Stellenbosch Winelands (near Cape Town), South Africa (2018)

After an excellent wine tasting in the Vergelegen Wine Estate wine tasting and information center, we had a tour of the property, beginning in the herb garden, Somerset West (Stellenbosc

After an excellent wine tasting in the Vergelegen Wine Estate wine tasting and information center, we had a tour of the property, beginning in the herb garden, Somerset West (Stellenbosch wine region), South Africa

 

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.

 

The Vergelegen homestead, well preserved and open to visitors, including many historical displays along with period furniture, Somerset West, South Africa

The Vergelegen homestead, well preserved and open to visitors, including many historical displays along with period furniture, Somerset West, South Africa

 

Classical 18th century Dutch South African architecture as seen in the back of the Vergelegen homestead, Vergelegen Wine Estate, Somerset West, South Africa

Classical 18th century Dutch South African architecture as seen in the back of the Vergelegen homestead, Vergelegen Wine Estate, Somerset West, South Africa

 

“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

 

Flowers in the Octagonal Garden, leading up to the Homestead, Vergelegen Wine Estate, Somerset West, South Africa

Flowers in the Octagonal Garden, leading up to the Homestead, Vergelegen Wine Estate, Somerset West, South Africa

 

The Camphor Tree (Cinnamon Camphora) is a native of China and Japan was introduced to the Cape region about 1670 by the Dutch East Indies; these trees were planted by W.A. van der Stel b

The Camphor Tree (Cinnamon Camphora) is a native of China and Japan was introduced to the Cape region about 1670 by the Dutch East Indies; these trees were planted by W.A. van der Stel between 1700 and 1706 and were proclaimed a South African National Monument in 1942; Vergelegen Wine Estate, Somerset West, South Africa – note that commercial camphor is extracted from the camphor tree wood

 

We enjoyed a tasting of the olives and olive oils grown, processed and produced at the Morgenster Wine and Olive Estate, Somerset West, South Africa

We enjoyed a tasting of the olives and olive oils grown, processed and produced at the Morgenster Wine and Olive Estate, Somerset West, South Africa

 

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.

 

Vineyards at DeMorgenzon, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Vineyards at DeMorgenzon, Stellenbosch, South Africa

 

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

 

Chenin Blanc (the leading varietal of South African wineries) vineyards, DeMorgenzon, Stellenbosch, South Africa; we brought back some of the excellent Reserve Chenin Blanc to our apartm

Chenin Blanc (the leading varietal of South African wineries) vineyards, DeMorgenzon, Stellenbosch, South Africa; we brought back some of the excellent Reserve Chenin Blanc to our apartment on the ship, along with several other varietals from DeMorgenzon

 

The gardens at DeMorgenzon were stunning, Stellenbosch, South Africa

The gardens at DeMorgenzon were stunning, Stellenbosch, South Africa

 

The spectacular planted landscape at DeMorgenzon includes the garden flowers, vineyards and olive groves, Stellenbosch, South Africa

The spectacular planted landscape at DeMorgenzon includes the garden flowers, vineyards and olive groves, Stellenbosch, South Africa

 

TOKARA is the embodiment of GT Ferreira_s philosophy that good wine, good food and good art go together to make a good lifestyle; the magnificent installation art by Marco Cianfanelli,

TOKARA is the embodiment of GT Ferreira’s philosophy that good wine, good food and good art go together to make a good lifestyle; the magnificent private commission of installation art by Marco Cianfanelli, The Mind’s Vine, encapsulates the narrative of the creation of TOKARA and reflects the winery’s origins as a superlative wine growing environment — Tokara Wine Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa

 

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.

 

One of several tapestries by a well known South African artist on display at the Tokara Restaurant at Tokara Wine Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa

One of several tapestries by a well known South African artist on display at the Tokara Restaurant at Tokara Wine Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa

 

The terrace room of the Tokara Restaurant at Tokara Wine Estate overlooks the vineyards on the Simonsberg Mountains, Stellenbosch, South Africa

The terrace room of the Tokara Restaurant at Tokara Wine Estate overlooks the vineyards on the Simonsberg Mountains, Stellenbosch, South Africa

 

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.

 

Vineyards and olive grove on the Simonsberg Mountains, Tokara Wine Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Vineyards and olive grove on the Simonsberg Mountains, Tokara Wine Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa

 

Legal Notices: All photographs copyright © 2018 by Richard C. Edwards. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Permission to link to this blog post is granted for educational and non-commercial purposes only.

 

Stellenbosch, the “capital of the South African wine industry”

Dutch Reformed Church surrounded by oak trees on Church Street, Stellenbosch, Western Cape Province, South Africa

Dutch Reformed Church surrounded by oak trees on Church Street, Stellenbosch, Western Cape Province, South Africa

South African Tourism is justifiably proud of “the Stellenbosch winelands, [which] are considered to be the capital of the South African wine industry. With more than 60 estates currently operating, it’s the leading centre for viticulture and viticultural research.  Simon van der Stel arrived at the Cape as commander in 1679 and soon after was appointed its first governor. Later that year he undertook his first tour of inspection, which brought him to ‘the most charming valley he had ever seen’ – the Stellenbosch winelands.  So enchanted was he that he set up camp in a grove he named Stellenbosch, and there decided to establish a second settlement after Cape Town. He grew to love the town, spending his birthdays there. And he ordered the planting of the oaks, which is why it is sometimes referred to as Eikestad, or ‘town of oaks’. Today these massive trees shade the historic Dorp Street, which runs through the well-preserved old town.  While initially established as a centre to produce fruit and vegetables, van der Stel had a hunch that its Mediterranean climate would be ideal for wine growing. He was right.”

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We spent the initial part of a morning in the Winelands at Root 44 Market that showcases a number of food choices in beautiful wine farm surroundings, including a number of outdoor traders.  We then drove over to one of the most picturesque winery settings any of us had seen, around the world.

Tasting room on an island on the pond at Stark-Conde Wines, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Tasting room on an island on the pond at Stark-Conde Wines, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Stark-Conde Wines is located in the picturesque Jonkershoek Valley in Stellenbosch.  It is a dramatic valley with steep changes in vineyard elevation from 492-1970 feet (150 – 600 meters), making for a range of sites with distinct characteristics.

The wines are hand-crafted in small volumes using traditional methods: hand sorting, open-top fermentations, hand punch downs and manual basket pressing.  Winemaking is overseen by owner Jose Conde.

The focus is Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Pinot Noir for reds and Chenin Blanc (the most widely planted varietal in South Africa, accounting for over 20% of all production in the country), Roussanne and Sauvignon Blanc for white wines.

The unique Stark-Conde tasting room is small and intimate, built on its own little island (see photograph, above).

Lily and lily pads in pond at Stark-Conde Wines, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Lily and lily pads in pond at Stark-Conde Wines, Stellenbosch, South Africa

A small group of us from the ship, with our head sommelier (who previously worked in the wine industry in the Cape Winelands) met with winemaker Jose Stark for a tasting and then luncheon on the terrace, overlooking the pond and surrounding mountains.

Stark-Conde Field Blend (white wine), Stellenbosch, Winelands, South Africa

Stark-Conde Field Blend (white wine), Stellenbosch, Winelands, South Africa

We particularly enjoyed the “field blend” white wine with our luncheon, as the blend of Roussanne, Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Verdelho was light and crisp and a nice accompaniment to the food.

Following our midday visit to the winery, we had a few hours to walk around the town of Stellenbosch and enjoy the shopping, wine stores, and local cafes and pubs for refreshments prior to the hour-long drive back to Cape Town and the V&A Waterfront where the ship was berthed.

Bug on lily in pond at Stark-Conde Wines, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Bug on lily in pond at Stark-Conde Wines, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Rust en Vrede Winery and Restaurant, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Rust en Vrede Restaurant wine cellar

Rust en Vrede Restaurant wine cellar

The winelands to the east of Cape Town are the best and most well known of South Africa’s wine producing regions.  The Rust en Vrede Winery was established in 1694 in Stellenbosch, South Africa.  The Engelbrecht family produced the first vintages of the modern era in 1978, after decades of no production at the estate.  The winery has won a long list of awards and accolades and it is also known for its eponymous restaurant, located on the estate grounds adjacent to the winery.  In 2007 the Rust en Vrede Restaurant was included in the Top 100 Restaurants of the world, marking a unique achievement as the Rust en Vrede Estate wine had been previously named as one of the Top 100 wines in the world.

A small group of us from the ship were fortunate while we were docked in Cape Town to have attended an evening wine tasting at the winery, followed by an outstanding private dinner at the Restaurant with the estate’s winemaker.  The dinner consisted of five courses, each paired with a Rust en Vrede wine.

The first course was Marinated Mozambican Prawns with a pressing of Roma Tomatoes, Sturgeon Caviar, Basil and Olive.

Rust en Vrede Restaurant Course 1-  MARINATED MOZAMBICAN PRAWNS

Rust en Vrede Restaurant Course 1- MARINATED MOZAMBICAN PRAWNS

Accompanying the prawn course was a Stellenbosch Reserve Moederkerk Chardonnay 2014.

Stellenbosch Reserve Moederkerk Chardonnay 2014

Stellenbosch Reserve Moederkerk Chardonnay 2014

The second course was Chalmar Beef “Salad” with Pink Fir Potato, Avocado, and Balsamic.  Accompanying the food was a Donkiesbaai Steen 2014.  Note that the Donkeisbaai wines are produced by the Engelbrecht family from a relatively new wine property.  Family member Jean Engelbrecht explains: “Donkiesbaai on the West Coast of South Africa has been the vacation home to the Engelbrecht family for four generations.  Our West Coast is a place that invigorates one’s soul and one’s understanding and appreciation of the simple things in life.  For many it is a harsh, desert-like, unknown frontier, but for those who have experienced its energy and unspoilt beauty, it becomes a life-enriching place to be.  Crayfish, harders and a cold glass of Steen [Chenin Blanc] is part of the history that is Donkiesbaai and with this wine I raise a glass with family and friends.”

Rust en Vrede Restaurant Course 2- CHALMAR BEEF "SALAD"

Rust en Vrede Restaurant Course 2- CHALMAR BEEF “SALAD”

The third course was Crown Roasted Duck Breast with Confit Leg, Fig, Fennel, Coconut, and Cashew.

Rust en Vrede Restaurant Course 3- CROWN ROASTED DUCK BREAST

Rust en Vrede Restaurant Course 3- CROWN ROASTED DUCK BREAST

Accompanying the duck course was a Donkeisbaai Pinot Noir 2013.

Rust en Vrede Donkiesbaai Pinot Noir 2013

Rust en Vrede Donkiesbaai Pinot Noir 2013

The fourth course was Herb Crusted Lamb Loin with Braised Lamb Shank, Parmesan Truffle Risotto, Spinach, and Chicken of the Woods Mushroom.  Accompanying the lamb was an amazing Ruste en Vrede Estate Bordeaux Blend wine from 1995 served from a large format bottle.

Rust en Vrede Restaurant Course 4- HERB CRUSTED LAMB LOIN

Rust en Vrede Restaurant Course 4- HERB CRUSTED LAMB LOIN

The firth course was Valrhona Chocolate Pave with Ivorie, Jivara Lactee, Guanaja, Abinao Fig, Pistachio, Pumpkin Seed Macaroon, Red Wine and Fig Ice Cream.  Accompanying the food was a Donkiesbaai Hooiwijn 2014 (sweet) desert wine.

Rust en Vrede Restaurant Course 5- VALRHONA CHOCOLATE PAVE

Rust en Vrede Restaurant Course 5- VALRHONA CHOCOLATE PAVE

A few more notes from Jean Engelbrecht about the estate: “Since 1694 Rust en Vrede has stood peacefully among the vineyards of Stellenbosch.  Through centuries there were periods when wine was produced, but since the [nineteen] seventies my family has specialized in producing only red wine with the focus on Shiraz [Syrah], Cabernet [Sauvignon], and Merlot.  My parents worked very hard to make Rust en Vrede what it has become and today we reap the rewards.

“Many accolades have been bestowed upon the Estate and some of the more memorable were when Rust en Vrede was chosen by President Nelson Mandela to be served at the Nobel Peace prize dinner, hosting the Queen of Denmark for lunch with my family at the Manor House and when Rust en Vrede was nominated as the first South African red wine in the Top 100 Wines of the World in 2000.  This honour was repeated for four consecutive years, and again in 2012.  In 2009 our winemaker Coenie Snyman was named Winemaker of the Year.”

Note that Rust en Vrede in 2012 was recommended as the #1 vineyard in Cape Town by Travel and Leisure magazine.  So, if you find yourself in the region, be sure to pay a visit to the Winery and Restaurant for a wonderful experience — since the ingredients are seasonal and each vintage of the wines is unique, you won’t have the same experience we had, but it will still be memorable, as was ours.