Off the beaten track…

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

The Voor Paardeberg ward is a place of bounteous nature, creative winemaking and characters galore.

The majority of the wineries offer tastings by appointment only, which is easily arranged, and sometimes you get one-on-one time with the winemakers or owners of the farm. And that’s just what we did on a short tour of the area.

Flower power at Vondeling

We arrive at Vondeling’s recently built tasting room [+27 (0)21 869 833]; open Monday through to Friday from 10am to 5pm (Saturdays and public holidays are by appointment only).

This is adjacent to a chapel (which has already seen many happy couples tie the knot), while the winemaking happens on the farm across the road.

“People come to the Voor Paardeberg because it’s not a commercial experience,” says winemaker Matthew Copeland. “There’s more personal attention; you’re away from the hustle and bustle.”

All the vineyards run off the mountain, a great big granite batholith, and as such the vineyards grow in decomposed granite soil, giving the wines vibrancy. In an otherwise warm climate area, the cooling breeze that barrels in from the West Coast helps too.

All of the land on the mountain is privately owned “so there are seldom fires”, says Matthew. Though there was one big one three years ago, the first in 20 years.

“Two botanists came to identify all the species that re-emerged after the fire, some that hadn’t been seen since the 50s. They also discovered a still-unnamed new species.” Two years’ worth of research went into investigating this incredible diversity, with the entire mountain being geo-tagged.  Now the work has been put together for a soon-to-be-released coffee table book.

The Babiana noctiflora and the Erica hippurus are endemic to the Voor Paardeberg, and so a white blend and Shiraz respectively were named for them in the Vondeling portfolio.

The farms here have a long history, and Vondeling was founded in 1704. A walk up one of the rocky peaks on the estate will take you to Dutch East India VOC cannon, the likes of which were used in the signalling programmes of the colonies.

These days, Matthew has something exciting up his winemaking sleeve. He shows us the proofs for the label of a ‘Method Ancestral’: a bubbly made with minimum intervention and spontaneous fermentation.

“We must be having a flower day,” says Matthew, nosing a glass of Erica Shiraz. Seeing my perplexed expression, he explains that in biodynamic terms, according to the lunar calendar, some days are better than others for tasting wine and can be classified as root, fruit, leaf and flower days.

I can’t help think though that every day in this tasting room must be a flower day.

The Leopard called Ayama

Located a mere five minutes from Vondeling is Slent Farms, home of Ayama Wines [+ 27 (0)21 869 8313].

“I love Chenin deeply,” says Michela Dalpiaz. We’re sitting at a crackling fire in the farm’s manor house. The Lego cars on the table side-by-side with the wine remind you that you are indeed in a family home.

Italian natives, Michaela and her husband Attilio have lived in South Africa for just over a decade. They bought the farm in partnership with some friends: “This dream was possible because of friendship.”

“I landed in Gauteng in 1999 and felt like I had come home. The air, the colours, the people…” Michela says they looked at over 50 farms, saw this one on their last day and fell in love. “It was in this wild area, rural and genuine.”

The previous owners have been invaluable assets to them. “They are family to us now. They taught us all about the nature and processes. We could not have made it without them. It took time for us to understand how it all works.”

Fittingly, the name ‘Ayama’ is a Xhosa word meaning ‘someone to lean on’. Michela attributes it to the aforementioned help as well as her partners, the people working on the farm and her own family (they have a six-year-old son who speaks Afrikaans fluently).

While the wine tastings are currently conducted in their cosy lounge with its high ceilings, there are plans to renovate some outbuildings into a boutique cellar and tasting facility. The space will also encompass a farm deli which will sell the bounty of the farm, from fruit and olives to Italian tomato varieties.

Adding more Italian flavour, there are plans are underway to plant Vermentino, a white-wine grape variety from Sardinia.

Home is where the heart is at Scali

What has five kids, a winemaking cellar and generations of history? Schoone Oord Farm in the Voor Paardeberg, home to Scali Wines [+27 (0)21 869 8340] and married winemakers, Willie and Tania de Waal.

Tastings are held in the manor house’s grand entrance, at a long oak table. There are small dogs, big dogs, small kids, big kids — family life swirls around us as we do the same to the wine in our glasses.

“The farm’s been in our family since 1877, my great-great-grandfather bought it,” says Willie, showing me the wall of black-and-white photographs.

“It’s something that’s totally different,” says Willie, pouring a glass of Scali Ancestor, which is made in a similar way to the bubbly being made on Vondeling, Says Willie: “We make it as if we were making a normal white wine rather than merely creating a base wine to make MCC.

“It’s completely natural: spontaneous fermentation, we don’t use sulphur or settling agents.”

“We love all things traditional,” says Tania. Traditional and natural. All of the vineyards are certified organic with a pocket of Chenin Blanc vines dating back 46 years.

We taste through the range of Scali Wines, including the more accessible range, called Sirkel. Bottled by hand, each label is also individually rubber stamped.

Before heading home I go on a quick tour of the house to find, not surprisingly, that at its big heart is the winemaking cellar.

My short trip to the Voor Paardeberg showed a wine region that’s unpolished and unspoilt; one that offers spectacular natural vistas and genuine wine-tasting experiences. There’s so much more to see—and if I were you, I would book accommodation in nearby Paarl and spend at least two days (or more) exploring.

On your must-visit list are trips to a number of estates:  pop into the modern, geometric architecture of African Terroir’s cellar and tasting facility on Sonop Wine Farm. Here organic wines are crafted from an organic vineyard, and tastings are available by appointment [+ 27 (0)21 869 1020].

Then head to Doran Vineyards on Far Horizons farm to uncover the wines behind a vinous collaboration between two long-time friends. Tastings are available by appointment [+27 (0)21 869 8329].

Earn your stripes by pulling in at Perdeberg Winery [+27 (0)21 869 8244]; the tasting room is open from Monday to Saturday. Sit outside on a sunny day and enjoy the incredible views, while learning about the Cape mountain zebra and the history of the area while, of course, drinking Chenin Blanc.

Dare to dream at Bernheim Wines as you embark on a tasting in their cellar, though note that tastings are by appointment only [+27 (0)21 869 8384].

And no trip would be complete without hearing the tales (and drinking the wine) of Stone Ridge, call (0)82 324 8372 to make an appointment.

– Malu Lambert