Treading lightly through the vineyards
A visit to the Cape Winelands is a great way to spend a sunny Saturday, a long weekend or a couple of nights tacked on to a holiday in Cape Town. And recently I was privileged enough to spend four glorious Cap Classique-filled days in the area.
However, even after a very long weekend, I felt like I hadn’t even skimmed the surface of the many wonders that the Winelands has to offer.
With so many places to stay, wines to drink and fresh produce to stuff into my mouth, choosing which farms to visit was a tough decision and one that already had me reaching for the nearest glass of Pinotage. I wanted to visit the farms that cared about what they gave back to the soil, the people and the environment. This treading lightly approach didn’t mean that I visited strictly sustainable or organic establishments, but simply that I chose to visit wine estates that are both making a difference, as well as trying to offer something different.
My first stop was Boschendal, where a thoughtful dinner in my charming room went down a treat after a long day at work; especially when I spotted the bottle of Blanc de Noir reflecting the sun that was setting over the Simonsberg Mountains.
Boschendal was the perfect start to my trip, considering that the first malva pudding ever served in a restaurant was rumoured to have been on that farm in the summer of 1979. And years after that famous dish touched the lips of awe-struck diners, I arrived on Heritage Day just in time for the farm’s 330th birthday bash! Boschendal has an admirable minimum food-miles policy of growing as much of the restaurant’s produce on the farm as possible – a pasture-fed black Angus cattle was on the spit that day, with no packaging or antibiotics included. A herb and veggie garden lies in front of the Werf Restaurant, and any food that is not locally grown or reared is sourced from sustainable small producers in the area.
From Boschendal it was an easy meander down the road to quirky Babylonstoren where Gundula, the resident gardener, introduced me to her pride and joy. As she strolled through the garden of edible greens in her zig-zag skirt and Pippy Longstocking socks, she spoke of how the team at Babylonstoren had nurtured a virtual wasteland into what is now the heart of the farm. This seasonal wonderland is home to laughing ducks that may waddle behind the occasional bride but whose real job is to act as an organic form of pest control by chomping up snails. An insect hotel also ensures that the organic produce from the garden is as fresh on your plate as it was on the bush.
After an early wake-up call followed by a stretch of yoga in the blissful Babylonstoren spa, I left behind the traditional Cape Dutch farms and moved on to the modern setting of Leopard’s Leap. There I indulged in a Culinaria Food and Wine Pairing and, while doing so, it dawned on me that the magic of the Cape Winelands is thanks to the passion of its people. Creating wine is an art form – each grape is lovingly cared for, each wine is tenderly nurtured and every bite of food is that wine’s soulmate – bringing out the best in its character. And La Motte, the sister farm of Leopard’s Leap, also adds another passion to the mix with a museum that features a rotating gallery of local art and is dedicated to Jacob Hendrick Pierneef, whose famous linocut designs adorn the estate’s Pierneef collection of premium wines. La Motte is also a proud champion of the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (now called WWF Conservation Champions) – a collaboration project between the wine industry and conservation sector that recognises farms that are leading the way in production integrity, environmental sustainability and conservation.
And it is this passion for the natural environment that was clearly evident in the Winelands with nearly 90% of South African wine producers now displaying the Intregrity and Sustainability Seal. At Leopard’s Leap, faces lit up at the mere mention of the Cape Leopard Trust, of which they are a sponsor. Jeannie and Anita are doing great work in the Cape Winelands, and beyond, to preserve over 60 Cape leopards that call the area home. A mother leopard with small cubs has even been spotted just up the slopes from the vineyards.
After all the food, a short nap was appreciated in a shiny bedroom complete with feathered lamps at Jordan Wine Estate – a far cry from the famous Cape Dutch gables but a great example of how the traditional and modern have interwoven themselves throughout the area. At Jordan, the natural environment gives each wine its unique appeal and every wine has its own story to tell. The one that stood out for me was the chameleon range, which is inspired by the Cape dwarf chameleon. Proceeds from the wine even go to the Jordan Chameleon Bursary for the conservation of these cute little creatures. I had the pleasure of tasting more of these wines at Jordan Restaurant, which has been voted as one of the country’s top ten restaurants by Eat Out, and is where the famous George Jardin uses local ingredients to create delicious masterpieces.
From Jordan it was on to the ever popular Spier Wine Estate where a visit to Eagle Encounters was definitely on the cards. This wildlife rehabilitation centre rescues birds of prey that have been injured or confiscated, with the aim of rehabilitating then releasing them back into the wild. They have a fantastic 65% success rate and birds that cannot be released due to human imprinting or severe injury make their home at the centre where they contribute towards eco-tourism and education.
The rest of the day at Spier was spent exploring their farm on a Segway tour and indulging at Eight Restaurant. Eight offers a farm-to-table experience with a clever tapas style menu that allowed me to pick and choose from a variety of delights, while I took in the nifty recycled fixtures such as the 10,000 flower-shaped roof fittings that are made from old milk bottles.
My last day brought with it a tour of Stellenbosch by bicycle, courtesy of Adventure Shop. This low carbon emission tourism experience saw me weaving my way through town, learning more about Stellenbosch’s heritage and its Cape Dutch influence. It was then time for a final spot of wine tasting as I cycled from farm to farm while soaking up the breathtaking scenery. To round off the day nicely, we visited what is possibly the most picturesque tasting room in the region at Stark-Condé, and enjoyed hand-crafted chocolates with fine wines at Lanzerac. The cycle back allowed me to work off the fantastic food and wine from the week, and while I stopped to give my tired legs a break, I thought about how lucky I am to live within easy reach of an area so rich in history, culture and culinary delights.
And now the next time that I pick up a bottle of my favourite Sauvignon Blanc, I will know that it has its very own story to tell.
Go horse riding at Boschendal
Take a ride on a Clydesdale – the working (but not too hard) horses. These happy plodders will take you around the farm passing the pasture-fed Angus cattle while you take in the surrounding views of the Drakenstein Valley. With almost half of the farm’s land set aside to conserve the fauna and flora of the Cape Floral Kingdom, overnight guests are encouraged to also explore by mountain bike or on foot.
Vineyard and cellar tours at Jordan
Jordan Wine Estate is a bit off the beaten track but it is worth the extra effort to get there. The tour of the estate’s vineyards by Gary Jordan himself allowed me to take in the fabulous location of Jordan with its 360° views of the Winelands, oceans and even Table Mountain. Finish the tour in the estate’s underground cellar and appreciate how their Chardonnay is made – with a glass of it in hand, of course.
Segway tours at Spier
Enjoy the 300 hectares of biodynamic farming, where mobile chicken coops and pasture-reared Angus cattle are used to fertilise vineyards. Pass by the free-range chickens and whizz past the wastewater treatment plant where all of the farm’s wastewater is recycled, which means that even after the Cape’s driest winter since before I was born, Spier is not even batting an eyelid.
My top picks of where to stay:
Boschendal offers a number of accommodation options – you and 10 friends can even spend time in Cecil John Rhodes’ holiday home playing bowls, dining under the stars and swimming in your very own eco-pool. Franschoek, Paarl and Stellenbosch are all within a 15-minute drive, making Boschendal the perfect base for your ultimate Winelands getaway.
Spier is a great choice for families as there is so much to do at the farm itself, from picnicking with a selection of homemade deli treats, to exploring the educational protea garden or visiting the Eagle Encounters rehabilitation centre. It is also but a hop, skip and a jump away from many of Stellenbosch’s other great farms, markets, restaurants and shops.
My top picks of where to eat:
This is the locally sourced strawberry on top of Stellenbosch’s culinary collection. The menu changes daily and is prepared by a team of seven expert chefs in an open kitchen. As some of the last guests to leave, we had the privilege of eavesdropping on the multi-talented George Jardin as he planned the menu for the next day, ordering the freshest ingredients from his suppliers – a process which takes at least an hour and a half after the last guest has gone to bed. This results in the freshest, most exquisite four-course meal, and I really suggest you indulge in their food and wine pairing menu then skip the sweet stuff for a trip into the cheese room, where I selected an amazing array of South Africa’s top cheeses to round off my meal.
The menu at Babylonstoren’s signature restaurant changes daily according to what vegetables and fruit have been gathered from the garden. The fresh papaya that Gundula discovered on my garden tour no doubt found its way into the generous three-course wonder offered at Babel that evening.
Relaxed rotisserie lunches with a selection of wine cocktails are offered at Leopard’s Leap from Wednesday to Sunday. Alternatively, their cooking classes often result in full bellies being supported by wobbly legs that need the help of newfound friends to find the door when it’s time to go home. The food and wine pairing is an intimate experience that is said to only get better the more times you partake!
Pierneef à la Motte
The Pierneef à la Motte restaurant overlooks a gorgeous pond, and diners can enjoy meals made from a selection of biologically farm-grown produce. The farm shop also sells this produce as well as a variety of freshly-baked breads – including a Shiraz loaf. However, the highlight for me was the Winelands Tea Experience where homemade confectionaries were paired with my selection of a gorgeous crème caramel tea. Not to mention that the Van der Hum truffle was to wine for!
For more on the Cape Winelands, be sure to get your hands on The Wine Kingdom: Celebrating conservation in the Cape Winelands – a coffee-table book by WWF that celebrates the stories of the Winelands and the journey of the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative.
About the author
JANINE AVERY is the first to confess that she has been bitten by the travel bug… badly. She is a lover of all things travel from basic tenting with creepy crawlies to lazing in luxury lodges; she will give it all a go. Janine is passionate about wildlife and conservation and comes from a long line of biologists, researchers and botanists. She is the general manager of Africa Geographic when she is not out exploring Africa and drinking wine.