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 …