Springfontein rocks

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

You may expect to find one of South Africa’s best food and wine pairing experiences – and best Bordeaux winelist – in Cape Town’s foodie precinct Woodstock, yet for this one you need to drive about 95 minutes east to bucolic Stanford where five kilometres outside the village, down a gravel road close to the ocean, you will find Springfontein, a wine farm, and its restaurant Springfontein Eats.

Here you will also find, in the vineyard and the cellar, Tariro Masayiti; in the organic orchard, herb and vegetable garden, his horticulturalist partner Hildegard Witbooi; in the kitchen, Michelin-star chef  Jürgen Schneider and his wine expert and Riesling fan wife, Susanne.

Some say craft becomes art when practised over time and you can witness it at Springfontein. Jürgen has worked in butcheries and kitchens for over 40 years, while he and Susanne have been working together for close to 30 years, for 18 of which they held a Michelin star in homeland Germany. Susanne knows Jürgen’s food intimately and she knows her wines – the result is one of the best food and wine pairing experiences in the country.

Susanne’s skills include unlocking additional layers of complexity in Tariro’s wines and Jürgen’s food, service is slick yet seemingly effortless, and the food features a locavore leaning with hints of molecular gastronomy, though “never at the expense of flavour and aroma”. Casual observation suggests the kitchen footprint is bigger than the restaurant floor (Jürgen got involved early), which seats only 35 patrons served by eight kitchen staff.

German Dr Johst Weber and friends acquired the farm in 1995. Visiting the farm, he found it was occupied by a few cows and goats, and an obstinate old man reluctant to sell.  The rest was wilderness but there was a robust spring and a limestone ridge ran through the property, making it ideal for vines.

Music lover Johst has bought the rights to use some classic rock songs – including original album fonts – on their wine labels in Africa, Europe and the USA. There will be four such wines in the Limestone Rocks range under, for example, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Deep Purple’s Child in Time. This range will comprise four wines: two blends, a white from Chenin, Chardonnay and Pinotage, and a red from Pinotage, Petit Verdot and Shiraz; and two single varietal wines, a Petit Verdot and a Pinotage.

Plantings (25 ha) originally focussed on white and red Bordeaux varieties but the focus now is to become a specialist Chenin Blanc and Pinotage producer through aerial grafting of some of the Cabernet and Merlot blocks, and planting this year of 2,5 ha  of  bush vine Pinotage.

Hildegard is in the midst of establishing a nursery on site for own propagation of Chenin and Pinotage for an additional 10 ha over the next five years, including a block of makstok (own roots) Pinotage. Jonathan’s Ridge Pinotage is already regarded as one of the top 10 in the country.

The limestone soils and cool Atlantic Ocean winds keep the pH levels low and Tariro captures bright fruit and vivid colours. Aromatics are mostly New World or new wave but textures are often firmly in the Old World with matching moderate alcohols and integrated acids.

The 2009 Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon and Pinotage were particularly memorable. All of the wines – red and white – in the Estate range contain Pinotage, while the Terroir Selection and Single Vineyard ranges comprise single varietal wines from Chenin and Pinotage only. Later additions to the Single Vineyard range will include bush vine and makstok Pinotage. Look out for Tariro’s MCC (bottle-fermented) Pinotage in 2016.

Jürgen and Susanne have over the years trained more than 60 people under the German apprentice system and they are doing similar work with some of their staff at Springfontein Eats. Jürgen started foraging some 30 years ago – long before it was fashionable – and you will find items like dune spinach and seaweed on the menu.

Jürgen found Cape aromatics so intense he had to modify his cooking style.

“Customers remember aromas while beautiful plating, for example, can rob flavours and aromas,” says Jürgen, who describes his style as “natural with a touch of molecular”.

The list of Bordeaux wines is impressive and contains many top growths including 2003 Château Petrus for R25 000, a bargain in on-trade prices, while you can also find Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse for R1 800. Berliners used to drive 160 kilometres over gravel roads to dine at Jürgen’s Michelin-star restaurant – by comparison, five kilometres of gravel road from Stanford seems light duty.

Mariana’s is another popular restaurant in the area where regulars know to book well in advance. It’s easy to see why chef/writer Mariana has received three stars for five years running from restaurant critic JP Rossouw with her honest handling of fresh produce – probably one of the reasons she closes for winter.

Stanford is only 25 kilometres from Hermanus and, besides world-renowned shark-cage diving off neighbouring Gansbaai, attractions include wineries such as the historic Robert Stanford Estate, Stanford Hills, Walker Bay Vineyards and Raka, the first winery to put Stanford on the vinous map.

Robert Stanford Estate is a restoration of Sir Robert Stanford’s 19th-century farm that includes locally inspired Madre’s Kitchen. Sir Stanford shipped his produce to Cape Town in his own cutter, mooring it in the cove that now bears his name.

Meanwhile Raka produces controversial but highly-rated wines from both Bordeaux and Rhône varieties, including particularly good Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Shiraz.

Stanford Hills, which produces indigenous flowers for export too, are also showing that the area is well suited to the production of top-notch Pinotage, while Walker Bay Vineyards with Birkenhead Brewery, ‘the first wine and brewing estate in the Southern Hemisphere’, is ideal for those who like their beer and wine in equal measure.

– Jonathan Snashall