The new Stanford Wine Route is utterly intoxicating
Nancy Richards rolls out the barrel as she explores the eight wineries and other attractions that make up the Western Cape's newest wine route
A pair of lambs gambol on to the restaurant stoep and fossick among the toys in the kiddies' play area. "Aghh," says Pete Kastner. "They keep nibbling through the wires - but the kids love them."
Kastner and his wife Jami own Stanford Hills estate, where they farm proteas and pincushions. They also run a restaurant and a guesthouse. With kids of their own, they're actively child and pet friendly.
In among all this, Pete makes wine in the hangar. Tonight he's lit a huge bonfire to warm the diners and we huddle, watching the sparks fly into the night sky.
There's so much going on, it's hard to focus on the wine - that's a setback, as this is the two-day pre-launch of the Stanford Wine Route. I do my best to keep up with all the terroir talk.
The opening event is a wine-and-cheese tasting up the dam on Boschrivier farm, where Oom Thys de Villiers talks about his book, Boskloof: 'n Overbergplaas, and the rattling skeletons he uncovered when researching the history of his neighbouring farm. Unseen frogs croak and I wonder idly where they are while sipping on something dark, fruity and cab-sauv-esque - I forget the name. But excellent with the crumbly grana cheese offered by Uri Filiba from the Klein River Cheese Farm down the hill.
At Raka, we sit around a refectory table alternately sniffing, sipping and listening as owner Piet Dreyer talks up his fishing stories - the squid-ink-blackened boat called Raka and the day the geelbeek virtually jumped on to the deck. Wine, his second love, came later, when he bought this farm in the Akkedisberg. His third love, Elna, fetches the illustrated botanical bible to show us the endemic Erica shanonnea. The wine I remember is a shiraz called Biography, after the story of Piet's life.
Completely unforgettable is Jan Malan's grappa. After we've done with his welcome wines at the Sir Robert Stanford Tasting Room, we get a peek into his production lair. "It takes a bakkie load of wood and a whole day to produce just 8l of grappa," he mourns. "So you do it for the passion!"
Boarding the Stanford Vineyard Tram, we head for another dam-side wine tasting at sunset with strawberries, cheese and, the cherry on top, peach-flavoured grappa. On the return journey, it may have been the grappa working or we really did see a caracal in the shadows.
"He's the one that takes out my turkeys." As he's not one for artificial pest control, Jan's strutting, fan-tailed flock keep his vines snail free.
Breakfast next day at Vaalvlei, the smallest of the wineries, is taken in the garden next to Elsabé Terreblanche's bonsai bower. Her husband, Naas, has produced a good selection of wines, even a port from their vineyards overlooking Walker Bay. He's also in the throes of making a documentary about frogs.
Moving on, it's limestone that features at Springfontein - in the sugar-white walled buildings; in the soil; and in the wine. Winemaker Tariro Masayiti explains the positive effect lime has on minerality and low acidity levels.
Springfontein, the estate, is way down a track running alongside the Klein River lagoon so it's an appetite-building journey. But if frogs, ericas and fish have been a distraction so far - here it is food. In the kitchen, Michelin-starred Jürgen Schneider has foraged dune spinach florets to toss into lunch, all five courses of it. But generally he doesn't need to go far for original, fresh ingredients because, in her organic beds, horticulturist and gardener Hildegard Witbooi includes lively heirloom species such as purple carrots and scarlet artichokes.
The Springfontein feast is followed by a visit to Lionello Giovanetti's Don Gelato parlour for a sampling from his rainbow of home-made Italian gelati . Twin sorbets flavoured with pinotage and sauvignon blanc, courtesy of Stanford Hills and Sir Robert Stanford respectively, more than earn him a place on the route.
After an overnight recovery, it is back for a breakfast beer-tasting at the Birkenhead brewery, Walker Bay Estate. Winemaker Reinhard Odendaal guides us through a range of honey blond, chocolate-coloured, crisp and fruity beverages and sighs a little over crops lost on account of the area's prolific bird population.
Last stop is Misty Mountains where the focus, interestingly, is on water. There's a natural spring on the farm and water tumbles off the mountains, which is why the owners - originally in the water-bottling business - bought the farm. They still produce and bottle water, though wine has moved in as the major. As they're conscious of the decreasing rainfall, all the water used in the cellar (bottling both water and wine is a thirsty process) gets filtered through reed beds and pumped back, whistle clean, into the river system. And with all the decadent tasting of dry and delicious wines over the 48 hours, a little water is not unwelcome.
The final get-together with all members of the new route's winemaking family is on board the African Queen riverboat , where the merriment flows like the Klein River. With the bubbly sabraged and friendships forged, an almost misty-eyed chairman Masayiti invited everyone back again for the public launch later this month. Should be time enough for a full recovery.
sub_head_start IF YOU GO... sub_head_end
GETTING THERE: From the N2, take the Hermanus turn-off and travel along the R43 to Stanford.
ABOUT THE WINE: The Stanford Wine Route, thought to be the 21st route in the country, takes in eight wineries with other attractions in the area. The official launch happens on November 27 2015 at the Stanford Friday Market. See stanfordtourism.co.za