As experienced by Honey, Mom of two and side-kick of Sometimes Grumpy Husband (aka SGH)
It was a dark and stormy night… just kidding. But we did visit the place known as the legendary ‘Cape of Storms’. As I planned each activity and plotted each wine farm visit on our itinerary, I just knew this was going to be an extraordinary extended weekend. Of course, as long suffering SGH will confirm from experience – I was absolutely right! We were headed to the Agulhas wine region. This is that story…
With itinerary in hand, SGH, six-foot-tall teenaged daughter, seven-year-old f u s s y eater (our much loved offspring in case you are new around here) and I went off to explore the vast unknown which is the Agulhas Wine Triangle (AWT)! And when I say explore, I really do mean explore – this is a wine route made for explorers where most of the places we visited are slightly off the beaten track but so worth the adventure! Speaking of wines, let me get down to the business of sharing what happened when we explored the Agulhas Wine Triangle.
After a three hour drive we arrived in Malgas and booked into the Green House just in time to catch the spectacular sunset on the Breede River. A quick stroll from our fully equipped accommodation – which even had a private jetty and boat slip – took us to The Boat House on the Malgas Pont for sundowners and pizzas. Us ‘city folk’ just loved seeing people arrive for dinner in their boats (meant with the greatest respect – we usually have to battle throngs of angry motorists for a parking space). The next morning, I got up early to take in the tranquillity of the river and watch the red bishop birds sitting like jewels on the reeds. Not the worst way to enjoy a morning coffee and relax before a busy day exploring!
First stop of the day was the Breede River Trading Post to pick up some food essentials. We decided to grab a quick breakfast at Grunters in the adjoining building where we were greeted by Juliette the African Grey parrot. A big plus if you are travelling with kids are the farm animals and playground – it makes for a peaceful breakfast for Moms and Dads if the kids are happily occupied.
Our first AWT tasting was at Sijnn Winery, (the only first growth appellation in the region) which is perched in a beautiful stone building high on the hill overlooking the Breede River. Founded in 2003 by renowned winemaker, David Trafford, it was fascinating to see the bush vines and the extremely rocky soils, which are perfect for Mediterranean varietals. Their barrel fermented Chenin Blanc and flagship Sijnn Red, a full-bodied Syrah, both found their way into our ‘take home stash’. Our tasting was hosted by the multi-talented Elizabeth Pieterse who is also involved in every part of the wine-making process and even made the delicious olives on the platters showcasing local cheeses and meats which accompanied our tasting. In other news, our seven-year-old f u s s y eater found tadpoles in the pond, so he was happy while our six-foot-tall teenaged daughter willingly read her book after exploring for a bit. All in all, a great way to start our AWT adventure!
After a light lunch of delicious salads and seriously good burgers, we decided that we will definitely come back here and stay with friends for a couple of days so that we can see the last surviving colony of the endangered Cape Griffon Vultures and take the guided marine walk at low tide. The variety of accommodation available is also pleasantly varied from camping to luxury 5-star if you want to go all out.
A quick stop in Bredasdorp to grab some additional supplies for a braai that evening and onward we went to the second wine farm, Black Oystercatcher in Agulhas, where we had the honour of seeing three Cape Vultures really close up (they really are huge and majestic) as we arrived. By the time we arrived at our home for the night, we were very thirsty. We set the kids up in their room, connected them to the WiFi and relaxed into our wine tasting before another game drive. I have never tasted a 100% Merlot MCC and was sceptical but happily surprised. My pick of the whites was the 2018 White Pearl and SGH declared the 2016 Semillon Reserve his top pick. Next time we are definitely going to stop in and sample their wonderful selection of deli foods and wood fired pizzas in the restaurant which can double as a private function venue.
Our Nuwejaars Wetland game drive (I packed snacks and drinks) was a definite highlight for six-foot-tall teenaged daughter who adores cows and buffalo. As we turned onto the first road, we saw a Grey Rhebok jumping through the wheat fields right next to the road. This sighting illustrated how farming and conservation can work together in this region. At our southern tip of Africa, people and animals depend on an intricate water network.
A group of worried landowners saw how these wetlands started disappearing which in turn had an adverse effect on nature and people alike. Today there are 25 landowners working together over 46 000 hectares in the Plain to protect the water systems and this biodiversity hotspot home to 1850 plant species, some of which are only found here. This is an exciting new way of protecting nature and all its complex ecosystems on private land.
That night at the Black Oystercatcher self-catering cottages, we had a braai with our friend and raconteur, André Morganthal who amongst other things runs the Old Vine Project and spearheads the Agulhas Wine Triangle. He was the perfect guest and brought along some local wines for us to try as three of the eight wine farms don’t have tasting rooms in the area.He also brought along a book (“The Strandveld” by Marius Diemont) which really helped me to understand the history of this fascinating place. The kids particularly loved the story about the stolen treasure that is apparently buried in Vergelegen from a ship that went aground off the coast of Agulhas. Super comfortable king-sized beds with heavenly cotton linen made a truly memorable evening all the more perfect!
On Sunday morning we drove through to the town of Agulhas where we walked on the beautiful wooden walkway to the southernmost tip of Africa. The kids had a blast playing in the rock pools before we made our way to Wine on Main which stocks all the local wines and where the incredibly knowledgeable Theresa will help you with any wine purchase. If you don’t have time to visit all the farms, this is a great place to experience what the area has to offer without driving around. We were particularly pleased that we were able to taste two of the Olivedale wines here as we had to forgo a visit to the farm to catch the Breede sunset on our first night. Jolene, one of the winemakers at this intimate ‘by appointment only’ winery made a special trip to Wine on Main to take us through the tasting and tell us a bit about Olivedale’s offering – including their wild fermentation and huge respect for nature, growing 17 varietals on 18 hectares. At Olivedale they believe it’s not just about the flavour of the wine but how it makes you feel – can’t argue with that!
After lunch we burnt off some energy climbing the huge sand dunes in Arniston and swam in the sea.
Our accommodation that night was in one of the very comfortable farm cottages at Strandveld Vineyards. This was a hit with the kids who took time to play on the swings and run around in the big garden before asking when they could swim in the dam! It’s a great spot for cycling enthusiasts too. We tried three more wines that night (courtesy of André) from Land’s End which is produced by Du Toitskloof, Trizanne Signature wines (The Sémillon 2017 was incredible) and The Ghost Corner. The kids were happy to relax and watch a movie (thanks to the high quality WiFi) while we enjoyed another braai with André, who picked up where he left off the night before regaling us with the history of the area.
All too soon it was Monday morning which meant we had time for a quick breakfast followed by a ‘very early’ wine tasting with winemaker Conrad Vlok at Strandveld. To be perfectly honest, I actually wasn’t looking forward to tasting wine so early on a Monday morning, but I was so wrong (don’t tell SGH I admitted to that, wink wink). I was so impressed by how outstanding all these wines are – so deserving of all the awards they have won. Strandveld’s Navigator 2017 has just won the Shiraz SA Challenge 2020 and gold at the Decanter awards. I love Shiraz and this one from the most southern winery in Africa located only 8km from the coast, did not disappoint. And the stories behind the names of the different wines are a true joy!
On the way to our last wine farm we took a detour to the Giant Periwinkle (because how can you not be enticed by that name) for a tasting of their boutique wines. Again, I thoroughly enjoyed every wine I tried, my favourite being the Syrah Kelp Forest and the 2019 Wind Scorpion Sauv Blanc (again, how can you not love such creatively named wines). I thought their food pairing notes in the brochure were a really nice touch. Something that is also good to know: if you book a tasting for a group here, snack platters can be arranged on request.
Lomond, nestled at the foothills of the Dynefontein Mountains with breath-taking views of Walker Bay, was our last stop on this intoxicating adventure of the very best kind. The TastingRoom@Lomond overlooks the 100ha Lomond Dam with an impressive backdrop of the farm, vineyards and valley. This winery also personifies the true meaning of supporting local producers through their food platters which include local cheese from Stone House, cold meats from Richard Bosman as well as pâté made using trout sourced from their own dam. If you are partial to a bit of pedal power, their mountain biking trails are world class – the Lomond triathlon can boast the cleanest water tested for open water swims in South Africa. There are lots of indoor kids’ activities too if the weather turns a bit iffy – blocks and chess kept ours entertained. Winemaker, Hannes Meyer, joined us for lunch and our tasting, filling us in about all the wildlife on the farm including leopard, bat eared fox and caracal. This once again highlighted how farming and wildlife can happily coexist. But back to the wine – our must-try recommendations are both Sauv Blancs: Pincushion and Sugarbush 2017… try them, you know you want to!
My biggest ‘take away’ from our time in the Agulhas Wine Triangle (aside from the cases of wine which SGH had to miraculously squeeze into our car) was the overwhelming sense of community amongst the locals, all working in support of not only one another’s businesses, but towards the common goal of putting the AWT on the map for all the right reasons. With absolute conviction I will close by saying you can be assured the only thing that is going to disappear in this triangle are many, m-a-n-y glasses of glorious wine!
‘Til next time… Honey x
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THINGS TO DO
AGULHAS WINE TRIANGLE HISTORY
At the risk of sounding like my (deathly boring) high school History teacher, I think a little background is always good when exploring, so… the small town of Elim (meaning ‘Place of God’) was established in 1824 by missionaries who planted vines to make sacramental wine (priorities people!). More than a century later, the replanted vineyards of the Agulhas Wine Route, en route to the southernmost tip of the continent at Cape Agulhas, are still cooled by the salt-laden winds blowing off the sea. The area’s uniquely diverse soil types encourage distinctive mineral and flinty flavours in the fruit which make for sublime wines!