Friday, June 17, 2011

150 Wine Farms, 40 Years of Perfection, 1 Amazing Wine Festival

From oysters, whales, jazz and daisies to cheese, olives, food and wine, it seems we have a festival for just about anything these days. Filled with stand after stand, sometimes our big day out turns into a big crowd-induced headache! But thankfully, there are still a few festivals where a truly authentic experience can still be had.

That’s right, it’s time to save the date for the 10th annual Stellenbosch Wine Festival, to be held 28-31 July at the Paul Roos Centre, preceded by Wine Week, from 22-31 July, when visitors can partake in rare and exclusive cellar door experiences at participating estates. This year will be the most exuberant celebration ever, marking the Stellenbosch American Express ® Wine Routes’ 40th anniversary and its unwavering focus on something that distinguishes not only the Cape, but South Africa, on a world stage. What’s that, you ask?


Of course even the grandest of wines would feel lonely without its two best friends in tow – Great Food and Even Better Company – and visitors can look forward to the trio during the festivities. Not about big crowds, expo stands or secret charges, visitors can experience an honest good time spent indulging in conversation with their favourite winemakers, swirling up to 500 different wines (selectively, of course) and irresistible winter warmers – hearty meals planned to pair to perfection. Visitors have the rare treat of enjoying their favourite iconic estates – from Delheim, Simonsig and Kanonkop to Neethlingshof, Le Riche, De Trafford, Warwick Estate and many more – either under one roof, or at the cellar door.

With so much to look forward to, I spent some time chatting with Annareth Bolton, CEO of the Stellenbosch American Express® Wine Routes, about what makes Stellenbosch such a special place, and what visitors can look forward to at this year’s festival:

With 150 farms, the Stellenbosch American Express® Wine Routes offer something for almost everyone. Tell me about some of its most memorable highlights?

Being the heart of the Cape Winelands, we are seen as the pioneers of wine tourism. The Cape Dutch architecture is a big draw card, while the modern tasting rooms and restaurants have inspired many visitors to come back time and again. Spending only one day in Stellenbosch, you can taste wine with a rugby legend, go on a game drive, enjoy lunch at a top 10 restaurant, try your hand at fly-fishing, visit a wine museum and mingle with the locals.

The Wine Route has grown immensely since being formed 40-years ago – what are some of the most exciting innovations since the early days?

In 1971, when the wine route was formed, no tasting or purchasing was allowed at wine farms. There were no road signs or maps, let alone restaurants and guests houses on farms. This really was the start of wine tourism in South Africa, and many have followed suit. We now have hundreds of thousands of visitors, which led to a thriving industry which contributes to job creation, skills development and international recognition. When I started the Sundays in Stellenbosch campaign five years ago, only a handful of farms and restaurants were open, while we now have over 65 farms open on a Sunday, offering kids entertainment, informative wine-tastings, hiking-trails, picnics and world-class restaurants. Social responsibility is at the order of the day, with crèches for farm children, local employment, and a drive towards supporting local business. It really is a winning model for all.

Stellenbosch was recently recognised as the “2011 Wine Town of the Year” by Sweden’s prestigious Munskänkarna wine club, the first time a city outside of the European Union has been bestowed such an honour. What do you believe helped distinguish Stellenbosch above all the other contenders?

This is a truly wonderful honour and opportunity for Stellenbosch. South Africa currently holds 20,5% of the market share in the Swedish wine market, making us the largest exporter to their country. We are a world leader in wine tourism, with annual awards bestowed to our members. I really believe that my predecessors at this organisation have done a great job of promoting our excellent wines – a study has shown that consumers recognise Stellenbosch as a wine brand before South Africa. Now our focus is on promoting all that surrounds the bottle of wine, in other words the tourism offerings. We are picking the fruits of our hard work, and this recognition as one of the world’s greatest wine destinations, is well deserved!

Sustainability is gradually becoming a more prominent consideration both in the eyes of the industry and the consumer – how are the members of the Stellenbosch Wine Route embracing sustainability – and do you believe it impacts upon the quality of the wine?

Stellenbosch soil and properties are some of the most expensive in the world. It would be much easier to develop it all into housing and golf estates, but that is not the legacy we want to leave for the ones following in our footsteps. I think farming in Stellenbosch is one of the hardest financial things you can be busy with at the moment, but also the most rewarding. Someone once said that the people from Stellenbosch will be disappointed when they get to heaven! We have a great responsibility, which we take very seriously, and once again we are leading the industry when it comes to carbon neutrality, solar energy, bio-diversity, restoring indigenous plants and trees, and looking after our wildlife. A truly inspiring town to live in!

These days there are many wine festivals – tell me about some of the unique experiences visitors can have, that help make this festival the one that is “not to be missed.”

The Stellenbosch Wine Festival is the oldest in the country, and this year we are celebrating its 10th birthday in its current format at Paul Roos Centre. It is a wonderful opportunity to taste up to 500 wines, all under one roof. The opening night, the wine connoisseurs evening, is where you can meet the winemakers, in a relaxed and warm atmosphere. All the wines on show are available to purchase at special festival prices, in order for you to stock up you collection. Friday is our social evening, with live entertainment, food demonstrations and signature dishes from local restaurants participating in our gourmet lane. Saturday is our busiest day, while Sunday is family day, with a secure and fun environment for the kiddies, while mom and dad enjoy good company and music. We have shuttles from the V&A Waterfront, Canal Walk, Tygervalley, Paarl, Franschhoek and Somerset West, enabling all to arrive safely back home. We offer historical walks through town, fantastic accommodation specials, and the restaurants are all ready to welcome you with warm winter dishes and roaring fires.

If you could name just two things that make Stellenbosch special to you – what would they be?

The mountains surrounding our town make this a very special place to be. There is always something to do in our town – whether it’s attending a production in one of our theatres, live music, art exhibitions, mountain biking, wine tasting, shopping, drinking coffee in one of the many corner cafés, you will never be anything but inspired and entertained.


  • Tickets to the Stellenbosch Wine Festival range from R120 per person per day for online bookings (in advance, at or R140 at the door, to R350 for the Golden Pass for the entire festival. The entry fee to the opening of the festival, an exclusive Wine Connoisseurs Evening from 16h00 till 21h00 on Thursday, 28 July, is R160 per person for online bookings or R180 at the door and includes gourmet delights
  • Whether your wallet is feeling light or loaded, you’re bound to find an accommodation packages that suits – click here for a comprehensive list
  • For more information call 021 886 4310 or visit

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Perfectly Posh Petite Pongrácz

It could have been a scene out of a James Bond movie. Sunset over Cape Town, onboard a yacht, surrounded by beautiful people, fresh oysters and Pongrácz bubbly on ice. A view to kill. One could be forgiven for thinking 007 himself might emerge from the water, straight from Russia with love, and board the vessel in his dripping scuba gear, especially since he is in fact in town, filming the latest in the series, Carte Blanche.

Alas, it was not to be.

Not that I minded – who needs the spy who loved me when you already feel like a millionaire? It’s not every day you get to cruise out towards the horizon with a flute of Pongrácz in hand, taking in the view of the V&A Waterfront, Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and Signal Hill.

It was a spectacular celebration onboard the Tigger Too, a 55 foot luxury catamaran cruiser. Guests were served elegant canapés complemented by the über posh Petite Pongrácz, the new 375ml sized bottle that put the sparkle into any occasion, whether for bigger affairs when they ensure each glass served is chilled and crispy fresh, or your eyes only.

Eventually the bliss had to come to an end. One thing’s for sure, with times like these you don’t need to live twice.

The Details

  • The singularly noble Pongrácz and Pongrácz Rosé were named South Africa’s top Non-vintage and Rosé in the highly contested 2010 Wine Amorim Cap Classique Challenge
  • An exceptional blend of the classic Champagne varietals, Pinot noir and Chardonnay, Pongrácz is set apart by its crisp green apple tones and the nuttiness of freshly baked bread. The Rosé with its salmon hue is enchantingly dry with a wonderful foamy mouthful of black berry fruit and delicate yeasty notes that balances superbly with a dry palate.
  • The Pongrácz 375ml is available at approximately R58 and the Rosé at around R68 per bottle at selected wine shops, trendy bars and restaurants. For more information, visit
  • The Tigger 2 Royale is a 55 foot luxury catamaran cruiser based in Cape Town’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. It features a beautifully streamlined exterior and plush white leather interior. To plan your own Petit Pongrácz Party visit

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Newton Johnson's Dance with Pinot Noir

For Pinot Noir enthusiasts, the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley near Hermanus is like the Garden of Eden with more award-winning Pinots made here than any other place in South Africa. This is a true feat considering Pinot, known to some as the “heartbreak grape,” is the most difficult variety of grape, presenting challenges both in the vineyard and in the cellar. The climate of the valley plays an obvious role in the success its wine estates but I wondered if there wasn’t something more to the story so I spent an afternoon chatting with two of the Valley’s most renowned winemakers, Gordon and Nadia Newton Johnson.

From the start of our chat it became evident that Pinot Noir has captured not only their attention, but also their hearts. The couple spoke passionately, describing it as finicky yet elegant, beautiful, soft and expressive of the terroir where it is grown.

Nadia: “Once you’ve worked with Pinot there’s no turning back – you either fall in love with it or you...” Gordon: “... or you don’t understand it and push it aside.” Nadia finishes, “You just decide, ‘no’. But if its grabbed you – that’s it.”

Pinot’s expression of terroir is the one characteristic the Newton Johnson’s focus on the most, acknowledging that terroir differentiates their Pinot from others produced in the valley:

Gordon: “I think we’ve gone further to discover what Pinot will do on soils within the valley. There are different expressions between the Pinot that we’re making compared to what other wine estates in the Valley are making.” Nadia continues, “Clay soil holds a lot of nutrients and iron – it almost forms the backbone of the wine, gives it a dark, bigger kind of structure. But our soils are a little lighter, not as much clay. As soon as you take Pinot to lighter soils it becomes more fragrant, almost prettier, more beautiful. I think that’s where we are with our Pinots.”

Not only is the couple single-minded about their passion for Pinot, but also towards their hands-on approach to winemaking:

Nadia: “Sometimes people don’t understand two winemakers. When it comes to the styling of the wine we make those decisions together. Gordon, “We’re interchangeable.” Nadia, “That’s the thing – we’re so interchangeable. Between the paperwork and whatever work needs to be done in the winery it doesn’t matter which one of us does it. And we actually do the work physically ourselves – we believe that all those little bits that you put in make the difference between making a great wine or just a good wine.”Gordon: “Some of our wines are expensive, we’re getting more expensive. We feel we’ve got to be hands-on to maintain that level and take it further. We’re not just winery owners, we are wine makers. We always want to be that – we always want to have that connection with the winery and the vineyards.”

Thinking of the future, the couple are focused on developing more sustainable processes on the farm, like water conservation, and are moving away from the use of artificial influences like pesticides, fertilizers and added yeast. Although more challenging, they prefer a more natural approach which they believe will positively impact the soils in the long term, and help create an even more unique expression of terroir in their wines.

Gordon, “Water is a big part of sustainability, and we have a whole water treatment plant here. It takes 9 litres of water to make 1 litre of wine, so any waste water we create, we recycle it and put back into the water table. We also keep away from pesticides and prefer to treat our insect pests biologically with the release of natural predators, like Lady Birds and wasps. We’re also moving away from synthetic fertilizers – and are moving towards using the waste on our farm instead. These are all small steps towards becoming more sustainable.” Nadia, “We need to keep our soils alive and strong – that’s the most important thing. And as we become more sustainable we have noticed a major change in our wine – it makes us more individual. It’s really amazing to see how far you can take it – to see the qualities in the soil that can be expressed by a wine.”

It was an absolute treat to be able to spend time getting to know the Newton Johnsons. The key to their success seems to lie in their passion – passion for Pinot, for what they do, for preserving the land for another generation. If Pinot is a heart-break grape for some it’s certainly not for the Newton Johnsons – for them it’s a love affair, and so it’s no surprise their wine has seen such success. After all, it’s handcrafted with love – and anything made with love tastes better.

Newton Johnson is located in the upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley just outside Hermanus on the R320. Stop in for wine tasting & buying, or have lunch at the stunning Heaven Restaurant with to-die-for-views of the valley. For more information, visit