GLASS HALF FULL - JSE MAGAZINE

GLASS HALF FULL

Few regions in SA are as dynamic as the Cape Winelands, with its sheer abundance of world-class variety

GLASS HALF FULL

Hazy though the borders may be, the Cape Winelands is a major player in the Western Cape economy. Government figures show that it contributes 10% to regional GDP, while a South African Wine Industry Information & Systems-commissioned study states that the contribution is more than 1% nationally.

Some R36.1 billion is no small amount – wine tourism is a big pull for local, regional and overseas visitors. It is estimated that almost 50% of tourists to the Cape travel to a wine farm of some sort or another during their visit.

To maintain these numbers, the region evolves regularly, adding attractions and updating food and wine hubs.

Glass2

Sideways – an app by marketing agency iKineo and available at the Apple app store – enables iPhone users to search keywords, filter areas and subjects, get GPS co-ordinates, opening times and find out about available wines. When you have your own app, you know you’ve arrived.

Restaurants and activities aside, it is all about the wine. There is a dizzying amount of it being produced – in fact some 10 million hectolitres annually. The advent of the boutique winery has pushed the number of producers beyond 300 for the first time in the country’s history. Much of it is exported directly, but the remainder is mostly good, which makes choosing ever more difficult.

‘I have a secret,’ says Somerset West-based wine expert Nico van Rensburg. ‘Before you head off to any of the wine farms, stop at the Mooiberge Farmstall on the R44 between Stellenbosch and Somerset West. As well as being famous for its strawberry fields, it stocks an enormous amount of Cape wine and is staffed by some of the most knowledgeable people in the business. You can taste, ask questions and decide what you like.’

Glass3

Van Rensburg’s advice is spot on – Mooiberge Farmstall is an ideal place to get a sense of the region’s variety, the seemingly monthly trends, the best restaurants, what’s closed for renovations, even where the local constabulary have set up their speed cameras. It is the perfect place to prepare.

In the field, the winery competition is divided roughly into the established and aspirant. The long-timers are just that, farms that have handed down traditions and methods for more than 300 years.

The likes of Spier, Vergelegen, Boschendal, Rust en Vrede, La Motte and Grande Provence trade in history as much as wine, while Delaire Graff, Hidden Valley and Tokara headline as venues of audacious design as much as vintners. Aware that they are not going to compete on Cape architecture or ancient gardens, many of the latter destinations focus on award-winning, internationally acclaimed restaurants and cutting-edge cuisine.

Glass8

The long-timers are just that, farms that have handed down traditions and methods for more than 300 years

If awards are anything to go by, the current best wine producers include Holden Manz, Jordan, Anura, Diemersfontein, Spier and Mulderbosch, all of which won prestigious local and international awards in 2014.

The list of recent estate restaurant award-winners includes Jordan, Hidden Valley, Rust en Vrede, Kleine Zalze and Newton Johnson, as featured in the 2014 Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards, a clear indication of the high overall standard in the region.

Glass5

Awards, however, are by no means the whole story. The coming together of good food, excellent wine and unusual location wins hearts and minds. And no one does it better than Babylonstoren, headed up by former Elle Decoration editor Karen Roos. Her design eye is second-to-none and she has brought unusual ideas to the fore.

Though historic, the estate’s emphasis is on blending the latest design ideas with the ageless solidity of the Cape Dutch style. The restaurant, Babel, is a glass conservatory of sorts, and the garden features a contemporary greenhouse.

Central to the estate is the formal garden, inspired by the Company’s Garden of the Cape and the famed gardens of Babylon. Horticulturists grow all the produce needed for the restaurant, and diners are encouraged to select their own salad and vegetables before the meal. Roos has had the opportunity to really play with design at the farm hotel and, of course, there’s the wine-tasting cellar.

On a par with Babylonstoren in terms of buzz generated – and also owned by high-profile people – are La Motte, which belongs to the Rupert family, and Delaire Graff, overseen by Laurence Graff.

Glass4

The coming together of good food, excellent wine and unusual location wins hearts and minds

La Motte, outside Franschhoek, has increasingly made art its point of difference, both fine and applied. Not hard when you have the ultimate Pierneef collection in your barn and a mezzo-soprano, in the form of Hanneli Rupert, in the family. The main restaurant uses the painter’s name and reflects elements of his work, while the gallery itself showcases the man’s astonishing range. Further afield is a museum, a historic walk and a hiking trail, as well as the requisite wine tasting. But perhaps the most popular La Motte experience is the Winelands Tea, a high tea served in the gardens and on the terrace.

If La Motte is contemporary on a bedrock of tradition, then Delaire Graff, at the top of Helshoogte over the road from Tokara, is contemporary through and through. The family have spared no expense in creating a landscape interesting enough to show off the best fine art. So the cheetahs by Dylan Lewis and work by Anton Smit are as much a drawcard as the bird chandelier and Asian food of Indochine, or the volumes and views of the main restaurant and terrace.

Glass7

The list of excellent, world-class wineries is long – there is no way to do justice to it all. Suffice to say that as standards have risen, the likelihood of a bad experience is minimal. It has become about personal preference, another reason why design has played such a big part in wine-estate development.

The Cape’s wine tourism industry is in good shape, with new, local and regional visitors adding weight to overseas numbers, and a commendable transformation policy that is paying dividends. A concerted drive to appeal to a wide base of travellers – not only wine connoisseurs – is paying off. It should cement long-term growth when the vagaries of the rand keep traditional markets away.

glass side
By Peter Frost
Images: Rust en Vrede, Delaire Graff, Gareth Van Nelson/HSMimages, Spier