WINEDERLUST – We went on a wine adventure… on our doorstep

As experienced by Honey, Mom of two and side-kick of Sometimes Grumpy Husband (aka SGH)

I know you can’t see me, but right now I am tapping a knife ceremoniously on a gently fizzing flute of bubbly. You see, I have an important announcement: I am the proud owner of a shiny new epiphany! We have spent the last couple of months visiting some wonderful wine regions of South Africa as part of our WINEderlust blog and it’s only just dawned on me that we actually live in our very own permanent holiday paradise. Take a short 45-minute drive from Cape Town along the N2 and you’ll know exactly what I mean. Spoiler alert – this particular blog is VERY biased. I call it a love letter from our family to our new community.

Since January this year, we have been fortunate enough to call the Helderberg basin home. We can’t think of another place on earth that has everything we need all conveniently bundled up and adjoined in one place! From an upmarket hotel and spa, residing on a world-acclaimed Gary Player designed golf course through to three of SA’s most iconic wine estates housing the most divine hospitality options…all nestled beneath the incredible Helderberg Nature Reserve. Our new hometown really has it all.

It also means that it made buying me a gift for my birthday very easy for SGH, our six-foot-tall teenaged daughter, and our seven-year-old f u s s y eater. A voucher for the luxurious Lurra Spa at Erinvale Estate Hotel & Spa was all it took to make me a genuinely happy birthday girl… well that and a dinner at Seventeen07 Restaurant which is the flagship of no less than three restaurants housed on the property. If I am completely honest, I was momentarily tempted to ask for a night at the plush Erinvale Hotel (next time) which has just undergone a major facelift including a reconfiguration of the Manor House that now boasts newly designed guest spaces: a welcoming reception area and guest lounge, the Oak Terrace Bistro and De Jong buffet room. Well-known Cape Town designer, Clinton Savage, worked closely with the hotel’s owner Dr Christian Elleke, to conceptualise these luxurious yet homely interiors.

SGH has managed a couple of rounds in between lock downs on the picture-perfect Gary Player designed Erinvale Golf Course with his sights firmly set on a meaningful increase in golf activity in 2021! This world-class golf course at the Erinvale Country and Golf Estate is a true gem in the Western Cape with over 400 properties, ranging from smaller family homes to large spacious villas; all thoughtfully positioned alongside shimmering blue dams and beautifully-maintained green lawns and gardens.

But I digress… back to winederlusting!

We live a stone’s throw from Vergelegen which really is so much more than a wine farm and in SGH’s words quietly exudes “understated elegance”. It’s not just the world class wines that are impressive, over 300 years of history and heritage, breath-taking gardens, a renowned conservation program and a range of exquisite hospitality options, all add to the feeling of timelessness when you experience Vergelegen.

I count my blessings frequently because this is not just my happy place in every way, our seven-year-old f u s s y eater spends hours playing in the extensive gardens along the river searching for frogs and sailing stick boats off to magical imaginary places. We often leave our six-foot-tall teenaged daughter to babysit her brother so that SGH and I can steal away for an early morning 5km walk around the grounds to put the world to rights.

Vergelegen’s heritage experience is well worth taking the time to explore the buildings dating back to the 1700’s most of which house museum/exhibition displays depicting the various eras of history and some significant visitors to the Estate over the decades.

Our new friend, Wayne Coetzer – ex-GM of The Oysterbox in uMhlanga – stepped into the role of MD at Vergelegen this year and his inimitable visitor-centric touches are seen everywhere from the updated décor and menus to the new staff uniforms. Undoubtedly the jewel in their hospitality crown is the estate’s signature dining experience, Camphors. Taking its name from the giant ancient Camphor trees nearby, the restaurant overlooks rolling lawns and manicured gardens making for an unforgettable experience. One of the standouts is resident sommelier Christo’s wealth of knowledge which is shared passionately!

The mystical Camphor Forest plays host to a “white tablecloth” picnic. SGH recently took our six-foot-tall teenaged daughter here on a daddy/daughter date to celebrate the end of her Grade 8 exams. Exquisite food and wine aside, this is a versatile experience which could be a romantic treat for two or an afternoon of bonding with family and friends in a beautifully shaded and tranquil environment. If those trees could talk!

The first vines were planted at Vergelegen in 1700 by founder Willem Adriaan van der Stel and included varieties such as ‘blue Muscadel’, ‘Steendruif’ (Chenin blanc), white Muscadel and Frontignan. The climate at Vergelegen is mild due to its close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean at False Bay about six kilometres away. Vineyard sites range in altitude between 140m and 310m above sea level, with slopes facing north to north-west, and south to south-east. Since joining Vergelegen in 1998 winemaker, Andre Van Rensburg has been relentless in his pursuit of producing outstanding wines. Winning the coveted Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de La Lande trophy not once, but twice for the best red blend at the International Wine and Spirits competition in 2001 and 2003. Apparently doing things more than once is his trademark as he has won the SAA Chief Executives Officers Trophy for the best overall performance by any winemaker and for the third successive year the Best Winery award at the Fairnbarn Capital Wine Trophy Show.

The tasting room experience is a real treat but the cellar tour at Vergelegen should be at the top of everyone’s to-do list. No expense has been spared in ensuring you can drink in the incredible 360-degree views of the estate and surrounds from the cellar. This has to be one of the most impressive cellar tours in the world. We have taken our time and done a lot of ‘research’ to determine what our favourite wines are; SGH’s vote goes to Vergelegen’s 2014 DNA from their Reserve Range and mine is definitely the 2017 Shiraz from their Premium Range. So much so, that I have bought a case of it to keep for a couple of years, but it is drinking really well now so who knows how long it will last. It’s a good job we live so close by…

The Stables Restaurant is a family fave for breakfast although it is fabulous at any time. The recent extension of their opening hours until 8pm to include a dinner seating in summer on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays was a welcome addition as we make our weekly pilgrimage for woodfire pizzas and vino. It is easy to be mesmerised by the tranquil view of the Hottentot Holland Mountains while the kids burn off some energy in the fountains and enormous playground (and here’s a tip from a local: if the clouds are billowing over the Hottentots mountains like froth on a beer, it’s going to be blustery on the beach.)

Regular readers of this blog know that we have an interest in biodiversity and wine so of course I have to mention that Vergelegen was the first producer to be awarded BWI ‘Champion’ status (in March 2005) for remarkable progress with its large-scale alien clearing and fire management programme to restore 2240 hectares of their 3000 hectare estate. The Estate also officially registered the Vergelegen Nguni Stud in August 2010. The Vergelegen cattle are totally free-range, grazing on a kikuyu and clover mix and the breeding focus is on colour and temperament. The estate’s original stock of superb Nguni cattle was purchased in 2001 from a local stud in the Malmesbury district and also from the Eastern Cape. Today, the herd counts between 150 and 200 animals which are favoured for their multicoloured hides and as a hardy breed for optimal beef production under harsh African conditions.

The biodiversity at Vergelegen doesn’t end there, 30 splendid Bontebok share their protected territory with the herd of indigenous Nguni cattle. When conservationists, realised that the adjacent Helderberg Nature Reserve (a regular outing for us) offered insufficient grazing to its growing Bontebok population, the first ‘Vergelegen’ Bontebok were relocated here. An exciting development recently was the introduction of a small herd of Eland and the farm is also a proud supporter of the Cape Leopard Trust.

Speaking of biodiversity and sustainability, 4 000 hectares of land at neighbouring Lourensford Estate is framed with a backdrop of the Hottentots Holland and Helderberg mountains. 1200 of those are Fynbos with farmed Proteas, forestry, fruit orchards and vineyards making up the remainder.

 It’s no surprise that the Cape Leopard chose this idyllic spot as home. You cannot possibly visit Lourensford without experiencing a Vinfari and clay pigeon shooting – these are just two of my top picks for activities on the estate. It is impossible to narrow it down and trust me when I tell you that we constantly go back to try new things here (still need to experience the mountain bike clubs, yoga and the Pilates studio!)

One of our regular Friday night bites takes place at the Millhouse Kitchen – now under new management. Inspired by French and Italian cuisine they are famous for their rustic dishes. Their use of fresh simple and seasonal ingredients sourced within a 50km radius of the farm makes all the difference. But I have to say our favourite thing to do on a Friday night is to wander around the Lourensford Market (don’t tell SGH but really it is so I don’t have to cook). It’s a great place for our six-foot-tall teenaged daughter to socialize with her friends while her brother runs himself ragged in the fountains (another helpful tip from a local: take costumes and towels for the kids). The variety means we avoid the back and forth discussion we all hate about what we feel like eating – we all just choose our favourite meals! 

And because we are regulars, we have started to make friends in the basin and keep bumping in to people we know. Oh and I must mention that next year I plan to host our seven-year-old f u s s y eater’s party at their play barn, Wunderkind– it checks every box for a kid’s dream birhtday: the kids can learn though play with supervised pottery classes, painting, sports, laser tag, gymnastics and a whole lot more.

I went off at a tangent again… let’s talk wine! Creative Cellar Master, Hannes Nel joined Lourensford in 2002 after working at the Manincor winery in South Tyrol, Italy as a visiting winemaker. At Manincor he was impressed by their practice of minimal intervention in the winemaking process, which ensures that the wines stay as close to nature as possible. This approach is still central to his winemaking philosophy today and has secured an impressive 82 awards for Lourensford over the past five years. During the Vinfari, we got spoilt and tried three of their Cap Classiques. My favourite was the Brut Rosé which went down so well on that hot day and SGH’s favourite was The Dome Pinot Noir – he claims it was because he climbed The Dome solo the previous week, what he didn’t say was that it took him six hours and he was really thirsty! The River Garden wines are seriously good value for the quality of this wine.

Lourensford is another example of what I mean when I say that these wine estates are so much more than just producers of wine with a restaurant. Here you can find a coffee roastery, art gallery, outdoor markets and music concert.

Another first time event for me since moving to the Helderberg, was an olive oil tasting at Morgenster Olive and Wine Estate. This is a family-owned and family run estate with a long history dating back 300 years. Famous for producing award-winning Bordeaux-styled wines, Italian cultivars, extra virgin olive oil and a soon to unveiled new restaurant offering, Morgenster is a must for any visitor to the Helderberg.

Acquired by the late Giulio Bertrand in 1992, it is very evident that his legacy lives on inspired by the estate’s mantra of “place, people, passion”. He is the undisputed Father of Olive Oil in South Africa paving the way for South Africa’s olive oil culture releasing the estate’s first olive oils into the market in 1998.

I was really surprised by the difference in smell and taste of the olive oils. I have to recommend trying the Lemon Enhanced Extra Virgin Olive Oil on ice-cream….it is unexpectedly deeelicious. As is probably the case for most of us, olive oil is a condiment so tasting it solo was a very interesting and enlightening experience. I know I keep harping on about how gorgeous the scenery is but it’s that good that I have to keep mentioning it. Equally beautiful are the terroir driven wines at Morgenster. I really enjoyed the estate’s Sauvignon Blanc which has just received 5 stars with Platters.

We are patiently anticipating the opening of the new restaurant, Botanicum, on 16 December, which is punted as ‘a family friendly restaurant serving modern European cuisine and Neapolitan style sourdough pizzas, using the best seasonal Cape produce, alongside terroir driven wines’. I foresee many happy meals here.

Well that’s it from me, love letter complete and sealed with a kiss!

‘Til next time… Honey x

UP FOR GRABS

We’ve got a spectacular prize worth a massive R17 900 to give away to one lucky Winederlust blog fan:

  • From Erinvale Estate Hotel & Spa valued at R7 500:
    • Two nights’ accommodation for two guests in a Garden Terrace Luxury Room including a full English breakfast
    • One dinner for two including a bottle of house wine at Magnolia Social Dining Lounge
    • A 30-minute back, neck and shoulder couples massage at Lurra Spa
  • From Vergelegen valued at R5 000:
    • Camphors picnic for four, which includes an environmental tour and cellar tour beforehand, and a case of Vergelegen’s vineyard range to take home.
  • From Lourensford valued at R3 000:
    • A Vinfari for four people
  • From Morgenster valued at R2 400:
    • Morgenster olive oil & wine tasting plus a gift hamper comprising EVO, Lemon EVO, Olives and paste, bottle of Morgenster wines (Res 2012, LRV 2015, Sauv Blanc 20, Vermentino) all valued at R1400
    • A meal at Botanicum valued at R1000

TO ENTER:

  1. Read ‘WINEDERLUST – We went on a wine adventure… on our doorstep in The Heart of the Helderberg’
  2. Tag 3 friends you’d like to visit the Heart of the Helderberg with in the Facebook comments
  3. Make sure you are following Heart of the Helderberg  on Facebook

HELDERBERG HISTORY:

In 1666 Willem Adriaan van der Stel succeeded his father Simon van der Stel as Governor of the Cape and, a year later, acquired 413 morgen of land in the Hottentots Holland valley. He called the farm “Vergelegen” which means “far situated” as it was a good day’s ride from the castle in Cape Town. He also imported trees – the now giant camphor trees in the Vergelegen and Erinvale gardens and the many oaks which can still be found in this area nearly 300 years later.

The earliest traces of human activity in the Hottentots Holland Valley are to be found at Grootnek and Uitzicht, two locations deep in the heart of Lourensford Estate. The Uitzicht stone age midden has early and middle stone age artifacts (150 000 – 200 000 years BC) that are leached out of the soil by winter rains. After this period, San peoples occupied the Valley and a single painting remains, as well as flint arrowheads and bone tools which leach out of the soils. Following them were the Quenaku or “Red People” responsible for opening the long-distance trading trails. Again, at Uitzicht and barely 100m from the stone age midden is a Quena astronomical conservatory, which formed an integral part of a cosmological religion. The Khoi-Khoi (Man-Man) and Khoi-San (Naked Man) were well established in the area when the Dutch arrived in Table Bay in the 1600s.

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