Peter Has a Whale of a Time in Hermanus
HERMANUS WINE TOUR
Friday 29 September to Sunday 1 October 2017
Road trips are always fun and none more so than when there’s a Wine Tour involved. Previous trips to the Wolseley area, the Robertson Wacky Wines Weekend and on the Franschhoek Wine Tram have all been highly successful. Even better, I had only one fixed time during the weekend – with the winemaker at Hermanuspietersfontein at 1pm on Friday – albeit I had a rough idea of the places I wanted to see and where to go. And so it was with excitement that my partner I headed east out of Cape Town on the N2 for Hermanus. It is now almost tradition to stop en route for a steak pie and a cappuccino at the Red Tractor (aka Peregrine) Farm Stall in Grabouw. It makes a welcome break in a journey and has lost none of its charm since expansion following the building fire a couple of years ago.
Hermanuspietersfontein Wine Cellar
Refreshed and full of pie, we arrived just in time to relax and focus for the wine tasting. The Cellar is located in the Hemel-en-Aarde Village mini mall where the R320 heads north to Caledon. It is an unusual place for a winery. Indeed, Hermanuspietersfontein was one of the first urban wineries in South Africa. Wilhelm Pienaar, the winemaker, was on time too. I was expecting a conventional tasting in the Tasting Room but Hermanuspietersfontein does not do things as others do. I was warmly welcomed and guided down stairs from the Tasting Room into the cellar below. ‘Far better’, Wilhelm said, ‘to get to taste the wines as they are in the barrels’!
The Cellar was much like any other. Shiny stainless steel fermentation tanks lined one side of the cool cellar and oak barrels, of various shapes and sizes, were set out on the other. Wilhelm began by pouring some white wines from the tanks. The wines were still cloudy but it already tasty! Wilhelm explained his winemaking philosophy of Balance, Elegance, Drinkability and Ageability as I sampled the Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. His comment about never wanting to hear ‘drink when aged’ struck a particular chord. Too many South African wines, red wines in particular, are bottled and sold well before their time.
I can multi-task reasonably well, even for a man! It gets tricky though when trying to listen, write, take photos, hold a glass and taste all at the same time. Wilhelm was not going to let me have it easy as we sampled Shiraz and then the ‘baby’ and the ‘big’ Bordeaux-style red wines. The first blend is lighter and fruitier in style, whilst its bigger brother is made using a more intense process of oak maturation. Wilhelm patiently answered my many questions as he explained the intricacies of French barrel-making and the impact it has on the end wine product. I truly believe him when he said he could taste and recognise the different flavours imparted in each of the 26 oak barrels stacked high before me.
It was over all too soon even though the Cellar tour had been more than 2 hours long. We gave our appreciative thanks and returned to the Tasting Room. There were some finished wines that I wanted to sample too. The 5 Bordeaux-cultivar Rosé, Skoonma Cabernet Franc and Die Martha Rhone Blend (a tank sample of which I had tasted in the Cellar) all impressed.
I learned too that Hermanus was originally called Hermanus Pieters, after the farm teacher who was paid in sheep to teach the children Dutch. The village was named after his death in 1855 but shortened to Hermanus in 1902 by the local postmaster. The sheep and Afrikaans origins live on at Hermanuspietersfontein in the signs and labelling of the wines.
This was an excellent tasting, as I had expected from having tasted Hermanuspietersfontein wines before. I have another producer to add to my list of those whose wines I would buy without tasting.
It thus seemed doubly appropriate to stop by in Hermanus before heading to our overnight accommodation in the Hermanuspietersfontein cottages that were deep in the Overberg. I did not know until arriving that it was the Whale Festival weekend and far better to visit during the Friday afternoon before the activities and festivities, and accompanying visitors, reached their peak.
The weather was not at its best but it was a good chance to stretch my feet and get some fresh air. There was time for a snack too – chilli snoek samoosas were welcome – and a cappuccino after. Most of the car parks were taken up with Festival tentage and activities. I wandered down to the harbour where a group of young adults were playing music with obvious casual enjoyment. A brief walk along the coast path and it was time for the journey to our overnight accommodation.
Overnight in Hermanuspietersfontein Cottages
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the Hermanuspietersfontein Cottages are close by to the Hermanuspietersfontein Cellar. The cottages are in Sondagskloof which is 45 kilometres due East of Hermanus and a leisurely hour’s drive away. The road gradually gained height as we approached the Overberg Mountain lowlands, through pasture and forest and eventually vineyards. The final 20 kilometres was over gravel but in good condition. The satnav did what it was meant to do and the cottages were easy to find, particularly with good signage for the last 10 kilometres.
Hermanuspietersfontein has 4 cottages of different sizes and number of guests. We stayed in ‘Kleinboet’ that was comfortable for 2 people (double-bed) but that could have accommodated an extra couple or children (sofa bed in the lounge). The cottages have no electricity or mobile signal and so afford a perfect escape from the demands of modern life connectivity. Solar panels and cylinder gas provided for hot water, a small fridge and 2-ring gas burner. Tea, coffee and sugar were provided as was a crate of Hermanuspietersfontein wine with Honesty Box for payment. There was both an outdoor and indoor braai together with plenty of wood.
The cottage was basic and modestly equipped, comfortable without being luxurious, and had all that was needed for a restful and romantic getaway. I lit a fire in the evenings that staved off the spring chill. We didn’t cook as we had bought a quiche from the farm stall whilst en route that was more than sufficient.
We stayed for 2 nights and slept well. The sound of the wind and early morning chatter of the weaver birds at their nests disturbed little and easily drowned out any conversation from guests in the attached cottage. I strolled up the hill behind the cottage on the final morning to see the mesh wind breaks in the vineyards that I do not often see. The views over the cottages and across the valley were superb.
Saturday Morning Market and More
Breakfast was not needed, besides a cup of tea, as we returned to Hermanuspietersfontein for their weekly Saturday morning Market. ‘Real Kos & Wynmark’, the brochure said. I liked the ‘Come Rain or Shine’ approach and it was easy to see why with covered accommodation for the stallholders and plenty of large parasols to hide from rain or shine for those attending. I liked the no nonsense billing of the brochure too: ‘Real plates, real cutlery, real cups, real glass, real food, real butter, real good, real market, real lekker!’ There was a bouncy castle to keep children happy and occupied too.
The food market runs from 9.00am to 1.00pm and we arrived shortly after it started. There was plenty of food to choose between. I had a tasty toasted tomato, mozzarella and basil foccacio that went perfectly with a glass of chilled Hermanuspietersfontein Sauvignon Blanc. There were many food stalls too and I bought some fresh bread and cheese – all the more to feast on in the cottage. I return to the Cellar to buy a bottle of the Hermanuspietersfontein MCC that I was already regretting not buying during wine tasting the afternoon before.
I wanted to taste the Whalehaven Wines too that are also located in the Hemel-en-Aarde Village complex. We were too early so took a look around the few shops until opening time at 11am. I spent most of the time in the Wine Village bottle store. ‘Bottle store’ does not do justice to the wine shop for it sells some 1,600 South African wines from over 600 producers. This was very much the province of the wine connoisseur and owners Paul and Cathy Du Toit claim to have tasted every wine (brandy, gin, other spirits and fortified wines too) that they stock. I well believe them. The wines in the store were undoubtedly the best of the best that South Africa produces and I much enjoyed seeing all the great name producers, both big and small, on the shelves.
Whalehaven Wine Tasting
Whalehaven Wines was soon open for tasting. The Tasting Room was light and bright and with a hint of maritime feel to it. The Cellar is owned by the Bottega family, of Idiom Wines fame in the Helderberg. Most of the grapes are from the family vineyards near Stellenbosch.
My partner and I decided to share food pairings – we were on holiday after all! We chose the Jam Pairing (R60, 3 wines) and the Chocolate Pairing (R75, 4 wines). Each wine came with a taster of a different jam or chocolate that made for a fun and relaxing tasting. Chocolate is notoriously difficult to pair wine with. Most specialist reference books suggest a dessert wine or brandy matches best and so I was intrigued for the tasting.
The wines included a Chenin Blanc/Viognier blend, Viognier, Pinotage Rosé, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Pinotage and Cabernet Franc and so included a comprehensive selection of the wines produced. White, milk and rich dark chocolates were offered for specific pairing with the wines whilst the jams were flavoured with fruit, herb or flower. As ever, some matchings worked better than others and, as ever also, my partner and I did not agree in our preferences either. That is the joy of wine!
Lunch and Rugby
We decided to make lunch our main meal of the day. I had tasted the wines at La Vierge Private Cellar in May. The Restaurant was closed at the time but, since the vineyard was only a few kilometres up the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, we chose to eat there. We shared a starter salad of beetroot, strawberry and feta cheese that was as tasty as it was colourful. I ordered the rump steak and my partner the line fish. Both dishes were flavourful and well presented.
The Restaurant building and Tasting Room building is impressive as it juts out from the hillside and with its expansive views over the valley. The building houses a boules court too on the open veranda outside. We played a few games before leaving for Stanford.
I had reason to be in Stanford for 5pm, namely to see the Boks versus Wallabies rugby match. It was a critical match for the Boks after their 57-0 mauling by the All Blacks a fortnight ago. We found a nice bar with a sofa (the only sports bar in Stanford?). It was a great match to see – more so if a neutral – as the lead score shifted throughout. It ended a 27-27 draw, coincidentally as had the away game at the start of the match (23-23). We could have won if Elton Jantjies converted a penalty in the final minute ….
The return trip to the cottage, despite the fading light, was easier than before as we knew the route.
Walker Bay Wine Tasting and Breakfast
We left the cottage after another peaceful night for breakfast in Stanford. My plan for the day included a tasting at Benguela Cove on the way back to Cape Town. It was pure impulse to stop by at the Walker Bay Vineyards located just before the village of Stanford. We arrived so early that the cleaners were still tidying the bar area in the Tasting Room. It is home to Birkenhead Brewery too, one of the first craft beer producers in South Africa. There was a large lawn outside the Tasting Room at the rear and it was easy to see how busy the estate must be on a sunny weekend afternoon.
It mattered not as we did not need much sommelier attention – it was too early in the day for that – and I was more than content to sample the wines unaided. The wines (R30 for 5 wines) were served already poured on a tasting tray that gave all the relevant information about each wine. It was an informative but unusual touch that suited as it made the tasting easier.
The wines – 2 white, a rosé, and 2 red – were mid-level in cost and quality and not going to lead the National awards. Nonetheless, it was a most worthwhile visit.
We stopped at the Ou Meul Bakkery, conveniently at the crossroad as we entered Stanford, for a delayed breakfast. I hadn’t been to one of the stores before – there’s one in Long Street, Pinelands and Bellville in Cape Town – and so looked forwards to sample the menu. The poached eggs and mushrooms on ciabatta were more than adequate. There was plenty of bread on sale too and a pleasure to watch it being made as we awaited our order.
Benguela Cove and Home
We made another brief walk in Hermanus – in better weather than yesterday – before heading to the Benguela Cove Lagoon Estate for our final wine tasting of the weekend. We even saw a whale!
Benguela Cove is one of those many wine estates that one passes whilst en route to or from somewhere else. I must have done so on countless occasions but today it was part of the plan for the journey back to Cape Town. The estate recognises this dilemma as the brochure describes it as ‘more than just a destination’. Benguela Cove is much more than a wine producer as it has fully embraced the ‘vinotourism’ and ‘lifestyle estate’ concept.
There’s an upmarket residential development, golf course, crazy golf, mountain biking, trail runs, fine dining and a choice of wine tasting experiences: traditional wine tasting, wine and food pairings, wine safari through the vineyards, and pontoon tasting trip across the lagoon. I was intrigued to taste more of the Walker Bay wines and made from vineyards ‘closest in the World to the ocean’.
I chose the basic tasting (R50 for 5 wines) but was generously offered many more. The dark chocolate Millionaire’s Shortbread and Natural Sweet/Noble Late Harvest pairing tasting (R50) proved too much to resist after. Benguela Cove produces a range of white, rosé, red and dessert wines from all the Bordeaux and Rhone grape cultivars.
I liked the cool climate wines and was surprised by the amount of tropical fruit aromas shown by the Sauvignons Blanc for I had expected herbaceous, grassy and asparagus flavours. The Sémillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend was my favourite white wine though I also enjoyed the Chardonnay and Rosé. The best red wine, and one I bought, was the Merlot that is notoriously difficult to make well as the thin skin renders the grape liable to over-ripening. There was a delicious Pinot Noir also but the Shiraz needed time for astringent tannins to mellow with age.
The chocolate shortbread pairing was the icing on the cake. I adore dessert wines and both were superb. The raisin and dried fruit flavour intensity of the Sauvignon Blanc Noble Late Harvest wine held up best to the sweet chocolate shortbread, though the Viognier Natural Sweet was also very moreish.
Benguela Cove made for a relaxed tasting as we were in no rush to finish. The wines were well made and of decent quality. I made a point to visit again rather than pass by next time. All that was left was the return drive to Cape Town. It was a great weekend, full of so many activities and much more than a Wine Tour. There was nothing I would do differently if I had to plan it again (other than a Bok wine perhaps). I thoroughly recommend a weekend based in and around Hermanus, and especially if you are a wine enthusiast.