My company Cape Fusion Tours focuses on offering wine & gourmet experiences of the Cape region South Africa. As all of my tours are private, each day tour gets tailor made to the client’s interests. Last week I had returning clients who had booked to do two more wine tours with me on their stay in South Africa. It is great fun to have guys who have been before as it takes the preassure out of having to go through all of the history and the background of our country. We can just focus on the vino and the stories behind each of the estates. Sharon and Dave have a passion for great red wine and the brief was to introduce them to some more of the Cape’s top wine estates and to also include a gourmet lunch with a great view.
I am adding their experience to the blog in order to give some inspiration to those who come and explore our winelands on their own, as well as for those who are planning to do a wine tour. In addition I have also done a listing of some of my favourite wine farms and added it to this site – this will assist you in selecting which estates appeal to your interests. To link through to Pam’s favourite wine farm’s – click here. It is always best to plan your day out in our wine regions – if you just drive, you will only experience a very small part of what we offer over here! So print out the maps and get plotting! Note that on most days out in the wine regions, you will manage to only get to 3 or 4 estates.
Sharon and Dave’s day out:
We started our day with an appointment at De Toren. De Toren is one of the top wine estates in South Africa. They focus on producing two red blends – the Fusion V and Z. De Toren welcome wine enthusiasts to make an appointment and come and experience their wine philosophy and their wines. Each visit is supervised by either the owner, the wine maker, the assistant wine maker or the viticulturist.
Today we were hosted by Charles – the assistant wine maker. Charles had just returned from working on the California wine harvest and it was good to see him home again. De Toren are extremely passionate about using minimum intervention in their cellar and as such their wine making philosophy is to not use pumping – they have a lift tower which moves the wine up so that gravity can be used for moving the wine. In addition they use a large amount of labourers to do the harvest by hand, sort extensively by hand and then use a basket press. On the viticulture side, they are following the guidelines of BWI (The Bidiversity wine initiative). This initiative aims to make the wine industry “more green” ie move away from indiscriminate use of large amounts of chemicals in farming. This looks at using alternative methods where possible. Through this the farmers are starting to see life returning to their soils – the earthworms are back! De Toren are also extremely careful about checking the “vigour” of their plants. Through aerial photography they can tell where vines are struggling – possibly due to slight soil differences. This allows them to replant where plants are struggling using different root stock. All of the tours I have experiences at De Toren are fascinating and are fairly technical. Across all those that do it – their pride in where they work shines through – as does their passion. It is well worth making an appointment to visit them. Visit http://www.de-toren.com for more information.
Next we moved onto a small volume boutique winery – Grangehurst. Grangehurst specializes in producing red wines and to me it feels like you can taste Jeremy Walker’s passion in every bottle. You are warmly welcomed to the small tasting room on the estate. Note that as they are very small they do not open their entire range every day – it is however well worth while stocking up on their wines – even if you can’t taste them all! This is a little gem and is slightly off the beaten track – but it is well worth deviating to experience them! For more information visit: www.grangehurst.co.za
Neil Ellis New Tasting Room and Cellar – Hellshoogte Pass Stellenbosch
My clients had been enjoying Neil Ellis’s wines in the UK and as such requested a visit to this estate. I knew that Neil Ellis was busy moving premises and as such had been keeping a beady eye to see whether it would re-open prior to their visit. Happily it did re-open. The new cellar’s appearance is extremely severe – almost a cross between industrial and modern. The tasting area is right next to the reception – as such you get to experience every incoming call while tasting – I found it a bit distracting. In addition the tasting staff do not give a very big description on each wine. On arrival you are presented with a list and told – select 5 wines to taste. This is always my pet hate – how would someone who is not very familiar with an estates wines know what to chose?? Surely it would be so much better to chat to the clients and discover what they enjoy and then recommend which of your wines would be to their taste – most people would not taste more then 5 anyway!! In addition Neil Ellis’s top wines are not available for tasting – this does not differ from their last tasting room – but is still a disappointment anyway. I understand the logic as these are produced in small quantities – however – how about charging a higher fee for wine enthusiasts who are keen to try them. I found the experience cold, the building cold and the clients were in and out of there within 10 minutes. Sadly I don’t think this was a brand building experience. This does not distract from the fact that Neil Ellis’s red wines are terrific and that I love his cab. So perhaps include this as a stop if you want to stock up on wine.
Our next stop was lunch at Delaire-Graaf estate. Note the pictures at the top of this post are of the view from Delaire – which is gob smacking!
The Delaire estate was purchased by billionaire Laurence Graaf in 2003 (of Graaf Jewellers fame and fortune). His aim was to turn this estate into one of the leading wine farms, restaurants and hotels in South Africa. Substantial investment has been made in all three areas and the results are incredible! The estate reopened to the public again last year with the launch of the new Delaire Graaf restaurant. The estate is located on the mountain pass between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek and has one of the prettiest views available. If you wish to spoil yourself or to have a romantic lunch in the winelands – this is a special treat. (http://www.delaire.co.za/experience.html) A renowned British interior decorator did the decor for the restaurant, the gardens were landscaped by Keith Kirsten – South Africa’s top landscape architects and a top South African chef was appointed to run the restaurant. Add to this a substantial investment in top local artists, a tasting room that boasts incredible views, awesome interiors and a real ceremony when presenting its wines and you have a winning visitor experience! A few months ago the hotel opened its doors. The hotel boasts beautiful modern suits overlooking the valley on the Stellenbosch town side. Incredibly beautiful with really warm and passionate staff – if you are a 5* budget – this is worth checking out! In addition a new restaurant called Indochine has opened in the hotel. This is also open to the public subject to availability. Here the South African chef is inspired by Eastern flavours – the portions may be small – but each mouthful is a taste sensation! The view here is also absolutely amazing.
Sharon and Dave got a front table at the main Delaire restaurant – they loved the view and really enjoyed their meal. For locals we find the restaurant a little bit on the expensive side. When questioned on how they found the prices – they advised that it was the same as eating out at one of their local restaurants on a Saturday night in the UK – so they felt it was excellent value for money!
As they enjoyed the view and relaxed into lunch, dessert and coffee – we did not have time to do much more in the afternoon. As such we stopped for just one more tasting.
Warwick Wine Estate:
Warwick will always be a favourite of mine due to its history. It is owned by Norma Ratcliffe who was one of our country’s first female winemakers. Norma is of Canadian origin and faced an uphill battle entering into what was a “male” dominated industry. When South Africa was able to start selling its wines overseas again after 1990 – her wines were the first South African wines to score more then 90 points in the US wine spectator magazine. A position that Warwick’s Three Cape Ladies (a “Cape” red blend that includes the local varietal pinotage) and Trilogy (a Bordeaux Style red wine blend) have managed to pretty much maintain since then. Today Norma is mostly retired and her son Mike heads up the estate. He has turned the estate into a really worthwhile experience to stop and spend some time. They offer picnics, games for kids to play while they are there, games for adults to play too – like Boulle -a Big 5 wine safari that takes you through the different wine varietals on the farm on a game drive vehicle and stops at a high point to enjoy the view and a taste of their wines….so take the whole family! www.warwickwine.com
I hope the guidelines inspired you – there is lots to do in our wine regions – so check out my list of favourite wine estates on my website!