Cape of Good Hope, South Africa was first settled when
Europeans of the Dutch East India Company in 1652 set
up a victualing station and repair facility for their
merchant ships journeying the long passage between Europe,
India, and the Far East. Jan Van Riebeck, the first commander
of the Cape who had previously been a ship surgeon persuaded
his employers that wine was beneficial for the treatment
of scurvy. The first vineyard was planted in 1655.
city has a thousand stories to tell. Cape Town, South
Africa tells the story of Dutch and Portuguese explorers
and spice traders who brought in French winemakers to
plant grapes when the turmoil of the Reformation in 16th
century Europe was driving the farmers to migrate out
of France. The year 1688 also saw the arrival of Huguenot
refugees from France. These independently minded growers
moved to South Africa with the promise of land in this
rich, new African country. By the early 1700's, South
African wines were held in high esteem.
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Town also tells the story of Sir Cecil John Rhodes who
settled Rhodesia and created De Beers Diamonds. Thousands
of immigrants moved to the Cape for sudden wealth. It
also tells the more modern story of Nelson Mandela in
prison, on a small island off the coast near Cape Town
harbor. Modern Cape Town will tell the story of some excellent
wines and winemakers, as well as stories of the luxurious
settings of South Africa's beautiful hotels and popular
Bay is the size of San Francisco Bay with a better, warmer
climate. The wine growing regions on the end of the African
continent have cooling ocean breezes and micro-climates,
which are so excellent for growing great wine grapes.
Today, all these stories lead the South African wine business
& winemakers into the future with a long and interesting
wine making tradition. This is a tradition that is hundreds
of years longer than the other New World wine areas, and
it shows in the elegant old hotels and winery properties
that are in some of the nicest locations in the world.
Town is all these influences rolled into one bustling
traditional looking city. The hotels are a rare wonder
with first class service and haute cuisine derived from
a farming tradition going back centuries.
The sultry and warm California-like weather leads to great
produce and wonderfully fresh foods and the native game
provides exotic meats and fowl as the norm.
had embarked upon what is to become a truly unforgettable
and unique adventure. Jeremy Wilkinson, President/CEO
of Great Wines International (a leading importer of South
African wines into the USA) personally leads two unique
Behind the Scenes gourmet food & wine tours in April
and September of each year. This time we are a group of
wine writers, critics, wine distributors and wine enthusiasts
& all virgin travelers to South Africa.
Day One of this incredible whirlwind adventure,
we land in Cape Town. We arrive at the Admiral Nelson
Hotel (Nelly to her friends). The Old World elegance of
breakfast with sandwiches and pastries were there to greet
us as we walked in after a long flight. We were made to
feel like long lost relatives as we sat outside, on the
relaxed until evening where we enjoyed High Tea on the
verandah, a quintessential experience of the Cape's colonial
era. Great Wines International then chauffeured us on
to an adventure at Table Mountain, which
frames the city of Cape Town. We rode the cable car to
the very top of Table Mountain and saw the most spectacular
sunset in recent memory.
can see out across the horizon to the end of the earth.
It's no wonder the Flat Earth Society exists, as we view
this great expanse. The sun goes orange into the sunset
and it is spectacular. Accompanied by an outstanding glass
of South African champagne, being equally enjoyed by my
fellow tour guests, I watch for the last seconds as the
sun dips beneath the glassine seas and flashes a green
strobe of light for an instant… then the sun is
gone. The vision leaves me in stunned silence; stunned
… too dull a word. This is a sight I’ve been
told of but have witnessed for the first time. An instance
of awe leaves us completely satisfied. The whole experience
is beyond description without the gifts of a poet. All
too quickly, we are on the cable car headed downward into
the lights of Cape Town.
view of the clouds and cliffs over Cape Town, are a stage
for the performance of heaven. Harrowing, huge clouds
rolling around rugged cliffs, then blowing off, and starting
again. Cape Town has seen it all. At the Admiral Nelson
Bar, we are served cocktails with a smile and wraparound
full service comfort. Jeremy Wilkinson toasted us (many
times) with ““Jabula" and we are happy
and content to be in South Africa!
2 of this trip, I am up and we are moving
down the coast at 7 am, along the Cape Peninsula to the
dramatic Cape Point. Our first stop is
at Boulder's Beach, where we visit the
miniature penguin colonies. Yes, penguins! Hundreds of
penguins are nesting among the beautiful South African
beach neighborhoods. The almost one foot tall tuxedo clad
birds are feeding and diving in and out of the water.
These native residents seem to be viewing the silly humans
as we walk down the boardwalks above them.
continued to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.
You can either walk or take the funicular to the Point
where panoramic views of the dramatic southwestern edge
of Africa are at their best. I took the funicular railway
to the Cape of Good Hope and the lighthouse
peak. I stood looking at the end of the African continent,
with awesome views down to the beautiful sandy beaches
and ocean below.
see baboons up close. Don't let them see you are eating,
we are told. On the way back to Cape Town, we go in and
out of native markets and gift stands along the roads,
seeing incredible sculptural art and jewelry of carved
wood, jade and stone. We cross over the Cape and come
back again onto a windy road next to the milky surf of
the Atlantic coastline. In the surf are beautiful rocks
that whistled softly in the breeze and perfect white beaches,
without a footprint on them. The weather is unbelievable
and we see a zebra on the horizon. Wow, I get it! I really
am in Africa!
we go to lunch in a restaurant that could be in the Napa
Valley of California or Provence, France. At a wonderful
indoor-outdoor restaurant, we eat on the patio in the
modern in that laid back way called the River
Café in the town of Constantia. We are
served a lovely salad with fresh local ingredients, California
style, and it reminds me of Mustards Restaurant in Napa.
They are serving African game as well as traditional fusion
cuisine, mixing French and Mediterranean influences with
African produce and meats. The food is beautifully presented,
and of course, the 10 of us tried everything on the menu.
The owners are very helpful and the wines were at once
engaging, great South African wines.
lunch, we explored Cape Town's Waterfront
and took advantage of the abun-dance of magnificent shopping
opportunities including an-tiques, textiles, carvings
and other traditional arts and crafts.
3 is Sunday and we start our wine tour in
the true center of the Winelands, and its oldest and largest
region, Stellenbosch. Home to the country's
premier University and finest oenological program, Stellenbosch
also has by far the highest concentration of wine estates.
This intensely farmed district is considered by many to
be the foremost red wine producing area of South Africa.
drive across the Cape country through low foothills overlooking
the two large bays on either side of a different ocean.
We are driving through rich fields with beautiful, quaint
farms on mostly two lane-paved roads with people madly
careening down the wrong side of the road. Drivers notwithstanding,
it reminds me of the hill country in Texas or our Yakima
Valley in Washington, with small rolling hills and sharp
cliffs jutting up 1,000 feet on either side. Houses are
quaint and interspersed with modern abodes, as well. This
is a prosperous, modern country with many small and shining
will visit the finest South African Wineries the country
has to offer on this trip, including Avontuur, Lanzerac,
Vergenoegd, Landskroon, Eikendal, Jabu, Cape View, Boland
Montestell, Mooiuitsig, and Van Loveren. We will dine
in Relais & Chateaux properties such as Haute Cabrière,
and Le Quartier Francais, paired with South African wines.
We will not rest until we have tasted it all, and we will
do our best to remember it completely. This article offers
only a tiny glimpse, but more stories will be coming,
as we cover the Palace of the Lost City in Sun City, South
Africa in the next issue of Food and Beverage International
have checked out of the Admiral Nelson and have now checked
into the famous Lanzerac Manor and Winery,
an elegant five star hotel and restaurant on one of the
most famous estates in South Africa. The 155 hectare estate
was established in 1692 under the name of Schoongezicht,
which is Dutch, for beautiful outlook. It is truly beautiful
to look at. It is nestled deep in the cleft of the verdant
Jonkershoek Valley, and within view of the majestic Helderberg
location is situated right in the middle of the famous
South African wine producing areas of Stellenbosch, Paarl,
Franschoek and Somerset West, and within close distance
of world renowned golf courses and pristine beaches of
the Strand, Gordon's Bay and Cape Town. Close to town,
yet nestled into the craggy mountains and rolling valleys
of seclusion, the backdrop for the next South African
hospitality experience awaits us.
again, the service was impeccable. The rooms are the size
of a New York apartment and sitting in the lobby, in an
old stuffed leather chair, you can imagine Sir Winston
Churchill sitting down next to you. This wonderfully restored
and impeccably kept up property is a throw back to another
century. The very act of being offered a fine glass of
wine as you are checking in settles you into another place
and puts you completely at ease.
the winery is cultivated by owner Christo Wiese, along
with winemaker Wynand Hamman.
conducts our tasting and steers us into a direction which
helps us to appreciate that great winemaking does not
begin in the cellar, it begins in the vineyard. As Wynand
weaves us through the story of ancient vines in the vineyard
and advanced science and technology in the cellar, we
begin to understand the complexity of the Lanzerac wine.
first taste the Lanzerac Chardonnay,
an excellent combination of ripe citrus, hint of clove,
ginger and an infusion of butterscotch and vanilla. Continuing
with the whites, we then move to a Lanzerac Sauvignon
Blanc, which was harvested at an altitude of
450m. This ripe, fruity wine with its characteristic green
fig flavor, gently caresses the palate with its smooth
and full bodied feel.
we move into the reds, we all marvel at the deep dark
and velvety feel of the Merlot and Cabernet
Sauvignon, however the crowning touch came when
we tasted the Pinotage. We are just getting to know the
Pinotage grape, as it is a South African treasure, and
we linger a bit longer on it. The Lanzerac Pinotage
is a deep, luxurious velvety smooth plummy red, with a
whisp of chocolate and caramel flavors. It's full body
feel is complete with a fruit and wood balance. We taste
this wine again with dinner that evening, paired perfectly
with a Malay curry.
reds are rated by the Who's Who in the Wine Industry as
among the very finest and will compete with premium wines
in the $100 price range, yet are sold in the USA for under
$28, fair dinkum” as they say in Australia. They
all rate gold medals and are a favorite choice of fine
eating establishments in the USA such as Smith & Wollensky,
BICE, Ruth Chris Steak House, Morton's, Lawry's, PF Changs
and many more.
I found the Lanzerac Chardonnay to be
the home run of the entire trip. It's complexity of flavors
are excellent with smoked salmon, lobster, white fish,
creamy pasta and white meats. It is being featured in
first class for United Airlines on international flights
and is the premier choice for some of the world's finest
hotels. This is the first Chardonnay I would choose to
serve to my most important client or best friend.
Lanzerac is Cape View, based in the Bottelary
Hills of Stellenbosch. It is our next stop and will remain
forever a part of my South African wine tasting experience.
This is a small farm of 380 acres founded in 1712, with
a boutique style winery. With excellent soil types and
micro- climates for grapes and facilities just the size
for personalized production, it produces some of the very
Danie Steytler has won the top award for the
best Pinotage in South Africa (the prestigious ABSA award
trophy for 2000). This is the first great Pinotage I've
ever tasted. Pinotage is South Africa's national grape
and is its own varietal. It has best been described as
a 1920’s cross between pinot noir and cinsault (“hermitage").
won the Best Red wine in the Southern Hemisphere in Atlanta
Georgia's International Wine Competition 2002
for his Pinotage and many more awards. Danie and his lovely
wife put on a real traditional South Afrikaans barbecue
(a braai) over a wood fire while seated on their patio.
Here, we also got to sample South Africa's versions of
beef jerky. This tasty snack food is called biltong. It
is made of beef, ostrich or game (Kudu, Wildebeest &
Reebok), animals I have only seen on TV. While enjoying
the unique experience of biltong, we drink Danie s big
bold reds. Danie does elegant wines balanced well between
fruit and wood. Excellent value wines of the highest quality
are already carried at many top restaurants across the
Cape View Pinotage was a bright, pinky
red color and was superb. It gave sweet aromas of raspberry
and banana fruit with soft nutmeg and clove spiciness.
With fruit aplenty and a hint of coffee, the Pinotage
is a perfect companion for beef, lamb and roasts. The
Cape View Merlot was a dark magenta red
with a nose that bursts with ripe plums, wild cherry and
strong spice, conjuring up visions of duck with cherries
or roast lamb!
I paid particular attention to the Cape View Shiraz.
Imagine a deep ruby color with milled black pepper and
earthy, leathery aromas enveloped by all spice oakiness.
Fruit spiced with clove and liquorices are also on the
palate. Paired with barbecued farmer’s sausage straight
from the braii, this is a serious wine that pairs well
with meats and spicy foods.
Day Four we left Stellenbosch and headed
for the Paarl District, which has a tradition of being
both prolific in production but also extremely diverse,
thanks to its varied micro-climates and ideal soil conditions.
We arrived at Landskroon whose wine making
tradition dates back to the late 17th Century when the
French Huguenot settlers came to the Cape. Landskroon
has 1,440 acres of which some 700 acres are under vine.
This flagship label stands out among the fine wine estates
in Paarl, South Africa. The town is dominated by the Paarl
Mountain to the east, and the monolithic rock appears
as a black pearl after a shower of rain.
and Hugo de Villiers gave us an excellent
tour of the cellars, followed by a wine tasting as we
gazed across picturesque vineyards to the ocean, clearly
visible in the distance. More than 75% of the vineyards
are red vines although a full selection of white and red
varietals showed extremely well. They are quality wines
at affordable prices. An excellent Cabernet Sauvignon,
Shiraz, Merlot and Pinotage, Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot
and Pinotage, all are retailing at $13 to $16 in the U.S.A.
Then came the desert wines.
de Villiers is the ninth generation of winemakers
in his family and has received the most prestigious Diners
Club Award as the best winemaker in South Africa in 2000
for what is without a doubt, one of, if not the best Port
in South Africa. The Port has developed a huge following
across America, including such notables as Robin Leach
(of the Rich and Famous, who reviewed it as the best Port
he has ever tasted at under $22 US retail). The 1998
Landskroon Vintage Port has power and refinement.
Ripe plums, blackberries are in the bouquet, a smooth
and lively palate with an attractive dry finish. It is
an excellent companion to chocolates, raspberries and
cherries and a traditional accompaniment to blue cheese
remarkable portfolio also includes my favorite; a remarkable
Jerepico (fortified) Morio
Muscat which last year won the grand trophy for
the best fortified wine in the entire Southern Hemisphere
at the Atlanta Georgia International Wine Competition.
Mild gold straw color with swirling jasmine, honeysuckle,
with Muscat perfumes. Well integrated with delicious grapey
flavors and simply spectacular served chilled! Think liquid
is Day 5? Only
day 5…I can hardly believe it!
With tears in various eyes, we leave Lanzerac and head
for Franschoek, the valley of the French Huguenot's. But
not before visiting Eikendal in Stellenbosch.
This Swiss owned Estate has over the many years gathered
a significant word of mouth following in Europe as a provider
of elegant high quality estate wines.
is set in a picture postcard setting where hot dry summers
with cooling afternoon ocean breezes assist the acclaimed
South African female winemaker Lizelle Gerber,
craft such wonderful wines. Total annual production is
only 25,000 cases. Eikendal is well known for their 4
star plus rated Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
guided us through yet another top notch tasting. The quality
across the board was first class. What stood out was
“Classique,” a superb Bordeaux style
blend of Cabernet (75%), Merlot (35%)
and Cabernet Franc (8%). The Classique had deep
ruby hues, redolent with cassis, liquorices, spicy cedar
and coffee on to an equally complex palate. Classic elegance
is balanced with a rich fruit profile and a long bright
spicy, mocha finish. Eikendal is certainly poised to be
considered one of the very best estates in South Africa.
one of the Cape's best kept secrets, look for more to
unfold with this creative winemaker. The chardonnay and
Classique are quite well known, and will be marketed as
Eikendal's flagship wines.
lunch we travel to meet up with Gyles Webb,
the winemaker from the famous Thelema Vineyard in Stellenbosch.
Gyles has personally crafted and launched a new brand
called Jabu with highly visual African motif labels. Jabu
in Zulu means happy and content.
available in the United States is a Chardonnay
Chenin Blanc blend (with tastes of strong
green fig and crisp tropical fruit while ending with the
buttery finish of Chardonnay), and a Shiraz
(dark red in color, with an edge of purple haze portraying
sweet cherry, peppercorns with mocha chocolate, plum pudding
and a seamless finish).
travel to the charming French Huguenot Village of Franschoek,
set in a valley with magnificent mountains towering above.
We discover our new lodgings at the Relais and Chateaux
property of Le Quartier Français.
Words escaped the group on arrival, as we meandered through
this exclusive retreat nestled amongst blooming flower
gardens. I am booked in the Honeymoon suite, a romantic
setting with a private patio and 50 feet from a 4 star
6 arrives and we embark for the famous Boland
Montestell Vineyard in Paarl. Montestell crafts
the special cuvée reserve wines for Boland Kelder
in Paarl. With 4,500 plus acres providing quality grapes,
Montestell has a reputation for consistent quality at
affordable prices. Indeed, Cellar Master Altus
le Roux is without any doubt an internationally
acclaimed winemaker in South Africa. He was awarded the
Robert Mondavi Award as the best winemaker in the world
for 2001, at Vin Expo Bordeaux, also winning trophies
for the best Shiraz and the best Cabernet
Sauvignon in the world and best South African
vineyard. In 2003, Altus again won the Winemaker's Grand
Trophy for best Shiraz in the world at
the 2003 Competition Vin Expo Bordeaux 2003 –an
unprecedented second time in 3 years.
the private tasting room, we learn about the viticultural
expertise and efforts that produce such good grapes, essential
for the making of great wine. We taste a great Chenin
Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinotage and Merlot,
all excellent quality and value, retailing at $10 to $14
in the USA. Elegant wines with plenty of fruit and very
good balance. The Shiraz, a serious wine
with full on plum and soft spice influence wins my heart,
along with the Cabernet Sauvignon, succulent
berry enhanced by soft oak flavors. Both are worthy of
the acclaim they are receiving.
after lunch to Van Loveren wine cellar.
Situated right in the valley of wine and roses, this is
a must visit experience. Bordered by brilliant hedges
of cannas lilies, leading to the most unique garden
(where every tree has a history), this family owned
South African gem constantly wins awards as the best value
vineyard providing every day drinking quality wines at
exceptional value (Selling at between $8 to $15 retail
in the USA). Owners Nico and Wynand
Retief along with son Philip Retief took
us through a tour of the cellars followed by an extensive
tasting in the gardens.
found the Papillion Sparkling Wine (dry
and firm without peer in its price range) judged
to be one of the 12 best champagnes in the world. It has
an especially good value at under $14 retail in the USA.
My assessment has recently been supported by the renowned
Atlanta Vino Challenge awarding the Papillon the Grand
Trophy for the Best Sparkling Wine in the Southern Hemisphere
in October 2003.
was an excellent Sauvignon Blanc described
by the London Times as, “Chock a block with flavor
with bright, floral gooseberry fruit like New Zealand
and the guts and Tropical fruit charge of a top Australian
finish!”Their River Red wine, a
very rich elegant blend of Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet,
captures the velvety Merlot characteristics perfectly,
along with the layers of the Shiraz which give the wine
nice complexity and elegance. Both were chosen by United
Airlines for International Business Class in the year
2003. We also tasted a dry unwooded Chardonnay wine of
exceptional quality, a pleasure to discover the true characteristics
of Chardonnay without oak. This Chardonnay has just been
selected by United Airlines for International Business
Class for the years 2004.
Africa is too large to sum up in one trip, even a trip
as incredible as this one. Look to our next issue of Food
and Beverage International as we take you to the Palace
of the Lost City, and other places we didn't get to tell
you about in this article.
For complete information on any of the vineyards or wines
featured in this article, please visit the website link
the travel section at HYPERLINK
travel with the September Food&Beverage International
Tour Group to South Africa, email me at HYPERLINK "mailto:email@example.com/"
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