SAME ESTATE, SAME CULTIVAR, SAME VINE-GROWING, SAME WINEMAKING, SAME VINTAGE – DIFFERENT SOILS
Thursday 25 May 2020
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 5/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wine: 4.5/5
A month ago, I ‘Tasted Live’ two Sauvignons Blanc from Lomond estate. The wines were identical except that one was made with grapes from clay and the other from sandy loam. It made for a fascinating tasting and to explore whether theory matched practice (read more here) and one worth repeating. The opportunity arose with two Chardonnay from De Wetshof. Both wines were 4* Platter’s rated, of the same vintage (2019), made with grapes of similar age, contained 13.5% alcohol and vinified in the same way: de-stemmed grapes, fermented in stainless steel tanks, unwooded and matured on the lees for 6 months before bottling.
De Wetshof lies in the Robertson Valley. It is the oldest estate in the Valley. Danie De Westhof pioneered the growing of noble grape varieties in 1972, first Chardonnay and then Sauvignon Blanc. Three generations of winemakers later and with 180 hectares under vine, De Wetshof produces mostly white wine (90%). The estate has a range of rocky slate and clay soils with limestone outcrops.
Each soil type brings a different character to a wine. Limestone contains beneficial nutrients to produce better and sweeter grapes. It remains moist in dry weather and has good drainage. It can lead to iron deficiency which is overcome by frequent fertiliser application. The alkalinity in the soil promotes acidity to make zesty wines. Clay retains even more moisture than limestone which it releases throughout the dry summer months. The extra moisture brings a cool soil to slow ripening. The resultant wines are rounder, bolder, more generous and with more structure and colour from deeper extraction. Slate is metamorphosed clay that has been compressed under heat and pressure. It is low in organic matter so does not retain water. Therefore, slate soils warm quickly and retain heat. Broken rocks on the surface shade the roots from the sun and reflect the heat onto the vines, which make them good in cool climate regions. The resultant wines contain higher levels of alcohol, leaner and more mineral in character.
The popular Limestone Hill Chardonnay is made with grapes that are grown close to the River Breede. This has heavy clay soils that are rich in limestone. The Bon Vallon wine comes from vineyards in Bonnievale (hence the name) that contain broken rock with slate. The expectation therefore is that the Limestone Hill wine will show more structure and fullness, with deeper colour and more tropical fruits than the Bob Vallon Chardonnay. The latter ought to show a more steely and mineral character. The Tasting Notes describe aromas/flavours of ‘grapefruit and nuts’ and ‘citrus, wildflowers and grilled nuts, with a nuanced minerality on the aftertaste’ for the Limestone Hill and Bon Vallon wine, respectively.
The proof of the wine is in the drinking, so to speak, and so I poured equal amounts of each into a bowl-shaped wine glass, ideal for Chardonnay. With both wines being unoaked and with the same winemaking, there was predictably little colour difference. I tested the Nose on both wines first without swirling as this can help to detect minor variation. The Limestone Hill (clay) showed slightly more intensity of aroma than the Bon Vallon (slate). With swirling, the Limestone Hill revealed aromas of baked Granny Smith apple, melon, kiwi fruit and green pineapple. This compared with the Bon Vallon that was more citrus in character, showing less tropical fruit notes and more lemon and lime citrus.
The Chardonnay were beautifully balanced on the palate – between fresh fruits, well-integrated acidity, and the medium alcohol – to make two excellent wines. There was a distinct difference on the Palate between them. The warmer tropical fruits of the clay-based Limestone Hill followed through on the Palate that was fuller, weightier and with more structure in the mouth. In contrast, the Bon Vallon showed a livelier and fresher character with a cleaner mouthfeel and more mineral character due to the rocky slate soils.
The tasting fascinated as expected. It was intriguing that the practice of tasting matched the theory as forecast. Whilst the clay soils were cooler than those of the rocky slate, this had the effect of slowing down ripening to allow a fuller structured and rounder wine with more sugar development and hence a warmer fruit profile. The tasting proved, if proof ever needed, the extent to which fine wines are made in the vineyard, together with the vital importance of terroir.
2019 De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay – R102
2019 De Wetshof Bon Vallon Chardonnay – R142
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 5/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wine: 4.5/5
A few weeks ago, during another ‘Taste Live with Dr Peter’ 6pm daily tasting, I experimented with glasses of different sizes with a red wine, a 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stellenbosch Reserve. The tasting experience fascinated with a mix of outcomes, some predictable and others less so. It was always my intention to repeat the tasting with a white wine. The recently released 2019 Oldenburg Chenin Blanc – of similar price and quality – offered the ideal opportunity. The variety is one of the more aromatic common cultivars and perfect to expose any differences between the glasses. The grapes are hand-harvested, de-stemmed and then barrel-fermented using natural yeast in 20% new/80% old French oak, with 10 months of maturation with weekly barrel-turning to stir the lees.
Read the previous article for more background about the wine glasses we own and use. The aim of the tasting was the same. Does glass size and shape really make a difference to the drinking experience, as the glossy marketing material from the single-varietal glass companies will have us believe? The only was to discover, of course, was to put it to the test. Thus, I picked out 3 quite different glasses to compare. There was the utility, durable ISO 21.5cl glass that is used in most tasting rooms and wine courses, retailing at R25 each but far cheaper when bought in bulk. Second, was my trusty Riedel Vinum glass. It is recommended for Cabernet/Merlot, but it is very much a universal size and shape. I am familiar with it as it is the glass, I use for my WSET Level 4 Diploma tasting and a big step up from the ISO glass in quality and price (R400). The final glass was the featherlight White Wine glass from high-end Zalto with an exalted price of R670 to match.
Riedel and Zalto are both Austrian companies. Riedel dates back 11 generations to 1678 and steeped in the history of Bohemian crystal glass. Fast forward to 1973 and it was the first company to make machine-made varietal glasses. The glass promised to ‘emphasize the fruit …. to allow the bouquet to develop’. Zalto has roots in Murano, Venice dating back to the Middle Ages, but it was not until 2006 that the current mouth-blown, seamless glass collection hit the headlines. The shape is said to be inspired by the tilt angles of the earth. Like Riedel, the marketing copyrighters have been busy to claim that the glasses are ‘nearly too delicate to hold’. Surprisingly, there was no mention of Chenin Blanc in the single variety copy (nor for Riedel) but the universal White Wine glass suited as being ‘especially suited to fruit forward white wines’.
I poured the Chenin Blanc into each glass at the same level and at the ideal serving temperature. There were no differences in Appearance as one might expect the wine being pale lemon in colour. As with the similar red wine experiment, I assessed the nose from each glass without swirling to start, as this might best emphasize the differences between them, before swirling. The ISO glass showed simple lemon and lime citrus aromas that, even with swirling, showed limited intensity. The Riedel offered a greater steely minerality on the Nose – typical for this lean style Chenin Blanc – with similar lemon and lime but with delicate white spice and kiwi notes. Surprisingly, the glass brought out subtle vanilla aromas from the barrel-fermentation. Last, the Zalto glass showed the greatest intensity of aroma – more open – with a riper lemon and mineral character that was backed up by a gentle florality of white blossom.
The Chenin Blanc was bone dry on the palate. Like the Nose, the Palate with the ISO tasting glass was simple and one-dimensional, with the wine barely filling the mouth and showing modest length. The aroma profile followed through to the Palate for the Riedel with flavours of lemon, lime citrus, green melon, and kiwi. The big difference was how the broader glass rim led to a fuller mouthfeel with more pronounced alcohol, texture, and length. Further, the glass emphasized the bright, zesty acidity of the Chenin Blanc for a fresher experience. The Zalto glass on the other hand made for a subtler and softer feel to the wine to show off the lean mineral character with a more rounded elegance and finesse.
In drawing together the conclusions, I am mindful of the results from the comparison of the different glasses for the red wine as there are similarities. The ISO tasting glass offered a limited tasting experience, in terms of both aroma and flavours on the palate. The glass did not do justice to the wine and that is a sobering thought (pun intended) for the many Tasting Rooms that use this size and shape of glass as their standard. The Riedel and Zalto were closer in how they presented the wine than to the ISO glass. The Riedel better brought out the aromas and flavours in both intensity and complexity. Interestingly, and I am unsure why, I detected enhanced vanilla notes on the Nose for the Chenin Blanc and for the Cabernet Sauvignon during the red wine comparison tasting. The Zalto, meanwhile, displayed softer aromas and flavours of lesser intensity than the Riedel but with more refinement.
It certainly does seem therefore that bigger is better – and that size does matter 😊
2019 Oldenburg Chenin Blanc – R150
SAME ESTATE, SAME CULTIVAR, SAME VINE-GROWING, SAME WINEMAKING, SAME VINTAGE – DIFFERENT SOILS
Monday 24 April 2020
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 5/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wine: 4/5
Soil is an integral element of terroir together with climate, terrain and winemaking tradition. It is the synergy of these natural and man-made factors that give a wine its unique and identifiable character. The effect of soil type on the taste of a wine is a topic that has long fascinated and continues to do so. South African lockdown meant that I had to postpone my Dr Peter Master Class ‘Soils’ tasting. The aim was to compare like wines of varying cultivars from different soils and to see if any consensus or consistent conclusion could be drawn amid those at the tasting. The event was not to be, for the moment at least, but I did happen upon 2 Lomond wines that well suited a comparison for one of the ‘Taste Live with Dr Peter’ daily 6pm live tastings hosted on Facebook by the Cape Wine Lovers’ Society.
Lomond was the 100th estate that I visited and tasted wines for review on the www.capewinelover.co.za website. I remember it well, travelling 3 hours from Cape Town to the Agulhas wine District. The vast estate on the Agulhas Plain has 120 hectares of 1,100 hectares under vine and grows a broad range of Bordeaux and Rhône varieties. It lies 8 km from Gansbaai and so gains the benefit of cooling South-East and South-West breezes to keep February temperatures below 30ºC on slopes that are 50-100 metres above sea level. The large property brings with it 18 different soil types and so perfect for terroir-cultivar matching, as well as the potential to taste wines from differing soils. All the wines are named after the local fynbos and indigenous plant species.
The 2 Sauvignons Blanc were from the same wine estate, of the same 2017 vintage, grown on high East-facing vineyards and made by the same winemaker. The grapes were hand-harvested, fermented at a cool cool 13-15ºC in neutral steel tanks and underwent 8 weeks on the lees before bottling.
Soils differ in their fertility, nutrient and organic matter content, water retention ability, temperature and a whole host of other factors. These all impact on the character of the wine. Fine clay is cool and retains water. This, as theory suggests, makes for a fuller bodied wine with a higher extract and colour. In contrast, sandy loam – loam being a fertile soil with a near equal mix of silt, clay, sand and organic humus – is well-drained and retains heat. This produces eelegant wines with high aromatics, pale colour and low tannins.
The Tasting Note of the Sugarbush Sauvignon Blanc, from clay soils, describes a nose with “aromas of citrus, with distinctive minerality, layers of herbaceous flavours and Cape fynbos”. Further, the taste has “full-bodied, clean, mineral tones with gooseberry purity”. The Pincushion, in contrast, from sandy loam soils promises a bouquet that is “elegant, driven by minerality and citrus nuances” together with a taste with “flavours of tropical fruit with a hint of citrus”.
The theory set. The full-bodied label description of full body and elegance for the Sugarbush and Pincushion, respectively, certainly matches the clay soil and sandy loam theory expectation. Will it prove to be in tasting practice? There was only once way to find out as I filled 2 glasses equally for side by side comparison at the Dr Peter Live tasting. There was little difference to their pale lemon colour, so I assessed both wines for the Nose.
The Sugarbush (clay) showed fresh primary fruit aromas of fresh lime, grapefruit and unripe lemon citrus together a delicate florality and notes of English gooseberry that were reminiscent of a Marlborough, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The Nose of the Pincushion (sandy loam) was very different. There were fewer green and herbaceous notes. Instead, the aromas were of stone fruits and of melon, kiwi and ripe lemon with less perfume. I checked the minerality after. Both wines showed some minerality on the nose – a slight salinity – but it was not very intense.
The differences on the Nose followed through on the Palate. The clay-soil Sugarbush Sauvignon Blanc was elegant on the Palate with good balance between the fresh fruits, medium alcohol and a bright, integrated acidity. I liked the clean, crisp texture. The Pincushion, from the sandy loam soil, was likewise well balanced but with a fuller mouthfeel and weight. The wine showed warmer tropical fruit flavours but with poise, elegance and finesse.
The comparison was fascinating, and the theory was mostly borne out by the tasting. The effect of the cooler, damper clay soil certainly contributed to the fresh citrus fruit aromas and flavours of the Sugarbush wine whilst the Pincushion (sandy loam) had the expected a warmer, more tropical and less herbaceous fruit profile. The relative fullness of the Pincushion was not anticipated but the warmer fruits could have confused, yet the greater elegance was expected.
I am now keener than ever to try this tasting experiment again with the other wines I have that are identical but for their soils. Alas, I shall Have to wait for lockdown to end to be able to arrange that tasting.
Platter’s by Diners Club International 2020 South African Wine Guide – John Platter SA Wine Guide (Pty) Ltd, 2020 – R295
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 4.5/5
Dr Peter Rating – Book: 5/5
I use Platter’s – or, in full, the Platter’s by Diners Club International 2020 South African Wine Guide – a great deal. Almost every day. I use it to plan where to go for my wine tasting visits. I use it to contact the vineyards. I use it when writing my reviews. I use every section of the book: information on the award winners; the individual winery entries, their summary information, wines and ratings; the summary year’s ratings; the industry details of South Africa’s wine regions, districts and wards; the cultivar summaries; the accommodation listings (less so); and the maps at the back. It is my wine bible.
It was with much excitement that I ventured to the Table View Hotel in the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, to the launch of the 40th Anniversary Edition. The invite was 6.00pm for 6.30pm and I was there in good time. The dress code was ‘Smart/Casual’ which, among winemakers, left much open to interpretation. Friendships re-acquainted, business completed, some excellent networking opportunities, and tasty canapés consumed with a glass of MCC, it was not until 6.45pm that the Ballroom doors opened. Casual was the order of the day. I should have known it was ‘Africa time’. The room was full and full of expectation. The launch of any Platter’s Guide is rightly secret, from who the major award winners are, to the 5* wines, and even to the cover colour.
Publisher Jean-Pierre ‘JP’ Roussow took to the stage to welcome all, including Esh Naidoo, the Managing Director of Diners Club South Africa. The anticipation was tangible as JP thanked the many Guide contributors before saying a few words about the Guide and its history. The wine landscape was for a very different South Africa 40 years ago when the first Platter’s Guide was launched. The Guide was aimed at the “average, aspiring, enthusiast and the confused” drinker. It cost a mere R6.95 and listed some 1,250 wines that included only 1 Chardonnay. John Platter proclaimed that the “reds lagged only marginally behind the world’s best” and that “the average wines were the highest quality in the world and at the lowest average prices”. I wondered how true that statement remains today. Value for money is certainly a hallmark of South African wine.
Ten years later, in 1990, the number of wines rated in the Guide had swelled to 4,000 – with 40 entries for Chardonnay – with Sauvignon Blanc overshadowing Chardonnay. By 2000, the Guide was bigger still with the commentary that there was a lack of iconic wines being made in volume, at least to reach around the world in sufficient quantity to make Top 10 or Top 20 listings. Four thousand wines became 6,000 wines in 2010. There were 40 5* wines and Sadie Family Wines was the Winery of the Year. Only the numbers have changed since then perhaps. JP later commented on the current lack of volume of iconic wines. He mentioned too that the 125 x 5* wines for 2020 were testament to the improving quality and understanding of what happens in the vineyard by the viticulturalists and a more outward approach by the travelling winemakers.
The first closely guarded secret was revealed as JP proudly showed the new Guide to the room, describing the new colour as ‘Karoo Night Sky’. The silver lettering shimmered on the cover beneath the ballroom chandeliers. It looked weighty and classy as befits middle age and, in my opinion, a much better colour than the rather insipid salmon pink of the 2019 Edition. It was time then for JP to handover to Editor Philip van Zyl to announce the 125 5* wines. He explained the 2-step rating method for the 9,000 wines: first, ‘label-sighted’ for the context of site, climate and style (Platter’s is a wine guide and not a competition) and then ‘blind’ for all wines scoring 93/100 and above. The handing out of the certificates – from AA Badenhorst to Warwick – with obligatory winemaker photographs – was done with efficiency and due magnitude. I felt a growing mutual pride and celebration in the room. The Wines of the Year awards followed in some 26 cultivar/blend/style categories that included sparkling, dessert and fortified wines with the top award shared in many tasting categories. The awards included only the second one for a Viognier in 40 years. Many winners of course returned to the stage multiple times.
All that remained before tasting all the 5* winners were the ‘Big 3’ awards. The first, for Newcomer Winery of the Year 2020, was awarded to Peter Ferreira Cap Classique. Like Platter’s itself, I sensed a reassuring stability since Peter Ferreira is no newcomer. He is South Africa’s ‘bubbly king’ as Cellar Master at Graham Beck and renowned for his generosity for sharing knowledge. The award is for his new business venture with wife Ann. The 2012 long-matured Blanc de Blancs MCC was not only the MCC of the Year but also gained the highest score ever awarded by the Guide for a sparkling wine. The Editor’s Award of the Year 2020 was won by Franschhoek winery Boekenhoutskloof. It recognises, as JP and Philip alluded to earlier, the making of iconic wines in large volume and wines made at several price and quality levels. Over 100,000 cases of the high scoring Chocolate Block, for example, are produced to give worldwide reach.
The prestigious and most anticipated award for Top Performing Winery of the Year 2020 was tightly contested. I did wonder who the eventual winner might be as a small number of estates picked up multiple awards during the evening. The margin was extremely close with Mullineux (joint venture Leeu Passant included) just pipping Sadie Family Wines, another multiple winner of the top prize, by virtue of generally slightly higher scores. It was another celebration for the Swartland as well as for Mullineux who not only are the award holders from last year but also won in 2014 and 2016. It was only a week ago that I tasted their wines at the Swartland Producers Street Party in Riebeek Kasteel and watched the Springboks win the World Cup with Andrea and Chris Mullineux (and a few hundred other wine loving supporters). The formalities over it was time to taste many of the top wines.
As for the Guide, it is never easy to keep going for 40 years. Markets and customers change over the years, nay decades, and it is a challenge to keep the connection. Change too fast and wine readers will want more of the old. Stand still and risk that the competition will overtake you. Platter’s has well navigated that middle vine row path. The traditional and reassuringly familiar 0-5 Star rating remains but does so alongside the ‘Parker System’ 100-point metric that is the global standard. Overall, the Guide covers nearly 9,000 wines from 900 producers in just shy of 700 pages. This, intriguingly, is a few pages shorter than the 2019 Edition though I cannot yet see where. Platter’s can be pre-ordered now via their website. The R295 price remains reassuringly stable too and outstanding value for money – given the incredibly detailed information and obvious mammoth judging and editorial effort – and only a modest increase from 2019 (R270). This compares favourably with 2 issues of Decanter Magazine and a cup of Seattle coffee at Exclusive Books. Digital subscription via the Platter’s App – another example where the Guide had moved with the times – is an option (R175) for those who prefer not to carry the weighty tome around with them while wine tasting or shopping. The two can be bought together as the ‘Platter’s Bundle’ for R395, a 20% saving.
I always enjoy reading the opening 2 sections: Trends in South African Wine and the Editor’s Note. This is where the Guide brings extra value. The topics obviously change each year. I recently read a US report by Beverage Dynamics that predicted alcoholic trends to watch for in 2019-2020. These included inter alia: cans; whiskey sales booming; continuing expansion of rosé (they can make it in 3 weeks!); the slowdown of craft beer; premiumisation; tequila on the rise; explosion in ready-to-drink (mostly cocktail) sales; private label production; single barrel picks (mostly spirits); and low/’healthy’ alcohol beverages. The comparison is interesting with parallels as well as differences. Platter trends in common for 2020 include the move from bulk to premium winemaking as several vineyards have withdrawn from bulk-production to make more profitable wines. Packaging gets a mention too, with a watching stance on wine-in-a-can as well as bottle closure methods. I mentioned above the impact of improved vineyard expertise and more attention in the cellar on wine quality. These 2 trends are covered in the well titled paragraphs of ‘Maximalist work in the vineyards’ and ‘Minimalist work in the cellar’. I won’t expand on more as the Guide far better explains. The last trend poses a question about the developing secondary market. Having been to a few fine wine auctions, many of which had several unsold lots, I share the scepticism but agree the cautious optimism. The modern South African wine industry and its quality improvements remains young. Moreover, there is a culture in drinking young wines – enabled by cash flow conscious wineries – rather than laying wines down to keep. Try asking for a 2017 or even 2004 Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay! Climatic conditions too, unlike in much of the Old World, are not conducive to long-term storage whilst temperature and humidity-controlled cellaring is prohibitively expensive to all but the very few. Private label production is a trend here that could easily have also been listed as I see an increasing number of winemakers making their own wines while still tied to the extant wineries. Turning to the Editor’s Note, Philip van Zyl outlines many of the editorial changes and continuations – icon and cellar icons, for instance – from previous editions.
The bulk – or perhaps, the body – of the Platter’s Guide of course remains structurally the same. This is not to devalue the substantial work undertaken to compile the information. This is against a tight annual publication deadline that does not change as the number of wines ever increases. Each vineyard entry gives a brief producer introduction at the top together with a host of detail for winery location and whereabouts, tasting opening times and facilities, contact information, owner/viticulturalist/winemaker names, vineyard area and main cultivars planted, production quantity and the balance between red, rosé, white wines, and much more besides. In between, the wines are listed according to their name, vintage, colour and style, together with their rating and mini-tasting description. Wines gaining 4½ stars and 5 stars are highlighted in red text for easy identification. The remaining sections that make up the final 80-90 pages – the finish – are updated from the 2019 Guide.
How to improve? The Platter’s Guide is such a well-established brand – worthy of an Editor’s Award for its iconic status itself – that it is difficult to know. It is one of the few wine guides in the world that aims to taste and rate every wine from every vintage. The detailed content for each winery and its wines is as self-defining as it is essential and so I cannot see any opportunity there. I don’t personally use the Touring Wine Country section that covers Wine Routes, Wineland Tourism Offices, Specialist Wine Tours, Restaurants and Accommodation a great deal but then I live in Cape Town and so have less need, preferring to search using the internet for restaurant menus or accommodation rather than the Guide. This leaves format and layout. The A5 format is a trusted one for any travel or like guide and, whilst bulky at 700 pages, does not really lend itself to a different size or shape. I have suggested before that a ribbon and/or bookmark – as included in many previous editions – would aid page-keeping for a book of such thickness and number of pages. It is something I have discussed with the publisher and accept the reality that manual attachment would adversely impact on price and printing deadlines.
More radical would be to change scope of the Guide and its awards. Sustainability is not only vital for the future of our planet, but it can make good business sense too. A new award for, say, Organic Winery of the Year, to include the biodynamic producers, would give a useful stimulus to the style and sector. Mindful of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust decision last year to separate wine from spirits learning, there must be a business opportunity for a Platter’s South African Spirits Guide. This could include the gin, rum, brandy, grappa and other distilled beverages that are being made for an increasing number of brands, many produced by South African wineries. There is in my mind a need for such a guide and Platter’s has the editorial and operational experience to deliver as well as the brand trust and recognition to make a success of such a new initiative.
In sum, the 2020 Platter’s Guide is as excellent as ever. The quality in both content and production remains. There is no other wine guide to match it for the comprehensive and trusted content – as reliable as Mullineux winning the Top Performing Winery Award. The Guide remains excellent value for money and is indispensable for any wine lover whether, in the words of the very first Edition 40 years ago, you are an “average, aspiring, enthusiast or confused” drinker. Buy it now to get the most use from it. The new Guide, with its sublime Karoo night sky colour, will certainly give me 2020 vision for the wine year ahead.
Mini breaks away from home are always great. More so, when combined with wine tasting. Even more so, when tasting wines in the ‘Golden Triangle’ in the Upper Blaauwklippen and Annandale valleys to the South of Stellenbosch. Surprisingly, given the vast number of estates and closeness to my home in Cape Town, I have made short, overnight visits to the Wolseley/Tulbagh, Hermanus, Franschhoek, Robertson and Elgin wine regions but never to Stellenbosch. Sometimes, one visits least those areas closest to home. Ever since visiting the excellent Keermont for tasting in March this year, I wanted to return to sample the wines of some big name, fine wine estates nearby: Kleinood (Tamboerskloof), Waterford and De Trafford. It made eminent sense, therefore, to combine them into a single trip and to stay in the Keermont Vineyards Farmhouse.
A short stop for an early lunch at the Bistro at Blaauwklippen made the perfect pit stop en route. My fiancée and I enjoyed fresh, lemon zesty, salmon ceviche with tasty fries in light shade outdoors before heading in perfect bright sunshine to the Upper Blaauwklippen Valley and Keermont. The road narrows as it progressively rises becoming potholed though easy enough for any 2×2 car. I was excited to show my fiancée somewhere that I had found so special. First things first though and I went straight to Keermont for a mini tasting, as my fiancée had not sampled their excellent wines before (other than at home the ones I bought when I visited earlier). The time since March did not dull my 5/5 rating for the wines – see separate, detailed tasting review – as we sampled the Terrasse white blend, single variety Marsanne, Topside Syrah and Steepside Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and the Sauvignon Blanc Fleurfontein dessert wine. My fiancée could not resist buying a bottle of the single vineyard Pondokrug Cabernet Franc. The views of the Helderberg and Stellenbosch mountains, forming almost an amphitheatre above the vineyards and with their deep, rich red loam and quartzitic sandstone soils so critical for wine quality, could hardly have been more superb. Lunch however was turning into afternoon and I wanted to visit Kleinood and Waterford before the day was out so we went to the Farmhouse where my fiancée could work whilst I wine tasted.
The property is but a short distance away, back down the narrow valley road and up a short lane through shady trees. I was immediately struck by the size of the property. There is ample space for 8 guests in 4 bedrooms (5 beds), all with bathrooms en suite, with more than enough parking. As I entered through the rear of the main building, I realised how well hidden the Farmhouse kept its beauty. The small porch leads into an open and well lit room with large yellowwood dining table with antique chairs and dressers against the walls. My breath was taken away, before I even had the chance further to explore, by the luxury and sumptuous furnishings and fittings. To my right was the spacious lounge with comfortable, soft padded sofas and open fireplace, a rarity for self-catering accommodation in the valley.
I ventured through to the kitchen on the right. I adore cooking and a kitchen defines a home for me. I fell in love with its sheer size and perfect proportion, the classic, elegant white painted cabinets with pine tops, the abundance of crockery and glassware in open shelves, the butcher’s block, granite worktop and small cosy dining table. There was an Aga too! It is said that unless and until you have owned an Aga you never appreciate them and that people talk about their Agas as if their favourite aunt. It is true – and not just to be read in the marketing material – for an Aga is the soul of a kitchen as much as a kitchen in the soul of a home. Constantly on in winter, the warmth from the cast iron stove pervades the surrounding rooms, pets, drying clothes, towels for warming and oneself. I wish I had had time to stay longer and cook on the large circular boiling plates with their opening lids or array of ovens each with their set temperature. It is very often the small details that matter and impress also: the welcome note and bottle of wine; the 2 kettles (great if 8 or more guests) and all the tea and coffee makings; filtered water; the plate heater; the bowl of lemons on the table; the recipe books; neatly laid out serviettes all colour coded in the drawers; safe and fire extinguisher; first aid kit; pre-charged torches (Eskom friendly) and soft lighting. I could not see a microwave. It mattered not and seemed in keeping as if Keermont was determined to ensure the Farmhouse guests were to be in luxury and in no hurry.
I ventured to the sunny conservatory by the dining room that was large enough for another table for eating or working and with comfortable seating. It was where my fiancée worked whilst I was wine tasting and complete with excellent wifi and power sockets to recharge her laptop. The view over sloping grassed lawns with landscaped trees to the refurbished vineyard and Stellenbosch beyond was magnificent. Table Mountain, Devil’s Peak and Lions Head were clearly visible as if to remind of home in Cape Town. Further buildings, with separate guest accommodation, flanked a large deep blue swimming pool with sun loungers and gas braai beside. I only wished it was the right time of year to have enjoyed it. To the rear, craggy mountains with their 45 degree weathered and fynbos covered slopes stood imperious overlooking the property.
I just had to explore more before leaving for Kleinood. The standard and décor of the bedrooms was equally impressive with subtle pastel furnishings and matching bed linen, antique furniture and comfortable lighting for serious relaxation. Each bedroom was large enough and well enough appointed, with classic decorated bathroom with shower beside, to have been the master bedroom. The master bedroom itself was vast and laid out to enjoy the wonderful views to the rear. The extra king size bed was large enough to sleep a modestly sized family and certainly large enough to lose my fiancée in the night. Again the small touches were seen and mattered: the up-to-date magazines (unlike in any dentist waiting room) beside the bed; the torches on each bedside table; and plentiful clothes storage if needed for a long stay. The en suite bathroom was the size of most family bedrooms if not a small house, with standalone bath and shower for two.
Soon it was time to leave. It was a short trip down the valley to Kleinood and Waterford. The entrances to the 2 wine estates are opposite on the narrow road but they could not be more different to each other (see separate, detailed tasting reviews). Kleinood is hidden and unassuming down a narrow lane, confident in the elegance and finesse of its Tamboerskloof wines, with rural setting and flowing mountain water. Waterford is grand with tree-lined avenue and nouveau riche Mediterranean-styled brash building with dummy gatehouse giving access to a large central courtyard. The entrances aptly promise their offering behind: open gate with low white-washed wall for Kleinood and statement, symmetrical, immaculately made dry stone wall for Waterford. The wines match. Kleinood offered just 3 wines for tasting, each with intense heady aromas with rare power balancing complex, defined flavours. Waterford makes a broad range of wines, covering all styles and colour, of variable quality and price level. These form part of 7 tasting ‘experiences’ that alone are more than double the number of wines for tasting at Kleinood. Diversity is for me the spice of life. How boring life would be if all were the same.
I returned to the Farmhouse at the end of the afternoon and in time to watch the setting sun over the distant mountains as the evening sky changed from azure to Persian blue to navy to indigo to midnight blue, lit beneath by the golden sun changing in colour to fire and amber is it slipped beneath the horizon. The heat gone, the dusk chill sent me indoors. My fiancée and I made a simple meal in the large kitchen. There were restaurants we could have eaten at in Stellenbosch but neither of us wanted to leave the comfort of the Farmhouse. After preparing a simple supper in the kitchen, we watched television in the sitting room close to the master bedroom (also complete with open fireplace for winter; aircon for summer). We retired to bed already relaxed. The overnight chill outside mattered not beneath the warmth and comfort of the fresh linen and bedclothes.
I awoke fully refreshed to open the shutters to fabulous morning views over the vineyards, serenaded by bird song. Tempted but ever mindful of water conservation that has made baths a thing of the path, in the Western Cape at least, my fiancée and I showered together beneath the large drench head. The large soft towels added to the luxury and actually dried – not always a given in many a hotel – as I made tea before breakfast. Nicole from Keermont kindly brought fresh fruit salad, croissants, cheese, jam and butter for our breakfast (and the bottle of Cabernet Franc). We saved the wine for later but enjoyed the morning sunshine from the conservatory, already warmed by the winter sun. I left after for an early tasting at De Trafford that is right at the top of the Upper Blaauwklippen Valley, past Keermont and as far as one can go. The oft-experimental and ground-breaking wines were superb if understandably pricy, with many made from grapes supplied by Keermont. It is no wonder given the outstanding, refined quality of these 2 wine estates, together with those of Kleinood, Haskell and Rust en Vrede, that this is one of my favourite wine areas in the Cape.
I returned to the Farmhouse to collect my fiancée as we took our time to return to Cape Town. I stopped for one last tasting at Guardian Peak (nearby Ernie Els being closed for Tasting Room and Cellar renovation until October) on our wayhome. I have separately reviewed the wines and experience. The views of Guardian Peak, the highest in the Stellenbosch Mountain range, were again spectacular. The wines were good but not in the class or quality of those over the hills and in the valley beyond. The final stop was to browse in the Mooiberge Farm Stall, well known for its strawberries in summer, beside the R44 heading South to the N2 highway and to Cape Town.
The trip may have been only 2 days but thoroughly enjoyable and re-energising ahead of forthcoming end of Cape Wine Academy Diploma final exams. The Keermont Farmhouse could not have been a better choice to stay and not simply due to its location close by to so many outstanding wine estates. It makes for a spectacular and sumptuous place to stay with superb setting. I am not easily impressed by other houses but the layout, spaciousness, high standard of décor and facilities – not to mention the smallest details – make it ideal for a weekend getaway or mid-week break. The views are as impressive as the absolute silence at night. The Farmhouse is not cheap (R10,000 per night, but only R1,250 per head if 8 people) but makes a perfect venue for several couples, a wedding party or celebratory anniversary with friends. In sum, the Farmhouse at Keermont redefines luxury …