Saturday, July 24, 2010

Eeny meeny miny moe – is there a better way to pick the perfect wine farm?

With nearly 200 wine producers represented on the Stellenbosch wine route, 42 active wineries in Franschhoek, and even more in places like Paarl, Tulbagh, Robertson, the Elgin Valley and Constantia, the Cape wine region offers an almost dizzying array of wine farms to choose between when planning a day trip. The chance to experience special wines not widely available has become an expected part of a wine tour – so nowadays the “perfect” destination choice is all the more important and can leave an impression on your experience that extends beyond the rim of your glass.

The sheer number of choices in the Cape attests to the fact that each wine farm offers something special and unique to its visitors – so depending on what you’re looking for in a day-trip, not all will rank the same. Plus, the type of experience you’re looking for might also change from trip to trip – perhaps based on your mood, your company, or even the weather. Thankfully there are so many options there’s bound to be something suitable for any occasion. You can choose between the Grand Dames of historical significance, stylish boutiques with an international flare, down-to-earth farmer’s farms, and destination estates that make you feel like you’ve left South Africa and stepped into another part of the world – perhaps to a château in France or to an architect’s dream in Napa – with all the “fabulous” and none of the expense or unsavory jetlag. Frumpy and formal, laid back and social, warm and cozy, chilled and minimalist – the choice is yours.

With all these options the question remains – how do you choose the “right” wine estate, especially if you have high expectations and limited time? Ultimately the answer depends on you – since your idea of the perfect day probably won’t be the same as mine, your best friend’s and definitely not your brother’s – but starting to plan your experience can be straightforward if you give some thought to a few parameters. Here are a few tips and suggestions to help get you started:

The Vibe: Think about how would you like to spend your time while in the tasting room – do you want to find a relaxed spot by the fire and linger over your wine while chatting with friends, or would you prefer a more formal affair where you can taste at the bar while investigating your fancies with intricate questions about the vintage, the viticulture or the wine making techniques?

Informal: Muratie Wine Estate, Stellenbosch – Here you’ll be greeted by the mostly University-student staff who run the tasting room with a friendly, welcoming spirit, keeping the terroir-driven wine flowing as much as the conversation. Best of all, they seem to enjoy the experience as much as you do, even after closing time. Noteworthy wine: 2007 Shiraz, awarded 92-points by the Wine Enthusiast.

Formal: Kanonkop Wine Estate, Stellenbosch – Recognized as one of South Africa’s top makers of Pinotage and as one of South Africa’s top wine estates by the John Platter Guide. The tasting room is polished and gleaming, the attendants well-informed. Noteworthy wine: 2008 Kanonkop Kadette, awarded 91-points by Wine Enthusiast; 2006 Kanonkop Paul Sauer, ranked five-stars by the John Platter Guide.

The Wine: Since different regions excel in different types of wine depending on the terroir you should consider whether you have a particular type of wine you’d like to explore and may help you to choose the right area for you – cool and coastal for Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc, or warm and sunny for rich berry reds. If the region isn’t a good indicator, perhaps try specialist wine farms who take great care and pride in your preferred tipple:

Method Cap Classique: Cabriére Estate, Franschhoek – One of South Africa’s premier sparkling wine estates, the tasting room is set below ground level and view of the cellar further below creates a cozy feeling. If it’s a sunny day, enjoy your bubbly on the front lawn while taking in the towering views of the Franschhoek Pass. Noteworthy wine: Cuvée Reserve, 5+ years on the lees.

Chardonnay: Jordan Wine Estate, Stellenbosch – Off the beaten track, the road leading to Jordan takes you past farms and fields creating the feeling that you’re away in the countryside. Enjoy a leisurely tasting on the shady deck while taking in the view of the lake and the mountains. Noteworthy wines: 2006 Jordan Chardonnay and 2007 Nine Yards Chardonnay, both awarded 90-points by Wine Spectator.

The Personality: The architecture, surrounding landscape, views and general personality of a place can leave a big impression on your exerience so if you think carefully about what you’re in the mood for you’ll probably have a better time. To highlight just a few there are the Grand Dames, flanked by the legacy of winemaking history, and there are new players inspired by a cosmopolitan playfulness and design culture:

Grand Dame: Vergelegen Estate, Somerset West – An understated rare find –Vergelegen was founded in 1685 and is complete with historic buildings, 17 themed gardens, a 1,000-year old Camphor Forest, some of the Cape’s most highly regarded wines and a legacy of intrigue. Noteworthy wines: 2004 Stellenbosch V, awarded 92-points, the 2003 Stellenbosch flagship Red Blend, awarded 93-points, and the 2005 White blend, awarded 94-points, all by the International Wine Cellar; 2008 Vergelegen White, awarded 5-stars by the John Platter Guide.

Cosmopolitan Player: Delaire Graff Estate, Stellenbosch – Set at the top of the Helshoogte Mountain Pass, it would be easy for Delaire to rely on the view alone to draw a crowd yet no expense has been spared at creating a premier tasting experience in a luxurious setting including calming water features, original artworks, custom-made leather furniture and one of the wineland’s most renowned restaurants. Noteworthy wine: 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, awarded 5-stars by the John Platter Guide.

The Approach: Sometimes the approach a winemaker takes towards the final product is evident in the feeling of the estate. There are the stylistic icons, where every detail is attended to and quality is the holy grail, perhaps like the approach taken in Michelin Star kitchens, and there are others where the feeling is more relaxed, perhaps like the vibe in a warm and inviting country kitchen:

Michelin Star: De Trafford Wines, Stellenbosch – Hidden away at the end of a quiet country road, De Trafford sits among overgrown greenery and bougainvillea. A boutique winery, attention to detail is critical and everything is done by hand – including picking the grapes, filling and corking the bottles. Noteworthy wine: 2006 De Trafford Perspective and 2006 De Trafford Shiraz, both ranked five-stars by the John Platter Guide.

Country Kitchen: Springfield Estate, Robertson – Set on a relaxed farm in Robertson, Springfield is family-run and well away from the hustle and bustle. The tasting room and cellar are bordered by a dam framed by mountain views and you’re welcome to spend time with your own picnic basket under the shade trees. A short meander and you’ll no doubt meet the resident flock of ducks and herd of springbok. Noteworthy wine: The Méthod Ancienne Cabernet Sauvignon is made from a single vineyard using native yeast fermentation and spends two-years on the lees plus a minimum of two more years in the bottle.

The Setting: Sometimes you feel like getting away from it all – maybe it’s a simple trip to the country you’re dreaming of, or maybe you want something more glamorous – like a trip overseas. Even if you can’t indulge in a full-blown holiday, you can spend time at a destination estate and start to feel like you have – if only for a few hours:

French Château: Waterford Estate, Stellenbosch – Visitors are greeted by neat rows of citrus groves leading to the steps of the winery, designed in the style of the classic Bordeaux châteaus of France. The inner courtyard and a lovely fountain make a pleasant setting for your tasting – if you’re feeling like something sweet, try the unique chocolate and wine pairing. Noteworthy wine: ’03 Kevin Arnold Shiraz, awarded 91 points by Wine Spectator.

Rural Classic: Rustenberg Estate, Stellenbosch – As if historical significance and top quality wines were not enough, Rustenberg’s picture is completed by a beautiful setting 2-kilometers down an idyllic road lined with babbling brooks, overgrown oaks, and happily grazing cattle. Noteworthy wine: 2006 John X Merriman, a red-blend, awarded 91 points by Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar and the Wine & Spirits Magazine; 2008 Chardonnay, awarded 90-points by Wine Spectator; 2007 Rustenberg Stellenbosch Syrah, awarded five-stars by the John Platter Guide.


  1. WOW!
    Vergelegen, Kanonkop & Rustenberg.. some of my very favorites.


  2. Mine, too! Not only nice in the bottle but really, well worth a visit! One could really spend a day at Vergelegen - lovely gardens you can enjoy at length... thanks for reading!

  3. Theresa, this is great and accurate and fun – all your descriptions and characterizations are spot on – me and my colleagues[ looking over my shoulders] like the lay out and the wording and, once again, the accuracy.
    Next time you come out, please give me a call the day before so I can look after you, unless I have done so incognito during one of your visits.
    We feel very honoured to be included in your views on the beautiful Cape winelands.

    Good luck with your writing – it is uplifting to come in touch with the spirit of a content and adventurous person, especially at the end of a rather chaotic Monday.

    Hildegard von Arnim

    Public Relations & Sales
    Cabriere, Franschhoek
    South Africa

  4. Dear Theresa
    Thanks for the positive posting and glad you enjoyed your visit to us.
    Kind Regards
    David Trafford.

    De Trafford Wines (Pty) Ltd
    PO Box 495

  5. Dear Theresa
    Thank you so much for this wonderful email and for including Waterford on your blog- I really appreciate it and cannot thank you enough. Could you please send us your address - we'd like to send you a gift. Have a lovely day.
    Kind Regards

  6. Dear Theresa
    Thank you for taking the time to visit us and featuring us on your Blogspot. I am glad you felt at home and appreciated our wines that we produce.As you would have noticed we are totally committed to producing classic terroir driven wines with character.
    Kind Regards
    Rijk Melck, Muratie

  7. Dear Theresa,
    Thank you for your kind support!
    Kind Regards,
    Tanja, Delaire

  8. Thank you Theresa!
    Kind regards,Dave

  9. Dear Theresa
    It's always wonderful to hear from someone who has had a great experience on Kanonkop. We appreciate your mentioning us in your blog.
    Best regards, Jonita Maske

  10. Dear Theresa
    Have just returned from Botswana and saw your very kind blog - thanks, it is greatly appreciated. If ever you are again in this region please give me a call so we can set up an "informal" tasting and discussion - and I did like your very classic discriptions.
    Best regards, Johann Krige