Wine Region Series: 3 Franschhoek Destinations

* Note this article originally appeared here on Food24.com

Cradled by ruggedly handsome Cape Fold mountains, South Africa’s food and wine capital sits proudly, waiting to welcome both local and international visitors alike. With its elegant cuisine and vinicultural offerings, Franschhoek is an epicurean’s paradise. As part of a series on the Cape Winelands, I made three visits that should be on every person’s list.

  1. Chamonix Wine Farm

Somehow, I’d never visited Chamonix on previous visits to the village, and the excitement of experiencing a new farm was as tangible as the beauty of the drive up the mountain drive to the farm. Much of Franschhoek’s proud wine heritage is thanks to the French Huguenot influence. Escaping religious persecution in the 1600’s, a diaspora of French Protestants were welcomed by the Cape Colony, and as experienced viticulturists, they soon set about planting. Chamonix holds true to this French heritage with elegant and structured old-world wines.

The tasting journey begins in a 18th century blacksmith cottage, and since my visit was on a cold wintery day, the roaring fire certainly helped welcome me into this cosy space. Winemaker Thinus Neetling is a new kid on the winemaking block, but has very quickly proved himself with a bouquet of exceptional wines, several of which have been awarded high accolades. Most unique perhaps, is the farm’s underground cellar – the first in South Africa. Descending the stairs into the cellar felt like following Alice down the rabbit’s den, into a wonderland of winemaking where private tastings can be arranged.

The wines are exceptional, and it was difficult identifying my favourites. The pinotage ranked very highly: despite the dark fruit and full body, it was one of the more delicate Pinotages I’ve tasted, which Thinus told us was made in a more Pinot Noir style. The unwooded chardonnay also bowled me over – as a result of a malolactic fermentation, the wine has rich and creamy texture, but all natural, and with no wood contact. For an intimate Franschhoek tasting experience, I’d wholeheartedly recommend Chamonix, which also offers safaris, and Ricine, an excellent dining choice.

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2. Terbodore Coffee Roasters

With the emergence of artisanal coffee roasters in the past years, one brand has stood head and shoulders – or rather tail and paws above the rest. Terbodore is a firm favourite in and around the Winelands, and although birthed in the KZN Midlands, in 2011 they made their mark in the Cape and have never looked back. I recall driving through the town years ago, and seeing the sign on the side of the road, stopped, intrigued as to who Terbodore was. The Franschhoek beginnings were in a converted farm shed, featuring a small espresso bar and roastery adjacent. Luckily for myself and other fans, Terbodore was one of the first local coffee roasters to make it into retail, so we’re never far from our favourite brew.

Michael, the co-owner, had, however, a much bigger vision brewing. Around six years later this was realised, and Terbodore in Franschhoek now has a custom-built café and roastery just up the road closer to town. Much of the packaging, including the logo, features Sultan the family Great Dane, and so it’s only apt that the new eatery is called the Big Dog Café. Although I knew the coffee well, I was experiencing the Café food for the first time and quickly converted. Once you’ve tasted the buttermilk fried chicken waffles you’ll never look back.

Saving the best for last, their new range of signature drinks, introduced to the winter menu. The first of these is the Mexican Hot Chocolate. It’s a deliciously decadent delight: slightly spiced, a shot of coffee, dark chocolate and most impressively a layer of marshmallow foam. This small drink is a dessert in itself, and will have me driving back for it alone. Their new zip-pull technology coffee bags will also be sure to impress you, and also look out for their limited release flavoured coffees: Salted Caramel has been selling up a storm, and Sticky Cinnamon Bun and Pecan Pie are both on their way. Big Dog Café is a perfect halfway break between wine farm and essential on all Franschhoek itineraries.

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3. La Motte

The third and final stop for my visit was La Motte, a stately heritage farm. At La Although they excel at it, the focus at La Motte is more than simply making premium wines. They were the first wine estate to be awarded the coveted ISO 14001 Environmental Management Certification, recognizing their dedication to sustainable farming practices. More impressively, is the commitment to social responsibility: the Rupert’s humanitarian endeavours are wide-reaching. I was particularly impressed to discover more about Dennegeur, the staff village where various services are provided, and even transfer of home ownership to their farm workers.

Having visited the farm for a tasting before, I was excited to discover the Vinoteque tasting experience. Ushered through the cellar into an exclusive tasting room, I was then guided through a private tasting of a selection of vintage wines chosen by the cellar master. My favourites were contrasting the 2009 and 2012 vintages of the estate Chardonnay, and then the same vintages of the award-winning Pierneef Syrah Viognier. The tasting costs R200pp – more than a usual tasting price, but there’s something invaluable about leaving the other patrons behind, and being invited into one of the farm’s inner wine sanctums.

My time at La Motte also included a visit to the Pierneef à La Motte Restaurant. Expect classy country cuisine, inspired by the Cape Dutch heritage and the creativity of Jacob Hendrik Pierneef, famed South African artist after which the eatery is named. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store for the restaurant with new Executive Chef Eric Bulpitt, when it reopens 13th July. Before leaving La Motte, take a quick browse of the farm shop, a look at the museum with a permanent exhibition of Pierneef’s heritage collection, and in summer a five-kilometer hiking trail taking in the farm’s biodiversity and startling landscape.

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