The long open road continued and the wide arid spaces of the Karoo finally gave way to rugged mountains, Du Toitskloof Pass and the Huguenot Tunnel- finally revealing the fertile valleys of the Cape Winelands… and finally our destination, Stellenbosch.
Stellenbosch is an historic town, founded in 1679 by Simon van der Stel, Govenor of the Cape Colony; it’s a student town, a town with a vibey cafe culture and one that is central to the Stellenbosch Wine Route. Our visit was not just about wine, although it did play rather an important part- as wine does in this region.
We took time to stroll through the oak-lined avenues bordered by water furrows, we visited the ‘Moederkerk’ and the Village Museum, strolled through the gardens of the Theological Seminary, had a coffee at Schoon’s De Companje and popped into Oom Samie Se Winkel for some old-style trading store shopping. Clearly we needed more time, but the wine farms of the region beckoned.
An interesting aside from wine, is a visit to Rozendal– vinaigrier extraordinaire, and family farm of the Ammann family. These botanical vinegars start out as an organic ‘good, well-balanced’ Bordeaux blend, after a long slow process, the vinegar is then infused with individual herbs in small oak barrels. The result is a unique Balsamic-style vinegar with wonderful flavours such as fynbos, green tea, lavendar and hibiscus.
Our vinegar tasting with Alexander Ammann revealed the subtle nuances of these wonderful flavours, how they enhance even the simplest of cuisine and have countless medicinal properties, including reducing the body’s pH – a good thing too as we were about to go wine tasting, and wine is best experienced under ‘positive circumstances’ with a balanced pH!
Not only does Stellenbosch have the oldest wine route in South Africa, it has a number of wine farms that are commited to sustainable wine production. Our first stop was the Ken Forrester Vineyards, famous for its Chenin Blanc (Ken Forrester is often referred to as the ‘King of Chenin’) and being committed to doing wine the ‘old fashioned’ way. They use no herbicides or pesticides and do everything by hand, from tilling the ground to pruning and harvesting- a very labour intensive way of farming, but one that provides additional employment thereby improving the quality of life of their community.
Enjoying the relaxed environment of the outside tasting room, we decided on tasting the Chenins, starting with the Petit, an elegantly crafted everyday drinking wine. I loved the golden hue and aromas of the full bodied Old Vine Reserve, the soft flavours of honeycomb and caramel had me wanting more, but it was the iconic (and most expensive) FMC that seduced me, its rich layers of dried apricot, vanilla and honey tantalising and the floral bouquet quite intoxicating.
Just down the road is restaurant 96 Winery Road… why 96 you would ask? It’s the founding year of the Forrester family restaurant and to quote their website, ‘the beginning of good fortune’. It certainly was good fortune to be able to experience their hearty country-style cuisine and more fabulous Ken Forrester wine.
This time we opted for the Renegade, a classic Rhone style blend that complemented our choice of duck and cherry pie and the ‘Hollandse’ pepper fillet perfectly. My duck and cherry pie was as delicious as I expected, the richness of the duck meat combining perfectly with the sweet tartiness of the cherries, the port sauce and the perfectly cooked puff pastry, and my hubby’s fillet perfectly aged and cooked to perfection. 96 Winery is a popular choice with both locals and visitors and its easy to understand why with its comfortable and unpretentious decor, delicious food… and the extensive wine list.
Spier deserves more than just a one-night stand, but even with just one night she really pulled out all the stops. Her flirtacious behaviour started at check-in where we were welcomed with a glass of crisp stylish Spier Sauvignon Blanc, the beautifully appointed and spacious room with its ‘green’ credentials made the proposition that much sweeter, and the fabulous food paired with award winning wines sealed the deal.
Spier is one of the oldest wine farms in Stellenbosch, with a history dating back to 1692. A walk around the property reveals a number of old Cape Dutch style buildings, expansive lawns and beautiful old trees- there are 21 gables to look out for, a resored slave bell and a number of intriguing sculptures to be found.
Spier’s commitment to supporting local artists is evident by the wonderful art that adorns the walls in many of their buildings as well as their Creative Block project that helps support artists by providing an outlet for their work- collectors can choose any number of blocks and hang them together building an artwork that is both unique and original and ‘greater than the sum of its parts’.
Our dining experience introduced us to Spier Hotel’s ethos of sourcing only the freshest local produce available… our menu included delicious cold smoked rainbow trout from Franschhoek, wonderfully tasty free range chicken and superbly tender Farmer Angus 28 day matured rib-eye steak from the Spier farm- each one a culinary work of art. Our starter was paired with 21 Gables Sauvignon Blanc, the chicken with Creative Block 2, and the steak with both Creative Block 3 and Creative Block 5, as our waiter Andile suggested the 3 and our sommelier, Obrey, the 5!
Our dessert, a pecan nut praline chocolate tart was paired with the 21 Gables Pinotage, but I guess it ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’, as Obrey also introduced us to the dessert wine Dancing In Other Words, a Noble Late Harvest – the bottle as beautiful as the smooth honey coloured nectar it dispensed.
We weren’t done with the Stellenbosch Wine Route just yet, as we had a date high on the slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain. Delheim is where the Sperling family has been making beautiful wines for decades, its where history and technology meet, as is evident by the concrete tanks in the cellar completed in 1944 by Italian prisoners-of-war and the sophisticated water recycling system that sees 250 cubic metres of water recycled every day. We were guided through the production cellar with its concrete tanks and large oak barrels and the old vat cellar with its intriquitely carved old vats and an original bottle of the legendary Spatzendreck.
As luck would have it Victor, son of ‘Papa Spatz’ Sperling, joined us at our wine and cupcake pairing- adding a whole new dimension to our wine tastings thus far. I loved how the exotic flavour of the pomegranate and vanilla cupcake complemented the delicate fruitiness of the Pinotage Rose, and how the tones of lemon and honey of the Chenin Blanc Wild Ferment worked with the rooibos… the Pinotage with the farm grown pumpkin and the Gewurztraminer with the traditional Makataan, a wild grown, local melon.
As we had time on our hands, Victor offered to take us up the Simonsberg Mountain. From here there were expansive views over the Stellenbosch valley and much of the Greater Simonsberg Conservancy, established in 2004 to protect and conserve the area through sustainable practices- Delheim was one of the five founding members. Sadly it was not only the views we got to see, but also the extensive damage caused by the fire that raged through the valley for five days earlier this year, emphasising the need for sustainability and care of the land.
That’s the thing about farms that have been in families for generations, or a good red wine that takes years to mature… or towns that are centuries old with buildings that could tell a tale or two – it’s the sustainability, the ‘long run’ that makes it what it is. That it’s the ‘tale or two’, the ‘love story’ of life that makes a destination great – Stellenbosch and her wine route have both by the bucket load and clearly 24 hrs will never be enough!
Many thanks to Destinate for organising, and hosting us during our 24 hrs in Stellenbosch