Experience the Swartland Wine & Olive Route’s ‘roads less travelled’

I feast on wine and bread, and feasts they are. – Michelangelo, Italian sculpture.

The roads less travelled often dish up the most pleasant surprises. Take the northern part of the Swartland Wine and Olive Route for example. The further one drives northwards along the N7 past Malmesbury, the fewer the vineyards become and the more the wheat fields. One could almost say you’re leaving the Swartland’s “wine barrel” and entering its “bread basket”. Almost!

Our trip at the end of October took us from the lush green vineyards of the Swartland to the seemingly endless rolling hills covered in the deepest hue of gold. It was a sight for sore eyes!

For our first stop, we had to turn off from the N7 about 20 km south of Piketberg to head off to Koringberg. I had heard of Wildehurst Wines before, but had never had the pleasure. Well, a very big pleasure was in stall for me, and I’m not only talking about their wines!

The small, nondescript cellar is the very first building as one enters the tiny village, but its outer appearance belies the warm and intimate interior of the small tasting room (right). And the production cellar itself isn’t much bigger – a true boutique winery! It vinifies 30 tonnes of grapes annually.

But it’s when you meet Joanne Hurst (left), the “lady of the manor”, that Wildehurst Wines takes on a new “shape”. If one can taste a winemaker in their wine, every Wildehurst wine exudes this vibrant, dynamic and charismatic woman. And she has a naughty sense of humour to boot!

But before I get to Joanne and her wines, here’s some background information. Joanne planted her “garden vineyard” (she lives in Koringberg) with 90% shiraz and 10% viognier in 2006. Three years later she produced her first wine, the Wildehurst Red, by co-fermenting the shiraz and viognier and ageing the wine in French oak barrels for 18 months. It remains the winery’s flagship wine to this day.

Right from the start the Wildehurst Red (a blend of shiraz, mourvèdre, viognier and cinsaut) and Wildehurst Chenin Blanc, made from 30-year-old bush vines, have regularly received a rating of at least 4 stars in the Platter wine guide, among other awards. In 2017 they were honoured to receive 4½ stars for no fewer than five of their wines!

“In 2014 we planted 500 mourvèdre and 900 grenache noir wines next to the cellar that came into production in 2017,” explains Joanne.

Some of the wonderful wines sampled.

“We believe in minimal intervention when it comes to wine making. Apart from our own grapes, all other grapes are sourced from selected sites in the Swartland. We do not add any acid, commercial yeast or commercial enzymes, choosing to rather let the wild enzymes and yeast take over.”

And this is where the magic starts!

Wildehurst Wines produces white, red and rosé wines in two ranges, the Wildehurst range and the Velo range. The first consists of no fewer than 10 wines (including a Cap Classique made from chenin blanc and chardonnay, and a straw wine), while there’s a red blend, a white blend and a rosé made from cinsaut in the Velo range. And it’s whispered that Joanne is planning another Cap Classique, this time made from cinsaut.

Currently Wildehurst produces about 16 000 bottles of wine annually. The beautiful crest on its label was designed by Joanne using components of the things she loves the most, her husband (who sadly passed away about two weeks before our visit), her dogs and the spectacular area she lives in. It depicts two schnauzer heads at the top. The sun and the trees are part of the Hurst family coat of arms. The amphora at the bottom to the right represents Joanne’s desire to make wine as naturally as possible. Her garden vineyard is illustrated at the bottom to the left.

For more information, or to make an appointment for tasting, call +27 60 347 9267 or send an email to wildehurst@gmail.com, or visit www.wildehurst.com.

Comfort food made extraordinary by a superb wine.

It was time for lunch so we drove back to the N7 and the Desert Rose “padstal” on the corner. Now, although there’s no Michelin star in Desert Rose’s future, you won’t be blamed for walking away after a meal looking like a dog that’s been given a bone … with meat on! Two hamburgers and chips, mine with enough cholesterol to clog an oil pipeline, were enjoyed with great enthusiasm, and mine was made so much more enjoyable with a few glasses of the opened bottle of 2019 Wildehurst Cinsaut Joanne gracefully gave me as we left.

Our second and last appointment for the day was at a winery I’d never heard of before, Schenkfontein about 25 km out of Piketberg on the road to Elandsbaai. And another very interesting story awaited us.

Over a century ago, on a farm called Winkelshoek, the Hanekom family’s colourful history started. Newly married Jan Hanekom worked as a sojourner on the farm and in 1904 obtained lease rights and started farming tobacco. He gradually started establishing vineyards and in 1918 set up a small cellar and bought 9 wine barrels, and the first winemaker in the family was born!

Schenkfontein’s tasting room where one can enjoy their range of wines.

Schenkfontein was established on 9 December 1992 when a portion of the original Winkelshoek was sold off to Hennie Hanekom. The farm covers about 153 hectares of which only 23 hectares are under vines. Soil types range from sand/clay to stone and clay, and it’s here that Hennie’s son, Hendrik, produced the first certified wine under die Schenkfontein label in 2014.

You won’t leave without quite a few of these in your boot, just in case of another lockdown!

Although Winkelshoek is famous for its easy-drinking bag-in-a-box wine and fortified wines, it has grown to produce a wide variety of other wines. These include the Weskus range with its modern and easy-going packaging, consisting of six varietals, the tribute range to the Schenkfontein farm (also available in six varietals) and stronger liquors like the Royal Vodka (available in three sizes) and Pippa Granadilla liqueur.

Our hosts were the new generation of Malans, Philip (left), who’s in charge of marketing, and Hendrik. Over bowls of heart-warming soup and fresh bread, perfectly complemented by their decadent and voluptuous sweet wines, we learned from Hendrik about his winemaking philosophy and from Philip about their plans for the future. We were then taken on a tour of the ever-expanding cellar and discovered that they had big and interesting plans. Hopefully we’ll be hearing a lot more from Schenkfontein in the not too distant future.

Wine tasting at Schenkfontein is by appointment only. To book, call 074 584 1234 or visit https://winkelshoek.co.za/pages/schenkfontein-tasting-room

The open-plan kitchen, lounge and dining room is one’s first impression of the interior, and it’s all good!

Our accommodation for the night in Piketberg was the @1926 self-catering cottages on the corner of Kerk and Voortrekker Streets in the centre of town, and I must admit, we did not expect such comfort and luxury here. Fully equipped with two double bedrooms, a bathroom with bath and shower, an open plan kitchen/lounge/dining area with a TV with a host of channels for one to relax in front of, our unit was the perfect base for discovering and exploring this area. And yes, @1926 also has “braai” facilities.

Both bedrooms offer luxurious comfort.

The building dates from 1926 (hence the name!) and is part of Piketberg’s Heritage Route. The building has been used as a bank for years before it was purchased and turned into accommodation. Security at all units is very good and includes burglar bars, security gates and camera systems. The undercover parking is monitored by the same security system. The local police station is also close to the building.

For more information, call Toni Carstens at +27 72 554 5926 or send an email to 1926selfcatering@gmail.com.

Breakfast the following morning was to be a very informal affair at the monthly Piket-bo-Berg Farmers Market, but as we had time on our hands, we decided to discover the Heritage Route, and I’m glad we did. The beautiful architecture of a bygone era reminds one that not everything about colonialism was bad, no matter how much the liberals and lefties whine and bitch!

The beautiful Dutch Reformed Church, part of the Heritage Route.

Another building that reminds one of a bygone era and part of the route.

Unfortunately, time wasn’t on our side and we did not get to visit the museum. Instead we headed up the Versfeld Pass with its stunning views of the area, drove through green fruit orchards (like we suddenly were in a different province!), and found our way to Kruistementvlei farm where the market was held.

The panoramic view from up the Versfeld Pass.

After sniffing around the different stalls, we enjoyed delicious pancakes with proper coffee and then left for our last appointment of the trip, Org de Rac.

When driving along the N7 just south of Piketberg, one cannot miss this organic wine farm. The vineyards against the “koppie” and the building complex on top of same “koppie” which houses the cellar and tasting room are hard to miss.

Org de Rac in all its glory!

Org de Rac was acquired in 2000 by Nico Basson, an entrepreneur in the South African fishing industry who had a vision of establishing a wine farm committed to offering local and international wine lovers premier wines made from organically grown grapes. The first vines were planted 2 years later, and 2005 saw the release of the estate’s first wines.

Org de Rac became one of the first wine farms in the country committed to 100% certified organic wine farming. From the outset the vision was to make the finest wines from the healthiest grapes, grapes that express the characteristics of each variety, creating as natural an environment as possible for the cultivation of vineyards in the best possible way to ensure quality grapes for the making of premium wines.

“Food & Wine: Decide which is the soloist, which the accompanist.”

And it has paid dividends as Org de Rac’s wines have won numerous local and international accolades. The brand is not only well-known in South Africa for its high-quality organic wines, but also overseas.

And the wine certainly was the soloist on the day!

Org de Rac offers two wine ranges, Estate and Reserve. The first includes sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc, chardonnay, verdelho and roussanne on the white side, a rosé, and two blends, merlot, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon on the red side. The Reserve range consists of the Chardonnay, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon (there’s also a limited edition), Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, Die Waghuis White and Die Waghuis Red. And virtually every one of them has featured in Platter, while Michelangelo, Gilbert& Gaillard and Winemag’s Prescient Report also count among the many accolades.

How can wine taste anything but good when presented by such charm and beauty, and I’m NOT talking about the Model T Ford!

Then the estate also offers two Cap Classiques, a port-style wine and grappa, and organic olive oil.

I was privileged to taste nearly all their wines, presented very professionally by the charming Carina Brandt, and then we had a cheese platter for lunch. Before we hit the road, I simply had to indulge in one of my favourite pleasures, oysters and Cap Classique! What can I say, I’m a sucker for the finer things in life!

For more information, please call 022 913 2397 or 022 913 3923, send an email to wine@orgderac.com or visit  www.orgderac.com.

Before signing off, remember, this area is less than an hour and a half’s drive from Cape Town, and the drive there and back alone will give you much to talk about. So be adventurous and tackle “the roads less travelled”, you won’t be sorry!

Without bread and wine, love goes hungry. – Latin proverb.

Cheers!

END

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