Fryer’s Cove

Many of the Cape’s vineyards claim to be ‘within sight of the sea’; few lie as close to the sea’s edge as those of Fryer’s Cove, a mere 500 metres from the Atlantic Ocean in the West Coast’s Doring Bay.

This former fishing village is approximately 300 kms north of Cape Town, and close to the seaside town of Strandfontein. Back in 1985, Elsenburg Agriculture College student, Wynand Hamman was on holiday there, when the area’s possibility for cool-climate wine inspired him to dream of making it a reality. Fourteen years after sharing the idea with his future in-laws, Jan and Ponk van Zyl, when the quota system had long been discontinued, Fryer’s Cove did become a reality. 

There was much to understand and manage in this virgin vine land: the wind, sea as well as drought. Saline groundwater required a pipeline be laid from Vredendal, 30 kms away and a buffer dam built.  Neighbours co-operated; an exchange with one gave the Fryer’s Cove team 10ha of sea-view land; in 1999, the first sauvignon blanc and pinot noir vines, covering three of those hectares, were planted in what was to become South Africa’s smallest Ward, Bamboes Bay.

Twenty-two years later, Fryer’s Cove changed hands, established-producer DGB taking over, with Liza Goodwin as winemaker. Liza fills in on some of the other changes. ‘Uprooting unproductive vines, correcting soils, re-planting pinot, adding more sauvignon and introducing semillon, for a total of 8.65ha, all in the Bamboes Bay Ward.’ It shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear the soil includes seashells, which, with layers of limestone, Liza believes imbue the wines with a flinty character.
The ocean itself has some unusual benefits: salt particles, blown by the cooling wind, protect the leaves and grapes from downy and powdery mildew but also impart a distinct saltiness in the wine. 

The other, Fryer’s Cove label, draws fruit from grower partners along the West coast. The range made up of a sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc, grenache-cinsaut blend and pinot noir rosé. In both labels, Liza’s focus is to reflect the purity and freshness inherent in the wines of this area, possible thanks to the slow ripening; sauvignon is usually harvested only early March.
Reflecting the history of this fishing village, the cellar was coverted from the former fish factory; it’s now been modernized with new tanks and equipment. A viewing deck, added to the tasting room, allows visitors to sit and enjoy a glass of wine while viewing the local fishermen at work and watching the stunning west coast sunset.   

The Jetty restaurant is a project between Fryer’s Cove and the local community, a community where there is high unemployment. While the winery assists with admin and logistics, it holds only a 30% interest, the community 70%. The finest West Coast ingredients complement the fine wines, a combination hugely popular with visitors.

Another attraction, possibly unique, and set to become popular with visitors is a giant fish tank in the cellar, a tank filled with circulating fresh ocean water and local fish. In the heart of the tank is a Perspex block filled with 600 bottles of Bamboes Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2022.

This idea was the brainchild of Douglas Green’s Executive Chairman, Tim Hutchinson, who rightly thought it would be an attraction and novelty for visitors. While there have been examples of a cage of wine lowered into the sea, the indoor seawater tank is unique. Crustaceans have already attached to the bottles, adding to the authenticity of the project. Eventually, visitors will enjoy the sauvignon with seafood in the restaurant.

Comparative tastings between the sea-aged and cellar-aged sauvignon are ongoing but Liza remarks the former is fuller and rounded with marked kelp aromatic nuances.

This is just the start of an intriguing journey; if the results are positive, will it encourage others to try similar innovative ageing methods? Watch this space!

- blog by Angela Lloyd