In his first year as the inaugural governor of Cape, Simon van der Stel set about enlarging the fledgeling community’s footprint. Only 50kms from Cape Town, he decided on Stellenbosch, boldly naming the town after himself. The town began to grow, and with van der Stel’s interest in wine, it’s no surprise that the town quickly became one of the country’s most prominent wine producers. 339 years later, I decided to head out on a day trip to explore the town a little, with a particular focus on wine.
1. Glenelly Estate
On previous visits to the town I’ve explored some of its wineries, but on this visit I wanted to focus on two or three of the smaller, family-owned/boutique farms. Having heard Glenelly’s name, and once indulged in their Estate Reserve Red, I knew a visit was in order. The farm is a stone’s throw from the town and driving through the gates, you’d never guess what lies around the corner.
A few hundred meters drive will give you the first glimpse of the cellar – an impressive rectangular structure that rests on the ridge, with an unbelievable 6000m2 of space and views over the adjacent two valleys. In 2003 Glenelly was bought and birthed by French vintner May de Lencquesaing, then owner of the famous Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande where her family have been vintners for almost 250 years. She was 78 when she purchased Glenelly, and to this day, when she visits the farm you’ll most likely spot the 93-year-old proudly inspecting her vines or in the glass museum; one of the largest privately owned collections in the world.
True to South African diversity, the farm is located in the ruggedly handsome Cape Fold Mountains, is named after an Irish area bearing similar natural beauty, and holds to French winemaking traditions. The French-flair was immediately evident in the perfectly manicured vines the lined the hills around us, and attention to detail in the overall farm approach. How does this translate to the wines, however? Glenelly has a varied bouquet of offerings, with some surprisingly delightful variations on the classic tastes.
My favourites? Firstly, the Unoaked Chardonnay: one of the finest I’ve tasted, particularly notable considering my penchant for wooded whites. It has a playful vibrancy – almost suggestive of a Sauvignon Blanc. Secondly, the Glass Collection Syrah seemed to deviate from the often-over-spicy characteristics, and has smooth balance and finish. Lastly, the Estate Red is elegantly powerful, but not too overpowering, and you’re rewarded with a magnificent lingering after-taste.
For more info on the farm, its Bistro and Glass Museum, visit their website. The good news is their wine can also be purchased directly from the site.
2. Boschendal at Oude Bank
With my wine craving momentarily quelled, I headed to town to explore a little further. Although Stellenbosch is now a sprawling city, walking through the older parts of the city gives you an unmistakable village feel. After a casual stroll through the Oak-lined streets, I found my lunch spot – Boschendal at Oude Bank – known by many as the old Schoon bakery. The good news is that bread is still baked here daily but with so much more on offer.
At the mention of Boschendal, there could be some confusion as the farm itself is in neighbouring Franschhoek. Whilst this is true, Boschendal particularly wanted to have a town expression of their farm experience. Every day fresh produce is brought to the shop from the farm, and in exchange fresh bread is sent back. It’s a farm to table experience with a bit of a twist. There are several ambient dining options: the rich wood-panelled store interior, more casual alfresco street dining, or in the space adjacent to the kitchen where the inviting aromas will have you quickly ordering your favourite dish.
While the restaurant is traditionally known for breakfast, the real buzz is around lunch-time when hungry patrons walk in from the street and add to the festive mood. I tried two of the lunch options: for a hearty meal go for the 150g Angus beef-burger with wedges, and for a lighter and healthier option the roast chicken salad.
With the link to the farm itself, naturally there are some wine tasting options on site. Boschendal is the second oldest wine farm in the country; Groot Constantia is only older by three months, so with 333 years of winemaking experience, they know their wine. In 2017 their brut was awarded a Top 10 spot for a French-style MCCs, and their 2017 Sauvignon Blanc and 2016 Chardonnay also took home coveted Veritas Awards. If you’re lucky the charming Busi will take you through your tasting; ask her to share her story of knowing nothing about wine, and after being given a chance in the trade, now proudly running the wine shop and tastings for this heritage winery.
For more information you can find the restaurant here online.
My third and final stop for the day was to be a special one. Six years prior, I’d visited Stellenbosch for the first time, and come for a tasting at Tokara. Not only was I new to the region, but also to wine! Six years later, and I was returning to this majestic spot to build on that very memorable first visit, particularly as I now knew a little more about wine. The drive out of Stellenbosch along Helshoogte Road is nothing short of spectacular as you wind higher and higher through the mountains. Almost at its highest point, you’re welcomed to the world of Tokara.
The farm was originally purchased for purely residential purposes, but when its excellent winemaking potential was discovered, owner GT Ferreira made the decision to plant. It seems as if I’m not alone in my love for this farm: Tokara been named as one of the World’s Top 50 Most Admired Wine Brands for 2018 – only three other South African wine brands have achieved this accolade!
What about the wine? As with any premium winery, their wines come alive when perfectly paired with their terroir, i.e. when careful consideration has gone into the viticulture based on the environmental factors specific to the farm. Much is to be said about their wines… there were two clean winners in my eyes. Firstly, their Syrah was again a favourite with its alluring aromas of dark fruit and spicy finish. Secondly, the Reserve Collection Chardonnay caught my attention with its velvety-woody notes and hints of apricot and vanilla.
On this visit, I was however totally caught off guard, as unbeknownst to me, the farm has a magnificent Delicatessen. Where the Tokara Restaurant has a focus on fine dining, the deli is a family-friendly social experience with similarly impressive views. A short walk through the olive groves and you stumble across this special place – it was on this walk that I also discovered how serious Tokara takes its olive oil.
Gert van Dyk is the operations manager and chief oil maker at Tokara, having steered the venture for the past 4 years, and gave me a mini-education in oil tasting. Sitting around 5 different oils, I learned about the various types and tasting notes – a virgin experience for me and one I wholeheartedly recommend. You’ll never again drizzle or douse your meal in oil olive without giving thought to the type of oil you’re using, and those special moments at Tokara.