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.


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.

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.