* This article originally appeared here on Food24
The largest town in the Cape Winelands, Paarl, is only a 35 minute drive from Cape Town, and often overlooked for some of her wineland neighbours. Having spent a weekend there, I discovered why it’s worth taking some friends to enjoy its hidden gems.
I knew that my first Paarl farm would have to be the legendary Nederburg. The name is synonymous with winemaking in the country, and it’s no shock that for the third consecutive year the farm has been placed in Drinks International’s Top 50 ‘World’s Most Admired Wine Brands’ list, and remains one of the most awarded wineries in the country.
The farm first was acquired by Philippus Wolvaart in 1791, however its trajectory took a leap in 1937 when it was bought by Johann Graue, a German wine, tea, and beer specialist. Graue introduced various inventions including cold fermentation, and wine clonal experiments, exemplifying his sense of innovation and creativity which have remained at the heart of the farm’s ethos.
White Winemaker Elmarie Botes told me that a grade 11 cellar visit with her father, was what first planted the seed of being a winemaker. “It was always a dream to work at Nederburg, I just never knew it would be so soon.” Asking if she was intimidated by the reputation of the farm and task at hand, she replied, “Obviously! It’s been overwhelming. During harvest I didn’t know if I was coming or going.” The drought also posed a challenge, but I still managed to produce quality wines. “After that, I told myself, OK you can do this!” The Anchorman Chenin Blanc is a favourite for Elmarie and me, and happens to be one of the top awarded Chenins in the country.
Ranging from lifestyle wines to premium and experiential wines, there’s something to suit everyone’s palate. Be sure to include a cellar tour as part of your visit. There are various options from R65, including ice cream pairings, and a tasting designed for kids. The Red Table is the on-site eatery and is located in the heritage manor home itself. Delectable dining in outstanding surroundings.
2. Mitre’s Edge
The wine district of Paarl stretches further than you’d imagine, and on one of the outer edges was my next stop. I’ve passed the farm countless times on my way to Franschhoek, and never knew that only two minutes off the main road lay the hidden gem known as Mitre’s Edge Wine Estate. Husband and wife team, Lola and Bernard, are the tour de force behind this family-run boutique winery. The farm is named after the mountain adjacent to the farm that bears an uncanny resemblance to a bishop’s mitre.
Lola’s father, a son of Northumberland, visited South Africa and as with many similar stories, met a South African woman and fell in love. Not having spoken a word of Afrikaans, he admirably managed to study(in Afrikaans!)at Elsenberg, even finishing as dux student. Lola now follows in his footsteps, and after having spent six years at Warwick, is now the proud winemaker of this family-owned farm. There’s a strong focus on Bordeaux reds varietals. Sholto, Gaelic for sower of seeds, is Lola’s father’s middle name, and also the flagship blend. Quite possibly one of the best I’ve tasted in the Cape, it is a brilliant balance of Bordeaux beauties. What’s fascinating is that the farm also produces single varietal offerings of each of the Bordeau reds. Last year the 2015 Malbec was most highly rated by platters in SA. I tasted my first 100% Petit Verdot with it’s delicate intensity, inviting me to sip more and enjoy as the flavours developed.
If you fancy a farm stayover, there are two cottages for rental at reasonable prices. Find more information on the farm here– and I’d advise calling ahead to book your tasting.
When researching the various Paarl wine farms, the phrase White Pinotage popped up, stopping me in my digital tracks. What on earth was a White Pinotage? How was it made? More importantly, what did it taste like? Curiosity led me to my third and final farm visit in Paarl,Mellasat Vineyards. Hailing from Norfolk, owner Stephen Richardson’s grandfather had, from a fairly young age, introduced him to some of the wines in his handsome collection, and already at the age of eighteen Stephen was contemplating viticulture in his British corner of the world.
Although his plans didn’t initially take root, several 1990’s visits to South Africa eventually led to a ‘96 purchase of the land that is now Mellasat. Conversation revealed that in his desire to produce wine, Stephen wanted to pay homage to both his Burgundy old-world style wine preferences, but also allow a sense of place or terroir to dictate the direction of the wine.
As I’d guessed the enigmatic White Pinotage is made with no contact time, and it’s matured in Romanian oak to produce a very unique offering. I’ll be opening my bottle soon at my dinner table, where its guaranteed to be a talking point. As for the taste… I’d rather you get your hands on a bottle and see for yourself! My second surprise at the farm is in the downstairs cellar where you’ll discover the remarkable ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Wines’. Ask about where the concept was born, and spend some time browsing the variety of South African historical wines.
The restaurant has tasty platters available, and apparently, the monthly Gourmet Burger weekends are not to be missed. A five-wine tasting costs R50, but for R100 opt for the upgrade to five premium wines enjoyed in the cellar and paired with some delish nibbles.
WHERE TO STAY: The Light House Boutique Suites
In order to fully appreciate the wine and not have to drive home after three farm visits, I had the pleasure of staying at the Light House Boutique Suites. Quite possibly Paarl’s most luxurious lodgings, and certainly some of the most dedicated hospitality and service you’ll ever experience.
Little did I know that on the mountain-side slopes of Paarl, I’d discover such a special hidden gem; the Light House is a luxury boutique hotel which offers five gorgeously appointed suites, with a hospitality that is simply unparalleled. This must be one of the warmest hotel welcomes I’ve experienced: after settling into my luxe suite, I was invited for a welcome drink – a spread of freshly baked scones, tea and bubbly by the fireside.
Then for my suite – imagine a light-filled, luxurious and spacious bedroom, Ralph Lauren inspired, with touches of the Hamptons. I’m sure you’ll find it as difficult to leave the luxe suites as I did. For the discerning traveler, The Light House will provide an elegant home away from home in heart of the Cape Winelands.