Meandering around the Elgin Valley, exploring the The Cape Country Meander
Looking for laid back country food, regional wines, comfortable and affordable accommodation, home produce and farm stall fare?Look no further than The Cape Country Meander, a touring route made up of eight towns – Grabouw, Botriver, Caledon, Riviersonderend, Tesselaarsdal, Greyton, Genadendal and Villiersdorp.
The Cape Country Meander, which includes six mountain ranges, three mountain passes and seven dams, offers beautiful natural scenery, hiking trails, water sports, mountain-biking, history and culture, all just an hours drive from Cape Town.
A recent invitation took us on a journey which started in the Elgin valley. Exploring the area is like traveling through a wine list but in addition to a focus on wine, the itinerary weaves a path through enchanting and historical places in the town of Grabouw. The Elgin valley might be producing 65% of South Africa’s apple exports but over the last couple of years the region saw an influx in vineyard expansion.
First Stop – Highland Road Estate
Having visited most of the wineries on previous occasions, we decided to visit a couple of smaller producers in the valley, starting at Highlands Road Estate. The estate has undergone some restructuring over the last couple of months and after an informative and fun chat with the newly appointed winemaker, Howard Booysen, it became clear that the team at Highlands Road is back on track and ready to rock the wine world with excitingly fresh wines.
After a brief overview of the vineyards and the estate, Howard took us on a tour of the small, yet super organised cellar. Here we tasted tank samples of the 2013 Sauvignon/Semillon Blend and the 2013 Howard Booysen Riesling. Both expressed great potential and it will be interesting to see how these new arrivals will compare to the wines of the top producers in the valley, once bottled. Another wine to keep an eye out for is the 2013 Highlands Road Pinot Noir, also still in the barrel, but as fresh as a daisy and quite low in alcohol at 12.5%.
The quality of the 2013 vintages certainly exceed that of the previous vintages. It seems as if Howard picked the right road to continue his flourishing career as a young winemaker and I cannot wait to see him reap the rewards.
Second Stop – Spioenkop Wines
After an inspirational tasting at Highlands Road we made our way to a neighboring estate, only a stone throw away. Spioenkop Wine Estate offers a truly magnificent 360° view over the valley and surrounding mountains. Owner and winemaker Koen Roose, and his wife Lore, purchased Spioenkop in 2005. The farm is named after the historic hilltop Spioenkop in KwaZulu Natal, where one of the most important battles of the Boer Wars – the Battle of Spioenkop - took place back in 1900. Starting from scratch was no easy task and according to Koen the ”Battle of Spioenkop” resembles the obstacles they’ve encountered along the way. The vineyards, situated on the steep slopes of the farm, are named after victorious generals while the two labels in the range represent the name of the battle (Spioenkop), and the year it took place (1900).
The philosophy of this young and passionate Belgium born winemaker, is very clear: “a great wine begins in your head”. The voices in Koen’s head is certainly conveying the right advice because each and every wine in the range is unique and absolutely delicious. All the wines are naturally fermented, so no yeast are added to the wines. According to Koen there’s more than enough yeast in the vineyard to allow the wine to ferment naturally. He’s also firmly believes that the phases of the moon have great influence on the fermentation process.
While tasting through the Spioenkop and 1900 range of wines it became clear that Koen and his 5 man team are fast becoming one of the valley’s, and South Africa’s, top wine producers. The wines reflect the soul of their creator and a visit to this special winery, with its phenomenal view and inspiring characters, should be on top of every bucket list.
Third Stop – Winters Drift
From there we traveled back to the Grabouw train station, where we enjoyed a well prepared and filling lunch at Platform 1, located next to the Winters Drift tasting room. The blackboard menu changes on a daily basis according to availability of local and seasonal ingredients.
The wines of Winters Drift can be ordered per glass or by bottle from the adjacent tasting room. The waitress mentioned that the restaurant also conduct regular movies nights. Movie-goers can expect to pay R115 per person and the price includes a 2 course meal. Further expansions of the buildings on the station are also on the cards. This is good news not only for tourists of the region, but also for locals. There’s not many night time entertainment options in the small town, let alone a movie theater.
After an enjoyable lunch, Emy Mathews, the Marketing & Tasting Room Manager at Winters Drift, invited us for a quick tasting of their range of wines. The wines really impressed and favourites include the 2012 Winters Drift Sauvignon Blanc (R67), the 2010 Winters Drift Chardonnay (R50) and the 2012 Pinot Noir (R150). The whole range offers extreme value for money and the place itself is well worth a visit.
Fourth Stop – Lothian Vineyards
Our journey continued and our next destination looked like something out of a James Bond movie. All jokes aside, rumour has it that the luxuries Lothian mansion might be used as a venue in the next James Bond movie. Truth be told, I was pretty skeptical at firsts when it came to tasting the wines. Will the quality of the wine meet the standards of this mindblowing homestead, located on the edge of a massive lake? Or any wine for that matter?
Lone behold, it sure did. As strange as it may seems, the wines were on another level. First of all it did not cost an arm or a leg, although it tasted pretty expensive. Secondly, it complimented the scenery and provided a certain comfort that out-shined even that of the comfy designer couch.
While savouring every sip, owner of Lothian Vineyards, Gavin Wilson and the manager of the house, Grant Butterworth provided us with a bit of background history of the estate. The grandmother of Gavin and his brother, Ewen, owned Rust en Vrede Estate, situated in Stellenbosch, in the 1950s and 60s. Their mother lived in Lynedoch and worked with the Joubert family to supply grapes to Spier. It was therefore only natural that the Wilson brothers wanted to continue the family’s involvement in Cape winemaking.
The delicious range of Lothian wines is made by Stefan Gerber, who has launched 20 successful brands from 7 different estates in the market. Stefan is living up to his winemaking philosophy, which is to create subtle, elegant, food-friendly wines with integrity, and we are loving every sip!
Fifth Stop – Shannon Wines
We made it just in time for a breathtaking sunset over the vineyards of Shannon. I’ve been meaning to visit the estate ever since I tasted the famous Mount Bullet at a trade tasting a couple of years ago. This family run winery more than lived up to it’s burgeoning reputation and it was an honour to taste the exceptional wines in the company of winemaker James Downes.
There is something incredibly charming about the cottage where visitors can taste the estate’s sauvignon blanc, semillion, pinot noir, and merlot. Each wine represents one of the surrounding mountain peaks, namely Sanctuary Peak Mount Bullet and Rockview Ridge.
Long after the sun had descended below the mountains, James expressed his passion for wine and farming industry, while filling our glasses with his magical creations. With every sip one can taste that James is dedicated to crafting luscious, fruit-driven wines that express the variety of soil types, found in the Kogelberg biosphere.
The final leg – Mofam River Lodge
After an eventful day out in the Elgin valley, it was time to get some rest. Mofam River Lodge is situated on the banks of the slow flowing Palmiet River and offers an abundance of experiences. The wonderful staff, good food and top notch chalets make this place truly special and a must if you enjoy water sports and the outdoors.
Each Chalet has a single room with an en-suite bathroom and is kitted with comfortable single or king size beds with crisp white linen . There’s also panel heaters to beat the cold as well as a kettle, tea, coffee and rusks for your early morning wakeup. Each verandah offers great views over the majestic lake and the surrounding mountains.
After a scrumptious breakfast it was time to say goodbye to the friendly folks and beautiful scenery at Mofam. Luckily our magical experience in the Cape Meander did not end here, as we made our way towards Botriver and the quint little town of Greyton.
To be continued.