Sunday, March 17, 2013

Wine Tasting in Stellenbosch

After finishing up our volunteer work and before we went to Inverdoorn game reserve, we spent 3 days in Stellenbosch, the epicenter of South African wine country.

Stellenbosch has over 200 wineries, many of them excellent.  The climate is especially suited to red wines, and Stellenbosch is known for its pinotage.  The pinotage cultivar is a hybrid of pinot noir and cinsault, and was created by a University of Stellenbosch professor in 1925.  Some wine purists look down their noses at pinotage, but we like it.

We stayed 5 miles from town at the Devon Valley Hotel, which was recommended by Sarah’s PwC co-worker Andrea Miles.  The grounds were stunning, with beautiful gardens in every direction. The SylvanVale pinotage made on the estate is surprisingly good.

View from the restaurant patio at Devon Valley Hotel

More of the grounds at Devon Valley

We chose 10 wineries to visit over 3 days.  Five were suggested by the owners of I Love My Laundry, the wine/laundry/curios shop in Cape Town.  We chose the others based on our own research.  The recommendations were perfect.  Our own choices were pretty good as well.

The 10 wineries were dispersed in several directions within a 25-mile radius of Stellenbosch, and we wanted to be responsible tasters, so we decided to hire our own driver.  There are standardized wine bus tours available, but they don’t go to all of the wineries we wanted to visit.  So we went to the Tourism Bureau in town, and they found us a driver at a very reasonable rate.

Our driver and wine guide was Alan Denman, who turned out to be quite a character.  He was born in Zambia, which was called Northern Rhodesia at the time he grew up in the early 1960’s.  Southern Rhodesia became what is today Zimbabwe.  Rhodesia is named after Cecil Rhodes, who made a fortune from founding De Beers mining company in the 1890’s.  Rhodes was at one time Prime Minister of the Cape, in what is now South Africa.  He established the Rhodes Scholarship.

Alan makes a point, and a face

We mostly wanted a driver, and Alan wanted to be a full wine guide (which he is).  He went inside most of the wineries with us and shared his expertise.  We had an interesting balancing dance.  We wanted to respect Alan's wine knowledge and low rates, but we also needed to keep moving on to all of the wineries we wanted to visit.  Alan had some strong opinions, about wineries that were too snooty and some other social commentary.

Alan was pretty funny.  He had been previously booted out of a few wineries, perhaps for having expressed some opinions too strongly.  He was constantly trying to scam free wine tastes under the guise of teaching us, and the winery employees, different facts about wine aeration and various olfactory tricks.  He waved a sprig of rosemary over a glass of red wine to impart a butterscotch taste to it.  Pretty cool, but he needed extra wine to do it.  Alan wasn't used to having clients with such irreverent personalities.  So we were quite an amusing trio.

We first went to Beyerskloof, one of the older Stellenbosch wineries known for its pinotage.  The tasting room had a relaxed cellar ambiance, and the staff was great.  We weren't taking photos yet.

Next up was Kanonkop, another pinotage specialist.  Thanks to Alan, we were able to wander around on our own and observe the winemaking process.

Grape Quality Control, stems separated, yeast added

We moved on to Delaire Graff estate, an over-the-top opulent winery that was too ostentatious for Alan.  So he stayed in the van.  But we were glad we went.  A few of the other guests were a little hoity toity.  But the staff was pleasant, the wine was great, and the scenery was amazing.

Bronze cheetahs stand guard in front of Delaire Graff
Another view of the grounds and mountain
Rooms at the Delaire Graff hotel go for US$2700/night

Neil Ellis winery was close by.  We have enjoyed Neil Ellis pinotage at Portalis, our favorite wine shop in Ballard.  The wines were great and the staff was as silly as we were.  There was a pleasant 24-year old kid from the UK sitting at the bar, who was a dead ringer for Matt Damon at that age.  He had just moved to South Africa to work as a chef, and was taking notes on all of the wines.

The most notable event was John wandering down the hall and asking an older gentleman where the toilet was.  When John returned to the wine bar, he was informed that he had just met Neil Ellis.

Scenery behind Neil Ellis winery

We began Day 3 at Spier.  The wines weren't much different than their “easy drinking” wines we had purchased at Checkers grocery store.  But the wine and food pairings were good.

Our guide Alan’s best qualities reminded us of another Alan

This nice lady at Spier definitely knows her wine

Down the road was Meerlust, one of the oldest wine estates in Stellenbosch.

The manor house at Meerlust was built in the late 1600’s
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, wine tasting at Meerlust 
The rustic space matches the vintage of the winery 
We each ate one of these grapes off the sidewalk:  Yummy!

Waterkloof, a newer winery, was neck-and-neck with Delaire Graff for most spectacular views.  It was in a more isolated location near False Bay.  We would never have found it without the recommendation of Clayton from I Love My Laundry.

View of False Bay from Waterkloof tasting room balcony

Workers moving grapes around the estate

Another side of the balcony at Waterkloof

Sarah and Alan in the tasting room

The shadows make these horses look like zebras

Clayton also suggested Rust En Vrede, whose back patio and gardens provided another nice oasis.

Sarah plays hide-and-seek on Rust En Vrede  patio

Mountain scenery near Rust En Vrede

Our last stop was Lanzerac.  It’s in a more residential neighborhood.  We arrived after hours, but were able to have a glass of wine on the front patio.  The most interesting things about Lanzerac are the bar and parlor, which are straight out of the late 1700’s.

The long drive up to Lanzerac is an experience in itself 

10 Stellenbosch wineries down, only 200 or so to go on a future trip!  Plus many more wineries at nearby Franschhoek, Paarl and Constantia…..

1 comment:

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