Best Cellars: The gods must be drinking
Its top cuvées are named after the Egyptian lord of the dead, yet they're infused with life, writes Neil Pendock
Back label: Wildekrans Estate in Bot River is 88 years old this year, which should set wind chimes ringing in Shanghai as eight is such an auspicious number in China. When the Olympic Games opened in Beijing four years ago, they did so at eight minutes past eight on the eighth of the eighth. And as 800ha of the farm's 1000ha are arable, thanks to two rivers running through it, good Feng Shui is assured.
The rivers are the Bot and the Swart, although the Styx, river of the dead, would perhaps be more appropriate since the brand name for the top cuvées winemaker William Wilkinson makes on the estate is Osiris, ancient Egyptian lord of the dead. That's a nicely Afro-pagan counterpoint to Gabriëlskloof, an angelic farm next door.
Not that these Osiris wines are in any way dead. The opposite actually, as fruit freshness is the hallmark of the award-winning, barrel-fermented chenin blancs, pinotages and shiraz made in a converted fruit-packing shed near the manor house, dating back to 1924 and lovingly restored in French Provençal style by Amanda and Gary Harlow, a telecoms mogul from Johannesburg. They are nearly finished their full-sized polo field. Makes sense, as the first polo game in SA was played on the farm, long before anyone thought of a chukka at Plettenberg Bay.
Before the vineyards down Agulhas way came on stream, that pioneer of pinot in SA, Tim Hamilton Russell, and his son Anthony used the moniker "Africa's southernmost vineyards" as their marketing position - a crown worn proudly, if discretely, by Wildekrans for half a century while they delivered anonymous grapes to the co-op.
The farm is called Keerweer, which has a most appropriate double meaning: "come again" and "stop the weather", which the mountains indeed do. Last year the farm received 380mm of rain while the neighbours got 540mm. But then water is no limiting factor thanks to the rivers and many springs high up the mountain. The farm dates back to the late 18th century, when it was a refreshment stop before wagoneers braved the vicissitudes of the Houw Hoek Pass.
The Overberg is cannily positioning itself as a cost-effective alternative to the Swartland, which has been hijacked by expensive personality-driven wines. Both appellations are one hour from Cape Town and the annual Bot River Barrels & Beards Oesaf (end of harvest) party, this year held on Anysbos olive farm between Wildekrans and Gabriëlskloof, is a potent challenge to the annual Swartland Revolution in Riebeek-Kasteel. The entrance price speaks volumes: R150 for the beards, R1750 for the Swartland. A crucial difference in these times of financial austerity.
Best Wine: Cool-climate pinotage is the calling card and is of such quality, Le Vin de François, an iconic pinotage made by François Naudé of l'Avenir fame, contains several barrels. An Absa Top Ten Pinotage favourite and one of three winners of the inaugural Perold ABSA Cape Blend competition last year, it makes a pleasant change from those dikvoet dinosaurs from Stellenbosch and Wellington.
Accommodation: Converted labourers' cottages are available for self-catering. Located in the vineyards, there is a wooden bird-viewing deck above a reedy marsh providing a great viewing platform for observing the 100 blue cranes that roost on the farm.
Tasting charge: Free.
Tasting hours: Monday-Friday 9am-4pm, Saturday-Sunday 11am-3pm. GPS Co-ordinates: 34°14'28.04'' S 19°12'50.61'' E
Directions: From Cape Town, take the N2 to Hermanus and a huge dose of patience to get you through the eight (clearly a Chinese traffic planner at work) un-synchronised traffic lights in Somerset West, which are a serious impediment to the growth of tourism in the Overberg. Follow the road sign to Caledon and then turn right at the brown Wildekrans sign.
A sneak preview of the wines is available at the Orchards Farm Stall on the N2, just before the Elgin turn-off.