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Mark Dendy-Young – climbing new heights with Cape Elevation Vineyards.

There is an excellent book entitled ‘Halftime’ by Bob Buford which looks at mid-life and comes to the conclusion that the game of life is won in the second half.

I recently drove out to Franschhoek to meet up with Mark Dendy-Young, previously of La Petite Ferme, to find out what he is doing in his second half?

When I first met ‘’Dendles’’ during our UCT days he sported a mischievous smile and gorgeous blonde curls. Though his hairstyle has changed, he still has a twinkle in his eye and the gift of hospitality – a necessary trait if you have been in charge of running La Petite Ferme for more than two decades.

For twenty years Mark and his wife Jo, together with their staff, built up La Petite Ferme from a tearoom started by Mark’s parents to the much loved and popular restaurant and boutique hotel that it is today. It is a year since the sale went through to foreign owners in October 2015.

After two decades of eating, living and sleeping the brand, the Dendy-Youngs cashed out, retiring at the top of their game. I asked them if they missed those extraordinary views. Mark candidly confesses that it was those views that up until very recently represented stress – and yet now having sold he is able to look at the mountains and in fact name his new wines with a mountain feature.

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A relaxed Mark Dendy-Young at home enjoying his new wine

Time for a Change

Last year it was time for a change and whilst no longer running the farm, Mark, a self-trained winemaker and his wife Jo are still living in Franschhoek and turning their hands to their own wine label, Cape Elevation Vineyards.

All the fruit, namely Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir grapes, come from Elgin where the Sauvignon Blanc ripens only in March.

Journey into Winemaking

Mark started off studying a B SOC Science at UCT. In his 20’s his biggest regret was that he had not become a winemaker. In 1994, at the age of 29, with no formal training he approached the bank for finances to build a cellar. Amazingly they gave it to him.  When the cellar was built in 1996, he started on his self-taught winemaking journey and has just completed his 20th vintage – 19 of which were at La Petite Ferme.

Female Mentors

Gerda van Zyl was a wonderful mentor to him and now another female Catherine Marshall, is collaborating with a guiding hand in this new wine venture. As Mark is quick to point out the wine fraternity/sorority has been an amazingly generous and supportive network.

Fire of 1996

The ‘big fire’ of 1996 devastated the Franschhoek valley and burnt down everything at La Petite Ferme – except the cellar. This was the same year in which Mark’s Sauvignon Blanc was awarded Gold and his Blanc Fume Double Gold at the Veritas competition – not bad for a self-taught winemaker. As his wife Jo pipes up, Mark has an extraordinary palate and is very humble about his achievements, having been named Producer of the Year in 2012 by Michelangelo and sitting on various wine judging panels.

Together this couple is forging ahead in a new venture and partnership where Jo, with her artistic and stylish eye, has helped design the beautiful label for the Cape Elevation Vineyards wines. Elegant and stylish, the subtle labels represent the fine lines from maps marking out elevations on a map.

Trig Beacon Pinot Noir

Trig Beacon Pinot Noir

Contour Path Sauvignon Blanc

Contour Path Sauvignon Blanc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The expression ‘we had a blank canvas’ comes up a lot in our conversation. At Cape Elevation Vineyards Mark is now free to concentrate solely on making wine. It has been a recalibration having gotten used to operating at such high stress levels for so many years. Now after 20 vintages, Mark is aware that he has the experience to share, give back and mentor keen young students who call him ‘Oom’ in the supermarket!

So what are the wines of Cape Elevation Vineyards like?

Mark Dendy-Young tasting his newly bottled Pinot Noir

Mark Dendy-Young tasting his newly bottled Pinot Noir

I had the privilege of being the first wine journalist/blogger to taste the two wines of Cape Elevation Vineyards, which had just been bottled.

The reason for the name is obvious in that the wines are sourced from elevated vineyards with high altitude. These wines are a clear reflection of their terroir. Vinification of the separate clones has taken place and in the Pinot Noir the separate clays and soils from where the respective blocks come from have been reflected.

Because Pinot Noir is a new journey for Mark, Cathy Marshall’s influence and mentorship has been much valued. The cellar has recently moved to Stellenbosch to a cellar high up against the Helderberg – with the grapes being brought over the pass from Shannon Vineyards.

Sauvignon Blanc 2015

The colour reminds me of the cover of the song by Eva Cassidy’s song Field of Gold – pale winter sunshine. The bouquet is fruity – a wonderful heady mixture of figs and ripe pear. There is 7% Semillon which softens any acidity. Only 2nd and 3rd fill French oak has been used. Whilst it is a delicate fruit salad on the nose there is sherbet in the aftertaste and anticipated crispness as well as great mouthfeel. I loved it. Alcohol is 13.5%

Pinot Noir 2015

The colour is perfect. Deep rose velvet with a tinge of crimson. The wine spends 9 months in 2nd fill French Oak. Vineyards are situated in Sandstone and Clay. There is cherry on the nose – I could imagine it being perfectly paired with duck or an 8 hour lamb served slightly chilled. Again there is a richness of fruit – it is incredibly quaffable.

Only 3600 bottles of each varietal of Cape Elevation Vineyards wines have been produced. This is high–end sought after boutique wine by a winemaker with the luxury of not being desperate to sell his wines and are available to buy through their website.

Recently both wines from Cape Elevation Vineyards received Gold Awards in the latest Vitis Vinifera wine competition.

Disclosure: I was given a gift pack of each wine.

Boschendal – the perfect Wine Tourism Destination to explore the Cape Winelands.

The Great Wine Capitals Network awarded Boschendal their 2016 Best of Wine Tourism Regional award for best accommodation on a wine farm. With this in mind, I booked four nights in the recent holidays to experience first hand what is on offer.

Accommodation

The accommodation is  comfortable and stylish, offering free Wifi and DSTV – a necessity when travelling with teenagers. It might have been freezing outside, but we were super snug with electric blankets and a fireplace stocked with free wood. I had originally booked the Orchard Cottages at the top of the farm, but seeing the road was being paved, we were upgraded to Clarence Cottage which suited us perfectly. It is just behind the Werf Cottages and within walking distance of the Farm Deli.

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Clarence Cottage – Our home for 4 nights – gorgeous sunny veranda to sit and relax on with a book overlooking the private garden.

Bedroom in the Werf Cottage

Romantic one-bedroom Werf Cottage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farm Deli

The cottages are fully set-up for self-catering and serviced daily by very helpful and friendly staff. Our package included breakfast at the Farm Deli. It was so relaxing to wake up each morning, have homemade ginger biscuits with our tea, before going for a run around the estate. We returned for a piping hot shower in the generous en- suite-bathrooms with homemade toiletries, before meandering over to the deli for a well-deserved and hearty farm breakfast. Each morning we tried something new and were never disappointed. 

 

A hearty farm breakfast with organic eggs, homemade sausage. freshly baked bread and veggies from the garden.

A hearty farm breakfast with organic eggs, homemade sausage. freshly baked bread and veggies from the garden.

You know you are in the country and on a farm when the information brochure includes the name and number for the local snake catcher! However that is no reason to be put off at all as Boschendal is great any time of the year and is incredibly family-friendly.

Horse-Riding

The one afternoon my teenage daughter and I went horse-riding. Having grown up reading classics such as Black Beauty and My Friend Flicker, it was great to be back on a horse in the most magnificent setting. The staff were very patient with us, as were the horses, and we thoroughly enjoyed the level – appropriate hour-long riding experience around this beautiful estate.

Riding through the food garden

Riding though the food garden in front of the main Werf restaurant – a great wine tourism experience.

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Our guide and the well-looked after horses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trout-Fishing

Another day we decided to go trout-fishing. There were no bites to be had on this ‘catch and release’ activity, but it was in such a gorgeous setting overlooking the valley with the snow-capped mountains in the distance that it really did not matter. In summer if you are staying on the farm guests are welcome to swim in the dams.

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Dams stocked with trout – perfect for swimming in summer.

Wine-Tasting

No visit to Boschendal would be complete without tasting their huge range of wines – something to suit every palette. One afternoon we wandered up for the complimentary wine-tasting in the oldest building on the estate opposite the elegant Rhone Homestead before making our way slowly back to the cottage for an afternoon snooze. Time really slowed down and whilst it was only a four day vacation it felt a lot longer.

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Avenue leading towards the Rhone Homestead and wine-tasting.

Our relaxing stay at beautiful Boschendal once again convinced me that there are few places in the world which offer the magnificent scenery, quality of food and wine such  as the South African winelands. In the Cape, we truly have the best wine tourism experience in the world and Boschendal is testimony to that.

For booking inquiries or to plan your visit to the Cape Winelands please contact:  melissa@vindigotravel.com

 

 

The authentic South African pairing of red wine and biltong at Marianne's wine estate

Perfect Food and Wine Pairings in the Cape Winelands (enter to WIN!)

In the Cape winelands February is a busy month. Harvest is in full swing and the December break is a distant memory. However, thanks to Valentine’s Day, love is in the air and nothing beats the perfect combination of spending the day with a significant other in the beautiful Cape winelands.  Another winning formula is food and wine pairings.

Most of us are familiar with cheese and wine pairings and even chocolate and wine has become somewhat ordinary, but there are a host of new and exciting pairings springing up all over the Cape winelands to tempt your taste buds and help you experience wine in a whole new way.

Not only is February in the Cape busy but it is hot with temperatures in the mid-30s.  How cool then is Clos Malverne in Stellenbosch’s unique ice-cream and wine pairing where handmade gourmet ice-creams with exotic flavours are paired with their delicious wines. The wine and ice-cream pairing includes 4 wines starting with Kiwi fruit & chili ice cream paired with Clos Malverne Sauvignon Blanc and ending with Pineapple, coconut and mint ice cream paired with Clos Malverne’s Honey Dew – a delicious Chenin Blanc sweet wine. Not only does Clos Malverne have a spa but now one can also overnight on the estate.

Clos Malverne's unique ice-cream and wine pairings

Clos Malverne’s unique ice-cream and wine pairings

Delheim in Stellenbosch, was a founding member of the first wine route in the country. This estate offers a cupcake and wine pairing which captured my imagination. Whilst cupcakes are a little girl’s indulgence, paired with grown-up wine it is a ‘naughty but nice’ experience. How yummy does a Rooibos cupcake infused with lemon and topped with a cream cheese and honey icing paired with the Delheim Chenin Blanc Wild Ferment sound? Because the cupcakes are freshly baked each day pre-booking is required.

Delheim's decadent wine and cupcake pairing

Delheim’s decadent wine and cupcake pairing

 

In Stellenbosch, Marianne’s wine estate offers a biltong and wine pairing and you can’t get more South African than this! Guests are treated to 5 wines paired with three different types of biltong including Springbok and Pinotage; Kudu and Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz and then beef with their flagship Bordeaux blend, Floreal. A brasserie bearing the same name has recently opened on the estate.

The authentic South African pairing of red wine and biltong at Marianne's wine estate

The authentic South African pairing of red wine and biltong at Marianne’s wine estate

Fleur Du Cap – Salt and Wine pairing – at first thoughts one would think ‘yuk’ but South African Chef Craig Cormack has a fascination with gourmet salt (more than 161 of them) and in collaboration with Fleur du Cap has put together a unique tasting of 5 wines paired with tapas style offerings infused with specific salts. How exotic, and dare I say erotic, does unfiltered Chardonnay together with Black Larvae salt from Hawaii infused in a green olive tapenade sound or Cabernet with Khoisan flakes from the West Coast and sundried tomatoes and mature Gouda?

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Fleur du Cap’s original salt and wine pairings

Benguela Cove located on the Bot River Lagoon near Hermanus offers an unusual Liquid Gold Millionaire Pairing. Their Noble Late Harvest is paired with Millionaire’s Shortbread with a dark chocolate and gold leaf – described as ‘’A multi-textured caramel delight which highlights the sweetness of the wine. The crunchy shortbread base, soft caramel filling and cold, crisp chocolate topping creates a sensually delicious flavour explosion.’ Yum!

The delicious pairing of Millionaire's Shortbread with Benguela Cove's Liquid Gold

The delicious pairing of Millionaire’s Shortbread with Benguela Cove’s Liquid Gold

Creation wine estate in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley has always been at the forefront of wine pairing and over the years won many accolades for their food and wine pairings including one for Innovation by the Great Wine Capitals Network. Their tapas and wine pairing is the most popular and they are now focussing on drawing attention to herbs grown on the estate complementing their wines, such as mint and Merlot, chervil and Sauvignon Blanc and basil and Chardonnay.  According to innovative owner Carolyn Martin “At Creation we have always believed that what grows together goes together. Now that our herb garden is coming into its own it is just such a pleasure to match the fruit from our vineyards with the produce of our garden”.

Creation Wine's popular tapas and wine pairings

Creation Wine’s popular tapas and wine pairings

For a special Valentine’s month date why not combine a feast of pairings to create a truly memorable day.

Vindigo Travel is running a competition to win a selection of perfect wine pairings for two.

How to enter:

Follow Vindigo Travel on twitter and/or like our FaceBook page or if you already follow us leave a comment to automatically be entered into this competition.

Terms and Conditions:

Competition runs from 14 to 29 February 2016

You can only enter once

You must be over 18 years of age

The first correctly completed entry to be drawn randomly will win the prize

The prize includes a wine tasting experience for two at the following vineyards –

  • Benguela Cove: A Liquid Gold Millionaire’s tasting for two to be redeemed at either our Benguela Cove or Benguela on Main venues.
  • Delheim: Wine and Cupcake pairing for two;
  • Clos Malverne: Wine and Ice-cream pairing for two;
  • Marianne: Wine and Biltong pairing for two

The prize excludes transport to and from the tastings

Tastings are subject to availability and must be arranged directly with the vineyard within stipulated time period

The winner will be notified by twitter and/or FaceBook

 

All images by kind courtesy of wine farms.

 

Enjoying a full mouthed rose at Singita

Wine Safaris around the Cape Winelands and Beyond

Throughout my childhood I had the privilege of visiting the Timbivati – of white lion fame – for a long weekend each July.  One of the things I remember most were the ‘booze cruises’ through the bush at sunset. After a lazy afternoon snooze – no doubt aided by plenty of vino at lunch – we would climb into the back of the Land rover, which had been plentifully stocked with all manner of drinks – to go and spot animals and enjoy an African sunset whilst the grown-ups drank a chilly Sauvignon Blanc, cold beer or G & T in the great outdoors with more than a hint of danger in the rapidly falling dusk.

All grown up, twenty years later, a girlfriend and I – my research partner in wine – are sampling what is on offer in the Cape of Good Hope in the form of ‘Wine Safaris’. Two of the farms which we visited together, namely Waterford Estate and Warwick offer very different but equally enjoyable experiences.

To be perfectly fair Waterford Estate calls their 4 x 4 experience where one tastes the different varietals in the vineyards where they are grown- a Wine Drive – but it is the whole notion of being on the back of an open vehicle with a full cool box and a handsome game driver – oops – wine guide – which evokes very happy ‘’Safari –like’’ memories.

Signing indemnity forms whilst quaffing MCC!

Signing indemnity forms whilst quaffing MCC!

Beautiful scenery whilst on the Waterford Estate wine drive

Beautiful scenery whilst on the Waterford Estate wine drive

On arrival at Waterford we were greeted by our affable and highly informative host currently completing his Masters in Geotechnical engineering – think ‘Google Earth’. Whilst quaffing a glass of Villiera bubbly in the elegant courtyard, we happily signed our indemnity forms before a personal tour of the cellar. Once we had admired the impressive barrel cellar we got into the 4 x 4 which can take 10 people. Being a somewhat chilly day we were grateful for the personal blankets. Heading into the vineyards the most gorgeous vistas unfolded. We enjoyed the view of the whole Lion, not just its head crouching beside Table Mountain. We stopped next to a small lake and as our guide laid out the white tablecloth and crusty sourdough bread with estate olive oil, it was the attention to detail which impressed. He went and picked some local fynbos herbs to accompany our tasting of the white wines – Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Next stop was high up in the vineyards where we sampled the superb red wines which this farm produces. No need for lunch what with the generous bowls of droe wors and biltong as well as green olives and cashew nuts. Returning to the elegant tasting room, we were not disappointed to finish off on a sweet note with the renowned chocolate wine pairings in front of a crackling fire. What a treat – see Waterford to book.

Savouring white wine in the Waterford Vineyard

Savouring white wine in the Waterford vineyard

Delicious olives, olive oil and sourdough bread at Waterford Estate

Delicious olives, olive oil and sourdough bread

Heading past Stellenbosch we arrived for our next wine safari experience at Warwick which is a destination winery par excellence. Very child friendly and offering something for every member of the family, Warwick has captured an extremely loyal and growing customer base. Less bespoke (and more pocket –friendly on the wallet) our wine safari was casual and enjoyable. Our guide set off into the vineyards in a safari vehicle stopping off along the way to compare different varietals to different members of the traditional Big Five. It was fun and educational and we both learned something whilst enjoying the ride on the 4 x 4! The views at the top were amazing – 360 % and encompassing Paarl Rock, Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Cape Town. We stopped at the private viewing area which can be hired out – what a place for a celebration- and were given a glass of Warwick’s flagship red ‘’The First Lady’’ named after owner Norma Ratcliffe who was the first female wine maker in South Africa .

Good wine and views on wine safari at Warwick

Excellent wine and views on wine safari at Warwick

Warwick wine safari

Warwick wine safari 4×4 vehicle

Avondale near Paarl also offers an eco-Wine Safari. Having heard of the special white ducks responsible for keeping the vineyards snail – free I was curious to see them in action and experience what is on offer. The spectacular view of Paarl Rock is what grabs one initially on this peaceful family owned estate. After being greeted at the door to the tasting room adorned with landscapes by Scats Esterhuyse and enjoying their delicious MCC which has just won several international awards, I was invited to step onto the back of their bakkie. Memories flooded back of being a little girl growing up in the old Transvaal and visiting my oupa and granny on their farm near Swartruggens. I like the fact that whilst there is a very swish tasting room and cellar door experience – guests can be taken up into the lands to see where Nature is abundantly at work on this biodynamic estate. The ducks are very cute in their duck mobile and do invaluable work whilst having the weekends off!

Like the excellent wines it produces, the reputation of this estate is growing organically and now that Matt Manning of One Ingredient is providing the lunch platters visitors are assured a gourmet experience.

Duck Mobile at Avondale

Duck Mobile at Avondale – an eco way to keep the vineyards snail free!

Caelli on Eco Wine Safari

The delicious Anima Chenin Blanc

If you are looking for a real Wine Safari and more authentic experience then join the legendary Peter Finlayson of Bouchard-Finlayson fame and wildlife photographer David Rogers on a 6-night safari to Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park organised through Robin Pope Safaris. After a full day of game watching and photography, Peter will introduce his wines over a delicious bush meal. See here for details.

Another option is Wildphoto Safaris who have been running Wine & Wildebeest Migration safaris every year since 2006 with various luminaries in the South African wine industry. Upmarket safaris attract clientele in a certain wealth bracket who tend to enjoy good wines so the wine safari concept is a great fit. During the day guests are given guidance and tuition in the finer aspects of wildlife photography by guides knowledgeable about the flora and fauna, photography, and of course wine! Come evening and the focus shifts to around the campfire for a tasting of a few pre-dinner wines before a candle-lit dinner is served accompanied by several flights of wines. These can be comparative tastings, verticals or even comprise a few “mystery wines” from a selection brought by the guests. For more details see www.wildphotossafaris.com

Many clients rave about Boulders Singita and the truly exceptional cellar that stocks top South African wine. There can be few things in life as satisfying as drinking regional wine in beautiful natural surroundings and the sights and sounds of the bush only add to the experience. Wine safaris are a unique way to experience the best of what Africa has to offer.

The impressive cellar at Boulders Singita

The impressive cellar at Boulders Singita

 

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Family Friendly Farms in the Constantia Valley

The very name Constantia evokes the old world and the weight of history. Constantia is experiencing a new flurry of activity as it reinvents its wine tourism offering to cater to guests, young and old. Across the board what is on offer is of a consistently high standard, to be expected in this verdant valley, home of old money in the Cape.

The Red Hop on Hop off buses have introduced scores to the delights of the winelands right on Cape Town city’s doorstep. Those to benefit most have been Groot Constantia, Beau Constantia and Eagle’s Nest where the London-style buses stop off.

Red hop on hop off buses make visiting the Constantia Wine Route easy for all

Red hop on hop off buses make visiting the wine route easy for all

Starting off at Eagle’s Nest owned by the Mylrea family, the fresh ‘Little Eagle ‘Rosé is the perfect breakfast wine. For young families it is hard to beat the picture perfect dell surrounded by established trees to the left of the tasting room. Because it is a boutique family-owned winery, it is highly likely that you will encounter a member of the family helping out in the tasting room.

The venue is very popular on weekends when families – including well-behaved dogs – can come and spend the day enjoying the peaceful ambiance and one of the many platters and picnic options on offer. By special arrangement one can enjoy – at a price – a trip up to the highest vineyards with jaw –dropping views in the farm’s rustic 4 x 4.  Under the leadership of winemaker, Stuart Botha, Eagle’s Nest Shiraz has secured the accolade ‘Best Shiraz in the world’. During a private tutored tasting only possible through booking a private wine tour with guide – we enjoyed the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc – yet to be released, made from 30 year old bush vines from the Darling area. Well known for their Viognier, the 2014 did not disappoint. The 2011 Merlot, which was bottled in 2013, with its delicious savoury meatiness reflecting the minerality and iron from the granite block was my favourite.

The Eagle's Nest relaxed tasting room and picnic venue

The Eagle’s Nest relaxed tasting room and picnic venue

Constantia Uitsig is home to the flattest vineyards in this valley. Formerly home to the old River Café, La Colombe and the Constantia Uitsig hotel, loyal past customers to these old Cape Town institutions have had to adjust to the changes. The new owners are now establishing a new destination winery.

Jacques Du Plessis is the new winemaker who performs an impressive sabrage on the Uitsig MCC. The new mountain bike park is already in operation even though parts are still under construction. Plans to build a coffee barn serving coffee and pastry from the Open Door restaurant are in the offing as is a picnic area near a little dam planted with Fynbos banks.

A new green cellar on the estate will produce its own wines on site. Another great wine tourism idea is a public vineyard where members of the public can come and pick Hanepoort grapes.

Although I was an ardent fan of The River Cafe, I like the new Open Door restaurant with its hands on owner and great decor. They have a brilliant Children’s menu with mains such as Spaghetti with pea sauce, crispy bacon and Parmesan. Their cookies and steamed milk dessert also looks good.

Their standout white wine is the white blend with Semillon making up 70 % and Sauvignon Blanc 30%, a reversal of the traditional percentages, although their Chardonnay Reserve 2013 with ripe pineapple notes was a close second.

The newly opened Open Door Restaurant at Constantia Uitsig

The newly opened Open Door Restaurant at Constantia Uitsig

At the top of the Constantia  Valley is boutique wine farm, Beau Constantia. It boasts awesome views across the valley, towards the Stellenbosch Mountains in the distance and False Bay and has on-site the Sushi Box restaurant. There is a grassy amphitheater perfect for kids to play in whilst the adults sip delicious wines and imagine themselves as extras in a James Bond movie! All in all a visit to the Constantia valley offers a brilliant and accessible escape from city living and its accompanying stresses. The Constantia Wine Route comprising 10 farms offers something for every age and persuasion. From fine dining to picnics, wine-tasting to bike-riding, it is an exciting destination open to everyone and well worth visiting. For private tours please contact melissa@vindigotravel.com

The modern Beau Constantia tasting room with breathtaking views

The modern Beau Constantia tasting room with breathtaking views

 

 

The exclusive Melkkamer Manor House

Cold Gin and Hot Chocolate – a Whale of a Weekend at the Tip of Africa

In Africa, there is an easy answer to the question ‘Would you like a Gin and Tonic?’, but when it is a local artisanal brew from up the coast at Stilbaai and is graciously offered with a twist of bright orange peel in a sublime setting, it is an even easier answer.

Inverouche Verdant Gin from Stillbaai

Inverroche Verdant Gin from Stillbaai

And so the tone was set for three days during a recent long weekend at the end of Winter, flirting with Spring, as we drove through fluorescent Canola fields down to stay at the De Hoop Collection – a unique and memorable place situated in a nature reserve near the tip of Africa.

Wine Country

We stopped for lunch at the wine farm Gabrielskloof in the Overberg – over Sir Lowry’s Pass past Hermanus. We shared a quality charcuterie and local goat’s cheese platter, accompanied by home-made bread and olive oil off the farm. The signature Magdalena wine, a Sauvignon- Semillon blend was the perfect accompaniment – not to mention the gorgeous views encompassing countless Blue Crane’s – South Africa’s elegant national bird.

Fynbos Country

In Bredasdorp we had a whistle-stop tour to admire the spectacular display of vynbos including mountains of proteas at the local showgrounds as part of the Cape Floral Kingdom expo.
Four hours after leaving Cape Town, including an half an hour on a good gravel road from Bredasdorp, our group of 6 girlfriends arrived at the De Hoop Collection situated in a nature reserve managed by Cape Nature overlooking the Indian Ocean and teeming with whales.

The exclusive Melkkamer Manor House

The exclusive Melkkamer Manor House

Melkkamer across the De Hoop vlei

Melkkamer across the De Hoop vlei

 

 

 

 

 

Entrepreneur and owner of the De Hoop Collection, William Stephens has a friendly, avuncular disposition and it is clear his staff like and respect him. A hands on owner, his staff know what is expected and rise to the occasion. He clearly invests in his staff and it shows. They proudly engage with guests about what training courses they have recently been sent on or completed. Nothing is too much hassle for the staff – from the personal chef, to the manager, housekeeper, guide and driver we were extremely well looked after.

The friendly and competent staff at De Hoop will look after you well.

The friendly and competent staff at De Hoop

De Hoop is an organic project – growing and developing. A spa is about to be added to the complex overlooking the large De Hoop vlei where a flotilla of Pelicans happily while away their days fishing.

The three days spent at De Hoop were filled with excellent food, wine, fun outdoor excursions and plenty of time to rest and soak up the tranquil atmosphere. On numerous occasions I found myself sighing – exhaling really – the stresses of city life in an atmosphere of complete peace. Nature’s balm was working her magic. The house we stayed in Melkkamer is the most exclusive and we experienced the fully catered option. Sitting down to a 3 course meal the first night, we were treated to local wines from Strandveld – the Southernmost winery in Africa, Black Oystercatcher and Sjinn wines owned by David Trafford and situated close by on the banks of the Breede River.

Breakfast spread

Breakfast spread

Delicious picnic lunch

Delicious picnic lunch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accommodation

The beauty of the De Hoop Collection is that whatever your budget or group size, there is something for everyone. The democratic nature of the set-up is appealing with everyone able to experience the unique beauty and pristine nature of its setting. The Melkkamer house was perfect for our small party – it can sleep up to 8 people in 4 suites. The wooden floors, high ceilings and romantically draped 4 poster bed as well as comfortable linen ensured an excellent night’s sleep. After a hot bath in a Victorian style bath I climbed contentedly into my king-size bed – complete with a hot water bottle. The generator was switched off and the flickering paraffin lamps reminded me of a bygone era when life was much simpler. It’s more remote location – only accessible by boat for part of the year made it even more special.

One of the four ensuite bedrooms

One of the four ensuite bedrooms

Inside the beautiful, remote old stone manor house

Inside the beautiful, remote old stone manor house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the course of the next two days, we experienced the diversity of what De Hoop has to offer. We went on an interpretive boat ride around the vlei having some of the 250 bird species pointed out to us, accompanied by piping hot chocolate, flaky croissants and extra blankets to keep us warm.

Feasting

We hiked along the vlei to a delicious picnic lunch of quiche, salad, more Gin and Tonic as well as dessert. Local chef, Philip Lottering generously shared some of his life story and recipes. Back at the main restaurant and hub of the Opstal area – we decided to go Quad biking. This is a guided, controlled activity but was rather loud having become accustomed to the tranquillity. Supper that night was a delicious lamb potjie, or stew cooked on an open fire in a black three legged cast iron pot. It was preceded by a retelling of the history of the homestead built in 1907 by the Anderson family as well as local ghost stories – it was wonderful to sit around a crackling fire in the darkness far removed from city lights with the soft murmur of the ocean over the distant dunes.

Whales

De Hoop is world famous for its whale sightings and especially from June to October when Southern Right whales come and turn the bay into a giant nursery. Sadly it was raining when we drove down to the nearest beach, Koppie Alleen yet we still managed to spot some whales in the bay and enjoyed an interesting interpretive walk along the coastline with our fabulous, knowledgeable, diplomatic and agreeable guide, Dickson.

Southern Right Whales are part of the scenery here from June to October

Whales are often seen from June to October

The main house is extremely comfortable and I enjoyed two afternoon sleeps in a row– absolutely unheard of but clearly attributable- in part- to the fresh air. Sitting in the cosy lounge we were able to relax before our last supper – a traditional South African braai.

It had been a weekend of rest, relaxation, good food, laughs and new experiences effortlessly aided by the hospitality of the staff and the beauty of the land – and perhaps a good Gin and a hot chocolate or two!

To book your trip down to De Hoop and create memories that will last a lifetime at the tip of Africa contact melissa@vindigotravel.com

hot choc

The breathtaking Helshoogte Pass

The Heavenly Delights of Hell’s Heights Pass

If there is one stretch of road worth driving more than any other in the Cape Winelands I would have to say it is the windy mountain pass linking the historic oak lined university town of Stellenbosch and the fertile Banhoek valley leading into the French Huguenot town of Franschhoek. Not only are the vistas absolutely extraordinary but the wine farms, attached like amulets on a chain, each have a unique story and are each a worthwhile destination boasting top wines, restaurants, delis, accommodation, art galleries and sculpture gardens.

The beautiful picnic setting at Boschendal

The beautiful picnic setting at Boschendal

The ‘Helshoogte’ or Hell’s Heights Pass otherwise known as the R310 was originally built in 1854 and then upgraded in 2010. It links the wine districts of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch and is 15 km long with the summit reaching 387m above sea level. If you are coming from the Franschhoek side on the left is Boschendal which has undergone a renaissance and become a real destination winery with plenty on offer. When my brother got married ten years ago the 3 day wedding extravaganza for their overseas friends who had travelled to the Cape Winelands culminated here with ‘le pique-nique’ on the Sunday. Boschendal pioneered the luxury wine farm picnic with beautifully presented hampers of fresh farm goodies to be enjoyed in the verdant grounds.

Pniel at the foot of the Simonsberg Mountains

Pniel at the foot of the Simonsberg Mountains

Further up Helshoogte you will pass through the small village of Pniel in the shadow of the Simonsberg Mountains. It is here where the first freed slaves chose to settle in 1842 after the abolition of slavery in the Cape in 1833. Its name comes from the book of Genesis in the bible and means ‘face of God’, an apt name for such divine surroundings.

Beautiful fynbos on the Bartinney farm

Fynbos on the Bartinney farm

Just before you reach the top of the pass on the left is a very special farm called Bartinney, overlooking the Banhoek valley. Owned by one of South Africa’s leading businessmen, the story goes that due to financial constraints the family farm passed out of the Jordaan family hands, but was able to be repurchased by the son who now lives there with his young family. Delicious Cabernet Sauvignons come from the Banhoek valley and I recently had the privilege of enjoying a tutored tasting conducted by the female winemaker Ronell Wiid at this boutique winery. At Bartinney sustainability is a business philosophy and the sustainable farming practices are seeing the return of wildlife and birds such as Guinea fowls. The shy Cape Leopard has also been sighted in the mountains above the farm. Social balance and harmony is regarded as equally important as environmental balance at this forward thinking winery, where the effluent from the wine-making process flows though the fynbos, indigenous to the Cape Floral Kingdom. By removing alien vegetation such as Blue Gums and Pine, a spring that had been dormant for 40 years recently started flowing.

Delaire Graff - known as the 'gem of the winelands'

Delaire Graff – known as the ‘gem of the winelands’

When my father turned 60 some years back he invited his friends to join him on a tour of the Winelands. A bus was hired and off we set confident in the knowledge that no-one had to drink and drive especially when navigating the windy pass. The chosen lunch venue was Delaire at the top of Hell’s Heights then owned by Erica and John Platter of Platters – the wine bible of South Africa fame. The simple country lunch we enjoyed was memorable. Today my father would not recognise what has now become ‘the gem of the Winelands’. Delaire-Graff owned by the founder of luxury jeweller, Graff Diamonds, Laurence Graff is a seriously impressive destination winery designed to leave visitors breathless. The gardens were created by South Africa’s leading gardener and celebrity horticulturalist Keith Kirsten and each season offers the visitor something new. Not only is the best of South African art on display but award-winning restaurants commanding magnificent panoramic views make this destination winery at the pinnacle commanding 360 degree views Table Mountain in the distance a must-visit. Across the road from Delaire-Graff you will find the well-known estates Thelema – recently rated one of the world’s top 100 estates and Tokara – known for their excellent wines, restaurants, olive oil, art galleries and charismatic winemakers.

Heavenly offerings.

Heavenly offerings.

Thelema has a lovely old world feel nestled into the valley. Owner and viticulturist, Giles Webb, a former accountant planted all the vines. As a student the first ‘sophisticated’ white wine I can remember which made an impression on my palette and which I could order with confidence was Thelema’s Blanc Fumé which they sadly no longer produce – we are talking more than a quarter century ago and one thing is for sure is that all these wineries are dynamic, constantly re-inventing themselves!

Tokara is housed in super modern buildings with gorgeous views. Original art works by South African Masters such as William Kentridge are to be spotted on the walls. The small gallery annually hosts an artwork competition where students are invited to paint around a theme using red wine as their medium. The results are astonishing and one can imagine the fun the students have in producing them. The sculpture garden walk through the olive grove between the more relaxed deli and fine dining restaurant is also well worth doing.

It might be called Hell’s Heights but the views as well as the offerings are certainly heavenly. A leisurely drive over this short but dramatic pass with multiple stops is a treat not to be missed and a delight for the senses on every level.

A visual feast @Cafe Bon Bon

Casual Country Dining in the Winelands

Although there are lots of fine dining establishments in the Winelands catering to the Dollar and Pound laden foreign tourists, there are plenty of great reasonably priced options to delight locals who want to experience a break from the city and fresh and tasty local fare in country surrounds.

Steeped in tradition and celebrating their 330 vintage this year Jonkershuis @ Groot Constantia never disappoints. Family – friendly and always popular with locals I popped in for brunch recently and experienced excellent service, delicious scrambled egg on toasted ciabatta which was beautifully presented on a wooden board. Also on offer are their Cape Malay specials such as The Estate Tasting Plate which includes bobotie, samoosa and curry.

The relaxed setting at Jonkershuis at Groot Constantia

The relaxed setting at Jonkershuis at Groot Constantia

Few places beat the unique country charm and setting of Café Bon Bon which is located on La Petite Dauphine wine farm in Franschhoek. Turn right at the Huguenot monument and head into the back country roads and away from the bustling galleries before entering the estate. At Café Bon Bon you sit on the terrace under the oaks. The Café Bon Bon anti pasta platter is a winner and amongst other things includes Parma ham, minted zucchini, ham hock terrine, goat’s cheese accompanied by delicious bread. Booking is essential.

Cafe Bon Bon is the ultimate in relaxed country dining

The unique country charm of Cafe Bon Bon

The Country Kitchen at Mont Rochelle – Sir Richard Branson’s South African Hotel and Vineyard recently opened. It is a lovely venue separate to the main hotel buildings where the wine tasting takes place. It is open every day from 12- 6:30. In addition to tasting platters boasting a selection of local cheeses with homemade chutneys and preserves, it has a good selection of starters and mains as well as a ‘Little Chef’s Menu’. Their picnic baskets for two require 24 hour advance booking and range from R400 – R480 depending on the type selected.

The recently opened Country Kitchen at Mont Rochelle

The recently opened Country Kitchen at Mont Rochelle

La Petite Ferme – apart from the spectacular view over the Franschhoek valley, this family run restaurant with attentive staff can be relied on to deliver beautifully plated, fresh country fare. Whether it is trout caught that morning in the mountain stream or a Dender-Young family recipe, La Petite Ferme never disappoints. Booking is necessary for this popular spot.

La Petite Ferme in the beautiful Franschhoek Valley

La Petite Ferme in the beautiful Franschhoek Valley

The Deli at Tokara at the top of Helshoogte has been revamped and you can hardly get more family-friendly. Even the adults will be tempted to try out  the playground. There is standard fare of burgers and pizzas to tempt the littlies and the gift shop with free olive tastings and delectable truffles is hard to resist.

Heavenly offerings.

Lunch platter at Tokara Deli

Housed in the old wagon house, the Farm Shop and Deli at Boschendal, which recently hosted the Cape Wine Auction has also just opened. The whole estate has been revamped and there are outdoor tables under the oaks in front of the Manor House. Tempting homemade ice-cream with flavors such as pink geranium and green apple made on the estate are perfect for the still warm weather. Not only can you stock up on local preserves, but it is a perfect choice for a casual country lunch.

Lots to stock up on at the Boschendal Farmshop and Deli

Lots to stock up on at the Boschendal Farm Shop and Deli

Article first appeared in Food24.

The lighthouse at Cape Agulhas

The southernmost wine farms in Africa

 

Take a trip down south and taste some excellent SA wines.

‘Die winter is verby, nou kom die wind’ – winter is over, now comes the wind, remarked an Agulhas local. This remote part of the world, known for its treacherous shipwrecking coastline is at a superficial level somewhat intimidating. Yet scratch beneath the harsh surface and you will find delicious wines and hospitable locals.

At Cape Agulhas - the tip of Africa where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet.

At Cape Agulhas – the tip of Africa where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet.

There is something distinctly romantic about tasting wine from vines grown at the southernmost point of the African continent, and not just ordinary wines but extraordinary, highly ranked wines competing with the best in the world. The Elim ward falls in what has traditionally been cattle and wheat country. Known for its biodiversity, the wine farmers established the Nuwejaars River Wetland Special Management Area dedicated to conservation of this unique part of the world where they have re- introduced hippo and buffalo. For those who take the road less travelled they will be richly rewarded.

History

Elim itself has a fascinating history as a Moravian mission station set up in 1824. Known traditionally for its thatcher’s, the name Elim is more and more associated with delicious Semillon and Sauvignon blends among the whites and full bodied reds.

Black Oystercatcher

If you approach the Elim wine route from Bredasdorp, you will come to Black Oystercatcher Wines. Here Dirkie Human has built a destination winery popular amongst locals and tourists. His fish braais are legendary and memorable coupled with his flagship White Pearl Sauvignon Semillon blend and a tranquil view across the Agulhas plains. The bulging organic vegetable garden which guests in the self-catering cottages are free to harvest is a foodie’s dream!

Dirkie Human is also the wine maker for Celestina, owned by Caroline Rillema of Caroline’s Fine Wines and her partner Ray Kilian. She has planted 1, 8 hectares in nearby Baardskeerdersbos and produced 2400 bottles in 2012. This wine displays the typical Cape Agulhas characteristics of minerality, raciness and gentle acidity and her sought after 2015 vintage is eagerly awaited.

Bredasdorp Square

Bredasdorp Square

Black Oystercatcher

Black Oystercatcher

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strandveld Vineyards

A few kilometres south and only 9kms from the sea you will find, Strandveld Vineyards which claims the title of the southernmost cellar on the African continent. Their First Sightings range refers to the original sighting of the South African coastline by the Portuguese explorers in 1488. One of their flagship wines holds the name Strandveld Pofadderbos referring to the deadly poisonous puff adders to be found in that particular vineyard. The bouquet is full of white asparagus, nettle and green pepper aromas and it tastes sublime. Tasting fee is R40 which is refundable with purchase.

Strandveld Vineyards

Strandveld Vineyards

Zoetendal

Changes are afoot at Zoetendal named for the Dutch shipwreck of 1673 and which will reopen to the public at the end of 2015 under the auspices of David Nieuwoudt of the Cederberg, as the new home of Ghost Corner wines. Staying with cattle and sheep the new owners from Upington recognise the quality of the soil and are happy to lease and cooperate with leaders in the industry such as Dave Hidden and Charles Bak to harness the terroir and coax delicious and memorable wines out of this somewhat harsh climate.

(Note – The Elim Fruit and Wine Festival will be held in October.)

First appeared on Food.24

For more information on food and travel tips, visit Melissa Sutherland’s Facebook page.

Orchard Farm Stall

Fabulous Farm Stalls in the Overberg

 

The school holidays are around the corner and nothing shouts start of the holidays more than the ritual of stopping at a farm stall en route to one’s holiday destinations.

An hour outside of Cape Town – once over Sir Lowry’s pass, are a couple of options.

Orchard Farm Stall

Orchard Farm Stall on the left has a special place in my heart as it was where my boyfriend (now husband of 20 years) stopped when he was wooing me. It has subsequently gone through a couple of ups and downs and new management took over this year, but in addition to being able to pick up fresh fruit and bread, it is a good pit stop to use the loos and give the dog a run around.

Peregrine Farm Stall

Coming through Elgin one sees Peregrine Farm Stall on the right. You know you are in Apple country with their range of freshly squeezed apple juices. Their bakery stocks mosbolletjies (sweet brioche-like buns made with fermented grape juice), rusks and biltong. Elgin is also the home of cool climate wine, so you can stock up on some of the local wines!

Delicious local goodies on offer at the Peregrine Farm Stall

Delicious local goodies on offer at the Peregrine Farm Stall

The Peregrine Cafe

The Peregrine Cafe

 

 

 

 

 

 

Houw Hoek Farm Stall

At the top of the pass, Houw Hoek Farm Stall has always been a favourite for fresh farm pies. They offer a range at R20 of chicken and mushroom, curry steak, steak and kidney. You can pick up kudu droewors and home baked goodies. My aunt religiously stops there for their seed stuffed health bread. The well-stocked deli is full of fresh farm treats such as Green Fig Preserve and Moskonfyt. You can pick up beautiful bouquets of local fynbos and always land up spending more than you meant to – but hey, it’s the holidays! The Houw Hoek Farm Stall also has a great range of local wines, which brings me to my next suggestion.

Houw Hoek Farm Stall

Houw Hoek Farm Stall

Gabrielskloof

If you aren’t in a rush and feel like making the journey part of the holiday, then treat yourself to a delicious food and wine pairing experience at Gabrielskloof wine farm just past Botrivier on your right. The setting overlooking the Overberg wheatfields is simply gorgeous and it’s not surprising that this is such a popular venue for weddings given the beautiful courtyard and chapel.

There is a popular restaurant and at the deli you can even collect fresh farm eggs, as well as divine quiches and pies including a popular Bobotie Pie for R20. Everything is homemade and free range and the bread is all baked on the property.

Wonderful view from Gabrielskloof

Wonderful view from Gabrielskloof

Restaurant at Gabrielskloof

Restaurant at Gabrielskloof

 

 

 

 

 

Dassiesfontein

If you are prepared to drive a bit further up the N2, just past the turnoff to Villiersdorp you will see Dassiesfontein on your right. It is hard to miss. A monument to boere-chic and by that I mean you can buy all kinds of enamel kettles and pots, old kitchen utensils and seal shoes as well as biltong, bokkoms and dried fruit from the Overberg. The doorstopper sandwiches on homemade bread hit the spot if you are starving.

Dassiesfontein

Dassiesfontein

First appeared on Food24

For more information on food and travel tips, visit Melissa Sutherland’s Facebook page.