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On the twenty-first South African wine route
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Graham Howe explores South Africa’s newest wine route launched by eight wine farms in the cool-climate Stanford wine region of Walker Bay in October 2015.

Standing in new vineyards being planted in the sand dunes at Springfontein, visitors get a physical sense of the new frontier of cool climate vineyards. The sea is four kilometres away as the crow flies. Over a wine tasting on a sandy hill with a spectacular view of Stanford and the Overberg, husband and wife team Tariro Masayiti (winemaker) and Hildegard (horticulturist), discuss the focus on Chenin Blanc and Pinotage as signature varieties which express their new maritime terroir. He declares “South Africa has to stand out with something unique on the global market” - like his unusual barrel-fermented Blanc de Pinotage in their terroir range.

Over the last sixteen years, Tariro Masayiti has come a long way on his journey from Zimbabwe to study viticulture at Stellenbosch, train as a winemaker at Nederburg and run the six hundred hectare farm, guest lodge, restaurant and cellar of Springfontein. Over 60% of 100 000 bottles of Springfontein wines are exported to Germany and the UK. As chairman of the new Stanford Wine Route, Tariro expresses his satisfaction at reaching the stage of destination marketing: “The idea to establish a wine route has always been on the cards and we are overjoyed the plan has come together”. The Stanford Wine Growers Association has been working towards this goal since 2007, sharing lessons in viticulture and cool-climate winemaking in a community spirit.

The Stanford wine route is well-located as a weekend tourist destination with wineries in close proximity, set in a pristine country landscape between mountains and the sea. It is small enough to explore over a long weekend - with an annual harvest of over 1000 tons from 230 hectares of vineyards for own labels and bigger producer buyers.

The Klein River runs through the Stanford wine route. We met the winemakers on cellar-door visits to the eight producers - Boschrivier, Misty Mountains, Raka, Springfontein, Stanford Hills, Sir Robert Stanford, Vaalvlei and Walker Bay Vineyards at Birkenhead Brewery - and talked about the new terroir of these cool-climate vineyards. We also did a fabulous tasting with all the winemakers on a sunset cruise and floating barbecue aboard the African Queen, a two-tiered river boat on a trip down the Klein River. The micro-climates of the different spurs of the Stanford wine route create conditions for a diversity of varieties and wine styles - with a focus on signature whites like Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and flagship Bordeaux varietal reds and blends - as well as fine Shiraz at Raka and Sir Robert Stanford

Although most Stanford wines still carry the Walker Bay wine of origin on the label - a brand which is well-established - the winemakers of Stanford are very enthusiastic about marketing the Stanford wine route as a destination on the whale coast in its own right. Located close to the southernmost tip of Africa, Stanford is one of South Africa’s coolest wine regions. The vineyards enjoy a cool ripening season, influenced by the strong summer winds ideal for the production of top quality wine says Piet Dreyer of Raka. “The wind roars like an express train though these vineyards and wheat fields” adds Thys de Villiers of Boskloof, a descendant of French Huguenots who moved into the Boschrivier Valley to farm sheep, cattle and wheat in the 1800s.

We looked out at a sea of rippling wheat, standing at a dam on another hill on a spur of the Stanford wine route. Theo de Villiers, owner of Boschrivier Wines, one of the eight members of the Standord wine route, spoke about “terroir second to none”. His great-grandfather bought the farm in 1886 but only ever distilled “vaaljapie”. There’s been no turning back since they bottled their first Shiraz in 2002 (the 2011 vintage won four Platter stars) - and now make a superb Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc under the guidance of veteran winemaker Mike Dobrovic (ex-Mulderbosch)

Piet Dreyer, owner of Raka cellar, is one of the pioneers of the Stanford wine route. The charismatic fisherman who eventually caught enough tunny to start a wine farm, does a star turn in the cellar, hand-selling wines to visitors over the summer season. Raka is a family affair from winemaker sons Josef Dreyer and viticulturist Pieter Dreyer to his wife and daughter front-of-house - who make a mean chicken pie, soet patat and waterblommetjie bredie. Over a tasting of Raka’s award-winning Bordeaux Quinary and Five Maiden blends, Biography Shiraz and Figurehead Cape Blend, Piet spoke passionately about the soil, the sea and the sun at his idyllic country cellar and deli with a wooden ceiling built like the hull of one of his beloved fishing boats.

“This micro-climate is ideal for making wine. We always have a flow of air from either the Atlantic or Indian Ocean - the mountains funnel it through this valley. The sun rises over there, and sets over here. We have a long, slow ripening season. This is a family cellar. I fish to make money! We get lovely salty minerality on our Sauvignon Blanc.” It’s no surprise Raka sells 30% of its wine directly to consumers at the cellar-door who come all the way to this remote cellar to taste. A man of the sea and soil, now owns one of the biggest vineyards in Stanford planted to sixty hectares. “Nou moet die wyn praat” says the old man of the sea after a philosophical prelude.

Stanford is full or surprises - like Springfontein Eats, the fine dining restaurant where German Michelin-star chef Jürgen Schneider runs one of the top country kitchens in South Africa - inspired by home-grown farm products and ingredients foraged from the sea. A decade after releasing their first vintage, Springfontein produces three tiers of single vineyard, terroir and estate wines - with a new rock ‘n roll range in the cellar like (Deep Purple) Child in Time Petit Verdot, (Pink Floyd) Dark Side of the Moon white blend and (Led Zeppelin) Whole lotta Love Cape blend. Another delicious surprise was Lilonello Giovannetti, a master ice-cream maker who moved from Venice to Stanford to open Don Gelato where he makes sensational sorbet - inter alia Pinotage (from Stanford Hills Winery) and Sauvignon Blanc (Sir Robert Stanford).

Jan Malan at Sir Robert Stanford Estate owns the second oldest and one of the biggest wine farms in the area - where wine has been made since the 1890s. Named after the eponymous Victorian entrepreneur who gave his name to the village - and made his fortune inheriting hansom cabs to the Cape - this farm has a charming tasting centre, cellar-door restaurant and grappa “stookhuis” distillery. These sixty hectares of vines supply Allee Bleue, Graham Beck and Kleine Zalze with premium grapes - while winemaker Johan Joubert (formerly at Kleine Zalze) has made Sir Robert’s own wines - including The Hansom, a flagship Bordeaux blend, a sublime Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc.

Birkenhead Brewery offers tourists the best of both worlds - craft beer and wine under its Walker Bay Vineyards label. Over 450 visitors a day come to do their beer and wine tastings. Cellarmaster Reinhard Odendaal (ex winemaker at Barton and Beyerskloof) has handled four vintages here - a crop of one hundred tons from twenty-four hectares of vineyards. A tasting of his superb Sauvignon Blanc confirms his comment that, “Releasing bottle-aged white vintages a year later shows how cool-climate wines come into their own with layers of depth and character. We get great purity of fruit in the Loire style while our unoaked Chardonnay leans to Chablis. Walker Bay is one of the most recognised wine appellations after Stellenbosch”.

The hands-on family ambience of the boutique wine farms of Stanford Hills, Boschrivier, Misty Mountains and Vaalvlei are also well-worth a visit. Owners Peter and Jami Kastner run the charming cellar (in a converted aircraft hanger), restaurant and farmhouse accommodation at Stanford Hills on the slopes of the village. He makes three styles of Pinotage - called Jackson’s, Veldfire and Pinotage grappa - as well as excellent cool-climate Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. And at Vaalvlei Wines, owner winemaker Naas Terblanche is a dedicated conservationist. One of the highlights of a tasting on the farm stoep is a presentation by the “frogman of Stanford” on the thirteen frogs found on the route - including the endangered western leopard toad. Ask Naas to imitate the call of the raucous toad or clicking stream frog.

Located 25 kilometres from Hermanus on the popular Cape whale coast route, the new Stanford wine route set around the Victorian village has a range of restaurants, luxury lodges, guesthouses and farm accommodation - and is well-poised as a weekend getaway and tourism destination with a variety of nature, outdoors and gastronomic cheesery and farm market attractions. All of the wine farms are open for tastings and many have self-catering cottages and eateries. And it’s the only place on earth I’ve visited where the farmer can mimic the call of thirteen frogs on his farm.

For more information, visit www.stanfordtourism.co.za and www.whalecoast.info -

Tel: +27.283410676   Fax: +27.866065462   Email: info@rakawine.co.za  
P.O. Box 124 , Caledon, 7230, South Africa