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Friday, March 04, 2011

South African Boutique Vineyard Trip: 4 - 8 March: Oliphantshoek

Late afternoon finds us on the road, gladly leaving the orgy of Goggas behind! We had to re-locate to another B&B, for some peace and serenity!

Gorgeous gardens, scents of lavender and roses filling the air, meticulous vineyards and beautifully renovated houses await us in the heart of Franschoek. This is to be our central base for the next few days.

It is whilst enjoying a quick Windhoek at Taki’s that I am once again overcome with the awe of the spectacular scenery surrounding this village. The vineyard covered mountain slopes were settled more than 300 years ago by the Huguenots.

It was back in 1687 when Simon Van Der Stel and 23 pioneers arrived in a valley called Oliphantshoek (Elephant’s corner), named after the vast herds of Elephants roaming in that area, and established farms along the Berg River. In 1688, he welcomed the first French Huguenots, whom as Protestants were forced to leave France or face persecution, and granted them farms in this valley.

They brought with them a significant knowledge of viticulture and in 1805 the valley became known as Franschoek (French Corner).

Sadly this also marked the beginning of the end for the magnificent Elephants. It is believed that in 1850 the last remaining Elephant was seen leaving the valley on what came to be the Franschoek pass. Today, though, it must surely be ranked as the most beautiful wine valley in the world.

Settled in for the Night, I look forward to a peaceful evening. But as my luck may have it, the February heat in this part of town has brought out the entire South African Cicada orchestra! This incessant bush sound, once you get used to it, is strangely relaxing, though.

The morning takes on the road to a special vineyard where the philosophy of perfection is second to none. Here the individual grape bunches are painstakingly trimmed to ensure that enough nutrition is available for each individual bunch. The road dust is minimised and all the grapes are harvested and sorted by hand. Their blended wines are made with true passion and less than 3000 cases are produced. A true gem to be featured on our list.

Further along the highway we pass another “bakkie”, casually driving along the hard shoulder with, according to Callum, 12 people in the back! It is common courtesy on these roads to use the hard shoulder to let others pass.

Our next stop is at the Meerlust Estate, home to an 8th generation of wine makers. It is here that we visit the Myburgh family. Today, 110 HA of vineyards are cultivated.

The Bordeaux blend “Rubicon” is what opened the minds of the local wine industry as well as the world. It set new standards for others to follow. We try the Chardonnay, crisp and creamy. The Cabernet Sauvignon, great flavour and dense tannins. The Merlot, after 18 months in new French oak, is lovely. A great Pinot Noir but above all the Rubicon stands out. Shortlisted ? It already features on our list.

As we know, site selection is essential to the making of fine wines, because ultimately the flavour starts in the vineyards. This is very apparent at the next Estate we visit. Here 40 HA are planted to vine on the Northeast facing slopes of the Simonsberg.

Each vine is limited to an average of 16 buds (by means of pruning) as opposed to the average of 36 buds per vine most commonly used due to higher yields. We manage to taste some delightful wines from this estate.

Over the next few days , numerous vineyards are visited. Including the 3000 HA Vergelegen Estate and Boschendal.

Some of the unmentioned gems we have selected will soon be available at “The Feathered Nest”.

Tomorrow our journey will take us into Swartland.

Cheers!


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