As it turns out, the stairway to heaven isn’t a stairway at all but actually a sleek stainless steel elevator. And it’s located within the sweetly scented lobby of the Westin Hotel in Cape Town. Set the destination for floor 19 because it’s here you’ll find the international award-winning Heavenly Spa by Westin™.
Now, I’m typically suspicious of establishments that liken themselves to the abode of the Gods. My personal concept of heaven is a pretty lofty ideal to reach: anything short of milky maidens bathing in great glass vestibules of Chateau Lafite 1787 simply won’t do! And so it was with middling expectations that I entered Heavenly Spa, clean as a whistle and ready for my 60-minute Heavenly Spa Signature Massage.
Step into the oasis
The noise fell away, the temperature dipped ever so slightly, and the smell of essential oils pervaded. The neatly dressed staff at the front desk welcomed me with demure smiles and wasted little time in ‘signing me in’. Administration out of the way, I was lead along a winding, airy corridor to the ladies bathrooms, where I changed into my assigned fluffy bathrobe and Westin branded slippers. The bathrooms boast generously sized showers (with complimentary toiletries), lockers in which you can store your valuables whilst undergoing treatment, a hair and make-up station, and a staggering north-facing view of Cape Town.
It was here – 19 storeys in the sky, clad in bathrobe and slippers, and ensconced in the serene climate controlled interior of a luxury spa – that I stared out of the window over the city below with her car-clogged arteries and thumping dockside industry, and idly wondered if anyone down there could see up my bathrobe. Not really caring, I silently admired the view from heaven.
Much to the relief of the traffic below (or perhaps to their disappointment), I moved away from the window and to the lounge area, where spa guests are invited to relax prior to, and after their treatment.
I’ve always believed that true ‘zen’ lies in nature and, apparently, so too does Heavenly Spa’s interior designer because the décor here centres on nature with earthy tones, natural textures, and organic elements reigning supreme. It’s clever really because, in a way, your therapy begins before you’ve even stepped into the spa room. With 10 minutes to kill, I helped myself to the ice water that had so considerately been provided (along with juices, green tea, and a few nibbles) and commenced my decompression.
Heavenly Spa by Westin™ offers a bevvy of treatments, including facials personalised to your skin care concerns, manicures/pedicures, calming body treatments and massages, men’s services, and waxing. They have a gym, an infinity pool, the latter of which has the most incredible view of the city, and an impressive 15 deluxe treatment rooms. Mine was called something seductively exotic like “sea of elixir” or “waves of tranquility” or “this is going to be the best day of your life”.
My lovely massage therapist left me to arrange myself on the heated massage bed and protect my modesty with big fluffy towels. The treatment in question, the Heavenly Spa Signature Massage (R820), is a 60-minute Swedish style medium to firm massage of the entire body, from toes to fingertips. And with deft, fluid movements of her surprisingly strong hands, she coaxed out the stress and the strain of a life lived writing, adventuring, jogging, and pestering the occasional cat.
The Heavenly Spa promises, in its offering, to pamper its guests and deliver world-class treatments that are both unique and luxurious. I can personally testify to this statement’s verity. Floating out of the dim, fragrant recesses of the treatment room, I repaired to the lounge once again; this time to attempt to wake up sufficiently so as to be able to get dressed and exit the premises without walking into any walls.
The Heavenly Spa by Westin™ is an international award-winning one and I say that without a trace of surprise or incredulity. Quite simply, it is heavenly! It’s also on the 19th floor of the Westin Hotel, which is located (and directly connected to) the Cape Town International Convention Centre. This means that it’s quite literally on the doorstep of anyone visiting, working, or playing in the Mother City.
Instead of becoming a cog in Cape Town’s perpetually gridlocked traffic system, why not wait out the worst of rush hour here? Or impress your special person with a spa gift card? With the frustrations of work, traffic, load shedding, and the political farces that play themselves out on the news and in the media, we could all use a little pampering. And you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more gorgeous place for that than the Heavenly Spa by Westin™.
I know I departed with the effects of weeks’ worth of working days, a few park runs, and one particularly taxing night of karaoke lighter than when I had arrived.
The Heavenly Spa at the Westin Hotel is open Monday to Sunday, 09:00 to 20:00 For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 21 412 8200.
An epic tasting experience of this versatile, expressive, and aromatic German white wine varietal.
From Cabernet Sauvignon to Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa and particularly the Western Cape has become the cultivator of an entire alphabet’s worth of wine grape varietals. One of the lesser-known colours within this rainbow spectrum is the German white wine varietal of Riesling. This ignorance, thanks to what is being called the “Riesling Revival”, the first of a series of Riesling tastings, is thankfully set to change. And the two women championing this movement are superlatively talented winemakers Catherine Marshall and Jessica Saurwein, both of whom craft boutique, namesake wine ranges.
Catherine Marshall is a veteran of the wine industry, producing reverentially lauded vintages of Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc, while Jessica Saurwein’s award-littered “Nom” Pinot Noir is so devastatingly delicious, you’d be forgiven for ignoring your date at the dinner table after cracking open a bottle. Both winemakers, however, have an unwavering passion for Riesling, and a conviction that this “Queen of Grapes” produces the most expressive, aromatic, and food-friendly white wines available in South Africa and indeed the world.
Knowing next to nothing about Riesling and eager to learn at the hands of the most knowledgeable people in the industry, I arrived at Lavinia Cellars in Stellenbosch, the home of Catherine Marshall Wines, Jessica Saurwein, and the Riesling Revival series of tastings.
Meet the grape: an introduction to Riesling
The day kicked off with an introduction to Riesling, a white grape varietal, which originated in the Rhine region of southwestern Germany. This aromatic grape cultivar, which thrives in cooler climates, displays a flowery, almost perfumed nose, as well as high acidity and is used to make dry, semi-sweet, sweet, and sparkling white wines that are seldom oaked.
“If farmed and made well, Riesling is one of the greatest varieties of white wine in the world, in terms of flavour profile,” began Catherine Marshall. “It has excellent longevity for a white wine and it’s very expressive geographically with soil, site, and climate showing up incredibly well in the flavour and aromatic profiles of the wine, owing to its monoturpine and turpenoid characteristics.”
Riesling also generally has low alcohol content, is known for its bracingly fresh acidity, particularly in those from Germany, and can be made with all levels of sweetness. But perhaps Riesling’s greatest claim to fame is its potent aromatic properties, which are 10 to 15 times higher than that of any other white wine variety. In other words, Riesling has a powerful nose, the precise profile of which varies depending on terroir and origin.
Riesling roots: where in the world do we find the Queen of Grapes?
The Germans are the foremost producers of Riesling, not only in volume and variety, but also in quality; they have, after all, been doing it for centuries. A large acreage of land bordering the Rhine River and its tributaries in southwestern Germany is carpeted in Riesling vineyards, with the Rheingau, Mosel-Saar Ruwer, Rheinhessen, Württemberg, and a smattering of other virtually unpronounceable names being notable Riesling-producing regions.
Alsace in France (where your Alsatian pooch originates) is another famous Riesling producing region found on the Rhine River plain in northeastern France. Historically caught in an immense tug of war between Germany and France, Alsace has suffered from tremendous identity crises over the centuries. And while France eventually won the battle, the culture here (and the wine, obviously) remains a delightful blend of the two.
Further afield, producers in South Australia’s Clare and Eden Valley (neighbouring the famous Barossa Valley) have jumped on the Riesling bandwagon. The varietal is also grown in Austria, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Croatia, Luxembourg, Russia, Argentina, Chile, Ontario (Canada), New Zealand, California, Washington State, and finally – and most significantly to the group gathered at Lavinia Cellars on this utterly gorgeous spring day – the cool and verdant Elgin Valley in the Western Cape of South Africa.
The pudding and the proof to be found therein
With beguiling tales of history, geography, and chemistry under our belts, we moved on to our practicum in Riesling – a sweeping tasting experience that included Jessica Saurwein and Catherine Marshall’s creations, as well as some iconic examples from around the world. From the Eden and Clare Valleys in Australia to the Mosel in Germany and Alsace in France, we travelled the length and breadth of the world’s most iconic Riesling appellations. In total, we sampled a staggering 14-15 different Rieslings, a few too many to describe in any detail here. As such, I’ve taken the liberty of putting together a wholly subjective highlights reel of our Riesling Revival experience.
Highlights reel: most memorable Rieslings tasted
Niepoort/Kettern Falkenberg Riesling 2016 – “From vineyards in the western Mosel village of Piesport, Germany, the 2016 Mosel Riesling Falkenberg has a very clear, fresh, and delicately slatey nose of white ripe fruits and cold stones. Lush and piquant, with a salty freshness and remarkable finesse, this is a lithe but tensioned dry Riesling bottled with 11% alcohol. The finish is long, pure, and salty, absolutely refreshing and highly delicate.” Thank you, Wine Cellar Fine Wine Merchants for the erudite tasting notes.
Personally, I found the Falkenberg to exhibit a sharp, almost confronting acidity – perceived as a lemony tartness – but what clinched it for me was the wine’s exceptional expressive nose of rose geranium, citrus, and gunflint.
Catherine Marshall Riesling 2019 – From the Kogelberg Biosphere in the Elgin Valley, Catherine Marshall’s 2019 Riesling exudes sweet yet persistent, bright, fresh limes, crisp apples, and white flower perfume. The brisk acidity is well balanced and supported by expressive fruit with spicy undertones.
To me, this off-dry Riesling was a childhood summer’s day bottled. Where I grew up in Hout Bay, there were lush Jasmine bushes growing right outside my bedroom window and that same fragrance simply exploded from the glass. In fact, so heavily perfumed was Catherine’s extraordinary Riesling that one could quite plausibly dab it behind the ears and on the wrists and go out for dinner smelling like a summer garden.
Trimbach Riesling Reserve 2014 – For almost 400 years (since 1626), the Trimbach family in Alsace, France has represented the exceptional terroirs and fine wines of the region. The Trimbach Riesling Reserve 2014 is the product of rigorously selected grapes from the Ribeauvillé region and is a bone-dry wine with a nose of white peach, acacia blossom, lemon zest, and gunmetal.
The lattermost descriptive might sound laughable but this is precisely why the Trimbach made my highlight reel. One sniff of this Riesling and I was transported to a sooty rail yard, the sharp, flinty, and metallic smell of railway tracks and trains in my nostrils. Tasted side-by-side with Catherine Marshall’s heady jasmine and honey-suckle scented 2019 Riesling, the comparison drove home that fundamental truth about Riesling: that it is the most aromatic of all the white wines and acutely expressive of terroir.
Saurwein “Chi” Riesling 2019 – Jessica Saurwein’s 2019 Riesling is made from grapes sourced from the same Elgin vineyard as Catherine Marshall’s Riesling and yet the two were remarkably different. The wine’s heavily perfumed floral nose of citrus, fynbos, rose geranium, apple blossom, and white stone fruit was followed by a zesty, fruity palate of citrus peel and lemon sherbet. Delicious and dangerously moreish!
There were many, many, many other Rieslings that we tasted this day that fully deserve a spot on this highlights reel but I do feel the point has been successfully made, and that is that Riesling is incredibly distinctive yet anything but uniform! (Also, your boss will probably start noticing that you haven’t typed anything in a while).
Riesling brought to life
I was hoping for an education and, boy, was I educated. Prior to our lovely tasting experience at Lavinia Cellars, I regarded Riesling as a light style white wine that was typically a little too sweet for my palate, which has somehow become slavishly devoted to tannin. Afterwards, I left with a profound appreciation for this German varietal and the alchemy that goes on in Jessica Saurwein’s and Catherine Marshall’s cellars when they transform their Elgin Valley grapes into this queen of white wines. My eyes have been opened and Riesling brought to life!
Bosman Family Vineyards is a family owned and family run winemaking enterprise with a winery (and one of the most influential vine nurseries in Africa) in Wellington and in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. In the latter location, a portion of the estate’s grapes are grown in the cool breezes that blow in off the Atlantic Ocean, allowing winemaker Natasha Williams to craft a range of wines – Bosman Upper Hemel en Aarde Sauvignon Blanc 2018, Chardonnay 2018, and Pinot Noir 2018 – that are true ambassadors of their varietals.
But before I whittle on about the wine, the food, and the views, let’s talk about Uncle Frank…
Frank Woodvine is a veteran of nature. He knows each of the Cape’s thousands of endemic plant species, not only by their colloquial names, but also their Latin designations in the scientific lexicon. Furthermore, while setting a roaring pace through the pristine fynbos that flourishes on the Bosman Family Vineyard’s farm in the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley, just outside Hermanus, this sprightly 88-year-old man fires off these complex Latin names with great liquid ease and just a touch of reverence.
He will also tell you the stories behind the names, the possible medicinal applications of the plants, and his experiences trying to rehabilitate the indigenous vegetation here. Yes, Frank Woodvine is a unique soul – a walking, talking, leather-bound and sun-kissed tome of knowledge on all things relating to Cape botany and it was a privilege to be taken on a guided walking tour of the fynbos-clad “backyard” at Bosman Hermanus.
Unparalleled in uniqueness and diversity
For example, did you know that the fynbos floral kingdom encompasses 6,000 endemic plant species – found here and nowhere else on Earth? The entire continent of Europe doesn’t have a single endemic plant species to its name! “You’ll find more, often several more species of plants in a few square metres than you will on a few hours’ walk in England,” said Frank after riffling through a patch of Fynbos to show us the diversity of plants within that patch.
So…what does Frank Woodvine have to do with Bosman Family Vineyards, asides from enjoying a few glasses of their superb Pinot Noir with his lunch? (Yeah, sorry, I may have been watching.) Well, while Frank may humbly refer to himself as the “garden boy”, he is in fact a conservationist and the spearhead behind the estate’s conservation efforts on their Hemel-en-Aarde farm; efforts to which they are extremely dedicated.
Bosman Family Vineyards walking and hiking trails
“Uncle Frank” is also the architect of Bosman Hermanus’ numerous hiking trails, and essentially plots and lays these trails around the farm, through the fynbos and Renosterveld, and up and over its rolling koppies. This is the Cape at its most pristine and the trails here afford visitors a sweeping journey through the incredibly unique, diverse, and beautiful flora, in addition to breathtaking 360º views of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, all the way across Walker Bay to Gansbaai in the south and Hangklip in the west. And if you’re lucky, you might spot some of the resident animals on the farm: rhebok, porcupine, mongoose, baboon, and even caracal and Cape leopard (extremely rare). Birds to watch out for include South Africa’s national bird, the blue crane, and the noisy, butter-coloured bokmakerie.
For a light sweat, you can walk up the koppie just behind “The Frame House”, a wood and canvas structure housing the wine tasting room and picnic service belonging to Bosman Family Vineyards. For a bit more of a challenge and a revitalising few hours in gorgeous nature, you can tackle the 9 km Koppie & Wetlands trail. For no sweat at all, you can meander around the fynbos gardens embracing the tasting centre and admire the spectacular surrounding views. All of the farm’s trails are marked with numbers, which correspond to numbered information on a hiking guide guests are given (Costs: R50 per person | R25 for kids under 12). Oh, and be sure to order your food and wine paired tastings beforehand!
In other words: a visit to Bosman Hermanus is highly recommended, especially if you are enthusiastic about nature, being outdoors, and even working up a little sweat before sitting down to a wine tasting and a nibble at a cheese/charcuterie/vegetarian platter.
Bosman Family Vineyards in the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley
Naturally, we didn’t travel the hour-and-a-half to Bosman Hermanus just to burn calories on the farm’s walking trails and so after our guided walk, we sat down to a fynbos inspired lunch paired with some of the estate’s new wine releases, my absolute favourites of which were the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Chardonnay 2018 and Pinot Noir 2018. In a heroic effort to replace those poor, lost calories, we mowed our way through a delicious lunch of sweet potato and lentil soup, pecorino flatbread, mixed green salad, roast vegetables, and a stunning chicken Wellington dish.
Visitors to the estate can choose from a simpler, satisfying menu of cheeses, cured meats, winter soup, a snack selection, and ciabatta with Buffalo mozzarella and slow-roasted tomato.
Come and find Frank
Within the tranquillity of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, perched on a sweeping landscape and beneath the shade of an enormous pine tree, lies the heart of the Bosman Hermanus farm. Potting about in the garden or on some fynbos-clad slope somewhere – always busy, always busy – you’ll find Uncle Frank hard at work and, at 88 years old, showing up our generations for our comparatively flaccid work ethic. Come and find Frank; and stay for a wander and some wine while you’re at it.
Bosman Hermanus is open for visits on Tuesday to Saturday, 09:00 to 17:00 | Sundays, 10:00 to 16:00 | Public holidays, 10:00 to 15:00. For bookings and enquiries, please email email@example.com or call +27 (0) 63 083 5571
Launched very recently in April 2019, Gorgeous George is a boutique designer hotel tucked into two lovingly restored heritage buildings on St George’s Mall in the historic, cultural, and culinary heart of Cape Town. The hotel’s interior is the creative effort of a constellation of local artists and designers brought together by German owner Tobias Alter. One such artist is Lucie de Moyencourt who hand-painted the 1,800 ceramic tiles that now adorn the walls of the foyer, depicting a map of the city; another is David Brits, whose painted murals add colour, depth, and intrigue to walls throughout the hotel, including the interior of the bell tower on the pool terrace. The outcome of this artistic collaboration is a grand masterpiece that is quirky, chic, cheeky, tranquil, fashionable darling, and, of course, gorgeous!
Gorgeous George has 20 studio apartments, eight one-bedroom suites, and four two-bedroom suites, all trendily dressed and kitted out with the usual mod cons and luxuries. The suites have a consistent South African contemporary design aesthetic, which is framed by raw, industrial elements, like the exposed ceiling pipework and original steel or wood window frames. Handpicked treasures, velvety drapery, and patterned rugs add personality and pops of colour.
The bathrooms are equally impressive – some even feature freestanding Victorian-style bathtubs. All are stocked with designer fragranced soaps and creams that are biodegradable and vegan-friendly. A kaleidoscopic floral carpet winds its way through the hotel’s sleek, black corridors like a river of paint. In no other place on Earth have I been so bewitched by the floor and if it weren’t for the guide showing me around the hotel, in my trance-like state I very likely would have walked straight into a wall.
Location, location, location
Gorgeous George exists at the very epicentre of Cape Town. In every direction, the Mother City’s famed attractions, historical sites, restaurants, and bars line the streets. Towards Table Mountain, there is the Company Gardens, Iziko Natural History Museum, and South African National Gallery. Towards Lion’s Head, Long Street’s bar scene and foodie favourite-Bree Street unfurl at your feet with the cultural gem of Bo-Kaap a stone’s throw beyond. Then, there’s the vibrant shopping street of St George’s Mall and a vast buffet of artisanal coffee shops, uniquely flavoured eateries, food and craft markets, and sexy cocktail bars, making Gorgeous George oh-so-desirable in the eyes of visitors to the Cape.
Gigi Rooftop Restaurant and Bar
On the topmost floor of the hotel you’ll find Gigi Rooftop, a jungle-inspired lounge, bar, and restaurant where hotel guests can take their meals, sprawl out on the enormous couches, or lounge by the pool, and day visitors are encouraged to “come for breakfast and stay for dinner.” On the covered veranda, the ceiling drips with textured woven baskets and planters with moss beards, while large palm trees lend their verdant fronts to the oasis-like atmosphere.
It all works together to create a tranquil, green space that appeals to the sub-conscious’ need to feel close to nature. Inside, the restaurant has a decidedly different feel of an 18th Century gentleman’s lounge with a rugged, industrial edge. Chef Guy Bennett, previously of The Restaurant at Grande Provence in Franschhoek, heads up the kitchen of Gigi Rooftop, crafting seasonally and locally inspired dishes that are both healthy (read: guilt-free) and delicious. Behind the bar, inventive cocktails are proudly brought to you by well-known mixologist, Jody Rahme.
A place you’ve got to meet
Gorgeous George exudes history, fashion, and charm and presents as a work of art. More than that, however, it feels personal… like someone’s warm, colourful, and perhaps a little eccentric personality has been transposed onto its physical interior. And after spending a few hours poking about the hotel and sitting down to lunch at Gigi Rooftop, I wish that there were more people in the world with personalities like Gorgeous George.
Gorgeous George Hotel and Gigi Rooftop bookings and enquiries: +27 (0) 87 898 6000 | Gigi Rooftop Bar & Restaurant: firstname.lastname@example.org, +27 (0) 87 898 6000
It is all too easy to wax lyrical for paragraph after paragraph about how spellbindingly beautiful the Cape Winelands are. For example, here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote for Southern Vines magazine about a year ago:
“Perched high up on Helshoogte Pass in Stellenbosch, Tokara Wine & Olive Farm affords visitors the kind of views that words fail dismally to convey. From here, you can see the Cape farmlands’ patchwork quilt of emerald green fields and autumnal-coloured vineyards bordered by dramatic, craggy mountain ranges turned blue by a low haze.”
And another earlier this year:
“I’d need the romantic turn of phrase and poetic dexterity of William Wordsworth to describe the view from Cavalli Estate’s restaurant. An extensive terrace juts out over a small farm dam that reflects an endless vault of creamy blue sky. A neat, yet explosively coloured Fynbos garden thrives around the perimeter of the dam, in and out of which canaries, sunbirds, and prinias flit. The sky was completely unblemished, saved for the occasional soaring raptor, and the sun gently gilded the surrounding rolling hills, rugged mountains, vineyards, and horse paddocks.”
So now I sit here, kalaeidescopic memories of Oldenburg Vineyards emblazoned across my mind, trying to cook up a clever new way of conveying its particular allure because I dare say it’s one of the most beautiful of all the Cape’s wine estates I have ever visited. Top three at least!
In fact, to describe the sweeping amphitheatre of dramatic mountainscapes, undulating vineyards, and fiery flowering Fynbos gardens as merely “beautiful” is to nonchalantly say Thai food is “okay” or “Ja, she’s pretty” about the actress from the latest Wonder Woman movie. Beautiful, pah! Such a pedestrian, everyday adjective is almost slanderous in this context. A litany of far more adoring words come to my writer’s mind: mouth-wateringly delicious, heart-breakingly gorgeous, and knee-weakeningly divine…and yes, these apply to both Thai food and Gal Gadot.
So there you have it. Oldenburg Vineyards sprawls across a setting that will blow your mind in the most exquisite way possible and if you receive any visitors to the Cape and want to send them home with immediate plans to relocate, bring them here:
I told you I could wax lyrical for paragraph after paragraph…and I haven’t even started talking about the wine yet!
Wine, glorious wine
On the subject of wine, let’s talk about wine! Located at a higher elevation to most Stellenbosch farms and in the rocky embrace of the Groot Drakenstein and Jonkershoek Mountain Ranges, the valley in which Oldenburg’s vineyards sprawl is several degrees cooler on average. Three to be precise.
Upon arrival at the estate, the velvety-voiced and charismatic Stefan Reinmuth, Oldenburg’s wine ambassador, greeted us with a glass of the estate’s <CL° White Blend. There’s a great story to that name, which I’ll share in a minute but first I need to express how very delighted I was to receive a welcome drink of lightly wooded white wine as opposed to the usual crisp rosé or MCC…not that I have anything against MCC (quite the contrary actually), but a change is as good as a holiday, isn’t it? Also, I’m amongst the endangered species that love a good, wooded Chardonnay.
Oldenburg Vineyards <CL° is a white blend of 63% Chardonnay and 37% Chenin Blanc, both partially wooded. The name is a composite of nerdy symbols, the key to which is provided on the back of the bottle. “CL” is the vehicle registration for Stellenbosch, “<” is the mathematical symbol for less than, and “°” is the symbol for degree, as in temperature. Ergo, slapped together, the name alludes to the fact that the terroir here is cooler than central Stellenbosch, which, in winemaking, is a very good thing.
The <CL° on Oldenburg Vineyard’s bottles of White and Red Blend is what the estate’s marketers call a “message in a bottle” but what the dashing Stefan Reinmuth jokingly prefers to call a “dad joke in a bottle.” I prefer the latter, probably because I was raised on an interminable diet of dad jokes.
(Hopefully this doesn’t get you into trouble, Stefan.)
“Jy dink jy’s cooler as ekke”
– Profoundly foul-mouthed philosopher and poet, Jack Parow
Okay, so why is cooler better (within reason)?
Grapes typically take longer to ripen in cooler microclimates and a longer time on the vine means more nutrients for the grapes, a better development of the fruits, and more concentrated flavours. Quality fruit is the bedrock, foundations, and building blocks of an excellent wine. The winemaker is the architect.
If you’re still struggling to grasp the relationship between temperature and fruit quality, consider the following: have you ever eaten ripe tomatoes off the vine? Aren’t they delicious? Bursting with citrusy, sweet, and vegetal flavour? Quite a bit different to the tomatoes you buy in the supermarket, which are watery by comparison. This is because the latter are typically plucked off the vine when they are green and then ripen en route to the store, in the store, or even after they’ve been purchased. These tomatoes have been cut off from the steady feed of nutrients from the parent plant and so aren’t nearly as delicious and flavoursome as their vine-ripened cousins. This is why “vine-ripened” has become a sexy word in gastronomy and on menus.
So there you have it: the longer the ripening period, the greater the development of those fruit flavours winemakers (and wine drinkers such as myself) covet so dearly.
The wine tasting
After gagging over the view and sipping delicately on my “dad joke” in a glass, we took our seats around a long table in the stylish wine tasting centre to sample the fruits of Oldenburg’s vineyards and winemaker, Nic Van Aarde.
First up were the Oldenburg Vineyard Series Chenin Blanc 2018 and Chardonnay 2018. The first, a beguiling golden hue in colour, delivered aromas of yellow apples, fresh pineapple, and honeysuckle, followed up by a lovely texture on the palate, filled with flavours of ripe peaches, apricots, and gentle oak spice. The wine was fermented in a combination of egg and older barrels, and matured in 300 litre French oak barrels for eight months, of which 17% were first fill.
The Chardonnay 2018 was 100% barrel fermented and thereafter matured for eight months in 300 litre French oak barrels, 35% of which were first fill. Bright yellow in colour, the wine imparted a nose of gorgeous ripe tropical fruits: litchi, banana, papaya, and ripe citrus with warm oak spice. The palate was a study in balance between fruit and oak, delivering mouth-filling flavours of tangerine and dried pineapple with a fresh, crisp finish.
Next up were the Oldenburg Vineyard Series Grenache Noir 2017 and Syrah 2015. Mercifully, the tables were decked with great platters heaped with Dalewood cheese, olives, sweet green grapes, charcuterie, and crackers that were as delicious as they were deafening to crunch on in the quiet around the table, while Stefan walked us through the tasting. Oh, and by the way, these platters (minus the charcuterie – we’re special) are served to all guests who visit Oldenburg Vineyards for a wine tasting!
The Grenache Noir 2017, a gorgeous, silky red, was matured for 16 months in 300 litre French oak barrels (28% new and 72% second-fill barrels). The wine has a dark plum hue and aromas of rich red fruit, raspberries, hints of liquorice, and pleasant herbal notes. The wood from the oak is elegantly integrated into the body, while the sturdy tannins are rounded off by luscious fruit flavours, leaving the wine smooth and succulent.
To those of you scratching your heads over my persistent referencing to first and second-fill barrels, here’s the deal: oak imparts a distinctive flavour to wine that is strongest with new oak barrels (first fill). After a vintage, the barrels are thoroughly steam-cleaned and sterilized to receive their next consignment of vino, to which they also impart a lovely oak flavour but not as concentrated as the first. Oak barrels can be used many, many times over but each time they impart less and less “oakiness” to the wine. Some wines benefit enormously from being fermented and matured in new oak, like rich, heavy red wines.
Other wines can be ruined by too much oak, as is the case with Chardonnay and that blasphemous “ABC” movement – Anything But Chardonnay – to which I say: clearly, you aren’t drinking the right Chardonnay. Some wines, such as crisp whites like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, typically aren’t oaked at all but are rather fermented and matured in great steel containers. There’s more to it – winemaking is mind-bogglingly complex – but consider this your crash course.
The Oldenburg Vineyards Series Syrah 2015
The reason I have given the Oldenburg Vineyards Series Syrah 2015 its very own subheading is because this wine – this liquid velvet ambrosia – was my absolute favourite from our tasting. First, it must be explained that the 2015 vintage here in South Africa is widely considered to be the best ever for our country’s wines. Not merely “one of the best”…the best. Cooler conditions throughout February 2015 allowed for slow, even ripening of grapes early in the season, contributing towards the development of the fruit’s colour and flavour, particularly in the red wine cultivars.
The Syrah 2015 was matured for 20 months in 300 litre French oak barrels (40% first fill, 30% third fill, 20% fourth fill, and 10% fifth fill barrels.) On the nose, this dark crimson wine delivers a powerful, ripe red fruit profile laced with vanilla oak and sultry savoury notes. On the palate, it boasts brooding, dark chocolate flavours with cumin notes and a firm, muscular structure. I fell so ardently in love with this wine that I bought a bottle after our tasting, even though my wine collection overfloweth and, with plans to relocate to Canada in the next six months, I should be whittling down my collection rather than adding to it.
Next was the bold but elegant Cabernet Franc 2015, matured for 19 month in a mixture of new, third, fourth, and fifth fill French oak barrels. This wine, another beautiful velvety red, is a deep, plum-red in colour with a nose of ripe cherry and savoury notes and the most succulent palate of liquorice, violets, raspberries, and red fruit and a mouth-watering pepperiness of capsicum, paprika, and black pepper, particularly appreciable after hoovering down 17 olives (no one else was eating them!)
Finally, we were treated to a tasting of the Rondekop “Per Se” Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, one of three wines from Oldenburg Vineyards’ top tier range. The grapes for these wines are grown on a low, rounded hill (Rondekop or “round head”) visible from the winery. Like a contagious laugh on an already attractive person, the presence of this geological feature within the valley adds further desirable idiosyncrasies to the microclimate. The result is that the fruit grown here is not just good; it’s blerry good. In fact, only ten barrels showing exceptional quality and potential were selected and left to age in 50% new oak and 50% second fill barrels for 24 months to create the Rondekop Per Se 2015.
The subsequent brick-red Cabernet Sauvignon delivers a profound herbal aroma with dried peach and hints of vanilla and a gorgeous full body of broody black currant, plum, and red fruit flavours. The tannins are as soft as a fall-of-the-bone lamb shank, but structured enough to allow ageing of 20 years or more. And, according to the winemaker, “this virile, succulent wine is a textbook example of what Cabernet Sauvignon is all about.”
Wine estate worthy of your next Stellenbosch visit
Oldenburg Vineyards is a must-add to any boozy Stellenbosch travel itinerary – the wines here are simply superb and the views, as I explained ad nauseum, heart-breakingly gorgeous. The only downfall to visiting such an exquisite wine estate is that you might find yourself insufferably critical of all others to follow!
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The wind gently tousled through the rooftop area and as the sun descended below the western horizon, the chill crept, reminding us that although spring is on its way, winter still has dominion over the Cape; particularly the nights. We milled about, glasses of Waterford “Rose-Mary” Blanc de Noir and gin-and-tonics in hand, chatting and admiring the views over the entirety of Stellenbosch.
In the winelands summer heat, the pool would be irresistibly seductive but tonight, it is just pretty to look at. The rooftop of The Den, the venue for our drinks and canapés (and chin-wag), offers a remarkable space for visitors to spend time. Clean-cut and modern with extraordinary valley and mountain views…how could one not be inspired up here, I mused as I hoovered down my fifth basil, buffalo mozzarella, and cherry tomato hors d’oeuvre.
The Den in Stellenbosch
The Den in Stellenbosch is a large apartment complex located on Dennesig Road, on the very doorstep to the historic town centre, the University of Stellenbosch, and all the wonderful wine estates beyond. Cape Summer Villas is a privately owned hotel group that began in 1996 as a single three-bedroom guesthouse, which has since expanded to a boutique collection of high-end properties scattered throughout the Western Cape. All feature “tastefully decorated interiors, the finest linen, and five-star amenities that have all been selected to showcase their surroundings.”
What do The Den and Cape Summer Villas have to do with each other? Well, the hotel group has just added 18 of The Den’s apartments to its portfolio, which it now offers as beautiful and super convenient self-catering accommodation to visitors to the Cape. And it was one of the 15 open-plan studio apartments that I would be spending the night – taking it for a test run, if you will.
Thank you Waterford Estate for the gift of wine and chocolate, and Stellenbosch’s very own Banhoek Chilli Oil Co. for the gift of oil that I shall slather my next slice of pizza with!
Modern, comfortable, and entirely serviceable
If a luxury hotel and the student digs of your dreams had a whirlwind romance, the offspring of that would be what the Cape Summer Villas have done with their self-catering apartments at The Den in Stellenbosch. The rooms are compact and feature everything you could possibly need to live, never mind spend a night or two. Yet they also convey a sense of space so that you don’t feel claustrophobic. For example, my humble open-plan studio apartment had a queen-sized bed, a fully kitted-out kitchen (complete with high-end appliances, a washing machine, stove, and medium-sized fridge), small table for meals, study nook, large flat-screen TV, and ample closet storage on either side of the bed. It even had a balcony with a built-in braai. You could actually live here and very comfortably too.
This made me think about the audience for such accommodations. Being a budget traveller, I’m always attracted by accommodations that have kitchen facilities and allow for complete independence. This is what The Den offers – complete independence – which essentially means that the target audience is limited only by imagination: foreign and domestic tourists, business travellers, tour groups, wedding parties, long-stay visitors; heck, even parents visiting their kids at the University of Stellenbosch. From R1,250 per night, it’s incredibly affordable accommodation, conveniently located, and allows for complete travel independence.
Practical considerations aside, these apartments are gorgeous. Artfully decorated with interior design by Clara’s Interiors, each room blends a palette of soft greys, whites, and blonde woods with pleasing accent colours (in my room, a gentle azure blue), whimsically patterned tiles, and artwork inspired by nature. There’s also high-speed fibre Internet and, for those concerned with safety, private parking, closed circuit cameras, biometrics, and 24-hour security. If I were a trust fund baby and a student at the University of Stellenbosch, this is where I’d like to spend my college years.
Dinner by Chef Rich Rorich; wine by Waterford
That evening, a glass or two of Waterford’s “Rose-Mary” down (a delectable Blanc de Noir made from Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo, and Grenache grapes), we all gathered for supper in one of The Den’s two-bedroom apartments. Just to illustrate to you how serviceable these accommodations are: Rich Rorich, the Head Chef of Cape Summer Villas’ Sky Villa Boutique Hotel in Plettenberg Bay (who had been brought down to Stellenbosch for the purpose of cooking for us), was able to use these kitchen facilities to whip up a delicious three-course meal. On the subject of working in a small kitchen, as opposed to the imposing stainless steel jungles he’s accustomed to, the gently spoken Ritchie had this to say:
“As chefs, we love nothing more than this. This is how we learned to love our craft: by cooking for friends and family in cramped spaces and environments.”
How wonderful! Additionally, each course, I was absolutely titillated by, was brilliantly paired with wines from Waterford Estate: a starter of creamy mussels in coconut and coriander with the Waterford Chardonnay 2017. Mains of tender lamb curry, turmeric rice, and vegetables paired with the Waterford Grenache Noir 2017 or tall, dark, and handsome Kevin Arnold Shiraz 2015 (or, if you’re a wine glutton like me, both). Finally, for desserts: a kalaeidescopic selection of macarons and a fun game of “guess the flavour.”
Falling asleep has never been so easy.
A base to explore
The Den in Stellenbosch is the most recent addition to Cape Summer Villas’ constellation of properties and after spending the night, it’s clear that there is very little restriction on the audience these beautifully furnished and affordable self-catering apartments appeal to. With summer slowly on its way, even I am hatching a plan to get friends and family here to enjoy an itinerary packed with the best the Stellenbosch Wine Valley has to offer.
The country’s best wine and food celebrated against a backdrop of blossoms, tender leaves, and singing birds
The sun is peeking out, the once skeletal fruit orchards are bursting into white and pink blossoms, the birds are singing their little love-struck hearts out, and the gnarled grapevines are sprouting tender green leaves. Spring has sprung and there’s no better vantage point for the bountiful show than a Stellenbosch wine estate…or two! So we packed up the car and headed to Le Pommier Wine Estate for an overnight spoil followed by a wine pairing and Sunday lunch at Skilpadvlei Wine Estate.
Le Pommier Wine Estate
Ah, Le Pommier… apple of my eye. Located on Helshoogte Road in Stellenbosch, adjacent to Zorgvliet Wines (to which the estate used to belong), Le Pommier is a wine estate that’s also home to a luxury country lodge and a rustic country-style restaurant. It used to be an apple orchard, hence the name, which means “apple” in French, but while its acreage is now dedicated to growing quality grapes, you’ll still find apple trees scattered throughout the estate.
Le Pommier Country Lodge
Le Pommier is decidedly “country” in feel and agenda, delivering a more laid-back, authentic Cape experience coloured with staggeringly gorgeous views, thick embracing nature, easy drinking wine, and honest, delicious food. Our accommodation for the night was a suite within the luxury country lodge, which features six suites, seven rooms, and two self-catering units. The décor here is simple: clean white wood furnishings with red highlights courtesy of scatter cushions, couches, and curtains. There’s a king-sized bed, freestanding Victorian bath, bedside fireplace, and large flat screen TV. The suite overlooks a generous wooden deck and a dam heavily fringed with reeds and tangled nature; craggy blue mountains beyond that.
What more could you need?
Wine, of course! And so we walked the short five-minute walk (ten if you like to stop and look at birds) to the wine tasting room adjacent to the restaurant. Here, with awe-inspiring views of the imposing Simonsberg and the quilted farmlands and vineyards between, we sipped and smacked our way through Le Pommier’s range of wines in the dappled shade of the spring sun, under the guidance of charismatic wine ambassador, Zin. I wonder if that’s short for Zinfandel? My favourite wine of those we tasted was the Le Pommier Red Blend 2018 (R105), a rich blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot with a powerful nose of dark berries, a full, firm structure, velvety tannins, and a generous, lingering aftertaste.
Wine tasting at Le Pommier: R40 for four wines
Le Pommier Restaurant
Dinner was taken at Le Pommier Restaurant, which spills out onto a two-tiered shaded al fresco dining area. Ambitiously, we sat outside to enjoy the sunset but with winter still clinging to the Cape, we headed inside where it was cosier and a fire had been lit. For sustenance, we enjoyed a hearty country meal of creamy, thick chicken and noodle soup and roasted tomato and basil soup, followed by a shared portion of spaghetti and meatballs. The lovely servers looked quite disappointed when we didn’t order dessert but I would have had to be carried out of that restaurant in a stretcher if I’d had another bite.
In the morning, after a long languorous night in soft sheets, we completed our luxurious overnight at Le Pommier Wine Estate with a “build-your-own” breakfast of scrambled eggs, tomato smoor, chicken livers, and farm-baked bread. Ah, my mouth waters as I fondly remember the meal!
With such a spoil under our belts (literally), we could quite happily have headed home to rest up and recover but it’s spring in Stellenbosch and it would have been a travesty to waste the good weather. So we hopped on over Skilpadvlei Wine Estate for more wine and food.
Skilpadvlei Wine Estate on Stellenbosch’s Polkadraai Road is a special slice of heaven. First of all, driving in, I spotted a great-crested grebe paddling in the estate’s dam, which, being a birdwatcher, instantly made me happy. You don’t see them too often and they are beautiful birds with an exceptionally beautiful courtship dance.
Secondly, Skilpadvlei’s tasting room is gorgeous, rustic, and cosy with the heat of an enormous fire lapping gently at your back. Here, we sat down to a very goedkoop soup and wine pairing for only R100. This indulgent taste experience pairs (1) the Skilpadvlei Grenache 2017 with a creamed butternut and coconut soup, roasted nuts, and crispy bacon; (2) the Skilpadvlei Shiraz 2018 with a roasted tomato and chicken soup with deep fried mozzarella balls and paprika; and (3) the Skilpadvlei ML Joubert (the estate’s flagship Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot blend) with a seafood chowder, crispy prawn, and coriander…
All with freshly baked bread.
Skilpadvlei is open for wine tasting Monday to Saturday, 08:00 to 16:00 and Sunday 09:00 to 15:00:
Lunch at Skilpadvlei
And because we apparently hadn’t had enough food the entire weekend, we skipped across to Skilpadvlei’s restaurant right after our tasting for a truly hedonistic lunch of steak, chips, and onion rings; and fried calamari, Greek salad, and pan-fried vegetables. Oink. Aside from the fact that Skilpadvlei serves up really excellent, honest South African cuisine, they’re gearing up with a suite of “Ruggas Specials” for the coming Rugby World Cup and, very truthfully, I can’t imagine a better place to watch a game, enjoy a meal with friends, and sink a couple of glasses of their beautiful wines or Stellenbrau beer.
Yes indeed: spring is in the air and while Stellenbosch’s wine estates are making it exceptionally hard to get the body summer-ready, there simply is no better place to celebrate the arrival of the warmer weather than on a deck overlooking the winelands, or in a festive restaurant with delicious food and wine before you!
This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/08/29/enjoy-stellenbosch-in-spring/