Sip along Franschhoek – Wine of Olifants hoek

by Anlé Britz

Autumn in the Franschhoek vineyards is the most beautiful time. The colours come out to play just before slipping off for a peaceful break after a busy harvesting season. The yellows, oranges, reds, browns and sprinkles of purple warm the heart with the knowledge that time is moving and that letting go to prepare for the next chapter is a good thing – perhaps a necessary thing. Here in Cape Town we are spoilt for choice in that we do not have to scale our adventure down, vineyard hopping is a whole new world ready to be explored.

The History

Franschhoek, from the Dutch ‘French corner’ is nestled at the foot of Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve at the top of the spectacular Franschhoek pass and is known as the food, wine and art capital of South Africa. This picturesque valley was once traversed by elephants where they settled in for the breeding season as it was well-watered and had fertile soil.

Dating back to the mid 1600s, Dutch settlers set up a halfway station that supplied ships trading between Europe and the East with fresh produce. The French Huguenots arrived at the Cape of Good Hope in 1688 in search of a new homeland after the French King Louis XIV, banned Protestantism in France. The Dutch passed on this land to the French, who brought their skills in blacksmithing, carpentry, tailoring, merchandising and introduced their knowledge of viticulture. Now we have the opportunity to appreciate centuries of their labour.

Here follow my wine experiences along some of the great and boutique wineries in and around the Franschhoek valley.

Haute Cabrière

I kicked off the day with a bacon and cheese croissant as a foundation for the Pierre Jourdan Discovery bubbly tasting. We were served by Tamo, as part of the Von Arnim family he entertained us with his fondest memories on the farm, some historical context and was a fountain of information about the exceptional Pierre Jourdan MCC collection.

While proudly sharing their history as being the first sparkling wine producer in South Africa, Haute Cabrière are humble in showcasing their masterpiece wines. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir-based MCCs are fruit forward, elegant with bubbles dancing on your tongue – each style with its own dance. This discovery represents South African MCC at the highest levels worldwide.

I loved the artworks in the tasting room and open-view cellar, painted by father Arnim himself. The elephants femur bone is there to remind visitors of the natural history of the valley. Tamo shared that his grandmother was a master in the kitchen and inspired his father to be a great winemaker. His most treasured memories are the amazing tea parties he had with his gran all over the farm – never at the same place. Note to self – get in your framed photo of the best view of the Franschhoek valley before departing. 

Eikehof

Nestled in the shades of ancient oak trees, the charming farm-style tasting room awaits you with a welcome drink – a glass of fresh, joyous Sauvignon Blanc and kind smiles. I had the privilege to meet Elise, the winery owner, who shared her love for this piece of land and her pride to play her part in the Malherbe family-owned Eikehof legacy.

The farm not only known for its wine, supply the public with mouth-watering yellow peaches and bouquets of proteas farmed on the Eikehof grounds. I sat outside at the foot of a very old oak overlooking the Merlot block – the tree alive with squirrels playing in the branches and the birds singing their morning melodies. Delmarie served me the Rosé, Chardonnay and Semillon (long day to go) to taste and they were stunning. It is clear that the way that great-grandfather Malherbe made the wine still flows in the craft of today Be sure to say hi to Manie Libbok (a literal springbok) and Jimmie and Joey (ostriches), they are a fluffy part of the Eikehof family.

Paserene

Hello beautiful union of nature, art and modern architecture! The name Paserene comes from the Latin word Passeriformes – the order of birds which are “travelling and free” – like swifts and swallows.

The understanding of ‘sense of place’ begins with the swing set for adults that whispers your name the moment you arrive. It was inspired by the owner’s travels in Indonesia with its lesson “remember to make time to have fun”. Once you have left your inner child satisfied, Snow (last name John) with his electric personality welcomes you to a wine tasting you will not forget.

I do my best not to judge a wine by its label, but Paserene knows the importance of presentation and it follows though in the wine. With only 20% of their wine sold domestically, you better get your hand on the local supply as they are exceptional. Each bottle tells a story and you are drawn in as you sip and Snow takes you on a swallow’s journey of the making.

The Elements Range (Bright, Rosie, Emerald, Midnight and Dark) sings any-day and everyday drinking wines for weekday dinners and friends and family get-togethers. The Paserene Range (Chardonnay, Marathon and Union) however is crafted to be enjoyed with attention and appreciation for their art.  This is how humans and nature can work together to curate wonder and sensation.  Note to self – if you can steal a taste of the Shiner you can be sure that this blend will knock your socks off.

Rickety Bridge Estate

By lunchtime there was no better place to stop by other than the Rickety Bridge Estate. I made myself comfortable on the terrace to take in the afternoon sun and romantic autumn colour painted vineyards sunbathing in front of the Paulina’s restaurant.

Paulina De Villiers, one of the first female landowners in South Africa was granted the land in 1797. Her legacy still roams though the winery and this pioneering spirit speaks to the quality of the wines. The Pinotage is a carefully curated composition of red fruit and dark berries with a well-integrated tannin structure. I did not manage to do a cellar tour, but I intend to review it upon my next visit and tell you all about the Foundation Stone and wax sealed reserve collection.

Grande Provence

Making your way through the Grand Provance entrance, the senses hike-up to appreciate the panoramas that unfold before you. The vineyards stretch out lazily to all sides, and the tranquillity of the journey settles deep in anticipation of what is to come. You have to start with a stroll through the sculpture garden and capture as many memories as you can. The statues are placed around the meticulously designed gardens and the path leads you to the destination art gallery that celebrates South African artists for their visions, voices and handiwork.

I took a moment to resonate with my soul in lying under the 320 year old oak tree situated right in the center of this beautiful garden. It is humbling to see what age looks like in her absolute prime. The wine and nougat tasting was beautifully paired and I could not leave without diving into a serving of oysters. The gardens were harmoniously buzzing with chatter and treasured moments of people who shared this autumn day with me.

Franschhoek Cellar

For the final act I sought to satisfy my palate cravings with a chocolate and wine pairing. The slogan “proudly rooted in place” is fitting as the winery literally stands close to the centre of town. The Belgian chocolate pairing was luscious and exactly what I needed to bring my sip-hopping to a conclusion.

The white wines (Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay) paired with white and milk chocolate were followed up with the reds (Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon) paired with various dark chocolates that brought out the absolute best of the wines.

Be sure to pick up The Last Elephant blend trio on your way out. It is the requiem for the central symbol of the power and finesse that mark the wines born of its fertile earth. The last elephant was seen leaving the valley in the late 19th Century. The essence of wine appreciation, wine making and wine tasting is captured in every single mouthful. I sat in the tasting room watching the sunset – the perfect send off to a perfect day.

Stay tuned for more bespoke wine and art experiences with Artroute.

A warm toast to you,


A Weekend of Art and Excitement at the RMB Latitudes Artfair