Michel Roux

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Grand destination - savouring a weekend at the Cape

The asphalt gave way to dirt beneath our tires. We were nearly there. Some weekend “wintering” in the South African countryside had arrived, and the weather was cooperating magnificently. Trough the sunroof above our heads, brushstroke clouds coated in front of an azure canvas. Vineyards and old orange orchards blurred beside the car as we rounded another corner on a twisty route deep
into the valley. Our destination was Grand Dédale, a charming Cape Dutch manor tucked away between the Groenberg Mountain and Bain’s Kloof Pass near the town of Wellington, about 45 minutes from Cape Town. An elegant hideaway just a short drive from a multitude of wineries, as well as a few artisanal distillers, the manor offers luxury, comfort and exceptional service.
Angelo Casu, an Italian-South African and veteran of the Cape hotel scene, with previous positions at the world famous Mount Nelson and Winchester Mansions hotels in Cape Town, greeted us on the step of the manor. He and his wife Tina, a German-South African, have been managing
the property on behalf of its English owners for more than five years, wearing a number of hats, from general manager to waiter to doorman. The 300-year-old manor house includes six comfortable rooms, and for those needing absolute privacy and more space, the property also features the romantic Old Wine House, a standalone thatched cottage dating from 1707. Our room, named after its view of the Limietberg Mountains, was a cosy loft, tastefully decorated and offering all the amenities one would expect from a five-star hotel. Accessed via a tight spiral staircase, it was one of three thatch-covered rooms sharing a charming sitting area, complemented by a fully stocked bar. Dinner – served by Brighton, a charming Malawian gentleman – was preceded by canapés and a glass of Pierre Jordan Cuvée Brut. Featuring a very local menu, our meal was replete with wines from the property (Grand Dédale is located on the award-winning Doolhof Wine Estate) and cheeses from the Wellington valley. In keeping with the season, dinner consisted of a rich tiger prawn, mussel and squid risotto, followed by an eland fillet sourced from the Bontebok Ridge Reserve nearby, with potato fondant, delectable green beans and butternut purée, topped with jus. Ending the meal were some extraordinary handcrafted drinks from Jorgensen’s distillery in town, including the Naked Limoncello, an almost creamy concentration of organic lemons, and Savingnac brandy, a rival to the best cognacs in the world, with distinct notes of marmalade, cinnamon, raisins and coffee wafting from its caramel coloured depths. Full and content, we were assured of a heavenly night’s sleep under the intoxicating, earthy scent of thatch. The evening’s heavy downpour brought to life the rich greens, reds and greys of the mountainous landscape. Our exploration of some of the 380 hectares of vineyard, forest and fynbos that surround the property began at the stone labyrinth – the emblem of the hotel and the wine estate – which is laid out in a similar manner to the one in the cathedral at Chartres. (Grand Dédale is French for “Great Labyrinth,” and Doolhof, Afrikaans for labyrinth, was the name given to the area by the early settlers due to the many hills and vales, which allow only one way in and out.) Walking through the maze was a welcome meditation, a chance to lose track of direction, time and the outside world with every turn. Beginning a hike under a cool canopy, we travelled along the Kromme River, eventually ascending to a rugby pitch with perhaps the most gorgeous backdrop in the world. Further up the mountain slopes were hardy vines, twisted around trellises suspended over a floral carpet of yellow and white. The air was sweet and fresh, carrying a delightful perfume from the indigenous flora, overlaid with the subtle hint of roses. (A nearby valley rose farm, Langkloof, cultivates more than 14,000 plants.) After reaching the highest vineyard on the property and feeling invigorated thereby, we returned home to freshen up for a rare visit to the Bosman Family Vineyards, a farm not normally open to public tastings. Beyond growing grapes, this picturesque estate is home to one of the largest rootstock nurseries in the Southern Hemisphere, one of 30 such operations in Wellington. The Bosmans stopped making wine in 1956, but in 2004, they resumed production of what are considered some of South Africa’s best vintages. On our personal tour with the gracious and knowledgeable Tina, we were lucky enough to witness a carefully managed bottling process, all done by hand (like everything on the farm), and we were invited to taste Bosman’s eclectic range of wines. Some standout whites included the tongue-smackingly crisp Méthode Cap Classique (100 percent Chenin Blanc) and a surprisingly charming “blanc de noir” style wine. Apparently, this wine, a Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier blend, was supposed to be a bubbly, but finished as a still wine due to its high alcohol content. The solitary rosé boasts an unprecedented 33 different grape varieties. It is an ideal picnic wine, bursting with strawberries and sweet melon. After the tasting, we returned to the elegance and comfort of Grand Dédale for a sumptuous high tea. Sitting in the afternoon sun on the veranda, we drank Earl Grey from a sterling silver teapot and enjoyed scones and clotted cream, as well as a few tasty quiches. Following a peaceful evening, another fine meal and some pleasant banter around the fire, it came time to leave. Relaxed, well fed and with a case of wine in the trunk, we bade farewell to one of the most welcoming – and underappreciated – valleys in the Western Cape’s wine region.

How to get the most out of touring the Cape Winelands

Wine tourism..

It’s growing fast.. and it’s a fabulous way of exploring a region, getting to know the people, the culture, the history, and of course savor its wines..
Now, you might be the romantic couple wishing to stumble upon that hidden artisan that ‘nobody in the world but you’ has discovered, or a family with small ones to worry about and keep occupied whilst you indulge yourself, or, maybe you’re a group of friends who wish to see a couple of producers, and then park off at one of them in order to while the day away over many glasses, giggle, or put the world to rights… There’s also the serious wine guy – you know, the collector, the avid follower, the geek, or industry bod who finds himself on holiday but doesn’t necessarily want to expose his or her cover and talk work all over again..
So where do you start when you arrive in Cape Town – that beautiful mother city with its fancy beach bars, littered full of some of the world’s finest restaurants, many attractions, that leave you so content and fool you into thinking you might actually stay put, and not even bother doing a tour of the interior wine country.. Woh’ – now that would be just plain wrong……….
The Manor House at Boschendal, Stellenbosch


If you think Cape Town is beautiful, just earmark yourself a day or two in the Cape winelands and you’ll find yourself not only astonished by the natural beauty and abundance of attractions to uncover, but you really will start to de-stress, relax, sit back, remember what nature was about in your childhood, the importance of it, and why you need to re-acquaint yourself, quickly, before urban life turns you into a commuting tech demon for good.

How & where..

OK – so you’ve convinced me.. where do I go from here? Well if I were you, I would get myself a personal private wine tour guide, if nothing else, for the sheer opportunity of being able to quaff the stuff without worrying about points on your licence, or worse still, ending up in an accident. Now of course like anything, there are guides, and then there are guides.. if budget’s an issue, then hop on a wine tour mini-bus that leaves the Cape Town Waterfront and contact The Wine Desk for rates.
If you don’t like the idea of squeezing next to someone who’s happy to give you their life story, then up the ante a bit and spend on a private guide who will transport you in their own vehicle.. this might a local registered professional guide who can give you a great overview of the whole region and its history, plus some Cape wine facts, or, you may prefer to go further still and select a guide that is more ensconced or experienced within the industry – someone who has actually worked in wine, a winery, or writes as a journalist on wine, or even a qualified w/maker, or for that matter, a producer themselves?.. By traveling with this type of individual, you will hopefully not only walk away having seen some fabulous farms, estates and producers, but also gained from the shared knowledge imparted along the way which will inspire you to uncover and forage more about wine, food, geography, topography, gastronomy, history, geology (yes – that’s what I said!) and how all these components make a ‘sum’, that is very relevant and wholesome to anyone’s existence on this planet (whether they drink wine, or not). Some great experienced guides include Jonathan Snashall, Pam Mc Onie, Lesley Cox, or myself, to mention a few..
private wine tours greatest africa
Wine touring with private guide, Richard Hilton – Hidden Valley estate

Which producers?..

What if you’re actually quite happy driving yourself, or your wife’s offered as she’s pregnant, or your mother-in-law is happy to step in at the wheel, or you have a non-drinker friend..? Well, based on my experience, and whilst having a copy of the Platters Wine Guide at hand (the bible to SA wines), following a rule of criteria gauging magical locations, beautiful gardens and landscapes,, breath-taking architecture, added in house offerings (galleries, museums etc.), warm welcomes, and of course, the finest of wines, they are as follows:

Top 10 historic producers:

Klein Constantia, Buitenverwachting, Vergelegen, *Morgenster, Meerlust, Rust en Vrede, Rustenberg, Anthonij Rupert,  La Motte, Boekenhoutskloof

Top 10 contemporary producers:

Waterkloof, Delaire Graff, *Tokara, *Hidden Valley, Ernie Els, Waterford, Jordan, Glen Carlou, Glenelly, Stark-Conde

Top 10 boutique or artisan producers (some only open by appointment or certain days):

De Trafford (Fri/Sat am), Uva Mira, Haskell Vineyards, Cape Chamonix, Le Riche, Camberley, Graceland, Eagles Nest, Raats family Wines, Dalla Cia

Top 10 wine estate restaurant luxury experiences:

Delaire Graff, Tokara, Camphors at Vergelegen, Waterkloof, Terroir at Kleine Zalze, Rust en Vrede Rest., Overture at Hidden Valley, Buitenverwachting, Bistro 1682 and Catherina’s at Steenberg, Jardine at Jordan
Historic Vergelegen, Somerset West

Top 6 wine & al fresco lunch destinations:

*Moreson Bread & Wine Rest., Somerbosch, The Stables at Vergelegen, Winemakers lunch at Rust en Vrede, Post Card Cafe at Stark Conde, Ernie Els

Top 6 wine & picnic destinations:

Boschendal, Hartenberg, Warwick, Groote Post, *Allee Bleue, Vergelegen

Top 6 children friendly wine tasting destinations:

Fairview, Spier, Vergelegen, Blauwklippen, Boschendal, Groot Constantia

Top 3 wine and food pairing tastings:

Waterford (with chocolate), *Fairview (with cheese), Creation (with everything)
*Olive oil tastings also available
Of the over 650 producers now in the Cape, the above lists are a helpful guide and ones that are within easy reach for guests staying in Cape Town, Stellenbosch or Franschhoek. For those staying further afield (e.g. Hermanus, Robertson, Wellington etc.) then that’s another story, for another time.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Strolled Upon one day, Grand Dédale, grand beauty

A few years ago in the early 2000′s I decided to visit the Winery of Doolhof in a corner of the Groenberg Mountains just behind the small town of Wellington, in South Africa’s Western Cape, about an hours drive form Cape Town. Wellington itself is a quirky little place – a beautiful church watches over it from the top end of town (as well as an impressive statue of famous Scottish Engineer, Alexander Murray), and remnants of a Victorian inspired era are clearly visible, such as the Queen Victoria Arch (built to commemorate her visit in the late 1800′s). One quickly realizes that you’re in the heart of a farming community, a pretty ancient one at that, as bakkie’s (Afrikaanse for pickup truck) chug about and the local boer/farmers run about their business, donning their usual attire of rugby shorts and veld shirt.
Now, nothing out of the ordinary so far.. but when you start to go off piste into the mountain and scout about among this most beautiful of wineland districts, you stumble upon a few extra special Cape Dutch gems. Before even arriving at Doolhof, you pass the pretty farms of Nabygelegen, Dunstone, Amares and Wolvenpaas, to name a few – all of  which produce some excellent wines in an area that you would be fooled for thinking was too hot for the growth of great vines, and making of fine wines. I say ‘Farms’, and not Estates, deliberately, as to really understand the history and psyche of the Cape regions, you need to recognize that first and foremost, these were, and still are, important farming communities dating back to the 1700′s.
Once up the track past Wolvenpaas Farm (itself a dreamy spectacle of a bygone era) you bend your way up towards Doolhof (Afrikaanse for labyrinth). Now back in the early 2000′s, this farm had been purchased by a British entrepreneur, Dennis Kerrison. With new vines having been planted in 1993, the old stables converted into a winery (of note I should add), Dennis set about renovating the old Cape Dutch Manor House, Grand Dedale…. Wow, what a job they did!  The moment you set eyes on it, the landscaped position on where it’s seated, and meet the charming managing couple Angelo & Tina Casu, you’ll be wrapped. This place is of Utopian beauty in the 21st century, with contemporary features elegantly re-defining a very special and historic dwelling. With only 6 suites, and a honey-moon annex, this is very much a boutique hotel. Beautifully and tastefully furnished, with a pool you can actually do ‘lengths’ in, a discreet in-house restaurant service which is tailored to the individuals desires, you couldn’t find a better place to retreat from the daily stresses the world throws at us.. Peaceful, picturesque, and pretty darn magical if you ask me..
Today, Grand Dedale continues its warm and special hospitality, and the farm has gone from strength to strength in its wine award winning quest to prove itself as one of the best in the region. If you’re looking for a piece of historic and luxurious Cape, you couldn’t wish for a better destination. I can’t wait to return…