A Warm Welcome in the Cool Climate at South Hill
SOUTH HILL SELF-CATERING ACCOMMODATION
Friday 6 to Sunday 8 April 2018
It was great to return to South Hill Vineyards, a trip I had been looking forward to since a tasting visit in December last. I could not but help to notice their luxury holiday accommodation at the time. I wanted to show my partner the beautiful Elgin Valley. She wished to taste at Iona Wine Farm. The weekend trip for a mini Elgin wine tour combined both our needs.
We visited Elgin Vintners en route from Cape Town, little more than an hour’s drive away. The farm was one of the 5 (of 16) Elgin Valley wineries that I had not visited. After, we headed down the tar and gravel roads through the patchwork of orchards and vineyards to South Hill. Beware your usually trusty satnav here as the deeper South down the Valley the further one’s position deviates from the map. Better still, take a copy of the freely available Wines of Elgin map or download a copy from their excellent website. South Hill is nonetheless easy to find with its distinctive rock and sculptured metal entrance. The gravel road to the Restaurant leads through the vines that were by now fully harvested and starting to wear their autumn colours.
Wine Tasting – and Lunch
I had arranged lunch with winemaker, Sean Skibbe, who hosted my last tasting. I was surprised by the number of cars parked along the leafy access to the Tasting Room and Restaurant, even for Friday lunchtime. I discovered later that the large Dining Room was full of German ‘swallows’ from Hermanus who were enjoying one last ‘hurrah’ before migrating north again. Owner Kevin King met us at the entrance. It was good to see him again.
Meanwhile, waiter John saw to our hunger as we ordered a selection of tapas from the tempting menu (just R55 to R85 per generous portion). We shared delicious creamy wild mushroom risotto with pine kernels, parmesan and truffle oil; smoked snoek pâté (served in small kilner jar) with chunky apricot jam and seeded homemade bread; spiced lamb meatballs in tomato sauce with yoghurt, dill, mint, preserved lemon and honey; and a trio of olives marinated in tarragon & aniseed, orange & basil, and coriander & ginger. We could not resist desserts after (great value at just R30 to R40): scrumptious Elgin apple and blueberry crumble and not-too-sweet chocolate brownie, both served with homely vanilla ice cream. Americano and espresso coffees perfectly rounded off lunch.
I didn’t partake a full wine tasting as I had sampled the entire range of South Hill wines with Sean in December (read more here). Sean was busy too with final picking of the Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes having finished just today and yesterday. It was great to taste the premium King of the Hill Chardonnay for the first time. It was the second vintage made, using a single barrel to produce 300 bottles. The wine oozed class by its elegant, vibrant, complex bouquet of sweet vanilla oak with subtle baked apple fruits. Smooth and rounded on the palate, the finish just went on and on.
The 2014 Kevin King Bazza Pinot Noir (now South Hill range) was my favourite wine of the earlier tasting. It was thus good to sample one from the following (2015) vintage. The wine was equally well made with delicious aromas of red cherry, cassis, raspberry and white peppercorns. The length was as lingering as the Chardonnay with intense flavours and an elegant mouth feel.
The last wine of the mini-tasting was the Syrah that I had sampled before. I picked out similar spicy fruity notes of sweet blackberry and mulberry, liquorice and black peppercorn. The palate had developed from smoky to peppery during the interim as the fruitiness gave way to dry tannins that held on for a full finish.
Sean, like many a winemaker, is someone I can never tire of chatting with. He told how the yields had increased despite the drought. I learned how the year long cloud puts disease pressures on Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, varieties which are susceptible to ‘dead arm’. As a result, much of the Sauvignon Blanc at South Hill is being replaced with Chardonnay which makes commercial sense too. The array of small blocks and multiple cultivars – including, for example, pockets of Barbera – are the legacy of 4 original owners of the farm.
It was a relaxed and lazy lunch. The service was not the quickest, perhaps due to the large German party, but that didn’t matter. This was meant to be a slow weekend.
Overnight – and Breakfast
My partner and I booked 2 nights in the self-catering accommodation next to the Restaurant. Rates start at R1100 per night for 2 persons sharing. The building offers 5 double rooms, mostly en suite. We were booked into Room 4 which was cosy for a relaxed stay. The duvet-covered bed with firm mattress was comfortable and the floor carpeted. The room was well equipped with plenty of towels, shampoo and body wash, dressing gowns, kettle, rusks, tea, sugar, milk and coffee. The fresh ground coffee and cafetière added to the luxury feel. Good quality wifi was accessible throughout, including the Restaurant.
Oddly, there was no obvious source of heating in the room which had louvre shutters unusually outside the windows rather than curtains inside. I was cold in bed on the cloudless second night but found sufficient blankets in the wardrobe to keep warm. There was no TV in the room either (it didn’t matter to me but might some guests) but there was a large satellite TV in the shared open plan living room and well-equipped kitchen. Red and white wines, South Hill of course, were available in the kitchen on an honesty basis for all guests.
The accommodation arrangement thus differed from places I have stayed in before. Hermanuspietersfontein Farm Cottages, together with Arum Lily Log Cabins and Seven Oaks Wines Cottages in Wolseley for instance, offer more self-contained accommodation where one is free to come and go without necessarily having to engage with fellow guests. South Hill was more contemporary corporate than cottagey in style and décor – in branded ‘house’ olive grey – complete with embossed Guest Information Folder and embroidered towels and gowns.
The downside to the relative lack of privacy was the chance to meet other guests – friends and family (we met all 3 generations of the extended King clan) – as we shared lighting the open fire and watched the Hong Kong Sevens, Super Rugby and US Masters Golf together on the television. Inevitably for a short weekend stay and with the vineyard Restaurant for breakfast and lunch (dinner is not available), the communal kitchen was unused. I did consider how Jewish or Muslim guests might have been affected by a breakfast bacon fry-up.
The house is therefore perfect for a large group or wedding party where guests can easily socialise whilst retaining the privacy of their own rooms. It does not surprise that South Hill has gained an enviable reputation as the prime wedding location in the Elgin Valley (excellent catering from the Restaurant). There’s a separate bridal/honeymoon cottage in the former Pump House overlooking a dam a discreet distance away too. The Old Mac Daddy holiday resort is opposite South Hill so there is plenty of overflow family guest accommodation nearby.
Outside there are glorious views of the vines and sounds of the birds by day and frogs by night. The setting is magnificent and peaceful even though the building is echoey with the sounds of other guests. We didn’t use the large swimming pool but did enjoy several games of boules on the light gravel court under the setting sun. There’s a braai and pizza oven for use by guests as well as plentiful outdoor seating to catch the sun at any time of day. Our fellow guests brought mountain bikes for rides through the vineyards. It was great also to see the many children from each family playing and riding together.
We took breakfast in the Restaurant on the Saturday morning. The food is so good that self-catering is not needed for a weekend stay. My partner chose homemade Eggs Benedict whilst I selected Garlic Field Mushrooms on Toast from the menu, both washed down with plenty of delicious coffee. Our stay came to an end all too soon on the Sunday morning as we took a slow drive back to Cape Town.
We had a pleasant and relaxed stay at South Hill. The winery didn’t offer the usual alone time that many farm cottages do but that didn’t matter. The upside was that we felt welcomed and part of the South Hill family. I wondered even if the accommodation building had been a former family home by its arrangement of bedrooms and communal living/kitchen area. Better still, invite your friends and take over the complete house for the weekend. South Hill makes a perfect base from which to explore the fabulous Elgin Valley vineyards, all of which are within 15 minutes drive away. Oh, and as you enter and leave, mind out for the kid’s bikes that have a way of landing on the paths where you wish to walk – or even bring your own (kids as well as bikes) and join in the fun. You’ll be sure of friendly company at South Hill …..
Wines tasted (bought *):
2016 King of the Hill Chardonnay – R280 FAVOURITE WINE
2015 Pinot Noir – R165
2016 Syrah – R145