The Revival of Riesling, Queen of Grapes

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.

Riseling Revival

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.”

Riseling Revival

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.

Riseling Revival

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.

Riseling Revival Catherine Marshall wines

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!

Riseling Revival Sauwein

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!

Riseling Revival

Catherine Marshall Wines: www.cmwines.co.za

Jessica Saurwein: www.saurwein.co.za

Address: Lavinia Cellars, Polkadraai Road, Stellenbosch

This article was originally written for Southern Vines, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa.

A Walk Through the Fynbos at Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

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…

Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

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.

Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

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.

Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

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, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

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, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

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.

Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley
Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley
Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

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 Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

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 taste@bosmanhermanus.com or call +27 (0) 63 083 5571

www.bosmanhermanus.com

De Bos Farm, Karwyderskraal Road, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, Hermanus

This article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest leisure and lifestyle magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa.

Riverine Rabbit: Inventive Fine Dining with an Environmental Conscience (and a Spring Menu to LIVE for!)

With an emphasis on eco-conscious dining, Riverine Rabbit delivers a gastronomical experience that is both kind to the environment and its fauna and flora and, in equal measure, absolutely unforgettable to the diner. This is the chronicle of my epic 10-course spring menu tasting at this lauded Cape Town restaurant!

The Riverine Rabbit is a critically endangered animal found in the Western Cape, below the Nuweveld Mountains in the semi-arid Central Karoo of South Africa. In fact, it is one of the most endangered mammals in the world with a living adult population estimated at well below 1,000 individuals. In other words: it is a rabbit in trouble.

Riverine-rabbit-Endangered-Wildlife-Trust-min

This sounds a bit off, doesn’t it? After all, don’t rabbits bonk like, well, rabbits? Even if their habitat is being mercilessly destroyed and food is scarce, don’t females give birth to a dozen or more kits before the males get right back on that horse…or should I say lady rabbit? Yes and yes, to the last two questions but the Riverine Rabbit is rather special because females only produce one offspring per year. Rather than ruthlessly over-populating an area, as most rabbits are wont to do, Riverine Rabbits are rather chaste in their approach to multiplying. And, unfortunately, in the face of relentless agricultural development, they simply don’t stand a chance.

There’s an important metaphor in all this and one that sisters Head Chef Ash Heeger and Sommelier/General Manager Mandy van der Berg have employed as the powerful philosophy behind their eco-conscious, fine dining restaurant in Cape Town, Riverine Rabbit.

And, no, there’s no rabbit on the menu.

Eco-conscious fine dining

Farming in the Karoo has left much of the Riverine Rabbit’s natural habitat completely overgrazed and decimated, which has positioned them on the very brink of extinction. Thankfully, more and more of Cape Town’s eateries are shifting their dining philosophies to be more eco-conscious, environmentally friendly, and humane. Riverine Rabbit embodies that shift because Chef Ash Heeger prioritizes hyper-local, freshly caught or harvested, and sustainable ingredients.

“We are a family owned restaurant and strive to promote and encourage the sustainable use of our natural resources.”

With an emphasis on eco-conscious dining, Riverine Rabbit delivers a gastronomical experience that is both kind to the environment and its fauna and flora and, in equal measure, absolutely unforgettable to the diner. I should know because, last week, I was treated to a meal at the Chef’s Table!

Meet Ash, culinary boss babe

Riverine Rabbit Ash Heeger

Chef Ash Heeger has established a Herculean name for herself on the international restaurant scene. Having graduated from the Silwood School of Cookery, she cut her teeth (and probably several fingers) under the tutelage of Chef Luke Dale Roberts at La Colombe and then at The Test Kitchen, both top 10 restaurants in South Africa and, for various years, top 50 restaurants in the world. In other words: holy shit that’s impressive! 

Chef Ash then set sail for foreign shores to expand her repertoire and skillset, working with Brett Graham at The Ledbury in Notting Hill (London) followed by two years at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park. Both are Michelin 2 Star kitchens and, again, holy shit that’s impressive! Then, in 2018, she competed on The Final Table, Netflix’s version of Master Chef, except that the participants are all vastly accomplished chefs from all over the world. 

Today, Chef Ash Heeger has become somewhat of a household name and if you aren’t suitably impressed by the above biography then you might as well eat at McDonalds because you are beyond redemption.

Meet Mandy, manager and sommelier extraordinaire

I never got to meet Mandy but after tasting the wines she selected for each course of our expansive meal, I am utterly convinced that I’d love the heck out of her. With an astute business background in marketing and events planning, Mandy runs all aspects of the front of house at Riverine Rabbit with a focus on training, curating the incredible wine list, and general administration. Somebody’s got to do it. She also has her WSET Level 3 in wines, which is not only an extraordinary feat of pronouncing virtually unpronounceable French and German wine growing regions but also of palate perceptivity, smell memory, and covet-worthy intelligence.

Together, Ash and Mandy are a formidable team and their restaurant, Riverine Rabbit, is a testament to the spectrum of stratospheric skill they bring to the table. And now that you have met the talent behind the restaurant and the exigent philosophies behind the name, let’s delve into the dining experience!

Riverine Rabbit Restaurant

Spring has sprung!

Indeed, spring has arrived in the Cape and with the warmer weather comes the need for reinvention. Being seasonally inspired by locally available ingredients, Riverine Rabbit’s menu is implicit in this transition, and it was our task – three media folk – to play guinea pigs for Chef Ash’s spring menu, which is due to launch mid-October. What a life, I tell you!

Riverine Rabbit chefs table

We were seated at the luxurious chef’s table, a little nook adjacent to the open plan kitchen, and from where we (and the whole restaurant really) could see Chef Ash and her team at work. What a thing this is to witness! Whisper quiet, the kitchen operates like a well-oiled machine with each and every team member knowing exactly what is required of him or her. Barely a conversation was necessary. Then began the procession of Riverine Rabbit favourites and spring-inspired dishes paired with truly sumptuous wines from all over the Cape winelands….

The opening act

Our epic ten-course meal kicked off with some freshly baked focaccia and a trio of “snacks”: pani puri with chickpea curry and lime yoghurt; “cheese on toast” with burnt onion mayo and truffle; and Riverine Rabbit eggs benedict, all served with a flute of crisp yet biscuity Colmant Cap Classique Brut Reserve NV from Franschhoek. Chef Ash literally invents these titbits daily. 

Then, I smacked my lips through the beef dish, featuring tender pink slices of beef with honey, anchovy, rich egg yolk, aged Balsamic vinegar, garlic, potato, and locally foraged mushrooms. This absolutely exceptional dish was paired with the floral fragranced Paul Cluver Riesling 2017. Finally, we were served the soba noodles from Riverine Rabbit’s autumn menu, a savoury, umami-laced noodle and broth dish featuring chilli, kimchi, seasonal vegetables, and dashi, all served cool and paired with the uber sexy Saronsberg Viognier 2017.

Riverine Rabbit sobu noodles
Sobu noodles

The main event

Four courses down, we relinquished ourselves to a further deluge of sumptuous, imaginative dishes: leeks smothered in vegan béarnaise with breadcrumbs, hazelnuts, and herbs (paired with the exquisite Catherine Marshall Chenin Blanc Fermented in Clay 2018); mushroom and potato with blue cheese, egg yolk, onion, and herbs (paired with the Lismore Chardonnay 2016); and sustainably caught Red Roman linefish with cucumber, fennel, leeks, dill, and hyper local “sea vegetables”, such as West Coast sea lettuce (paired with the Diemersdal Wild Horseshoe Sauvignon Blanc).

Our meal reached a crescendo with the duck served with turnip, cashew nut, citrus, and mustard and paired with my favourite wine for the evening: the Catherine Marshall Pinot Noir. If Ash had served us nothing but this dish and Mandy conceived of nothing other than this wine and food pairing, I would have gone to bed equally as satisfied. I’m certainly not complaining that we were treated to nine other wine paired plates of foods, although my liver had a little something to say about it the morning after.

Riverine Rabbit duck dish

Sweet finale

Finally, after a blackberry, buttermilk, yoghurt, and black pepper palate cleanser, complete with liquid nitrogen sending great blankets of vapour cascading all over our table, we faced off with dessert. Having recently returned from a trip from New Zealand, Chef Ash was inspired to put together this absolutely delicious Hāngi steamed pudding of potato, caramel, honey, crème fraîche, and vanilla, paired with the saccharine Noble Late Harvest from Diemersdal Wine Estate in Durbanville.

An epic experience with an important message

Riverine Rabbit delivers experimental gastronomy that is inventive, beautiful to behold, brave, and – importantly – absolutely delicious. Most importantly, however, is the subliminal, yet pervasive messaging that the Cape is home to a cornucopia of fresh, sustainable ingredients that if harvested in an eco-conscious manner could prevent the loss of precious flora and fauna, like the Riverine Rabbit. I found the experience to be an education, a visual feast, and a hedonistic indulgence (you’d better skip lunch) with intelligent wine pairings in a cosy, unpretentious atmosphere. And I believe Chef Ash to be a true artist and master of her craft. Mandy, your choice of wines and pairings are testament to your enviable skill as a sommelier and wine lover!

I may have rolled out of Riverine Rabbit but I’ll certainly be back again for more, more, and more of all of the above!

Riverine Rabbit

For more information or to make reservations, please contact Riverine Rabbit on info@riverinerabbit.com or +27 (0) 21 424 7204.

81 Church Street, Cape Town, www.riverinerabbit.com

Wander Woman Thea is for sale (but in a totally legal and classy way)

If you like what you see and fancy a talented, witty, and ridiculously verbose writer for your website project, blog, or marketing materials, don’t hesitate to get in touch at thea@wanderwomanthea.com.

Stellenbosch in Spring!

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 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?

Le Pommier Country Lodge
Le Pommier Country Lodge

Wine tasting

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 Wine Estate

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.

Le Pommier Wine Estate: +27 (0) 21 885 1269 | www.lepommier.co.za | Helshoogte Rd, Banhoek, Stellenbosch

Skilpadvlei Wine Estate

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.

Skilpadvlei Wine Estate Great Crested Grebe
Great Crested Grebe spotted at Skilpadvlei Wine Estate

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.

Skilpadvlei Wine Estate

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!

Skilpadvlei Wine Estate: +27 (0) 21 881 3237 | www.skilpadvlei.co.za |

Skilpadvlei Farm, M12 Polkadraai Road, Stellenbosch

Skilpadvlei Wine Estate

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/

Gabrielskloof Restaurant Celebrates 10 Years of Cape Country Cuisine

Happy birthday to you, I’m going to eat all your food, wash it down with your wine too, happy birthday Gabriëlskloof!

Just so that you can all appreciate how obnoxiously spoiled I am as a “person of media”, I attended the 10-year anniversary of the restaurant at Gabriëlskloof wine estate (Botrivier, Western Cape, South Africa) and left with a belly full of their food, a head full of their wine, and a gift of their freshly-baked goodies in my hand. Disgusting, isn’t it?

Nevertheless, I have an important job here…and it’s to pay homage to a country-style restaurant that has endured 10 long years in an industry in which country-style restaurants very quickly go out of style. Add to this the fact that Gabriëlskloof wine estate is situated in the middle of nowhere – according to Capetonians who think that anything more than five minutes away is in the middle of nowhere – and you can appreciate just how important this milestone is.

An important milestone, yes… but certainly no miracle: the restaurant at Gabriëlskloof delivers a hedonistic trifecta of delicious food, wine, and spectacular winelands views of vineyard carpeted valleys. And on Friday 16th August, a clutch of media folk and I travelled from Cape Town to celebrate this esteemed restaurant’s birthday by eating all their food, drinking all their wine, and leaving with a present in our hands.

Happy birthday to me, I mean, you Gabriëlskloof Restaurant!

Robust South African country-style fare

GK Butternut and barley risotto LR

Gabriëlskloof Estate is located just under 100 km from Cape Town, outside Bot River on the Swartrivier Road off the N2 highway. In other words, it’s firmly in the sticks and one heck of an excuse to go on a mini-road trip. The restaurant itself serves robust, seasonal South African fare, plus there’s a wine tasting room with a courtyard and a fluffy little poodle to pet between sips of wine.

Food is prepared with great love by the owners of the Gabriëlskloof Restaurant, Frans and Mariaan Groenewald, who are passionate about using local produce from neighbouring farms and villages. The menu changes with the regularity of the weather in Cape Town and the result is a torrential downpouring of delicious, hearty dishes that don’t require you to make a pit stop at McDonalds on the way home, as is often the case at wine estate restaurants that charge R200 for a sliver of beef and a cough of foam.

Birthday Celebrations

The restaurant at Gabriëlskloof is elegantly appointed, yet maintains an unpretentious, country feel. To the one side, the dining area spills out onto a large veranda-embraced courtyard and to the other, a clipped lawn with vast views of buttery yellow canola fields, vineyards, mountains, and False Bay beyond. It’s quite something to behold.

And as my eyes were adjusting to the sheer majesty of it all, I was handed a flute of the estate’s crisp Madame Lucy Méthode Cap Classique (MCC), named after that poodle I mentioned. For those of you who don’t know, MCC is South Africa’s answer to “champagne” – and, yes, there is actually an answer to champagne. MCC is made following precisely the same methodology. The only difference is provenance. Let’s hope there are no French people reading this.

Gabrielskloof restaurant Wontons

After harassing the servers mincing around with trays of canapés – and a second glass of bubbly, this time of the estate’s gorgeous 2010 100% Pinot Noir MCC – we took our seats to enjoy a grand lunch featuring the food for which Gabriëlskloof restaurant has earned its lip-smacking reputation. This kicked off with a basket of dense, freshly-baked farm bread and Cape Malay spiced Cape salmon wontons with peach sweet chilli sauce (pictured above).

For mains, a literal smorgasbord was laid out before us: duck leg bourguignon, carrot and barley risotto, pulled lamb waterblommetjies (edible aquatic flowering plant) (above), cauliflower and aubergine in coconut, and steamed greens. This proudly South African feast was paired with both the original and the current vintages of Gabriëlskloof’s Landscape Series wines to allow us to appreciate how they have evolved over time. The Landscape Series features two whites and three reds: Magdelena Sauvignon Blanc, Elodie Sauvignon Blanc / Sémillon blend (both named after the owner’s sisters), Syrah on Sandstone, Syrah on Shale, and Cabernet Franc. Yep, I tasted them all and, yep, the conversation on the ride home was several decibels louder than it was on the way to the estate.

Dessert was a creative take on an Irish coffee – coffee creme brûlée with whiskey ice-cream (let’s hope there are no Irish people reading this) paired with a tot of the estate’s Broken Stem Late Harvest wine.

Grown men DO cry

“It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed,” declares chef patron Frans Groenewald, who launched the venue in 2009 with his wife, Mariaan, and fellow-chef Juan van der Westhuizen. “When we started out, people said if we can’t make onion rings like the local steakhouse, we’re done for!”

Well, look where are you now, dear Frans and Mariaan! Who needs to compete with Cattle Baron, anyway? Gabriëlskloof Restaurant is a beautiful place run by passionate people whose love and dedication to their craft is as evident in the quality of the food as it is in the tears that rolled down their faces during certain “welcome” speeches to media guests.

Throat catching aside (and how endearing that was!), Frans and Mariaan made us feel welcome and even though it was their restaurant’s birthday, they wined, dined, and treated us like we were the ones turning a year older. It compelled me to write the following birthday song, which is pending a patent so don’t get any crafty ideas:

Happy birthday to you, I’m going to eat all your food, wash it down with your wine too, happy birthday Gabriëlskloof!

Here’s to another decade of success – I’ll be watching my inbox for that birthday invitation in 2029!

Gabrielskloof Restaurant stoep HR

Gabrielskloof Restaurant is open Monday to Sunday, 09:00 to 17:00. For bookings and enquiries, please email restaurant@gabrielskloof.co.za or call +27 (0)28 284 9865.

http://www.gabrielskloof.co.za

Sublime Wine Tasting in Hout Bay Vineyards’ Subterranean Cellars

Hout Bay Vineyards

Since having “flown the coop” after a childhood spent growing up in Hout Bay, I have, amongst other accomplishments, evolved a devastating love of wine. And so, a return to the valley to explore Hout Bay Vineyards’ wines seemed like a bit of an aligning of the cosmos to me; a prophecy fulfilled. More than anything, I was fascinated to see how the valley’s terroir – the same soil I had under my fingernails as a child – expresses itself in wine. As it turns out, Hout Bay is the progenitor of some extraordinary things.

Its wine is pretty decent, too!

Hout Bay Vineyards

Hout Bay Vineyards: a family affair

In September 2003, Peter and Catherine Roeloffze embarked upon a bold adventure that is the Earthly ambition of all wine lovers. They planted vineyards on their property at the top of Grotto Way in Hout Bay. Not even the immense boulders strewn about their slopes or the accidental herbicide dousing and subsequent obliteration of their precious vineyards threw them off their intended course of one day being able to make their own wine. Working in alliance with nearby farms in Hout Bay and Constantia Nek, Peter and Cathy were able to source the grapes they needed to produce Méthode Cap Classique and Sauvignon Blanc while they waited for their replanted vines to flourish.

Hout Bay Vineyards was officially opened in December 2007 and, the following month, the estate’s first harvest of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes were juiced, fermented, and bottled. In 2011, after three years of bottle fermentation, Hout Bay Vineyards popped the cork on the estate’s maiden vintage of Méthode Cap Classique!

Hout Bay Vineyards

Today, the independently owned and family-run estate produces a handsome range of wines that includes (in addition to those previously mentioned) a blush wine (rosé made from the second pressing of MCC grapes), Merlot, Shiraz, and a Rhone-style blend. From the tragedy of having to rip up and replant their vineyards to establishing a respected Hout Bay winery that routinely sells out of its product, Peter and Cathy have created a legacy to be very, very proud of.

First impressions

The boutique family winery perches high atop the rocky, northwest-facing slopes of Bokkemanskloof. With its lofty altitude, apron of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier vineyards, embracing eucalyptus trees, and a nearby pond populated by numerous noisy ducks and geese, the Hout Bay Vineyards feels like an enchanted forest – like what one might discover on the other side of Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia.

Hout Bay Vineyards

First, however, we had to make our way up the driveway, which reared up towards the house at a frightful 45-degree angle. With the car protesting furiously and all clutch control out the window, we parked on a grassy verge and completed the short, calf-busting journey to the winery by foot. At the top, we were greeted by the lovely Catherine Roeloffze, the graceful yet down-to-Earth owner and winemaker of Hout Bay Vineyards.

A winery, not a gallery

The Hout Bay Vineyards is, first and foremost, a winery. Second to that, it is a family home. It is not an art gallery, fancy restaurant, ode to history, manicured garden, or any of the other things that so many Cape wine estates manage to be. There are no elaborate entranceways, sculptures by well-known South African artists, or clipped hedges to flatter your eyeballs as you walk in; only raw nature, stunning views, and delicious wines.

This is a boutique winery that produces an exceptional range of wines. As such, a visit here – which must be arranged beforehand by appointment with Cathy or her husband – offers a privileged peek under the petticoats of a working winery and cellar. We discovered this as we wound our way through a regiment of imposing fermentation vats and snaking pipes (and two very enthusiastic, waggy-bum family dogs) to the dimly lit interior of the wine tasting room.

Hout Bay Vineyards

The wine tasting room and cellar

Hout Bay Vineyards’ tasting room is a simple yet atmospheric affair: a single large table occupies its centre with benches for seating and a vaulted brick ceiling keeps conditions cool. Dusty collections of wine bottles occupy the corners and line the walls. A large window overlooks the basement/wine cellar, where thousands of bottles of wine lie in hibernation, and it was in this gorgeous and moody subterranean heaven that we explored Hout Bay Vineyards’ extensive wine range.

First up was the “Klasiek by Catherine,” a bone dry, zesty, and vibrant MCC with a lovely citrus and fresh brioche nose, made from grapes grown on the property. This was followed by a crisp, acidic Sauvignon Blanc with a grassy nose and fruity palate, made from two vineyard blocks – one located on the opposite side of the valley at about 150 meters altitude and the other higher up at 190 meters on Constantia Nek (still Hout Bay wine of origin area).

We then embarked upon the red wines, starting off with Hout Bay Vineyards Merlot 2016, a lovely pale ruby red wine with fruity cedar notes and a long, languid finish; the gorgeous 2016 Shiraz, an intense dark berry, fruit-forward wine with peppercorn spice and silky tannins; and finally, the 2014 Petrus, a Rhone-style blend of Shiraz, Grenache Noir, Mourvedré, Carignan, and Cinsault made by Cathy’s husband. The 50% Shiraz is sourced from their Constantia Nek farm, while the remaining grapes are bought in from Wellington.

Cathy hosted the tasting from beginning to end, lovingly presenting each wine to us and fielding our relentless questions. Every tasting was delivered from a bottle opened on the spot and at the end, we were welcomed to help ourselves to a glass of our favourite wine while we sat around happily chatting away.

Unable to choose, we purchased and went home with the entire wine range in the boot of our car.

Hout Bay Vineyards

Well worth a visit

People tend to visit Hout Bay for the harbour market, the fish and chips, the beach, and the spectacular views of Chapman’s Peak Drive. Well I say an even better reason to visit than all of the afore-mentioned is the Hout Bay Vineyards, a boutique winery, a family home, and a truly magical slice of heaven. It is also a place I would love to get accidentally locked in overnight, provided I’m left with a source of light and a bottle opener. The wines here are a loving expression of Hout Bay’s quality terroir and the passion that winemakers Cathy and Peter have for wine and for what they do.

Hout Bay Vineyards offers tasting by appointment only. Tastings cost R50 per person with a minimum charge of R300. For bookings and enquiries, please contact Cathy on +27 (0) 83 790 3303 or cathy@4mb.co.za

www.houtbayvineyards.co.za

1 High Meadow Estate, Grotto Road, Hout Bay

From Russia with Love

Avant-Garde at Hazendal Wine Estate delivers a harmonious fusion of South African and Russian cuisine

Before Avant-Garde, the only things I knew about Russia was that it’s the progenitor of vodka, the world’s best caviar, and a rather depressing novelist called Dostoevsky. And so, upon arriving at the sprawling Hazendal heritage farm and wine estate on Stellenbosch’s Bottelary Road, our expectations were a blank canvas with plenty of elbow room for impression.

Hazendal-Restaurant-1

Mark Voloshin, the owner of Hazendal, is Russian, which explains the colourful percolation of Russian culture and cuisine into the estate’s offering, from its authentic traditional tea ceremonies to its soon-to-open vodka distillery. That’s right: move aside craft gin. Beneath these charming Russian accents, however, Hazendal is most assuredly South African in heritage with its collection of Cape Dutch homesteads dating back to the late 1700s, right around the time that Catherine the Great was behind the wheel of the Russian empire. And it’s in Hazendal’s beautifully restored and elegantly dressed historic wine cellar that you’ll find the estate’s wine tasting lounge and flagship restaurant, Avant-Garde.

Hazendal-Restaurant-1

Getting to grips with Russian cuisine

Executive Chef Michélle Theron had little experience with Russian cuisine before her appointment at Hazendal Wine Estate. It was under the gentle guidance and encouragement of owner Mark and his family, and the tutelage of an experienced Russian chef that she dived deep and mastered a diverse cuisine that bears the influence of multiple ethnicities and social classes, from Northern Europe to East Asia and from the austerity of the impoverished peasant class to the exorbitant excess of the tsarist regimes.

Executive Chef Michélle Theron
Executive Chef Michélle Theron

Avant-Garde’s menu presents a subsequent fusion of South African and Russian flavours and ingredients, a musical composition that would have impressed even Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Presented with such a smorgasbord of delicious sounding dishes and perhaps a few words we had to run past Google Translate, we sent our waitron back to the kitchen with a single request: “surprise us.” Chef Michélle responded with a magnificent volley of fusion dishes that both entertained and educated our palates.

Hazendal Restaurant

Multi-course dining and wine pairing

We eased into our meal with an amuse-bouche of savoury pastry crowned with fennel-laced cream cheese and a generous dollop of black caviar, which we washed down with a golden flute of the Hazendal Scarlet Sails MCC 2014. Next, was a delectable constellation of starters paired with wines from Hazendal and surrounding farms along Stellenbosch’s Bottelary Road. Lightly smoked snoek and potato pampushki, Russia’s answer to croquettes, were served with Cape Malay curried sweet potato, apricots, and parsley purée and paired with the Hartenberg Riesling 2016; octopus terrine with a bright and lively salad of green melon, dehydrated tomato, salsa verde, chorizo, radish, and saltbush sprigs (pairing: Hazendal Sémillon/Sauvignon Blanc 2017); and asparagus, fennel, poached pear and pickled cucumber salad with Valley blue cheese from Riebeeck Kasteel (pairing: the Christoffel Hazenwinkel Cape blend 2017, a vibrant and fruit-forward, yet velvety Cape blend of Pinotage, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon.)

Hazendal Restaurant
Lightly smoked fish and potato pampushki, curried sweet potato and apricot, with a parsley sauce

This inundation of delicious and surprising dishes was followed by a Ramen style bowl of mushroom broth packed with bean sprouts, spring onion, tender slices of pork with crispy skin, a perfectly cooked egg, and springbok pelmeni (Russian-style dumplings). Then, we tried the winter-perfect slow-braised lamb on a bed of kasha (a savoury barley porridge) with hazelnuts and mushrooms, which, we were told, is traditional ‘peasant’ food in Russia; and roasted Kei apple-glazed duck breast with an apple and onion tart. I adored the upturned onion halves filled with Chef Michélle’s rich, savoury reduction. These main dishes were paired with the Goede Hoop Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and Hazendal Chenin Blanc 2017 respectively.

Hazendal Restaurant

Dessert was no less impressive and just as artistically rendered as every dish before. We had the apple sharlotka, a classic Russian apple sponge cake topped with a flavourful apple and thyme ice cream in a milk chocolate encasing; and Anna pavlova with cream cheese custard, green tea sablé cookies, matcha coated milk rocks, strawberries, and cream. And while, by this stage, we were grossly over-filled, we managed to conclude the experience with that classic vodka cocktail: the Moscow Mule. How could we boast about our meal at Avant-Garde without a nip of vodka?

Hazendal Restaurant

Picture perfect setting

My early ignorant impressions of Russian cuisine – potatoes served with potato and a side of potatoes – has been completely obliterated by Chef Michélle and Avant-Garde’s sumptuous menu. Enjoyed in an elegant, classically attractive setting complete with hand-painted mural ceiling and a view of the wine cellar’s impressive stainless-steel tanks, Avant-Garde truly is a picture-perfect venue for long, leisurely lunches framed by Hazendal’s beautifully-crafted wines.

Hazendal Restaurant

Avant-Garde at Hazendal is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11:30 to 15:30. For bookings and enquiries, please email bookings@hazendal.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 205 5620 (bookings essential)

www.hazendal.co.za

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/2019/06/19/avant-garde-at-hazendal-wine-estate-delivers-a-harmonious-fusion-of-south-african-and-russian-cuisine/