Category Archives: South Africa

Sleep Here: Vineyard Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa

Vineyard Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa 

VineyardHotelRearRestaurant

Seamlessly blending old with new, the Vineyard Hotel on the fringe of Cape Town in South Africa, delivers the charm of a 200-year-old heritage house with the comfort of modern amenities and stylish décor, all set to a stunning backdrop of Table Mountain along the Liesbeeck River.

Contemporary architecture utilizing glass and steel, has expanded the property beyond the original wood structure, delightfully wrapped during summertime in green vines punctuated by shocks of pink blooms. Built in 1799 by British colonial servant Andrew Barnard for his Scottish wife Lady Anne Lindsay, the property’s name derived from the vineyards found near the grounds at the time. Notably, it was the first English country house built in South Africa. Lady Anne set to cultivating beautiful, meandering gardens along the riverfront setting, which still afford guests today the chance to enjoy indigenous flora and fauna and abundant bird life.

Chic rooms feature cool color palates in contemporary fabrics; mine was in soothing sandstone and sky blue. The mountain view reminded why I came to South Africa in the first place: It boasts one of the most spectacular landscapes on earth. The warm service at the hotel left me wishing I’d had more time to relax on the beautiful grounds or utilize amenities like the expansive fitness center, exceptionally equipped for a hotel gym.

RoomWithAView

Highlight of Stay

The Javanese massage at the spa. Poolside with views of Table Mountain.

VineyardHotelPool

Location

Tucked into the leafy, upscale suburb of Newlands, the Vineyard Hotel is within easy walking distance of the up-market Cavendish Shopping Centre and is just 10 minutes away from the City Center and the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.

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Amenities

  • 207 Rooms
  • Conference center
  • Free Wifi
  • Indoor and outdoor pools
  • Two restaurants, a lounge, plus patio and poolside dining
  • Angsana Spa by the Banyan Tree Group
  • Hair salon
  • Fully equipped fitness center
  • Garden walkways and jogging paths along the Liesbeeck River
  • Two tortoises, Herbert and Gloria

VineyardHotelDiningRoomTopView

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Q&A with Paul Cluver Winery in Elgin, South Africa

Paul Cluver and Winemaker Andries Burger

Paul Cluver and Winemaker Andries Burger

Yesterday’s post posited the argument that wine writers should join a harvest at some point in their careers in order to better grasp the fundamentals behind the bottle. I’ve decided to take that challenge and have joined the winemaking team at Paul Cluver Winery for a short, but hopefully illuminating, two week stint over February and March.

The Cluvers pioneered winemaking in the Elgin Valley, touted as South Africa’s answer to the global call for “cool-climate” wines. A review of their line-up confirms it: they produce Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Gewurztraminer. The family has owned the property since 1896, but came from Bremen, Germany originally. The vast farm boasts a renowned mountain biking track, and an amphitheater employed for summer concerts, in addition to commercial pear and apple orchards (and two zebras).

Prior to my arrival, Paul Cluver, managing director of the family business, answered a few questions about the farm, his best memories in 20 years at the winery, and the wines he likes to drink (other than his own Seven Flags).

Striped Donkeys or Zebras?

Striped Donkeys or Zebras?

When were the first vines planted and how have the vineyards/winery evolved since inception?

My father planted the first vineyards in 1987, and in 1990 Paul Cluver Wines became the first wines bottled as wine of origin in Elgin. We planted a wide variety of grapes in the beginning, including varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Shiraz.  Over time we have focused more on the varietals which we found we excel at: cool climate white varietals and Pinot Noir.   Our winery was founded after apartheid, so the dissolution of it did not affect our business.

How many wines do you currently produce? How did you decide on those varieties?

We produce a total of 10 wines from five different varietals.  Sauvignon blanc, two Chardonnays, three Rieslings, three Pinot Noirs, and a Gewürztraminer. Our focus is to produce the best wine we can within South Africa for each wine we make given the area we are in and what our terroir can produce.  Over the last 20 years we have started to better understand our terroir and which varietals do well here.

What are some of your best memories at the winery?

Being rated in the top ten wineries of South Africa, our winemaker joining the Cape Winemakers Guild, the release of our first Seven Flags Pinot Noir, and being recognized for our contribution to sustainable production.

Has keeping the winery a family operation been difficult?

We have an amazing family that has worked well together through the generations. Sure there have been challenges, but those challenges have helped us become better at what we do.

Has climate change impacted your region yet?

No, although it is something that we are very conscious about.

How has Elgin changed in the last decade?

The fruit industry in Elgin experienced a very negative cycle from the mid-nineties to about 2005. During this time, the wine industry took off in Elgin Valley.  Luckily, the fortunes of the fruit industry have improved in the last couple of years.

How has the South African wine industry changed in the last decade?

One of the major changes has been the fact that the world has opened up for South Africa.  This has given us the opportunity to travel and learn. Most South African winemakers end up working at least one season overseas, learning and experiencing the quality of what the world has to offer. At the same time, we have been privileged to be visited by some of the most passionate wine personalities in the world.

What excites you most about South Africa’s vinous future?

Our ability to pursue excellence without being limited by legislation like in European wine growing regions.

What frustrates you most about South Africa’s wine industry? What could be improved?

The fact that we have such a low image overseas.  I believe our wines offer exceptional quality but they are not recognized for the quality they offer.  We all need to work together to improve our image overseas.

Do you ever visit the U.S.? 

Yes.  I have been there every year for the last several years.  I usually go to the East Coast (New York, Boston, Richmond and Florida), Chicago and recently have also been to Seattle and Dallas.  I love New York City

Where do you like to go for a holiday?

My wife and I love going on safaris, although we also love travelling in general.  We have our favourites like New York, Paris and Burgundy although we also love discovering new places.

What non-S.A. wines do you like to drink?

I try to drink as many different wines from as many different places as I can in order to learn as much as possible.  My favourite areas are Burgundy, German Rieslings and Pinot Noir, and Loire wines.

 

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Should Wine Writers Join a Harvest?

 

Drew'sHandsRiesling

Cradling Riesling Grapes

The fundamental physicality and mechanics of winemaking have eluded me until now. Raised in the uniformity of America’s Midwestern suburbs, and seeking their antithesis for the last fifteen years living and working in New York City, neither locale has afforded any opportunity for immersion in vineyard life.

As a wine journalist, I’ve often wondered if it’s fair to producers of this highly romanticized elixir, to proffer opinions, particularly harsh criticism, without having learnt in situ how it’s made. I’ve studied books, and taken courses in viticulture and vinification (and earned my WSET Diploma doing so); I’ve traveled to vineyards as close to home as Long Island and far-flung as New Zealand and Namibia. The countless tank and barrel room tours, and long repasts with winemakers discussing the trials of a particularly tough vintage, have been illuminating, but knowing and doing sit on two different planes of experience. I’ve never beheld firsthand the hand-wringing over picking in the face of inclement weather, or witnessed the minutiae of decisions, as they occur, that lead to a wine’s final expression in the bottle; decisions that culminate with the consumer’s delight or dissatisfaction, and a critic’s reputation-making or -breaking score.

TrimmingRiesling

Trimming Riesling Grapes

A deeper understanding of a subject always leads to a greater appreciation of it (e.g., oft bewildering modern art, with context, can become less so), so should participation in a harvest, then, be a prerequisite for a wine writer? What about a wine critic who calculates scores? Will knowing firsthand, for example, the struggle to grow healthy, sustainable grapes, while fighting pests and a changing climate, cultivate greater compassion, forgiveness even, towards the end product, especially a wine that might otherwise be determined unremarkable? Could it abrade objectivity? Conversely, a behind the scenes experience might dispense with part of the “backstory” illusion employed as a marketing tool (sometimes genuine, sometimes deceptive), and result in a more informed, and thus critical eye at tastings.

With these questions in mind, I arrived in South Africa last Saturday, to join the team at Paul Cluver Winery in Elgin, for two weeks of harvest.

My internship at Paul Cluver Winery came about after I learned of a global search for female interns by the PIWOSA group (Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa). In an effort to encourage women to explore careers in the wine industry, the member wineries accepted applicants holding either a winemaking or WSET Diploma certification. The Cluvers, including longtime winemaker Andries Burger (married into the family) selected my application, and invited me to their winery and into their homes.

AndriesBurger

Winemaker Andries Burger

Prior to departing, I emailed a few questions about the farm, the region, and South Africa in general, to Paul Cluver, the managing director of the family business. To read that interview, click here.

I hope the culmination of my time at the farm will conclude with clarity on the winemaking process, and lend a deeper respect for the people who get grapes from the vine, into a bottle, and to our tables. But as is often the case with learning, it rarely settles curiosity and questions, but rather drives deeper inquiry.

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Postcard: Harvest at Paul Cluver Wines

Drew'sHandsRiesling

Hands of assistant winemaker Drew Harty at Paul Cluver Winery in Elgin, South Africa, cradling Riesling grapes

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Winemaker Ken Forrester from Stellenbosch, South Africa

KEN

Yesterday marked the culmination of a weeklong celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life as he was buried in his childhood village of Qunu, South Africa. Continuing my conversations with South African winemakers, Ken Forrester of his eponymous label Ken Forrester Wines, takes a few minutes to share his thoughts on Mandela, the state of S.A.’s wine industry, and why Chenin Blanc is the most misunderstood (but not for long) grape.

A brief background on Ken Forrester Wines:

Situated on the slopes of the Helderberg Mountain, in the heart of South Africa’s most famous wine region Stellenbosch, our vineyards are commonly referred to as the Home of Chenin Blanc and other premium award-winning wines. Over the years our range of top quality wines has received massive national and international acclaim with literally hundreds of awards and accolades over the last 20 years and are broadly available in reputable restaurants and exported around the globe. Ken Forrester’s philosophy has always been to create a range of handcrafted, individually made wines that suitably complement a wide variety of food styles and provide excellent value.

Signature Wines:

  • Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc ($11.99 SRP)
  • Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc ($14.99 SRP)
  • Ken Forrester The FMC ($64.99 SRP)
  • Ken Forrester T Noble Late Harvest ($54.99 SRP)

Where were you born and where do you live now?

I was born in Chingola, Zambia, miles from any vineyards or wineries! I am now living in the shadow of the Helderberg Mountain in the region of Stellenbosch right on the Atlantic ocean – the most beautiful place in the world.

 How did you get into the wine business?

Sheer luck–not sure if it was good luck! Passion, passion, passion, careful what you wish for!

The world witnessed the passing and subsequent burial of Nelson Mandela last week. What was the mood of the country and how do you think he influenced South Africa’s wine industry?

With the recent passing of Nelson Mandela and the very extensive world interest and wonderful coverage, it is an amazing time to almost re-live the Magic of Madiba. There have been so many poignant reminders of his canny way, his amazing statesmanship, his ability to grasp a moment and define it for all time. Again, we as South Africans and pretty much all of the world, are reminded about our transition from Apartheid, minority government to the democratic government of today, and the many pitfalls and crevasses on the way, it is truly a modern miracle that we made it happen. And it in no small part rests with the incredible leadership of Mandela, a man often content to allow the younger more nimble members of the flock to lead the way while he, like the good shepherd brought all the flock with him; he was always a shining example of humility and thoughtfulness. Here passes a great man…

Do you think South African wines have any particular reputation in the States that you think is inaccurate?

Yes, too often we are seen as cheap and cheerful “critter” wines – 2 cats, 3 dogs, spotted frog, etc. This is because we are seemingly naïve enough to provide buyers with their request “for the cheapest possible juice”  but this is not what SA is all about; our best wines can stand their ground with the very best in the world and this “cheap wine” perception is unfortunate and inaccurate.

Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected?

Chenin Blanc, but its time is coming; more and more quality producers are making great wines from Chenin Blanc.

What excites you most about South African wine right now?

Better quality every year and we’ve got a great new wave of young winemakers!

What do you drink when relaxing at home?

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc or Renegade (a GSM blend).

What types of food do you enjoy eating?

Fresh, wholesome pasta; grilled/barbeque meat; risotto;  and fresh, garden grown salads.

What music do you listen to?

Blues, Jazz, Rock & Roll

Winery dogs?

Yep! Max, Bella and puppies Phantom & Whiskey.  

Puppies

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Carl van der Merwe, Winemaker for De Morgenzon Wines, Stellenbosch, South Africa

De Morgenzon Carl2

Today marks the culmination of a weeklong celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life as he was buried in his childhood village of Qunu, South Africa. Continuing my conversations with South African winemakers, Carl van der Merwe of DeMorgenzon takes a few minutes to share his thoughts on Mandela, the state of S.A.’s wine industry, and why a tainted wine from a faulty cork is the worst part about being a winemaker.

A brief background on DeMorgezon Wines

“Our slopes rise from about 200m to nearly 400m above sea level and our vistas embrace Cape Town, Table Mountain…with the ocean as a backdrop. While we could call ourselves ‘mountain vineyards’ we prefer to be known as ‘garden vineyards’. In Spring specially, chosen wildflowers flourish between our vines. We have no doubt that a biodiverse and ecologically sensitive environment produces infinitely better grapes and the beauty of our gardens is captured in every bottle of our wine.  We pipe Baroque music through our vineyards 24 x 7 and believe that the power of music positively influences the ripening process. At DeMorgenzon, we are totally committed to excellence and focus on crafting wines which express our unique terroir and fruit within a classic structure – we believe that the finest South African wines combine New World-style fruit with Old World-style elegance.”

Signature Wines:

  • DMZ Rosé ($11.99 SRP),
  • DMZ Sauvignon Blanc ($17.99)
  • DMZ Chardonnay ($17.99), DMZ Syrah ($17.99)
  • De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc ($34.99)

Where were you born and where do you live now?

I was born in Cape Town and have stayed near the mountains and the sea ever since. I am currently living in the greatest wine producing region in Africa, namely Stellenbosch!

How did you get into the wine business?

Before deciding on a career, I did an in-depth analysis of what I wanted and needed in a job to best express my values and interests. I narrowed it down to natural sciences in an agricultural field and being a lover of the outdoors, figured that working in the winelands, which tend to occupy some of the most beautiful spots on earth, was the best option. I planned my course of study and have spent a lot of time travelling around the world to various wine regions in search of inspiration and perspective.

The world witnessed Nelson Mandela’s passing and burial this week. Do you feel he made a contribution, either directly or indirectly, to the wine industry?

Nelson Mandela’s release from jail and subsequent formation of a transitional government, aided the dropping of sanctions that strangled not only South Africa’s ability to trade internationally, but also South African wine producer’s desire and ability to be exposed to an international wine market. Since 1993, a greater percentage of winemakers have traveled abroad and returned with a keen sense of South Africa’s unique selling points, and the importance to produce wines that compete on an international level. Winemakers, although proudly South African, benchmark their wines and abilities against the best in the world and have brought a new sense of focus to the industry. Winery owners desire to make “world class” wines has assisted in raising the quality bar with the necessary investment in facilities and vineyards.

What is the mood around the country right now?

South Africans are a resilient, hopeful and strong people. We have weathered the storms of migratory, political, social and environmental change. At times we have been on a tipping point but hope, forgiveness and a genuine desire to “make it work” is evident amongst the vast majority of us. We are all saddened at the loss of Mandela, but his legacy surpasses his physical presence.

What is most and least rewarding about being a winemaker?

Most rewarding are probably the people who all share a common interest in good food and good company–not to mention good wine! Least rewarding and bottom of the list are great bottles of wine tainted by faulty corks.

What are the challenges of making wine in your region?

The Cape can get very hot and windy in summer and this can result in stressed vineyards and rushed picking dates. To achieve a balance of freshness and ripeness one needs to be very in tune with your vineyards and able to make rapid picking decisions.

What excites you most about South African wine right now?

Freedom. We are not bound by rigorous industry control and there is so much opportunity to innovate and be recognized.

What do you drink when relaxing at home?

A glass of cold South African Chenin Blanc is always a treat, otherwise, I have a small cellar of international wine and I really enjoy drinking great wines from around the world.

If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be?

In Piedmont, Italy during truffle season!

Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected?

Nebbiolo from Barolo or Barbaresco.

What types of food do you enjoy?

I love cooking with fresh ingredients, especially fresh sea food. Fresh mussels cooked in white wine cream and herbs with fresh crusty bread is one of my favorites. Fresh Cape Crayfish, lightly boiled and finished on the barbecue is also a great treat.

What music do you listen to?

I often have to listen to my children’s CD’s for as long as I can handle; otherwise, my personal choice is varied and suited to my mood. Anything from classical to jazz and hard rock.

Winery dog?

Yes–Dottie and Jane, Jack Russell terriers.

DMZ Stell mountain w house DSC_1312

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Abrie Beeslaar, Winemaker for Kanonkop, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Winemaker

Continuing my conversations with South African winemakers this week, Abrie Beeslaar of Kanonkop takes a few minutes to share his thoughts on Mandela, the state of S.A.’s wine industry, and why a judgment of Paris with South African wines is long overdue.

A brief background on Kanonkop:

Founded in 1910,  the fourth generation family farm, presently run by brothers Johann and Paul Krige, has been owned and operated by the Sauer-Krige family since the early 1930s. The name Kanonkop is derived from a “kopje” (small hill) on the property, from which a cannon was fired in the 17th century to announce the arrival of the Dutch East India Company’s trading ships at Table Bay.  Situated on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in Stellenbosch, Kanonkop encompasses just over 247 acres of vineyards at altitudes of 195–395 feet above sea level.  Kanonkop boasts some of the Cape’s first commercially planted Pinotage vines, with an average age of over 50 years. These are maintained as traditional bush vines, while the Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc are trellised. The estate’s legendary Pinotage serves as a benchmark for this unique and exotic South African grape.

Where were you born and where do you live now?

I was born in Worcester and now reside on the Kanonkop farm which is located on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in Stellenbosch.

How did you get into the wine business?

I wanted to study Medicine, but did not qualify to get in. They recommended that I study agriculture for a year, and then reapply. I never reapplied.

We all witnessed around the world, the passing of Nelson Mandela this week. Do you feel he made a contribution, either directly or indirectly, to the wine industry? What is the mood of the country right now? 

Mr. Mandela made a huge difference, both directly and indirectly. For instance, he improved land security and helped make South Africa more visible to the world. To talk about his legacy is a humbling feeling, and I think 99% of South Africans are morning the country’s loss, and are refocusing on what Mr. Mandela fought and stood for,

What are the challenges of making wine in your region?

The biggest challenge is the wind, and trying to figure out the intrinsics of each vintage.

Have South Africans’ wine preferences changed in the last 10 years?

I don’t think the South African wine consumer has changed differently than the rest of the world. The consumers are buying from the shelf to drink immediately; they are also buying wines they can understand, for instance a wine that has coffee aromatics.

Do you think South African wines have any particular reputation in the States that you think is inaccurate?

I think we still have a chance to establish ourselves as a quality driven country. Unfortunately, people are not prepared to take a risk on a wine at a higher price point. I see too many cheap wines in the market with labels I do not recognize. We must also do a Judgment of Paris with S.A. wines included!

Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected? I think Pinotage is not fully understood by most, but it is still respected.

What do you drink when relaxing at home? I like properly aged wines, especially from Burgundy and Italy.

What types of food do you like to eat? Like any South African, we are born with Braai tongs in our hands. So all kinds of meat, and my wife’s homemade sausage.

If you could be traveling right now, where would you be? Germany, in the Mosel!

Kanonkop Cannon at Sunset

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