Thursday, November 01, 2007

Wine Tour of Stellenbosch

Gerhard eventually picks me up just after 9am, so we get to our first winery at about 9:30am. He’s brought his father, a chartered accountant (!), along for the day. We drive east out of Cape Down to Stellenbosch, possibly the most famous wine region in South Africa. Apparently there are about 200 wineries scattered about. We’re not feeling that ambitious. Not before breakfast certainly.


We pull up at the Villiera estate. As is usually the case, it’s a beautiful spot, with a brick interior office and tasting area, but given the weather we opt to go outside. Before we do this, we discuss the purchase of a full barrel! Steady on, we haven’t even tasted the stuff yet!

Empty or full?

Turns out Gerhard’s Dad needs it as a plant pot for a shrub which has outgrown its current pot. They sell their old barrels here, varnished or unvarnished. They’ll even deliver. 17 pounds for a full oak barrel, what a deal – how much would that cost in the UK?

A young chap who I think is Grier family looks after us, bringing a variety of wines out, from their bubbly, their budget Down to Earth range, up to Monro, their flagship.

They are all very reasonably priced, ranging from 30 to 90 rand, or 2-6 pounds. Later at a shop I picked up a 2005 Merlot in a shop for 56r, here available for 39.50r.

We finish with their Fired Earth port. Port for breakfast, that’s a first for me. Time to move on, we’ve got lots more places to visit. Gerhard gets a case plus the barrel. Whilst he pays the rather fetching blonde girl in the office, I examine the copy of the wine magazine they have, with a somewhat shocking cover!

No way..!

Turns out to be about wines, i.e. white as opposed to red – some wine commentators have suggested that South African whites are better than their reds. The article itself inside is titled “White Supremacy”, jeez talk about pushing the boundaries.

Anyway, we leave the friendly Villiers and drive on.

Up a bumpy track, we clear the stroppy woman at the gate at pull up in another lovely estate, dating from 1701. It used to be called Houd-den-beck, which means “keep your mouth shut”!

A bald chap inside offers us their range of wines, unfortunately rather cold as they’ve been in the fridge.

Tasting chamber

Most of their wines are in their Morkel range, named after the owner. They have a special offer on bottles of pinot noir, for 25r or so. Crazy price and it tastes nice!

The good stuff

We try the pinotage, which is the classic South African variety, similar to Malbec for Argentina. Apparently the first commercial pinotage planting was here on this estate in 1953. Pinotage is a graft of pinot noir and cinsault (hermitage) grapes, created in 1925.

The range

We cracks open their top of the range PK Morkel Pinotage ’04, which is nice, but perhaps over-rated somewhat.


Hartenberg is a fair way off the main road up a valley, and seems to be a popular estate. It’s well organised, with a restaurant and tasting room upstairs, and wine sales down below.

Lovely spot for lunch

They also offer cheese platters, which become increasingly appealing as time goes on.

Tasting notes

The girl looking after us is very friendly, and runs us through their wines, leading up to their “Super Premiums”, in particular their Stork Shiraz 2004, of which only 19 barrels are made.

Flagship Shiraz

The tasting notes have food suggestions, all of which sound delicious. For example Oysters, scallop and Chardonnay Risotto, Spicy quail, or Dijon and Herb crusted rack of lamb. I want lunch!

I’ll just try that one more time to make sure..


As we leave, Oliver sneaks downstairs and picks up a bottle of the Stork as a gift for Gerhard, a good call.

Enjoying the moment


As we pull into Kanonkop a delightful scene reveals itself. Sunshine, trees, beautiful buildings and two very pretty blonde girls sitting at a table outside, sipping wine.

Inside, they aren’t that busy but don’t come across friendly at all. Oliver resolves never to buy the stuff again back in London.

Wonder how much the 15L goes for in London

We try a few of their wines, having to ask each time, but they don’t have their top wine, the Paul Sauer, for taste, which is a shame as it’s supposed to be nice.

All shapes and sizes

Excuse me, hello, over here

We get a top up and move outside

Proud of their awards


As Gerhard says as we drive to Tokara, this is probably one of the estates with the most bling. They’re set up on rolling hills with olive trees around the vines.

with a purpose-built building housing their restaurant, tasting area and the big aluminium vats through glass.

Where the science goes on

Interesting time piece

There is lots of art work around the walls, some of which reminds me of Eunjeong’s amazing work in London:

Somewhere to sit and enjoy your tasting

They do olive oil tasting here, which is weird as they don’t provide croutons or bread – just the oil in little cups. I try one, but can’t take oil on my own, it’s horrible however nice it is with anything else. Oliver carries on and tries three. Apparently the mark of a good oil is the taste and fragrance of cut grass.

Olive oil straight up

They’re known for their reds, the best ones being named after the estate, Tokara.

La Pineta

Finally it’s lunch, at a restaurant known for game, La Pineta, tucked away in a forest at the edge of some golf courses and the small airstrip.

We’re all hungry so hoover the bread provided, going back for more servings!

So, I go for beef carpaccio for a starter, which is excellent. Oliver tries the ostrich carpaccio, which is less tender but not bad either.

This is followed by a fillet of beef done “Italian style”, i.e. with rosemary and olive oil, medium rare of course. The meat is wonderfully juicy and tender, and a great shade of pink, just a shade away from bloody.

Work in progress

It’s washed down by a nice Middlevlei Pinotage Merlot 2006 from round the corner.

It’s a bit noisy as we have a women’s 30th school reunion going on next to us, doesn’t detract from the food though.

Gerhard’s duck


What a great way to round off wonderful morning! Gerhard drives us back, and we spot zebras, wildebeest and springboks in a farm by the side of the road. As good as a safari!

I’m actually hoping to come back to Stellenbosch in a few days to spend some more time here. In addition to the other 196 wineries, it seems like a nice laid back town – it has a university and good eateries. The next town is Franschoek, which is supposed to be the gastronomic capital of SA.

At Gerhard's parents’ place, his mother gives us good coffee, served up cappuccino style, quite impressive for home, and we sit and watch the Currie Cup, which is the Lions vs Cheetahs, whilst having some Windhoek beer. Gerhard’s mother recommends I visit the Okavanga National Park in Botswana, and shows me some of their photos of their trip. Looks interesting, I’ll have to get Thabiso to take me there!

Then back to Gerhard’s house, where we sit like true geeks, beer in one hand, laptop and pdas in the other, trying to get Bluetooth file transfers working so we can send small inappropriate video clips to each other. It doesn’t work, and so we head out to go ten-pin bowling! What a day!

After walking the shorter way that Gerhard didn’t advise us to take, we find the bowling in the basement of a shopping mall. Amazingly, this place didn’t require those skanky shoes that they often insist you wear, what a result. Obviously a fairly new policy as they had piles of them behind the desk.

It’s all good fun, we take one game each and are both clearly as useless as each other. I pull off my usual strike on the last ball trick both times of course.

Interestingly here there are lots of Asian or Malays – it feels a bit like we’re out in Harrow in London.

Next, we need a proper bar. We’ve had recommended Tiger Tiger (no relation) and Stones. Some really tarted up girls waddle their way into Tiger Tiger, so we decide on that basis to go to Stones first, and come back here later. Stones is just across the road, and is 10r entry.

It’s a pool bar, so we shoot a few frames, I lose terribly, and Gerhard turns up. I enlist the help of Claudia, who has never played pool before but seems to have the edge on me. Later we end up on the dance floor with Claudia and her friend, strangely seeming to be the only white guys there. I guess we’d had enough beer to get past caring about the “white guys can’t dance” situation. The following day the barman apparently congratulated Oliver and myself for getting to dance with them, apparently they rebuff most offers. How did we do it? Well, that would be telling! (Okay, the truth is I have no recollection!).

At about 2am, I decide to leave. Oliver’s staying on, so I walk home. Just to set the frame of reference – I knew it was far, but didn’t realise it was a brisk two hours walk! Think Aldgate to Notting Hill! Ah well, made sense at the time and I needed the fresh air. Was it unsafe? Well I was definitely on my guard and feeling a bit edgy – I find myself constantly evaluating escape routes and panic options as I walk along, but hey, nothing happened (touch wood), and I survive another night in South Africa!

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