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 …
Thursday 25 April 2019
Waterford is another of those big name wine estates amid the other 800 or more in the Western Cape (and a growing number beyond too) that I have wanted to visit for some time. I have tasted at over 200 wineries since I started the Cape Wine Lovers’ Society over 2 years ago so there are several more to visit and review. Like many, I had sampled the Waterford wines before at festivals and other events but there is no substitute in my mind for tasting a wine at the place at which it is made, ideally looking out over the vineyards whilst doing so. The occasion was a mid-week break in the Upper Blaauwklippen Valley, South of Stellenbosch during which I planned to taste also at Kleinood Winery (Tamboerskloof wines), Keermont Vineyards and De Trafford Wines.
The stone walled entrance (opposite Kleinood) showed presence and status, leading to an impressive tree lined avenue that gave dappled shade from the bright late-afternoon autumn to winter sunshine. Growing ever closer and through the Clementine orchards, framed above by the stony Helderberg Mountains, were the cellar buildings with their red corrugated tile roofs and stately, central arched tower. I parked close by and tried to decide the architecture in my own mind. It was part Italian, part Spanish perhaps – much as I might expect a Californian winery – but certainly not Cape Dutch. The website refers to the ‘Mediterranean courtyard’ so I guess I was half right twice.
Impressive the arrival at Waterford certainly was. It was all the more so as I ventured into the large circular courtyard inside, complete with central gushing trademark Waterford fountain. Expansive, upholstered, and no doubt expensive sitting rooms flanked either side of the entrance with their large open fireplaces, terracotta floor tiles, designer décor and extravagant flower decorations. Further couches and low tables filled the verandah outside in case inclement weather prevented tasting whilst sat on the low circular wall around the fountain.
Waterford clearly meant to make a statement and a statement it did. I chose to sit at one of the many small tables at the edge of the courtyard so I could taste and write with ease. The Waterford Tasting Experience lists 7 options. I would have expected no fewer from the grand setting. Two of these require pre-booking (the 3 hour Estate Wine Drive and Porcupine Trail Walk, at R1,150 and R450, respectively) and are part of the ‘Waterford Way’ which is ‘to be prosperous’. There were 2 wine and chocolate pairings – or rather, ‘Experiences’ – for 3 or 6 wines, costing R95 and R125. There was also a single tasting of the Jem (R115) which is Waterford’s flagship wine – named after owner Jeremy Ord, also as in Waterf-ord – which is a blend from a selection of the 11 estate cultivars grown on the estate and first released in 2007; 8 for the 2014 vintage at an ethereal cost of R1,650 a bottle. Being neither ‘prosperous’ nor fortunate enough to have held the contract for Waterford’s marketing material, I opted to skip the Library Collection Tasting (R250 for a selection of unique and limited blends) for the basic or rather ‘Portfolio Tasting’.
While I waited for Thomas to bring the first of the 6 wines, I was reminded of Vrede en Lust whose lifestyle, entry level wines are part of their Premium Range. The wines came in set ord-er (pun intended) beginning with the Rose-Mary that is named after Jeremy’s late mother. This was a Rosé – more correctly from the website ‘a very sophisticated approach towards a blanc de noir’ – that was pale salmon pink in colour. Made from Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo and Grenache grapes, picked early to be bone dry (1.1 grams per litre residual sugar) and low alcohol (10.8%), the wine showed typical sweet strawberry and raspberry aromas with a hint of white spice and medium intensity. The palate did not show much sophistication for me, with a weak follow though, little weight and low complexity (a different ord-er of magnitude to the outstanding Tamboerskloof wine I had earlier tasted at Kleinood opposite).
Next was the first of 2 white wines. In contrast to the Rosé, the Elgin sourced Sauvignon Blanc was almost too big on the nose with intense forward aromas of guava, litchi and pineapple that gave way to grassy, citrus, green pepper notes that belied the pale straw colour. I did not expect this degree of tropical fruit salad flavour for a cool climate wine but perhaps the 2018 drought and summer heat contributed or even yeast selection. The palate was dry, clean and fresh as expected of the variety but with very little flavour. The contrast with the aromas was as marked as the shadows around me as light and dark danced at the end of the afternoon.
I rated the Chardonnay, served in correct ‘balloon’ glass, the same. The grapes come from a single block (5.8 hectares) of vines that were planted in 1988, making them some of the oldest Chardonnay in the Cape. Barrel-fermented for 9 months in 24% new oak, the wine showed a pale gold colour. This was classic medium-oaked South African Chardonnay: sweet citrus, vanilla and pecan nut aromas of decent intensity, a smooth mouthfeel, and medium complexity. I would have rated it higher except that the acidity was not fully integrated to leave a bitter aftertaste.
The Waterford Estate has been owned by a partnership between two families since 1998, before which it was part of the adjoining Stellenrust farm. Jeremy and Leigh Ord purchased the property whilst Kevin and Heather Arnold have developed the wines to make it the estate it is today. Half of the 120 hectares are under vine with a wide selection of French, Italian and Spanish cultivars being grown, with the remaining 60 hectares set aside for conservation. Red wines form the majority (70%). The winery was designed by Alex Walker using stone from the vineyards and local quarries as well as timber from the estate.
My favourite wine of the tasting was the Estate Grenache Noir that could by its pale ruby appearance easily have been mistaken for a Pinot Noir. Look out for more Grenache in South Africa, better known for Priorat (as Garnacha in Spain) or as the major component of Château Neuf-du-Pape and many Rhône blends, due to its drought-resistance. The grape makes for a muscular and spicier Pinot Noir with more body, tannin and alcohol and lower acidity. Thomas described the wine as ‘a red wine like a white wine; a white wine like a red wine’ and I could see how it could appeal to traditional white wine drinkers who do not enjoy red wine. The nose showed a bright intensity of smokey, gamey cherry and currant fruity aromas with a hint of maraschino. The wine was bolder on the palate than I expected and certainly more so than a Pinot Noir.
The Kevin Arnold Shiraz was next which I had tasted at the Charcuterie & Shiraz Festival in Franschhoek last year. Subtitled Katherine Leigh, youngest daughter of the Ord family, the wine showed a better intensity of aroma than flavour. The nose showed good complexity of fruit, floral and savoury notes – sweet plum and dark fruits, violets, leather and meats – that lessened on the palate for a lighter styled wine. Tannins nonetheless were structured and green olive in flavour.
Cabernet Sauvignon was the final wine of the tasting as the shadows lengthened in the courtyard. It is Waterford’s leading varietal (30% of plantings) and made with 6% added Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot for colour, perfume and structure. The medium-bodied wine was made in lighter style than many Stellenbosch Cabernets. It showed good fresh red and dark fruit aromas of cassis, blackberry, black cherry, pencil shavings and green herbs. The tannins were closed and forwards on the palate, with classic drying mouthfeel, for a bright finish as befitting its youthful age.
Waterford promised so much. The impressive approach, mountain backdrop and setting, the grand design, opulent Tasting Room and the wide circular courtyard spoke of the Waterford ‘prosperity’. The wow factor is definitely there and a lure for the many American and other foreign tourists beside me. It is undoubtedly the kind of wine estate that is made for the coffee table winery books and vice versa. That is all well and dandy for me and part of the rich and diverse South African wine landscape and heritage. The proof for me as a wine journalist, student and connoisseur lies in the wines. Waterford ticked all the right boxes. There was a broad selection of the best known white and red wines to show off the best of the Stellenbosch terroir. There was a Rosé too and a wine from Elgin (the Sauvignon Blanc). There was the interest cultivar too with the Grenache rather than a Pinot Noir. Wine quality was however variable, with the red wines higher rated than the white wines. The service level was variable too, even for late afternoon when there were relatively few customers, and I had to wait too long between some wine servings. Wine prices were well above average which did not surprise. The Waterford name itself brings premium pricing (as did the tasting fee) that many a tourist will not even notice.
I enjoyed Waterford and was pleased to have visited and tasted the wines, which was my motivation to go. The wow was more from the buildings than the wines. I was reminded on leaving of my experience at the similarly named Waterkloof (I often get the 2 estates muddled up for that reason) that also underwhelmed as expectation fell below experience. Overall, Waterford was more ord-inary than extra-ord-inary.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2018 Waterford Elgin Sauvignon Blanc – R132
2016 Waterford Estate Chardonnay – R272
2018 Waterford Rose-Mary Blanc de Noir – R116
2016 Waterford Estate Grenache Noir – R295 FAVOURITE WINE
2014 Kevin Arnold Shiraz – R295
2016 Waterford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – R356