Wellington: A Cape wine route with a difference
Neil Pendock visits the next hot address for cult cuvées: the Bovlei valley of Wellington
Big Schalk Burger (father to Schalkie, the tow-headed Springbok) has fingers like polonies and a nickname: Pages, as in Yellow Pages. If you want to know the answer, ask Schalk.
Although when last I chatted to Pages, he was in a bad mood as someone had stolen his four tame meerkats - the rodents of his award-winning wine brand. And these were rodents he was willing to sue for, as he did when Orange River Cellars tried to use them to showcase the wild charms of the Northern Cape. Schalk had them trademarked vas.
Pet theft in the winelands has reached epidemic proportions. Vladimir, the Jack Russell who upstages Nederburg cellar master Razvan Macici in his "not yet" TV ads, finally disappeared after several attempts to dog-nap him from the bucolic Paarl estate. A reward is offered.
Sitting in hisvineyard on the slopes of the Groenberg last month, Pages was waxing philosophical about what makes a wine good. His arguments boiled down to proximity to the Limietberg and the remnants of an old volcano that spawned God's four pushups: the Paarlberg, Kasteelberg, Paardeberg and Groenberg mountains.
As he spoke, the plaintive cries of a fish eagle hung in the air. "In the north, you only hear that as a ring tone on your iPhone" joked Pages. "We have a breeding pair on the farm and a cricket pitch."
The closer you are to the Limiet limit, the better the wine quality. It's all to do with ancient decomposed granite soils. So the path to ground zero for quality starts at the foot of the Bovlei valley and climbs slowly up towards the Bainskloof Pass.
At the entrance to the valley stands Lelienfontein, one of 13 farms owned by Jannie Bosman, whose vine nursery supplied 20-million stokkies to the industry this year. Book a tour (0218733710) and watch nimble fingers graft vines onto phylloxera-resistant root stock.
Winemaker Corlea Fourie has raised the Bosman Family Vineyards' game of late. In addition to big volume Fair Trade wines made at Wellington Cellar (an amalgamation of Wamakersvallei and Wellington Co-op), Corlea's Bosman Family Vineyards Cape Blend was one of three pinotage-dominated reds recognised at an inaugural competition sponsored by Absa bank recently.
On the other side of the Hexrivier road up the mountain is Wellington's other co-op. Called Bovlei, (0218731567, tastings Monday to Friday 8.30am till 5pm, Saturday 8.30am till 12.30pm), it is where cellarmaster Frank Meaker makes a fun range of reds called Mad Hatters, R35 a bottle. There are six wines each twinned with a region and an appropriate hat.
Back on the windy road up the valley, Andreas is the name of a juicy shiraz made by Swedes Jan and Anita Bokdal (0218732286). If you like the wine, make an offer for the farm as both are for sale.
Val du Charron (021 873 1256) is the original name for Wellington and also a guest house up the hill behind the local school, owned by Johannesburg property developer Stewart Entwhistle.
Bertus, husband of Corlea and professor at Elsenburg agricultural college, invented coffee pinotage a decade ago for David Sonnenberg at Diemersfontein, on the road to Paarl. He now consults at Val du Charron and exciting things are reported from the cellar.
Beyond the school, the tarred road becomes dirt and retired SAA pilot Naas Ferreira resides at Klein Optenhorst (0218641210).
His pinot noir was one of the undiscovered gems of the Cape until his Aussie partner went bang - and the pinot was redirected to bubbly in the shape of an off-blush méthode cap classique fizz.
For lunch, pace yourself to reach the stone kitchen of Johan van Schalkwyk at Dunstone Winery (0218736770) at noon. Wild mushrooms and meat are specialities.
Fans of Portuguese cuisine may wish to order an organic leitão (suckling pig) from Vrugbaar piggery (021 864 1222)) on the other side of the road. Dunstone is the most lauded and applauded winery of the Bovlei in the Platter guide, with a dense and intense shiraz tickling their particular fancy.
Across the road at De Compagnie (0218641241), Huisgenoot's agony aunt Dr Adri Scheepers can soothe domestic disputes while her lawyer husband's pot still brandy is an excellent digestive for the strong, silent type.
Nabygelegen (0218737534) was home to an 18th-century white witch, Anna Lategan, commemorated in a rich eponymous white blend by James McKenzie.
Rated 91/100 by America's leading taster, Robert Parker, it provides a pleasant alternative to sauvignon blanc. The region's best pinot noir (already on vintage 2011) and chardonnay are made under the Snow Mountain brand from grapes grown in the Agter Witzenberg mountains of Tulbagh, while the 2007 Bordeaux-style blend called 1712 is making waves. Meanwhile, Scaramanga is a spicy red blend featuring tight tempranillo and mystic malbec.
At Welvanpas (0218641239), the old family farm of Voortrekker leader Piet Retief, you can meet his direct descendent Dan Retief. A new coffee shop and the best wines in a while complete a visit.
The last stop on the trail is Doolhof (0218736911), where interior designer Dorothy "Dotters" Kerrison has set a new benchmark for luxury country hotel décor and the wines are witty and great value for money.
Former horse stud Oaklands has been subdivided into smaller farms after a bush fire destroyed the original. It now boasts several eco-trails and routes for mountain bikes.
The Bovlei valley is as off the beaten track as it gets, less than an hour from Cape Town. Pages insists that the wines have the hallmarks of greatness and it would be a very brave or foolish person indeed who disagrees.
Bovlei if you go
The Bovlei is not Stellenbosch, with coaches of cruise line passengers paying $250 for a day in the winelands. Nor is it Franschhoek, with tour guides, micro-buses and cosy arrangements with wineries. It is real off-the-beaten-track stuff - there are no tasting charges. Our 10 destinations welcome visitors, but phone ahead to check there's someone home who can speak English or at least lock the dogs away.