It had been more than a year since I had visited South Africa’s Cape winelands, being unable to move around the country with last year’s national lockdown, I had become content with my being at Londolozi. The Cape winelands is an incredibly beautiful area to visit, full of South African history, and great wine, vastly different from the bushveld where we find ourselves in the North Eastern section of South Africa at Londolozi, which makes it a great area to visit before or after your stay at Londolozi.
During the month of February, I took some leave and visited my hometown of White River. Whilst enjoying some cheese and wine one afternoon with a group of my girlfriends and discussing how we all longed to travel again, we came up with this grand idea of going to the Cape on a girls’ weekend away to explore the winelands. That evening our flight tickets were booked for the middle of April, no turning back, and the planning began….
Our first stop was Ken Forrester Wines just south of Stellenbosch, always a favourite of mine to visit. Ken Forrester himself is sometimes referred to as the “King of Chenin” and has a reputation for producing some of the best Chenin Blanc’s in the country, as well as producing some great Rhone-style red wines. Assistant winemaker, Shawn Mathyse, who has mastered the art of producing fine Chenin Blanc under Ken, treated us to a tour through the cellar where he shared some fermenting wines with us from the barrel using his “wine thief”. Fascinating to taste the various components which make up the different styles of Chenin Blanc produced by Ken Forrester, before the final wine is completed. At the end of our tour Shawn and Ken sat down with us and pulled out a very special bottle of wine called “The Barrel”, only 150 x 1.5lt and 10 x 3lt bottles are produced each year, made from 100% Mouvédre. The Barrell was the result of an extended cellar-barrel wine tasting, and the concept was to bottle the single, best barrel in the cellar, direct from the barrel, unfiltered. Each bottle is individually numbered, making this a great gift for a special occasion.
The following day we headed down to the Hemel-en-Aarde just outside of Hermanus where we visited Hamilton Russel Vineyards and joined a trade tasting with Anthony Hamilton Russell. Anthony is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the Hemel-en-Aarde region, the wines he produces, and a fascinating persona to listen to when it comes to his experiences over the last 30 years of producing wine at Hamilton Russell. We were treated to a journey through the 2018, 2019 and 2020 vintages of Hamilton Russell’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as sampled the 2021 vintage which is currently being crafted. It is always rather special to do a vertical tasting which illustrates vintage conditions and progression of the wine. After this Olive and Anthony hosted us to an incredible lunch at their manor where we were able to spend the afternoon listening to some of Anthony’s great stories about the winery, how it started, and some of his thoughts on the wine industry.
The girls felt like good old fish and chips after our day at Hamilton Russell, which we managed to find at the Hermanus Fish Shoppe (along with some abalone samosas), before taking a long drive to Sondagskloof where we overnighted in quaint cottages in Hermanuspietersfontein’s vineyard. We got slightly lost on the way and eventually arrived in the dark but were welcomed by Ida Bester who made us feel right at home. We were essentially in the middle of nowhere, the night skies were outstanding with no light pollution, I had the first glimpse of the constellation Scorpio for the season. We lit a fire for atmosphere and enjoyed our takeaway fish and chips with some great HPF wines, immersed in the beauty of the Sondagskloof.
The next morning, we got going early as the girls wanted to sample some bubbles. We headed towards Elgin where we visited Charles Fox, the only registered Cap Classique Wine Estate in South Africa. Charles only produces Cap Classique, South Africa’s version of French Champagne, with all vineyards for his bubbles, grown on the estate. It was a rather interesting tasting as Charles and his wife Zelda ran us through the range. Charles took us underground into his cellar, which reminded me of my visit to Champagne in 2017. It was the first South African Cap Classique producer which had a resemblance of sorts to the small growers, Vazart-Coquart and Jean Vesselle, whom I visited in Champagne. It had the same feeling as walking down into an underground cellar, the temperature dropping, and a little tunnel filled with bottles of Cap Classique aging on the lees. The only thing missing was the bare chalk and limestone walls. For a small producer Charles has all the bells and whistles to produce his premium range of Cap Classique, from gyro-palate to disgorging and dosing machinery. His bubbles were a great refreshing start to the day.
Elgin as a region is known for the growth of deciduous fruit, apples and pears. We drove to Elgin Vintners and as we entered the property, we were greeted by hundreds of apple trees full of apples ready to harvest. The girls had missed breakfast and jumped at the opportunity to enjoy a fresh apple straight off the tree! As we arrived at Elgin Vintners we were greeted by James Rawbone-Viljoen (co-owner) and Donnie Claassen (Donnie’s wife Marinda is the current winemaker). We spent a lovely afternoon with the two of them tasting through the Elgin Vintners portfolio and sampling what may have been some of the best pizza in the country. Elgin Vintners produces a wide range of cool climate wines and has something for everyone, from Sauvignon to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Shiraz. It was wonderful to spend some time with James who is an encyclopedia when it comes to the history of the Elgin wine route, one of the newest wine regions in South Africa. It was fascinating learning a bit more about how Elgin Vintners started wine production as a larger group of friends, and how the winery itself has refined their focus over the years with a single winemaker and more focus on the terroir they have at their disposal. We then spent the evening in the Country House which we had all to ourselves and enjoyed some more pizza!
Our last morning, we headed back towards Stellenbosch where we visited Waterford Estate. A beautiful modern winery which spares no expense when it comes to producing their premium wines. We were hosted by Kevin Arnold, cellar master and managing partner. We started off with some beautiful Cap Classique before heading into the vineyard on a wine drive to learn a bit more about Waterford’s viticulture practices and immerse ourselves in the vineyard. Unfortunately the wind was howling so we couldn’t do a tasting out in the vineyards, as one would normally do on their wine drive, so we headed back towards the tasting room where we tasted through some of their premium wines and enjoyed a chocolate and wine pairing.
From Waterford we headed towards Cape Town. We treated ourselves to dinner at the infamous Potluck Club Restaurant where we ate a smorgasbord of delicious and beautifully presented food. All served tapas style to share and I’d recommend going as a group as then you can experience more of the dishes on offer.
Each winery we visited and each experience we had was completely different from each other, which made our trip very special. It was wonderful to catch up with some of the great personalities in the wine industry, and experience what each property had to offer (especially as we stock some of these wines at Londolozi). Each one made great wines, each special and specific to their terroir and wine ethos. Each with something for everyone.
After feasting our way through the Cape winelands over a whirlwind four-day period, the question is what did we take away from it? Other than having a wonderful weekend away with the girls? We were initially hesitant to travel, however, everywhere we went we felt that everyone adhered to strict hygiene protocols. Sanitization stations were available everywhere. Masks were worn by all. We had our temperatures scanned and always needed to complete a register. We never felt unsafe or had any fear during our trip to the Cape. The girls are already excitedly talking about another girls trip next year. I can’t wait to travel to the winelands again, hopefully before next year. For those wanting organise a group trip to South Africa, a few days at Londolozi (maybe look to hire out one of the smaller camps as a private villa) followed by wining and dining in the winelands of the Western Cape is certainly a good combination getaway.