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.

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