Wellington – Hidden Gem – Discovered Treasure

It’s time to discover Wellington – no! Not that Wellington at 41°S/174°E where Haka is performed to welcome guests, acknowledge great achievements and to bid farewell to the dearly departed. I’m talking about Wellington: nestled in the valley below the mighty Hawequa Mountain with the Berg River on the west. French settlers originally called the hamlet Val du Charron, valley of the wagon makers, a name which the Dutch translated as Wamakers Vallei. It was here that the intrepid travellers of the 17thcentury prepared their wagons for their arduous journey into the hinterland. In 1840 the town was renamed Wellington, after Arthur Wellesley the 1st Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815.

It took just 60minutes from the V& A Waterfront in Cape Town to reach the tasting room at Imbuko Family Vintners overlooking well-watered lawns and green, ready-for-picking buchu bushes atop the hill.  We were welcomed by marketing manager Retha Muller, who introduced the Pomüla spritzer range of wines. Sweet exotic flavours of Moscato, Passion Fruit, Pomegranate and Berry set the tone for an indulgent day. Gourmet pies in Cape Malay Chicken; Lamb Curry; Slow Roasted Venison and Biltong were paired with the Van Zijl Chardonnay/Viognier; Cabernet Sauvignon; Pinotage and Shiraz/Mourvedre respectively, served with Elsabe’s Pinotage relish on the side. Matriarch Elsabe Du Plessis is a raconteur with endless stories about the merits of the buchu plant; how to grow olives and which grapes make the best relish. A demonstration of the art and science of steeping buchu in brandy followed by a tasting of the ‘cure-all’ and a top-up to make sure that you get the full medicinal value of the king of fynbos had us in stitches but left little time to taste the flagship Du Plevaux range. That’s just another reason to return to the place that means, ‘admiration for.’  www.imbuko.co.za

At the top of Bainskloof Pass, Jaco from Viking Adventure Tours loaded us onto the Unimark, a truck that had been used in skirmishes on our northern borders decades before democracy. The rough trail up the Sneeuberg Mountain gave some anxious moments as Jaco edged his way to our next rendezvous.  Blackened proteas hanging from bushes razed by a recent fire; a monument to young friends who drowned when they tried to cross a raging mountain stream; majestic cliffs and sprawling vistas below make for reflection on the fragility of mere mortals in the grand creation. The team from Wellington Wines welcomed us with chilled La Cave Methode Cap Classic. Viticulturist Marko Roux proudly pointed out the variety of soil types; aspect and lay of the land and unique slopes seen so clearly from our elevated vantage. He is responsible for viticulture at 97 different farms in the valley. Each pocket has a unique terroir which explains why the region was proclaimed SA Terroir Top Wine Area 2010, he says proudly. Some of the Wellington Wines we tasted high on the slopes included the Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinotage, Shiraz and Le Cave Cape Blend. All the wines were delectable with the generous and tasty snack boxes which included chicken kebab; mini quiche; biltong; blintzes; mini hamburger; caramelled almonds and much more. All too soon the jolly crowd was hustled onto the Unimark for a quick stop at the duct of Gawie se Water waterfall before descending and meandering through farms and vineyards to our next stop. www.wellingtonwines.com

On arrival at Bosman Family Vineyards (BFV) – Lelienfontein we were shown a demonstration of stokkiesdraai (grafting and binding vine cuttings). The saying goes that in the early days young boys were kept home to assist with vine grafting. When the teacher asked after their whereabouts, the response was: ‘Hulle draai stokkies’. The term was then coined to mean playing truant.                                                                                                       An experienced nursery man or woman can graft up to 4000 vines per day. Grafting onto disease resistant rootstock is necessary because of phylloxera, an aphid which devastated the Cape vineyards in 1885.  Wellington boasts a huge vine-grower’s nursery and claims that some 90% of South African plant material comes from the valley.                                                                           Corlea Fourie, who oversees viticulture and winemaking at BFV, presented her 2010 Optenhorst Chenin Blanc.  The Chenin grapes, from bush vines planted in 1952 originates from a single vineyard site called Optenhorst, which literally means perched on top of a hill. Barrel fermented and matured in French oak, this medley of fruits, citrus, honey and vanilla proves that the combination of site, soil and skill can produce a Chenin Blanc of exceptional quality with good aging potential. BFV is Fairtrade accredited and in 2008 a joint venture with the Adama Workers Trust saw eligible workers take co-ownership of 430 hectares of prime farming land. The innovative Adama white and red wines are named after the forebear of many of the farm workers.  www.bosmanwines.com

Next stop – the beautiful Diemersfontein Wine and Country Estate. Winemaker Francois Rood, originator of the now legendary Coffee Chocolate Pinotage, took us on a tour of the ‘enchanted garden’ and well-appointed manor house.  Whether you’re taking a break from the rat race; looking for a base to explore the valley and surrounds; planning a conference or your next big fat wedding, Diemersfontein has a variety of accommodation and facilities from which to choose. The staff are welcoming and friendly too. The sun was just setting as we started the chocolate pairing with the Diemersfontein Chenin Reserve; Thokozani Shiraz/Mourvedre/Viognier and Thokozani Grenache Rosé. Thokozani is an empowerment company that turned workers into shareholders and investors, initiated by owner David Sonnenberg in 2007. The Pinotage on Tap festival takes place on Saturday 29th October 2016. Expect live bands; goodie bag; lunch; dessert and of course Pinotage on tap!   www.diemersfontein.co.za

Abbi Wallis, owner of Dunstone Country Estate greeted us with warm smiles as we offloaded in the reception area before being dispersed to our accommodation for the night. A quick freshen-up, change of garb and necessary teeth scrub before being picked up by Rene in the golf cart. It was just a short ride to the Stone Kitchen. Talk about making wine in the kitchen. It’s a real working winery!  A basket press right next to a comfortable sofa; stainless steel tanks housing the newest vintage just to the right of a well-stocked bar and the barrel room round the corner. The menu boards offer an array of breakfast, lunch, sides, desserts and kiddies fare – too many to mention – at super reasonable prices too. After a welcome three course dinner accompanied by the estate Shiraz, a perfect partner to the delicious steak, the Iris Room was beckoning. Dunstone offers a choice of luxury accommodation in the Country House or the Dunstone Manor. Additional spa facilities will be completed later in the year. The venue is child-friendly if booking the entire Manor House, and welcomes families to explore the vineyards, orchards and to “Make Your Own Wine” during season.   www.dunstone.co.za

THUS ENDED THE FIRST DAY!

DAY TWO
The historic farm Welvanpas has been home to the family Retief for some 10 generations. Die Ou Meul coffee shop is a rustic, homely spot where you can purchase homemade cakes, delicious home-baked bread stuffed with sumptuous fillings, tasty preserves and Dan Retief’s crafted wines. It is also the start of the Welllington mountain bike trail. Katrin and Elaine of Wellington Wine Walk  charmed those less energetic who chose a walking tour rather than cycling from the coffee shop to Doolhof Estate some two kilometres away. This is a taste of ‘The Original 3 Day 3 Night’ Wellington Wine Walk. Beautiful scenery, picturesque mountains, run-down cottages from a by-gone era and many, many stories made for a pleasant walk to where the cyclists arrived an hour before.
www.welvanpas.co.za       www.winewalk.co.za

Doolhof winemaker, Gillie Beukes, promised that lunch would be relaxed and informal without too many technical explanations. The wines spoke for themselves as they were matched perfectly with celebrity chef Duncan Doherty’s out of the ordinary game dishes.

THE MENU

First course
Crispy skinned sea bass, pickled wild fennel, fresh mussels, onion marmalade and grapefruit salsa.
2nd course
Braised hot smoked deboned rabbit, sautéed truffle mushrooms, roasted sweet potato, pomegranate pearls and baby salad.
3rd course
Grilled loin of kudu and black cherry jus, pea puree with 3 day old first press olive oil.
4th course
Roasted wild pigeon breast, warm brown lentil and sundried tomato salad in wild pigeon stock.

Doolhof, meaning labyrinth in Afrikaans, is planted with cultivars best suited to the topography and terroir allowing for unique varietal expression in the wines.
The estate offers scenic river walks and picnics or stay over at the elegant Grande DéDale Cape Dutch manor house.   www.doolhof.co.za

The towering Hawequa, Groenberg and Limietberge conceal the hidden gem at their feet. A treasure of highly esteemed vini and viticulture; a haven for hikers, cyclists and extreme sportsmen; accommodation to suit all budgets; a proud heritage and passionate honest people, makes Wellington an unspoilt jewel worthy of exploration.  www.wellington.co.za

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