Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tasting the Good Life at Waterkloof Wine Estate

On the scale of romantic daydreams, few wine estates let your expectations soar as high as Waterkloof does. Before you even arrive you have visions that maybe, just for one day, you can feel like a millionaire, meandering the in the vineyard, taking in the view, nibbling on artisanal cheese and sampling world-class wine. “This is the good life,” you might say to trusty Jeeves while gazing out the window, “by golly, this is the good life indeed.”

The windows at Waterkloof are no ordinary windows – no, no – they are 10-meter tall walls of green glass set into a concrete frame that form a work of modern architecture set proudly on the slopes of the Schapenberg. Vineyards surround the building, rising 300 dramatic meters above sea level, against the backdrop of the Hottentots-Holland and Helderberg Mountains beyond. From inside, the open plan space feels decadent – and with a view like this you can’t help but stand a little taller. A section of the dining area peaks out farther from the building – seeming to float in midair – greedily taking an extra helping of the view. The tasting area, defined by leather loungers, is centrally placed. The gravitational cellar, set behind another pane of glass, gives you the feeling you’re observing a rare species in very a glamorous aquarium focused on the wonders of another kind of liquid altogether.

I had always wanted to visit Waterkloof so when the opportunity to enjoy a tasting and Ploughman’s lunch with my dearest presented itself, I jumped for it. Better yet – we were also going to explore the vineyards on a two-hour meander by horseback – part of a special seasonal package. The timing couldn’t have been better – in the last few weeks before the silly season I was feeling like a getaway more than ever.

At last, the day came. We arrived at Orion Stables & Riding Academy where we would begin our ride, a loop from the stables to Waterkloof and back again. We met our guide, Monique, who introduced us to our horses – or “mounts,” as they say. The wind was blowing and whipped my hair wildly – I felt like I was caught in the draft of a giant outdoor hair dryer – and this was not helping my mood.

I was feeling a little anxious.

You see, I had only done this once before. And she was standing right in front of me – looking down at me, towering over me. She was so much bigger than I thought. She stared at me with those dark, soft eyes, and waited for me to make the first move. Her name is Monami, a former world-class show jumper now enjoying her retirement in the Cape wine lands – something many humans dream of but never attain. Our guide assured me she’s a gentle thing – and she was, sweet as pie. We met and I took my place in the saddle. While we waited for the others I talked with her, “Nice girl,” I said, “Beautiful, girl. My, just look at the view, it’s the Cape Floral Kingdom before us.” We began our journey and carried on talking in this way, or at least I carried on talking in this way, as we went.

The vines were shining in the sun, glowing shades of green and yellow. My mind wandered. I felt like I was in a scene from the pioneer days – wafts of the past flickered across the landscape. These fields, set up high with a perfect few of False Bay, were once used more than 300-years ago as a lookout by Willem Adriaan van der Stel, once an unscrupulous Governor of the Cape who sent his men to be the first to spot the trading ships entering the bay. The ships would be in need of fresh supplies and whoever got there first would make the sale. For competing Cape farmers, it was a race but van der Stel’s view gave him an unfair advantage. By the time the rest of the farmers arrived at the beach, no doubt huffing, puffing and sweating from hustling their ox cars laden with goods, he would already be closing shop, counting the money he’d already made and looking forward to a breezy ride home.

I woke from my daydream and I was back in the moment, the vineyards all around. It was beautiful spending time among the vines and it was quiet – so very quiet. I felt only the rhythm of our gentle pace, the sun on my skin and the feeling of nature in my spirit. Off in the distance the mountains seemed like an impenetrable wall, rising steeply, and the hills in the distance seem to gradually plunge to kneel at the base of the valley.

I could see Waterkloof then, not too far away. The structure of the building was a contrast to the land – hard edges and materials, and it shone in the morning light. We were greeted by Christiaan, the farm manager, who helped us show our horses to their resting place for some fresh water and hay snacks.

We were shown to the tasting area and joined by Sonja – a bubbly and vibrant lady who guided us through the tasting menu with friendly enthusiasm and technical detail. The wines were in the European-style – not overly fruity. We made our way through the Sauvignon Blancs – trying to decide which one was our favourite – a toss-up between the ever so slightly oaked Circumstance, still tight with mineral tones, and the Waterkloof, crisp and flinty, normally only available in the restaurant. The cheese platter arrived and we sampled the wines over again – pairing this one with that one – still trying to pick a favourite while indulgence melted in our mouths. After the whites we tried the Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvedre, a dry rosé, playfully pink – a good choice for a Saturday’s lunch. New globe glasses were presented as we moved into the reds. My favorites were the Waterkloof Cabernet Sauvignon, a big wine – smooth, dark and juicy – and the Waterkloof Shiraz, a good balance of peppery spice and smooth berry notes –a special occasion wine, I think.

Christiaan was at the door, ready to take us back to our horses for the return leg of our journey. We climbed the hill and saddled up. Before turning to go I patted my mount, Monami for one of the last times, sighed at the beauty of the experience and picked up our conversation where I left off. “Yes,” I said, gazing at the landscape, “This is the good life. By golly, this is the good life indeed.”

The Details:

· Located outside Somerset West on the M9 Sir Lowry’s Pass Village Road

· The horse riding experience costs R420 per person, including wine and a meat and cheese platter; to book contact Orion Stables & Riding Academy at 021 8581938

· To reserve your table at Waterkloof Restaurant contact 021 858 1491 or email:

· For more information visit or call 021 858 1292

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