation as this is a small rustic restaurant serving traditional Portuguese food the prawns I had as a starter were scrumptious followed by chicken peri peri, fun place to be. Two eating experiences today both very different but vive la difference!
Posh frocks on and five of us lunch at the Manor House restaurant at Stanford Valley Guest Farm ( http://stanfordvalley.co.za/ ). Perfect place to celebrate you walk out of the restaurant area onto the lawns and immediately feel at peace, birthday fizz in the garden then we move onto the covered stoop to enjoy a superb meal. A few hours later the taxi arrives to take us back to the villa.
Barton Wine Estate
For five nights we stay at Barton Wine Estate in Blue Crane Villa.
Blue cranes are the South Africa’s National bird and appear on the label of Barton wines, we stock their Rose and Chenin Blanc in the UK so we have a tasting on arrival, buy some bottles to enjoy then settle in for 5 nights at this beautiful estate, views over the vineyard are stunning.
Time to relax as we have friends joining us here to celebrate my birthday restaurants to be visited and wine to be drunk!
13th – 14th January
Monday morning a walk to Onrus beach where we had a lovely breakfast at The Milkwood Bistro restaurant ( http://www.themilkwood.co.za/ ) here you can get great food overlooking the beach, the restaurant is not only a tourist stop but frequented by locals which always is a good recommendation!
Our trip is mainly to re-stock our cellar with South African wine but for the next few days we are relaxing and enjoying one of the things this country does so well which is great food and service.
We leave South Hill and travel a little way to have a couple of days with friends in Hermanus.
Sun shining so we all meet for lunch at a new wine bar in the town, The Wine Glass (https://www.thewineglass.guru/) they have a great choice of wines and we all shared several dishes of tapas a perfect place to sit, relax, chat or just watch the world go by!
12th Janaury - Day 2 at South Hill Wine Estate
The Elgin Valley is fast becoming known for its top cool climate producing wine route, romantic destination wedding region and as the outdoor adventure capital of South Africa.
A background in hotels, restaurants & property development and a huge passion for wine, prompted the King family to create this contemporary, accessible, boutique wine farm. Together with their dedicated team, South Hill Vineyards continually strive to build onto this unique offering.
Pristine vineyards which produce top quality cool climate grapes & wines; accommodation offering a luxury farm-stay experience; a gallery of continually changing local art; a space for creating unique personalized functions & weddings and a restaurant serving delicious bistro country style meals – South Hill Vineyards really is all about creating Cool Taste Experiences
We decided to add the range to our list last year, it took a while to export them back to the UK and in October 2018 we were pleased to welcome Ben and Chelsea King to present at our tasting evening.
Our customers loved the selection, so our first visit on this year’s trip is to explore this vineyard and area. Since we were here in 2018 a new cellar has been built with state of the art equipment and room to store and age the wines all on the vineyard rather than having to ship them off site, which helps Sean the winemaker to nurture the wine from vine to sale room.
A visit to South Hill not only gives you a chance to have an informative wine tasting but they also have a great restaurant which serves breakfast, luncheons and doubles up as an art studio displaying paintings and sculptures from local and other South African artists.
It is a beautiful venue for weddings with accommodation for guests and this year they have opened a maze in a small part of the vineyard where you can bring the family to enjoy the art get lost in a maze and enjoy a picnic.
11th January South Hill Vineyards Elgin
Work starts today!
We say goodbye to Cape Town and travel along the N2 past Somerset West to the winegrowing area of Elgin
At the end of our 2018 trip we visited South Hill Vineyard and were impressed with their wines and ethos of winemaking. The King family purchased the vineyard early 2000’s and have spent the time nurturing the grapes already on the area and re planting where necessary.
We decided to add the South Hill range to our list, it took a while to export the wines back to the UK and in October 2018 we were pleased to welcome Ben and Chelsea King to present the wines at our tasting evening.
Our customers loved the wines so our first visit on this year’s trip is to explore this vineyard and area. Further. South Hill produces 2 ranges of wines Kevin King and South Hill made from their finest grapes the rest of the harvest is sold on to larger prestigious wineries.
January 9th will see us at London Heathrow bags packed and ready to fly to South Africa for our annual wine buying trip.
The blog will be updated regularly as we visit favourite vineyards and search out new gems to add to our carte!