Last weekend I was part of a group of writers which was invited to visit the Robertson Wine Valley at the start to the Wacky Wine Weekend. We were accommodated on Thursday evening at Jan Harmsgat Country House, a five star guest house, and were served an impressive Food and Wine pairing dinner, and a generous breakfast the following morning.
Mira Weiner of Hot Oven Marketing had invited us to the Robertson Wine Valley, to get a taste of Wacky Wine Weekend. I had never attended it before, and have experienced very little of the Robertson Wine Valley, apart from McGregor, which I have got to know quite well over the past seven months. Our first day of the two day stay was spent in McGregor.
The second day was spent in the Ashton area, visiting Kleinhoekkloof and Kranskop wine estates, and Marbrin olive farm.
Jan Harmsgat Country House is a historical accommodation establishment, the origins dating back to 1723. We were told that the farm is one of the largest producers of pomegranates (32 ha) in our country. A number of years ago my son and I were invited by Judi Rebstein, previous owner of the property, to stay over. I remember the good dinner we enjoyed during our stay at the time.
We were met at the car on arrival, and assisted in getting our bags to the rooms. In keeping with a five star property, the room offered a bath and shower, both open to the bedroom, with his and hers washbasins. Flowers play an important role, with bouquets in the room, and tiny little bunches on every bathmat in the room. The room is airconditioned, but has no electric blankets, so I expressed some concern about getting cold, it having become very chilly when the sun had set. During turn-down, the Aircon was turned on, and an extra blanket was added to my bed, and I slept well and warm. As a writer I missed having a desk in the room.
I was in need of wifi, to post all our experiences of Day 1, and did so at the fireplace in the lounge. As the doors were all open, I requested a pot of tea, to warm up. This was provided quickly. I was impressed that hostess Gerda recognized me from my last visit, which had been many years ago.
Our dinner was held in the ‘Just Amy’ building, the original manor house, which houses the lounge, the small bar, the kitchen, and the dining room. The building is named after co-owner Amy Kleynhans, who lives in Franschhoek. There are many special touches at Jan Harmsgat, and one of them is a red carpet lined with lanterns which are lit at night, guiding one to the door of the building.
We were welcomed with a glass of Weltevrede Philip Jonker MCC 2010, a good dry bubbly. I met Mitch Boy, who manages the wine portfolio of Jan Harmsgat, their wine labels referring to the brand name as JHG Collection. Their wines are in their fourth vintage, from registered single blocks on the estate. The website informs that the wine estate borders the Little Karoo dry climate, and the cool sea breezes from the coast. Vines are planted east to west. Minimal interference in the production of the wines is the policy at Jan Harmsgat, using spontaneous fermentation and zero enzymes. Only wild yeast is added, and the wine is fermented in barrels, and aged in 3rd and 4th fill barrels. The production process includes hand picking the grapes, and handcrafting the making of the wines. They make 20000 bottles of wine per annum, of high quality. Highly regarded local Arendsig winemaker Lourens van der Westhuizen makes the JHG Collection wines.
We were told that President Steyn is buried on the property, a short walk from the lounge. Near-by Swellendam became a Republic before our country became one, ending British rule. In addition to pomegranates, pecan nuts are also grown on the farm. A total of 16,8 ha is under vine, with Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinotage, and Pinot Noir. A Chenin Blanc was to be launched over the Wacky Wine Weekend.
We were seated at a horseshoe-shaped table, beautifully decorated with bouquets of flowers, including irises, carnations, roses, and other flowers. Candelabras with lit candles were on the table. Bottles of water were made available. Cutlery was of a fine quality, with napkins and table cloths. I chose a seat nearest the kitchen, Gerda having arranged for me to photograph the dishes in the kitchen, given the low lighting from the candles.
The dinner was served to our media group, as well as to persons from the area, who had seen the write-up about the food and wine pairing dinner, at a cost of R500, in a local Swellendam newsletter, amongst others. In the most incredible coincidence, I sat next to the German Christiane Dreismann from Swellendam, who attended the dinner with her husband, son, and daughter-in-law. We could not believe that we shared the same first name, and both have a nickname of Chrissy/Chrissie. We are both Sagitarrians, with a birthday a day apart! She runs a weaving business in Swellendam, called Original Things for Natural Living.
The Dinner had been planned to showcase each of five JHG Collection cultivars, through a special paired dish for each:
# The JHG Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2014 was paired with a Trio of Seafood, being prawns, seared tuna, and a salmon rose. I was most impressed that fish knives were made available for this course. The plating of the dish, with dill and capers adding to the presentation, was impressive. The Sauvignon Blanc had gooseberry and fig on the nose.
# The JHG Collection Chardonnay 2014 is smooth, with a buttery taste. It is matured in 4th fill oak barrels for 10 months. This wine was paired with a yummy roasted butter ravioli, presented with sunflower seeds and borage flowers.
# The JHG Collection Shiraz 2014 is spicy, and spent 14 months in French oak. The nose is spicy, with white pepper. The palate offers tannins. The wine was paired with an excellent medium-rare Beef fillet, which was served with a wild mushroom sauce, potato fondant, and carrots and mange tout.
# The JHG Collection Pinotage 2015 is the flagship wine, we were told. It is well-balanced, and has notes of cigar box, banana, and cherry. We were spoilt with a second meat dish, being a Springbok shank, served with a creamy polenta, as well as marrow and carrot.
# The JHG Collection Cabernet Sauvignon is full-bodied, and was aged for 10 – 12 months in 3rd full barrels. It has dark berries on the nose. The pairing with a blue cheese and herb soufflé, served with a parsley
velouté, was a success.
# The sixth course was paired with an Arendsig Red Muscadel. The pairing was with a 70% chocolate fondant, and pomegranate ice cream, a delicious combination. Unfortunately an electric problem prevented the making of a cappuccino.
The dinner was impressive, and was created by a team led by Operations Manager Charlene, and her Chefs Johanna, Valerie, and Lynn.
As we had a full day ahead on Day 2, we met for breakfast at 8h30, and were offered a Breakfast Buffet, with rusks, cold meats, smoked salmon, a fruit platter, yoghurts, müsli and granola, bran muffins, mini croissants, seeds, and stewed fruit. The coffee machine was working again, and I received a perfect Terbodore dry cappuccino. The cooked breakfast options include a full English breakfast, an open omelette, French Toast, and smoked salmon and scrambled egg. I ordered Eggs Benedict, and was disappointed with its presentation and the taste of the hollandaise sauce.
We enjoyed our stay at Jan Harmsgat Country House, with its dinner being outstanding. Service was very friendly.
Jan Harmsgat Country House, between Ashton and Bonnievale, Robertson Wine Valley. Tel (023) 616-3407. www.janharmsgat.com Twitter: @jhgcountryhouse Instagram: @jhgcountryhouse
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein