Wagons to the Cellar at Waboomsrivier
Wednesday 22 February 2017
It was but a short drive to Waboomsrivier Wynkelder, on the banks of the Breede River between Worcester and Ceres, from Seven Oaks wines for the second leg of my Wolseley wine tour. Short it may have been but there was much to see. The harvest was in full flow with tractors and their laden trailers waiting along the road to the winery. The spectacular mountain backdrop reminded me of the immense natural beauty of the region.
The trailers were piled high to overflowing with white and red grapes – which I later found out to be mostly Sémillon and Pinotage – in the late morning sunshine. This was harvesting on a totally different scale to that I have seen in the Constantia Valley, near Cape Town. This was no hand-picked selection plucked at 5am to preserve acidity. The large warehouse buildings ahead of me promised wine-making on a near industrial scale – a cooperative of 22 members that receives 16,000 tonnes – using modern French wine-making technology. The contrast with Seven Oaks and home could not have been greater.
I took photos of the grapes and watched the men waiting by their tractors in the queue for the weighbridge. A man at the top of steps had a long implement that he was ‘spearing’ the grapes with. This was the ‘drill’ used to take a sample of the juice from within each tractor load to measure carefully the pH, temperature, sugar level and acidity. Previously, this had been done with the press a bunch of grapes by hand but this gave misleading data for temperature as the load waited in the sun.
I drove past the weighbridge and into the winery complex. I visited an office between two huge buildings and was told that the tasting room was to the side of the weighbridge. I retraced my steps and found it. There was no fancy view of expansive vineyards or mountains here, or fine-dining restaurant. Instead, I was met in the austere, functional boardroom-style room by a cheery Marlushca.
I explained my purpose and the wish to taste as many wines as possible. This was leg 2 of my wine tour to the Wolseley area. I was also scouting for wines for future meetings of the Cape Wine Lovers’ Society. The trip away from Cape Town was like a mini holiday and so it didn’t seem too much of a wrench not to taste ‘blind’, as I usually do.
Marlushca was patient as I moved the bottles and glasses around to take photos of the first three white wines. The Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc were remarkably drinkable and scored highly in both the classic tasting score and my own score of ‘Likeability’. “Fresh and fruity”, the Waboomsrivier website proclaims, and these matched their mission perfectly. These wines had good natural pale-straw and medium-straw colour and with typical noses for their grape variety. I scored them the same for the ‘nose’: grassy, green citrus and gooseberry for the Sauvignon Blanc, and more tropical peach, apricot and honey fruity for the Chenin Blanc. Dry and crisp in the mouth, they had medium length finishes.
As I waited for Marlushca to pour the Arborea Blanc, a Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon blend in a huge 1.5L bottle, she explained the origins of the estate and its name. Waboomsrivier was established in 1949. The location was known as ‘Farmers’ Valley’ in the earlier days as it was the place where farmers dropped off their produce or boarded the train to Breërivier, a small town which boasted a clinic, a post office, a police station and two cafés.
The early settlers used the wood of the Waboom, a tree closely-related to the Protea family (Protea arborea), to build their wagon wheels. As with many endemic plants, other parts traditionally were also used: the back for leather and the leaves for ink. This was the inspiration for the white and red Arborea range. Both white and the red, a Bordeaux blend, were simple and unfussy yet fruity and vibrant. These were unpretentious wines made for relaxed drinking.
I finished with a single-variety Pinotage and two dessert wines, one white and one red. The Pinotage – at a mere R48 – was the most expensive bottle for sale. I truly had to pinch myself to believe this (as well as the free tasting). The youthful mouth-drying tannins showed that this wine, though drinkable now, would improve with another 5 or so years in the bottle. I was surprised by Marluscha’s good knowledge as she had worked at Waboomsrivier for only a fortnight. However, she came from a wine family and had previously worked for wine estates in the Rawsonville area.
The dessert wines were fruity and mixed in my assessment. The Hanepoot white was a good deep gold colour, sweet to the taste, but short at the finish and with a chemical-like aromatic and pineapple nose. The Cape Vintage, made from 100% Shiraz, was much better. This had a fuller mouth and longer finish with a good mouth feel, deep ruby red and full-bodied, with an inviting berry, raisin, and spicy aromatic nose. I bought one bottle of this to take home.
Waboomsrivier was nothing like a wine estate I had been to before. Wolseley was already stretching my expectations and experience further and I liked that. These wines were less than half what I would have expected to pay in and around Cape Town and more than good enough for every day drinking. Somehow, even though I questioned the amount, I paid R34 only for three bottles of wine.
I was soon learning the hallmark friendly welcome of the Wolseley region – and looking forwards to more.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2016 Sauvignon Blanc – R34*
2016 Chenin Blanc – R32
2016 Arborea Blanc (Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon) – 1.5L – R60
2014 Arborea Red (50% Pinotage, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Shiraz) – R48
2015 Pinotage – R48
2013 Hanepoot – R40
2014 Cape Vintage (100% Shiraz) – R45* FAVOURITE WINE