* This article was originally commissioned for food24
The Wellington wine region is only an hour’s drive from Cape Town, and deserves more credit for its varied and impressive wine offerings. I chose to taste my way through three of the farms and share three love stories I encountered on-route.
DUNSTONE: A love for South Africa
As husband and wife Abbi and Lee reclined on the couch, the evening rays flushed through the vineyards before us. They proudly recounted their story of planting the seeds of their marriage in the UK, but seeing them come to fruit in South Africa where they now live.
Falling in love with the country on previous visits, they decided to make the move, choosing Wellington as their new home. “Wellington is real – it’s real people farming, making a living from their land, and there is a good community spirit going around. Everyone knows each other. Those who own it, run it and make it” Abbi tells us fondly. She manages the running of Dunstone, the accommodation, and restaurant, and Lee is a consultant specializing in emergency medicine.
Dunstone was the name of the farm in the UK where they were engaged, so was a befitting title for their new African home. The farm produces only 40 tonnes annually and so is in every sense of the word a boutique offering. As a result, a lot of love and attention goes into their 6 hectares under vine. All grapes are hand-picked from their trellised, bush, and pole vines.
Their Viognier is one of the first unwooded ones I’ve had, both fragrant and light. For red drinkers, the Shiraz caught my attention – bold, but with a beautiful balance between spice and fruit. The Stone Kitchen is the on-site restaurant, and as I quickly realized, a favourite with locals. Wine tastings are conducted here, but for something extra-special, a tasting can be arranged in the cellar itself.
BOSMAN: A Love for the People
After hearing about this special farm over a year ago, it has been high on my list to visit. The Bosmans have been farming in Wellington for eight generations. The family’s first ancestor, Hermanus Bosman, was a caregiver who worked in the Cape and played a central role in community development and social upliftment. 300 years later and the people who make the farm what it is, are still just as important as the world-class wine they produce.
In 2008, at a time when land reform was emerging as a national conversation, the Bosman family finalized the biggest land reform transaction to date, when 260 employees earned a share in the farm’s prime land. This social transformation is central to the farm’s life and continues to express itself in various other parts of the staff and local community.
Not only does the farm produce premium wines, but also premium vines– over 11 million a year! Wellington has a long history of growing vines for the South African market, and on my tour I was able to see some of the teenage vines with their first growth spurts. Scientific research also happens on the farm through the plant improvement laboratories – seeking to grow and enrich the local wine industry.
One of their most weighty wine offerings is the Optenhorst Chenin Blanc. Planted in 1952, it’s the third oldest Chenin block in the country! The taste journey is remarkable: honey coated almond gives way to elegant peach. I also fell in love with the MCC – both on taste and its name. With a higher bar pressure than usual, it was decided upon to call it the Loose Canon. Open with caution!
Be sure to check out their Wine Club with regular offerings of either the Family or Ultimate selection. I highly recommend a wine tasting and cellar tour – you just need to book in advance, and you’ll have the 260-year-old tasting room and museum to yourself!
DIEMERSFONTEIN: A Love For Pinotage
Even if you’re an amateur wino, you’ll doubtlessly have tasted – or at least heard of – the Diemersfontein Coffee Chocolate Pinotage. I just had to find out about its origins, and after this initial ‘coffee date’, meet some of the other wines in the Diemersfontein family. The farm is relatively new, only having started to produce wine in 2001. I was impressed at the growth of the farm since, where a large range of varietals are planted around the residential estate also home to the farm.
Bertus Fourie, the previous winemaker, began producing the coffee chocolate Pinotage in 2001. He was experimenting with alternatives to using oak barrels for aging wines and imparting flavor and used heavier toasted staves and chips. The result is their now-famous Pinotage. Some purists were initially cautious, but the proof is in the production: South Africans (the author included) are in love with the Pinotage and consume an impressive 250 000 bottles per annum.
Francois Roode, current winemaker since 2003, has helped produce an impressive array of wines. The Carpe Diem Reserve Chenin Blanc is a winner, beginning with floral nose, and then developing into a beautiful pineapple follow-through. ‘Sweet Sue’ is the farm’s sun-dried Viognier, the first dessert Viognier I’ve had and love at first taste. For something delectable try the 10 Year Old Potstill Brandy – perfectly suited to sip on its own, or to accompany a dessert.
Their restaurant has just undergone a renovation, and if you want to combine your visit with a stay on the farm, various guests suites are set in the sprawling gardens.
Where to stay?
On this visit to Wellington I was warmly hosted by Dunstone Country Estate. There are a variety of sleeping options, from 4-star suites to the 5 star Manor House. My choice was the Vine suite – a free-standing cottage, replete with a jacuzzi on the veranda. Check out the options here, and look out for their fabulous winter specials.
*Image credit Kambani Ramano