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The 2023 edition of Platter’s by Diners Club South African Wine Guide marks editor Philip van Zyl’s 25th year at the helm. Home for Philip is the leafy, historic Somerset West. The region fittingly boasts some of South Africa’s most venerated estates; Lourensford and Vergelegen quickly spring to mind. Today though we meet at a local coffee shop, which also feels right – with the buzz of Christmas shoppers all around us. It’s the time of year the famous guide pops up, with many a wine lover – as is tradition – finding the latest edition in their stocking. I too get the feeling that Philip drinks a lot of coffee, deadlines being a constant backing track to the rhythm of his life.
Once the vacuous young thing in pink petticoats, rosé has now acquired an altogether more serious, quality-oriented image. Dry rosés, a brush of oak make up, even age adding a note of interest, all enhance this more sophisticated image.
There is truly so much to see, do, eat and drink in the historical town of Stellenbosch. Besides the amazing wine farms which certainly need no introduction, have you strolled through the university town, taken in the sights and sounds of the bustling sidewalks, ventured into a museum which was once a home that survived the first great fire in Stellenbosch, enjoyed a spot of shopping at a high end boutique or local craft shop and then filled up on delicious food from a number of superb restaurants – and there are many to choose from. You’ll be spoilt for choice.
Cordoba Crescendo, a Bordeaux-style blended red wine based on Cabernet Franc, has approached near mythical unicorn status with the passing of the years and the shuttering of the winery nearly two decades ago. There’s precious little of it around anymore with the last vintage bottled and labelled a 2004, but when a bottle surfaces, it’s joys and charms are sung and shouted from the rooftops by those lucky enough to enjoy it.
“This farm used to be called Zeezicht,” says Etienne le Riche gesturing to the view of the blue sea over the hills of rolling vines. Because of this ocean proximity the Helderberg is one of the cooler wards in Stellenbosch. We can feel the faint stir of the breeze coming off it, from our vantage point at Le Riche Wines, a name synonymous with premium cabernet sauvignon.
Such is the affirmed connection between Stellenbosch and cabernet sauvignon, one might wonder what more is there to say. Yet the variety has come a long way since it put down roots in the area.
Summers can be brutal in the Northern Cape. Days are accompanied by the kind of intense dry heat that seems to make one’s skin scorch if exposed as the mercury regularly hits 40-degrees – and keeps going northwards. Its why table grapes do so well and why there are raisin drying beds or pads so frequently visible when driving through the area.
Indomitable Women,
October 2022
Upon the release of the Steenberg Five Lives red blend, Steenberg delved into the various chapters of its founder, Cataharina Ras’ life.
From the vast thirstlands spring the sweetest wines. Approximately 800 kilometres from the bosom of the Cape’s winelands lies the vineyard sprawl of the Orange River in the Northern Cape. This great, drought-stricken expanse covers a distance of 300kms from which around 580 growers supply Orange River Cellars with grapes from their riverside allotments. The wines made from the collection of cellars span the cultivar spectrum; with a big focus on fortified muscadel wines.
Four Swartlanders, four different styles of chenin, a variety each believes does well there thanks to cool nights and warm days; its ability to minutely reflect the terroir and the many dry-farmed, old bush vines, harnessing sunshine and transferring it to the glass, a reflection of its happiness in this environment.
This month I share with you the TOP SIX things to do in this picturesque destination just under an hour from Cape Town. Whether you choose to explore the scenic hiking trails, visit a wine farm, or immerse yourself in the quiet art galleries in the area, you’ll be sure to find something to excite the adventurer in you when you visit the Swartland!
South African wine and the Swartland owes Eben Sadie a debt of gratitude. Along with Adi Badenhorst, Callie Louw of Porseleinberg and the Mullineuxs – Chris and Andrea, they were the prime movers behind the Swartland Revolution which made the hot, dry yet personality filled region a must-see for visiting wine buyers, critics and all round wine geeks.
Behind the winding Chenin Blanc vines at Brookdale Estate, a cellar, restaurant and winemaker’s office are growing from their deeply-rooted foundations.
“My dear, chenin is my life,” says Ina Smith in her characteristic disarming way. “If you just look around this room, chenin brings good people together.” Cavalli’s restaurant is indeed abuzz with wine trade, media and team members from the sponsors at the Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top Ten Challenge awards lunch.
When Tim Hamilton Russell chose the Hemel en Aarde valley to plant grapes in 1975, he saw it as a potentially great and cooler place to grow the noble varieties. At the time, a Bordeaux blend and other varieties were part of the plan (chardonnay was not then available). His wine mentor, Desiderius Pongracz was the one particularly enthusiastic about Pinot Noir; this formed much of the initial plantings.
This beautiful gem, a renowned wine and food destination, rises from behind the seaside town of Hermanus, an adventure lover’s paradise. Hemel-en-Aarde (meaning "Heaven and Earth" in Afrikaans, quite aptly too) is an area of 15 wineries in the Walker Bay Wine Region. Along this 20km-long rambling route (the R320) is an area rich with vineyards, wine estates, restaurants and without a doubt, one of the most picturesque areas in Hermanus.
An Origin story,
August 2022
Hermanus has, in the past few years, moved on from being primarily a retirement or holiday town. Due to the global pandemic and the increase in remote work, it became one of the most sought-after places to move to for those no longer tied to commuting to the office on a daily basis.
The Tabernacle is a sacred and storied wine library in the heart of Stellenbosch, meticulously curated by custodian, Michael van Deventer.
Thys Louw has just spent a frosty Cape morning in the vineyards. “The guys are doing the winter pruning, it’s important for me to be there. I like to be involved in every aspect of the business.” Now in this book-lined study the sixth generation winemaker reflects on his family’s legacy. “There aren’t that many family owned, generational estates left,” he muses. The number he guesses is around 15.
There are regions in South Africa where a single variety lays down its claim to suitability and quality. Sauvignon blanc and Durbanville is one, where this variety accounts for more than half the area under vine.
With its scenic vineyards and abundant options for fine-dining, casual eateries, and family friendly establishments and so much more, Durbanville is a popular destination for those wanting a unique experience without travelling too far from Cape Town. The Durbanville Wine Route is well-known for its superb wine farms. Get to know my TOP 5 wine farms which I recommend you visit soon.
Wine savvy,
July 2022
“I was surprised to find that Sauvignon Blanc had this reputation as one-dimensional, as seen by wine critics and journalists,” said Thys Louw in an interview with Wineland magazine a few years ago.
Thornton Pillay’s prolific career culminates in a role as winemaker at The Drift Estate, Black Oystercatcher and Bruce Jack Wines.
“The name Paserene comes from the Latin word Passeriformes, which means the order of ‘traveling and free birds’,” says winemaker Martin Smith from his winery in Franschhoek, on which he bestowed that title. The definition couldn’t be more apt for this highflying winemaker who works with three different terroirs: Elgin, Franschhoek and Tulbagh. One of the newest cellars in the historic Franschhoek, Paserene, with its ultra-modern winemaking facilities and artfully designed tasting room is a result of a partnership with good friend and investor Ndabe Mareda. Paserene’s first vintage was released circa 2013.
Tulbagh ,
June 2022
The Obiekwaberge, Saronsberg and Witsenberg mountains form towering guards over the Tulbagh Valley, leaving a gap only at the eastern end for it to flow into Breedekloof.
Visiting the town of Tulbagh is always such a treat. With its magnificent landscape, bountiful offerings of wine estates, countryside hospitality and so much more, you can be forgiven if you consider making this village with its remarkable history, your permanent home.
Sticker shock ,
May 2022
It’s not a term South Africans are familiar with, but if you google ‘sticker shock’ the answer shows that it’s defined as “astonishment and dismay at the high price of a product”.
Through the Son of the Soil Leadership Foundation Denzel Swarts endeavours to drive education in the winelands and in townships.
Some days I am more wolf than woman, and I am still learning how to stop apologising for my wild. This quote, penned by poet Nikita Gill, was sent one day to Jolandie Fouché by her husband, Gustav. “I felt really seen in that moment,” shared the founder and winemaker of Wolf & Woman Wines.
Darling ,
May 2022
The town of Darling, roughly 75 kilometres north of Cape Town on the West Coast, is named after Sir Charles Henry Darling, Lieutenant Governor in the Cape during the mid-19th century. Founded in 1853, Darling and its surrounds are primarily a farming area, well known for wine, wheat and dairy cattle but also its fabulous spring wild flowers, which annually attract hordes of visitors.
Stepping stones,
April 2022
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Martin Luther King jnr
The Pebbles Project aims to uplift individual lives and reach the greater community.
There’s only one rule about the Singapore South African Wine Club… a love for South African is a must. “The taste, the experience, the memories of visiting many wine estates in the Cape region, sitting in gardens or tasting rooms, and just enjoying the experience of the wonderful food, the lovely people, and the fabulous wines….” Reminisced Conny Jamieson, when asked why she and her husband Fraser started the Singapore South African Wine club.
Earth to earth,
April 2022
Composting is the natural process of recycling organic matter, such as leaves and food scraps, into a valuable fertilizer that can enrich soil and plants. So begins The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Composting 101.
Botrivier, a quaint farming town in the Overberg region en route to Hermanus, is a mere 90mins drive from Cape Town making it the perfect weekend countryside escape. There are countless things to do and see in the area and surrounds and Botriver serves as a great destination from which to explore. We’ve compiled a quick list of gorgeous places to stay in this area for you to choose from on your next visit.
In the middle of harvest, with juice doing its frothy fermentation thing Melissa Nelsen made the trek from her farm on the Karwyderskraal road near Bot River into Cape Town for a visa to travel to Europe. It’s just one more sign that life is beginning its inexorable return to normalcy because she’s planning a sales trip to Belgium, just one of the markets she exports her Genevieve Cap Classique to.
The Wine Arc presents an opportunity for the South African wine industry.
“My love for grenache came from something inside of me, it’s a feeling,” says winemaker Marelise Niemann. “It’s such a vibrant, soft and gentle grape. It's a beautiful thing to work with. I can't get enough of it.”
Bot River,
February 2022
Winding down the hairpin bends of Houw Hoek Pass towards Caledon, the Bot River wine region is spread out below, stretching up and across the valley to the edge of Walker Bay. Wheatfields dominate the view, with the vines and the wineries, around a dozen of them, scattered within a 10 km radius.
If you’re searching for a top wine experience, you’ll be spoilt for choice with some of the country’s best wine farms on the Constantia Wine Route. Besides enjoying top quality and award-winning wines, you’ll also fall in love with the natural surrounding beauty that these places are located in. Here are a few of my favourites… Hope they’ll become yours too!
One of the more interesting tastings I attended last year was one presented by Cathy Marston, master of wine student and head of the local chapter of the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.
Matthew Day is clearly at home on a farm. At the wheel of a drop-top safari vehicle Klein Constantia’s winemaker is taking me on a slow drive around the estate. The ascents gradually increasing, the views of the Constantia Valley and False Bay unrolling in summer splendour before us. We drive past snuffling pigs and errant chickens. Klein Constantia is said to be one of the most beautiful vineyards in the world, it’s easy to see why, the natural beauty of the estate has been left unencumbered, with vines bordered by fynbos and rocky mountain deposits, and the occasional copse of trees.
Franschhoek semillon,
January 2022
One of South Africa’s advantages over many of the world’s traditional winelands is the lack of restrictions on what and where vines may be planted. If this led to a fruit salad in some areas, time has enabled a better understanding of matching of variety to site. But there are also varieties which gained a strong association with an area long before this concept.
Teenagers are a fickle bunch, so one can appreciate an activity or experience that doesn’t get an eyeroll from them because it’s “so uncool, mom” (experienced mom here!). Franschhoek is widely known for being a paradise for adults who love an incredible culinary experience, with wine farms plentiful and places to just unwind and watch the world pass by. The following things to do in the majestic winelands could possibly get two thumbs up from the kids… Who knows?
Christmas came early for Klein Goederust in Franschhoek. There was singing, ample food and prayer at the launch of its tasting room and restaurant. Standard fare for wine openings – but this one was different because it was Franschhoek’s first black-owned property to open its doors to the wine loving public.