Thanks to the expert guidance of our ship’s Head Sommelier, we planned a one day outing from the ship’s dock in the V&A Harbour in Cape Town, South Africa, to the Stellenbosch wine country – an area we have visited several times on previous trips, and always a joy to return to. Madeline Puckette, a certified sommelier and writer (e.g., Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine) posted an excellent description of the area:
“Many of the photos we see of South African vineyards – positioned in front of striking granite mountains – are from the Stellenbosch area. It contains the most developed winelands; it is home to an important wine University (University of Stellenbosch); and it is the center of wine tourism. In short, Stellenbosch is to South African wine much like Napa is to Californian wine [emphasis added]. Of course, finding good wine from Stellenbosch can be challenging because there are so many producers. However, there is a secret to exploring the area. The highest rated wines tend come from vineyards that are on alluvial fans of the granite mountains. The wines from these locations are often described as having a subtle mineral note which many believe is from the decomposed granite soils. The granite mountains are approximately 600 million years old, over 3 times as old as the soil in Napa.” – http://www.winefolly.com/review/wines-south-africas-stellenbosch-district
Our first stop was at the Vergelegen Wine Estate in the Stellenbosch wine subregion of Somerset West. “Vergelegen, meaning ‘situated far away’ [in Dutch], was granted to the Governor of the Cape, Willem Adriaan van der Stel, in 1700. Since then, the estate has been crafted by some of the world’s greatest explorers and visionaries, who each in their own way, have helped shape Vergelegen to what it is today: a world-class Estate. Vergelegen has been owned by the Anglo American plc group since 1987.
“Vergelegen has twice won the coveted Château Pichon-Longueville-Comtesse-de-Lalande Trophy for the best red blend and continues to achieve critical acclaim for its success in maintaining the delicate balance between wine production, the conservation of its rich heritage and the environment… The philosophy of our award-winning gardens is to reflect the best from all of the historical periods of the past 300 years. There are 17 unique gardens to explore and wander through, ranging from the only Camellia Garden of Excellence in South Africa, to the splendid Octagonal Garden.” — Vergelegen Wine Estate brochure
A short drive away, on a parcel of land that was originally part of the old Vergelegen land grant, was Morgenster Wine and Olive Estate. Breaking up our morning of wine tasting, we decided to just do an olive oil tasting – some of the finest in South Africa, with all of the olive trees having been imported from Italy over the years by the estate owner Giulio Bertrand. “Morgenster Wine & Olive Estate in Somerset West, 35 minutes from Cape Town, is at the gateway to the Western Cape wine-growing region. It is a thriving olive and wine farm dating back to 1711, producing internationally acclaimed Bordeaux-style wines and extra virgin olive oil of astounding quality. The Morning Star within a scallop shell as depicted on the front gable of Morgenster’s beautiful manor house, the private home of owner Giulio Bertrand, is the Estate’s signature and features on the labels of its fine wines and olive products. Visitors to the Estate’s stylish Revel Fox designed tasting room, which is set against the Schaapenberg and overlooks a reed lined dam and the Helderberg, can enjoy a wine tasting experience unique in South Africa. The Estate’s philosophy is to release its red Bordeaux style blends only when they have developed and aged to potential and the cellar therefore houses highly awarded earlier vintages under its Morgenster and Lourens River Valley labels. ” — www.morgenster.co.za We enjoyed the olive oils in the tasting so much that we bought several bottles to take back to our kitchen aboard the ship – the award winning extra virgin olive oil and the lemon enhanced extra virgin olive oil.
Heading north up towards the town of Stellenbosch, we then went a little to the west to our final winery visit of the morning, DeMorgenzon, founded in 1699. “All wine estates in the Western Cape are beautiful and all have unique terroir. However, we believe that DeMorgenzon is the most extraordinary of them all. Our slopes rise from about 200 meters (656 feet) to nearly 400 meters (1,312 feet) above sea level and our vistas embrace Cape Town, Table Mountain, Cape Point, Cape Hangklip, the Hottentots Holland mountains, Helderberg and Simonsberg with the ocean as a backdrop. While we could call ourselves ‘mountain vineyards’ we prefer to be known as ‘garden vineyards’. In Spring specially chosen wildflowers flourish between our vines. We have no doubt that a biodiverse and ecologically sensitive environment produces infinitely better grapes and the beauty of our gardens is captured in every bottle of our wine… DeMorgenzon, ‘the morning sun,’ was so named as it is the first part of the Stellenboschkloof valley to see the sun because of its high altitude and aspects. We cover the top southern and eastern slopes of Ribbokkop, overlooking the pinnacle of Kanonkop from where a cannon was fired to alert the farms in the region that a ship had put into Table Bay. The first road from Cape Town to Stellenbosch ran through the Stellenbosch Kloof.” — www.demorgenzon.com
For a late afternoon luncheon and wine tasting with the meal, we headed back to Stellenbosch and then drove east up towards the pass in the Simonsberg Mountains towards Paarl and Franschhoek. Near the summit we pulled into Tokara Wine Estate for a mid-afternoon repast at the Tokara Restaurant. We had an excellent multi-course South African cuisine meal with excellent wines from the estate. We were very disappointed to learn that the delicious, off-menu 2015 Tokara Pinotage was sold out at the winery store.
A note about Pinotage — it is a red wine grape that is South Africa’s signature variety, originally bred there in 1925 as a cross between the French varietals Pinot Noir and Cinsaut.
In 1994 GT Ferreira purchased the Tokara farm for residential purposes. But that was until the wine-making potential of this land was discovered. The cool air makes for great wine and soon classic varietals were planted along the slopes of the Helshoogte Pass. From the estate, visitors are able to catch a glimpse of Idas Valley, False Bay and the Simonsberg Mountains.
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