Whilst it was not the sunniest day when I left home for Bloubergstrand yesterday, the sun shone on us for our select Media lunch at On the Rocks, to introduce new Chef Charl du Preez, and his new Cape Seafood Cuisine summer menu, designed in conjunction with its new Restaurant Consultant Chef Pete Goffe-Wood. Continue reading →
Yesterday I attended two tastings of the Robertson-based Springfield Estate wines at OpenWine Pair Shop on Wale Street, a central tasting facility offering a selection of South African wines. I was impressed with the personality of co-owner Jeanette Bruwer, which came through in the evening tasting in particular! She introduced her wines in a consumer-friendly fun and natural manner. Continue reading →
I had the pleasure of starting my day today with a glass of Champagne and oysters delivered by neighboring Bizerca Bistro at Dorrance Cellar, to witness the bottling of a historic wine.
I was invited by James Boreland to participate in the bottling by owner Christophe Durand of the 2015 vintage of 1771, a Crouchen Blanc (which used to be referred to as a Cape Riesling) made from grapes Continue reading →
The secret of the Checkers Odd Bin is explained on the back label: ‘Every so often we manage to bring you the odd bin or two of wine from a famous wine farm. To be able to offer you these exceptional wines at a price far lower than what you would pay for them under their original labels, we have vowed to keep their origins a closely guarded secret. However, once the wine has been tasted, we are certain that its secret shall be revealed‘. The Odd Bin front labels look hand-made and appear hand-written, and the dominant information is the bin number.
The invitation to participate in the Twitter Tasting was received via e-mail from Checkers, the retailer having Continue reading →
Blaauwklippen launched the tenth Zinfandel-inspired product in its range last week at a lunch held at Blues restaurant in Camps Bay, the new Diva Zinfandel MCC 2013 being the first made with this grape varietal in our country. Only two others are made with Zinfandel, in California, we were told by Rolf Zeitvogel, Cellar Master and MD of Blaauwklippen. The launch of Blaauwklippen Diva MCC 2013 forms part of the wine estate’s celebration of its 333rd anniversary this year.
Blues has operated in Camps Bay for more than 25 years, and was a
clever choice in ‘pairing’ the two ‘blue’ brand names. It was a perfect summer day, and we were welcomed on the terrace with canapés of chicken liver paté, and mushroom with truffle oil bruschetta on the Continue reading →
The Sweet Service Award goes to La Residence, and its staff Kalika, Galant, Jean, Lee, Ashwin, and Jaleel, who assisted in fetching my laptop and a basket from my guest house in Franschhoek, when I had left them behind due to a rushed departure to meet a deadline in Cape Town last week. I met Galant at Cape Town International early the following morning, after Jean had collected the laptop in a house he had not been to before, to collect the laptop, and Ashwin brought the basket to our guest house in Camps Bay, both exceptional service acts. Continue reading →
The launch of Graham Beck Wines’ The Game Reserve range at the Camps Bay Retreat last week was admirable in demonstrating the wine company’s passion about restoring and conserving the environment and producing world class wines in harmony with nature. It also was a tribute to the late Mr Graham Beck, who was a passionate conservationist.
In welcoming the guests, Graham Beck Enterprises CEO Chris du Toit said that his company is focused on sustainability on three fronts: social upliftment, environmental care and conservation, and economic. Sustainability is an integral part of what the company stands for, ‘it comes from within’, he said. The sustainability work done to date has been kept low key.
In Robertson the Graham Beck Private Nature Reserve was created in the ‘Nineties, to reverse the adverse effects of 200 years of agricultural grazing. The Madeba farm belonging to the Becks is situated in the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem, with 1500 species of vegetation. Graham Beck was the second Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI) biodiversity champion, and is one of 28 such wine farms, while the Graham Beck farms and cellars have been awarded Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) Conformance Certificates, to reflect that they grow grapes and produce wines in an environmentally sustainable manner. Four times more Graham Beck land in Robertson is conserved relative to it being used for wine and stud horse farming.
It was a brainstorming session between Pieter Ferreira, the Graham Beck Cellar Master for Sparkling Wines, and a group from the Walt Disney Company that led to the creation of the Gamekeeper’s Reserve, a Cabernet Sauvignon made exclusively for Disney Resort restaurants. The wine was so successful that its distribution spread across the USA, and Chenin Blanc was added to the range five years later. In 2009 the name of the range was changed to The Game Reserve.
At CapeWine 2012 the full range of nine varietals in The Game Reserve range was launched to the trade, as well as at ProWein in Germany last month. The launch event last week was aimed at introducing the wine range to wine writers, and to encourage them to help spread the message of sustainability, which is the focus of The Game Reserve range, a story told with particular passion by Erika Obermeyer, Graham Beck Cellarmaster for Still Wines since 2005, and the passionate Conservation Manager Mossie Basson.
In launching The Game Reserve range, each varietal was ‘paired’ with an indigenous animal or plant conservation project in the Robertson area, where Graham Beck Wines is situated in the Cape Floral Kingdom, an ecological hot-spot with about 8500 plant species. Mossie Basson was previously with the Department of Nature Conservation, and now heads the conservancy work at Graham Beck Wines, tackling a number of conservancy projects, including clearing alien vegetation, stabilising eroded areas, and re-planting indigenous plants on 1885 ha of land registered with Cape Nature as a voluntary conservation site. They have been joined by 27 neighbouring farms to create the Rooiberg Breede River Conservancy, now covering 13500 ha, an important achievement in bringing the community together. Mossie discovered a rare vygie, unique to the Graham Beck Private Reserve, which has taken three years to be registered. It has been named ‘Esterhuysenia Grahambeckii’, in honour of Mr Beck.
The rare vygie has become the inspiration for the logo created for The Game Reserve range, symbolising ‘restoring harmony and natural balance‘, and its pay-off line is clever:‘Planet first. It’s in our nature‘! The labels for the range are printed on recycled paper, and contain the BWI logo, the envirolabel icon, the QR code, information about the fauna and flora ‘paired with each of the wines’, a description of the wine, tasting notes, food pairing suggestions, and health and safety guidelines.
Mossie is a raconteur, talking passionately without a note about the nine conservation projects, and could have spoken the whole afternoon, so dedicated is he to his work to help create a sustainable presence not just now, but also in the future. He shared that by 1978 the Cape had lost 61% of its floral kingdom, the carbon dioxide levels being higher than ever, being ‘man induced‘, he said. He added that the threat of a shortage of quality water is a concern, 700 liters of water being needed to grow 1 kg of tomatoes. He said that humans must stop being ‘parasites to nature‘, and should become ‘enzymes‘ and stewards of nature, looking for creative ways to manage the biosphere.
The Game Reserve wine range is the first to be associated with a private nature reserve, and the brand is ‘an environmentally responsible inspired wine brand for wine lovers who care about sustainability in order to leave a lasting legacy for generations to come’, says the brand book for The Game Reserve range. Mossie added: ‘Each bottle of The Game Reserve must be the catalysts to spread the message about sustainability to the rest of the world‘.
In introducing the nine new The Game Reserve wines on the terrace overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, with birds chirping overhead, Erika Obermeyer showed her natural talent as a storyteller, saying: ‘Just as in wine, our fragile ecosystem is wholly dependent on balance, harmony, continuity and longevity. It truly is the case of ‘the sum of the parts’ when it comes to farming sustainably and responsibly. When we practice environmentally responsible viticulture and winemaking, we not only ensure the quality of our product, we guarantee the future of our planet as well’:
* Sauvignon Blanc 2012: one can smell South Africa and the vineyards in this wine, for which the grapes predominantly are from Firgrove outside Stellenbosch, but also from Groenekloof in Darling. This is Erika’s favorite variety, with green and tropical flavours, describing her like a lady that smiles all the way. Only grapes grown in an area in which one can hear the ocean are used to make this varietal. The Fish Eagle is associated with the varietal, the highest flying predator, which keeps smaller birds away from their ripe grapes.
* Chenin Blanc 2012 : This is Erika’s ‘good mood‘ wine, and she is delighted that the interest in Chenin Blanc is growing locally and internationally. She described it as a ‘Cinderella’ wine, needing to be ‘dressed up’ to make her popular. Grapes from 42 – 48 year old bush vines are used, coming from Agter Paarl, and are ‘very happy vineyards’, used to the warm weather in this region. Only 5% is barrel fermented, for mouthfeel. The Riverine Rabbit is associated wit this varietal, the most endangered species in our country, with only 150 breeding pairs left in our country, according to a WWF count, and has been found to live in the Graham Beck Private Nature Reserve.
* Viognier 2010: The grapes come from Robertson with lots of sunshine. When the grapes taste like Shiraz, they are ready to be harvested, being hand picked, Erika said. Only 20% of the grapes were fermented in 2nd fill French oak, for creaminess and mouthfeel. It has peach and citrus flavours, and goes well with spicy foods. The Honey Badger has been paired with this varietal, and Mossie called them the ‘engineers in nature’, in that they dig holes, which offer a home to many other insects. They love honey, and the beekeeping on the estate is therefore badger-friendly.
* Chardonnay 2010: Grapes come from Robertson, which has limestone soils, giving the wines ‘incredible flavours and freshness‘, said Erika. 30% was fermented naturally in barrel and tank, and there was no malolactic fermentation. The wine spent 11 months in the barrel, with a weekly batonnage. Citrus aromas. The nature conservation project linked to this varietal is the Cape Eagle Owl, which catches mice and other rodents. Often hit by vehicles, 120 perches have been built for them in the Graham Beck vineyards, to prevent their demise.
* Rosé 2012: Grapes from 5 – 17 year old trellised vineyards in Robertson, and hand harvested. This wine has fresh and fruity aromatics, and is easy drinking, made in a white wine style using Shiraz grapes, with a ‘tiny dash of Pinot Noir‘. The rare vygie is the conservation project linked to this cultivar.
* Pinotage 2010: Erika said that she is proud that this variety has sorted out its negative image, as it is a unique variety, which she has made to be soft and sweet, with strawberry, cherry and plum flavours, and soft tannins. Grapes come from Franschhoek, bushvines from Agter Paarl, and Robertson. The Bat Eared Fox is the conservation project for this variety, which also helps work the soil. It is protected from being killed, due to its close resemblance to a jackal.
* Merlot 2011: This is a tricky variety, which Erika described as a ‘fragile and feminine wine’, and is fresh, with soft tannins. Handpicked grapes come from Firgrove’s coffeestone soils predominantly, and from Franschhoek. The Cape Clawless Otter is the nature project for this variety, and the restoration of the Vink River has created a safe home for the species in the nature reserve.
* Shiraz 2009: The grapes come from Firgrove, with spicy white pepper, black olive, cherry, berry, and cranberry flavours. The roots of these vines go down 5 meters into the 500 million year old coffeestone soils, seeking the moisture deep down, being the ‘Energade’ for this grape variety, Erika said. The Eland is linked to this cultivar, an animal needing a lot of space, being the largest antelope in Africa, and is well adapted to the Karoo.
* Cabernet Sauvignon 2011: This wine is a blend of Robertson, Darling, and Firgrove handpicked grapes, the wine having tobacco spice and fruity flavours, matured in French oak for twelve months, a wine ‘more serious in style’, and which delivers on tannin structure. The Leopard project has studied, via cameras, the Cape leopard, half the size of the Kruger Park ones, to analyse which ‘corridors’ the leopards use to meet and ‘dance’, so that they can plan their farming activities around these, Mossie explained! Seven leopards have been recorded as roaming in the area.
Most of the closures on The Game Reserve range are screw caps, the wines designed to be sold in specialist wine stores and by the glass in restaurants. The range is well-priced at about R60 for the white wines and R80 for the red wines. Erika explained that while some of the white wines have been made at the sister Steenberg cellar, they will make all their red and white wines from a rented facility in Stellenbosch from next year. Graham Beck Wines sold its Franschhoek estate to neighbouring Antonij Rupert Wines about two years ago.
The building housing the Camps Bay Retreat was erected in 1929, and is named Earl’s Dyke Manor, originally owned by the Knacke family. A partnership led by Maree Brink, owner of the Village & Life Group, took over the ‘custodianship’ of the property in 2002. Head Chef Robyn Capendale has been at the hotel for the past three years, was the Young Chef of the Year 2010, and had the amazing experience of being selected to work with Chef Heston Blumenthal at the three-star Michelin UK restaurant The Fat Duck in a five-week placement, chosen from thousands of applicants. She learnt his ‘multisensory perception’ approach to cooking, the study of ‘how the brain influences our appreciation of food‘. Chef Robyn prepared the Graham Beck function as her last event, before she moves into her new position as the Village & Life Executive Chef responsible for the catering at all the properties in the Group.
When we arrived we were served the Graham Beck Brut Blanc de Blancs 2008, accompanied with canapés prepared by Chef Robyn and her team: oysters with ginger and gooseberries, and smoked salmon, cream cheese and caper bruschetta. After the wine tasting we vacated the tables, so that the staff could set up the tables for lunch. This afforded one to step down to the garden again, where tables had been set up to taste more of the wines in The Game Reserve range. More canapés were served, being delicate fig and camembert tarts, and rare roast beef tagliata topped with parmesan shavings.
The starter was unusual, being deep fried crumbed cream cheese and fresh herb filled calamari tubes, served with a fennel bulb and tomato salad, which was paired with a choice of The Game Reserve Viognier 2010 and Chardonnay 2010. Anel Grobler sat next to me, and as she is allergic to calamari, had a wonderful looking replacement asparagus, ham and poached egg starter served within ten minutes. The main course of slow cooked rack of Karoo lamb, poached for eight hours Chef Robyn revealed, was served with rosemary jus, pomme dauphine, carrots, asparagus, and courgettes, and was paired with a choice of The Game Reserve Merlot 2011 and Shiraz 2010. The dessert was a trio of chocolate delice, chocolate soil, and chocolate sorbet, topped with a hazelnut tuile, and was paired with The Game Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. A further treat was coffee served with petit fours of chocolate and pistachio shards, homemade toffee, and coconut ice.
It was a long relaxed afternoon with a perfect setting, perfect wines, perfect food, and perfect company, perfectly organised by the Graham Beck Marketing team headed by Etienne Heyns (main photograph), and its new Public Relations agency Waterford Communications. The sustainable approach to the creation and launch of The Game Reserve is admirable, as is the company’s philosophy: ‘We are consummate caretakers – of our wines, people, environment, customers and consumers. Nothing less will do’!
Disclosure: With our media pack we received a rabbit wire art keyholder, a set of recycled pencils and pens with a wooden sharpener, a vygie plant, and a bottle each of The Game Reserve Chenin Blanc 2012 and Shiraz 2009.
Graham Beck Wines, Tel (021) 874-1258. www.grahambeckwines.com Twitter:@GrahamBeckWines
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: WhaleCottage
Dried meat lovers stand to win R60000 in prizes in an annual competition, which is offered by Stellenbosch Hills wine estate and leading spice supplier Freddy Hirsch, to find South Africa’s champion Droëwors Maker of the Year 2013. Entries close on 2 September.
To launch the competition, and to demonstrate just how much planning and hard work goes into making droëwors, a number of food and wine writers (including TV star Jan Braai, whose programme is sponsored by Freddy Hirsch) was invited to the Freddy Hirsch factory last week. PG Slabbert, Winemaker and Manager at Stellenbosch Hills, led a tasting of the winery’s 1707 Reserve, which is linked to the competition this year. The red wine is made with 56 % Shiraz, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, and 11% Petit Verdot, and spent 24 months in new French and American oak barrels. The 2010 vintage red wine is full-bodied, with flavours of red berry, dark chocolate and cigar box, and sells for R82 at the tasting room. The 2012 white wine in this range is a blend of Chardonnay, Semillon, and Viognier.
Diane Nicolau, Group Marketing Manager of Freddy Hirsch, gave the background to the competition, given that red wine and biltong (last year’s challenge) and droëwors go well together. Stellenbosch Hills has a Biltong & Wine Adventure tasting option at its cellar. Both the wine estate and the spice supplier have blending at the core of their businesses. Slabbert said: ‘The art of spicing and drying meat nowadays is as specialised as the art of winemaking. Our aim was to create a competition where some of South Africa’s favourite products – wine and biltong – could be combined’. Nicolau said that it made sense to partner with Stellenbosch Hills in this competition, marrying wine and droëwors, two South African favourites. Getaway magazine has also got involved in the competition, as a media sponsor, and justified its involvement on the basis of droëwors and biltong being ‘quintessential padkos for South Africans’.
Julie Strydom, the Quality Development Manager at Freddy Hirsch, told us that the spices they buy are all ASTA quality approved, yet they still do quality checks when they arrive, for volatile oil content, contaminants, colour, and various other aspects are tested. The spices go through irradiation treatment when they arrive, to ensure that they are of a perfect quality. The perfect ingredient mix for boerewors and droëwors is ground black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and coriander. Every day Freddy Hirsch blends 75 tons of spices. We experienced the company’s sensory facility, and we were put to the test, ten of us getting into a booth each, and tasting the droëwors samples and having to rank them in order of preference, and justify the first ranked choice. The samples varied widely, two very dry and hard with a spicy taste (we were told later that they had little fat), and one softer but with less taste. South Africa does not have a sensory facility for wines. We were left with the interesting statement that men are unable to taste bitterness.
Elize de Wit of Freddy Hirsch had prepared the ingredients to make the droëwors, and the trolley contained bowls of spices, including crushed chillies, ground pimento, ground and crushed coriander, and ground nutmeg. Elize has a great sense of humour, and played a trick on us, in having a container with meat pieces she had labelled as donkey, horse, zebra, and beef, the colour of the meats looking very different, and some having a very strong smell. Later on she admitted that all the meat samples were beef, but the ‘zebra’ was in fact pork! She talked us through the essence of making droëwors, to prepare us for making our own. We were allowed to add as many spices as we wanted to, and hinted that a few drops of Stellenbosch Hills red wine would add to the taste. Each one of us received a cooler box with a 1 kg packet of meat and a small packet of fat. She explained that most droëwors is made with a 80% meat/20% fat ‘blend’. She emphasised that the use of ‘body fat’ is ideal, in preference to ‘kidney fat’, which gives one’s palate a furry feel. The meat (she recommended forequarter, and chuck specifically) and the fat is minced with an old-fashioned mincer, twice minced making it even finer. One has the choice of two casings, a natural sheep’s intestine (which they sell at their shop downstairs), or artificial casings. One must cut out the veins and glands before mincing the meat. Alternatively one can buy the ready-minced meat, and get a machine which gets the mince into the casing. This can be quite a tricky and time-consuming job, as one person must turn the handle, and feed the mince into the casing, while another person must hold the machine so that it stands still on the surface. Anel Grobler of Spit or Swallow had fun making her wors! The end result looks less attractive than one is used to seeing when the droëwors has been air dried for three days, going dark in colour once dried.
We were served a light lunch in the staff canteen, and each dish (pizza slices, a cheese pie, bacon rolls, and paté sandwiches) had droëwors in it. The company feels less corporate than one would expect, and some of the passages are named after spices (e.g. Coriander Avenue), with attractive collages of spice photographs.
A number of the food and wine writers were so enthusiastic about their newly gained droëwors making skills that they decided that they themselves would enter the Stellenbosch Hills Freddy Hirsch Droëwors Maker of the Year 2013 competition. Stellenbosch Hills and Freddy Hirsch will alternate the Biltong and Droëwors Maker of the Year competitions annually.
Competition entrants must complete and send in their entry form by 2 September, and send in their sample of 500 gram or more of any meat type by 27 September. The judging will take place in October, and the panel of judges will include Giggling Gourmet Jenny Morris, MasterChef SA finalist Ilse Fourie, Jan Braai, and a representative each of Getaway magazine, Freddy Hirsch, and Stellenbosch Hills. The entrance pack costs R150, and this includes a bottle of Stellenbosch Hills 1707 Reserve, a Freddy Hirsch spice pack, as well as the delivery.
Disclosure: We received two Freddy Hirsch spice packs and took the droëwors which we made home. We also received a bottle each of Stellenbosch Hills 1707 Reserve white 2012 and red 2010.
Stellenbosch Hills, Polkadraai Road, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 881-3828 www.stellenbosch-hills.co.za Twitter: @STBHills
Freddy Hirsch, corner 11th Avenue and Voortrekker Road, Maitland East, Cape Town. Tel (021) 507-4500 www.freddyhirsch.co.za Twitter: @FreddyHirsch
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @Whale Cottage
On the eve of the Plaisirs de France festival, which kicks off in Franschhoek today, Pierneef à La Motte joined forces with the Institut Paul Bocuse, in serving a 6-course dinner conceptualised by its Chef Florent Boivin on Friday. When I saw the Pierneef à La Motte dinner on the Plaisirs de France programme, it jumped out as the highlight of the month-long French-inspired food and wine festival in Franschhoek, and I booked immediately. The dinner combined the fresh herbs and vegetables grown on La Motte, South African produce such as springbok, and French gourmet delights such as foie gras, well paired with La Motte wines.
The six-course dinner, costing R690 for the dinner paired with a La Motte wine for each course, was prepared by Chef Florent with Pierneef à La Motte Chef Chris Erasmus. Chef Florent has cooked at a number of Michelin-star restaurants, including Maison Troisgros, Le Jardin des Sens, and Maison Decoret. He has also opened new restaurants at D’Sens in Bangkok, Raffles Hotel Restaurant in Singapore, and Héritage Hotel Restaurant in Mauritius. Chef Chris has just returned from a three week stage at Noma, the world’s number one restaurant, based in Copenhagen. Students from The Culinary Academy, located at Backsberg, assisted the La Motte restaurant team for the evening, and were excited by the chance in a lifetime to rub shoulders with a Michelin-star chef.
We received a taste of what was to come when we enjoyed a glass of the La Motte MCC outside under the oak trees, after entering the restaurant area on a VIP red carpet, when Chef Florent sent out sweet potato croquettes containing black truffle and white truffle oil, coated in charcoal crumbs, canapés not tasting of charcoal at all! I sat with the delightful Jan Laubscher and Anel Grobler of Spit or Swallow, and we had a fun evening, sharing the latest blogger and industry news. Hein Koegelenberg welcomed the French Consul, and the Institut Paul Bocuse representative Eleanor Visl, and explained that ‘Plaisirs de France’ forms part of ‘Seasons of France’, a co-operation programme between France and South Africa, for the two countries to get to know each other better, which runs in our country until November. From May – November next year South Africa will receive exposure in France. Hein reminded the guests of the French Huguenot roots of Franschhoek, La Motte itself having been created at the time of arrival of the settlers. He said that the Plaisirs de France festival is well-suited to La Motte, as wine and cuisine are their passion. Hein intends visiting the Institut Paul Bocuse branch in Shanghai shortly, and wants to bring all twelve the Institut Paul Bocuse branch chefs to Franschhoek. Hein impressed as the perfect host, regularly visiting our table, to check on us and our wellbeing, and requesting feedback.
A bread platter was sent to our table, with a variety of breads, served within an edible bread basket. This was accompanied by a very colourful amuse bouche of smoked salmon trout, which had been lightly steamed with beetroot jelly and sherry vinegar, and was paired with the La Motte Sauvignon Blanc 2012. The Entrée was an amazing foie gras flan, served with grapefruit segments, a most unusual combination, as well as fava beans, and a duck consommé. This was the highlight for most diners, especially as the dish looked like a soup, but we were not served a soup spoon. This course was paired with the La Motte Pierneef Sauvignon Blanc 2012, an organic wine.
Our Poisson dish was a Confit of Cob in olive oil, with which a baby vegetable skewer was served. This dish was my favourite, for its outstanding saffron and Sauvignon Blanc nage (an aromatic broth in which crustaceans are cooked). This dish was paired with La Motte Chardonnay Single Vineyard 2010. Canon of Springbok was served for our Viande (meat) dish, Springbok fillet being wrapped in caul fat (thin membrane of fat from the intestines of a pig, cow or sheep). It was served with celeriac ravioli, a strong-tasting Wasabi-like square of spinach and mustard butter, and an unusually textured quenelle of carrot, which is described as a dumpling usually made from meat, and the word originates from the German ‘Knödel’, but tasted from its texture as if it contained couscous. It was paired with La Motte Cabernet Sauvignon 2009.
In French style, we had a Fromage course before dessert, and they were three French cheeses: Brie de Meaux, a goat’s milk cheese Buchette de Sainte-Maure; and a sheep’s milk Ossav Iraty, which were served with a more-ish strawberry and tomato jam. The wine pairing was La Motte Shiraz 2009. This was followed by the Dessert of delicate and fresh petit pineapple and mint canneloni served with strawberries, and paired with La Motte Noble Late Harvest 1989. Coffee was served with a macaroon.
A lovely evening came to an end far too quickly. Sous Chef Michelle Theron told me that it had been a most exciting experience, working with Chef Florent, who was most generous in sharing his knowledge, calling the Pierneef à La Motte kitchen team together whenever he did something, true to his role as lecturer at the Institut Paul Bocuse. It was noticeable that Chef Florent’s cuisine creativity lay less in the plating (no flowers as is vogue at the moment) and more in the complex dishes he created, yet which (deceivingly) came across as simplicity! His food is light, focused on a combination of flavours. Two dishes had sauces poured by a chef at the table, something one no longer sees locally. Chef Florent will be involved at some of the other Plaisirs de France events, but this is not specified on the Franschhoek Wine Valley website. It was lovely getting to know La Motte Marketing Manager Wanda Vlok-Keuler better, who had very generously comped the dinner I had booked for, when I asked for the bill.
Pierneef à La Motte, La Motte, R45, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 876-8000. www.la-motte.com Twitter: @PierneefLaMotte
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
Last week Anel Grobler of Spit of Swallow and I were ‘paired’ for a visit to Waterkloof wine estate in Somerset West, a change from the blogger group invitations normally extended. It meant that I could get to know her a little better, and that we received personal and dedicated attention. I was impressed by the biodynamic farming on the wine estate, and by Chef Gregory Czarnecki’s cuisine.
We savoured a glass of Sauvignon Blanc 2009 on arrival, chatting about Chef Gregory’s background before marrying a local lass, and how happy he is at Waterkloof, coming from the Michelin 3-star Lucas Carton restaurant in France. He is French, with Polish roots. We expressed our surprise about the Eat Out Top 20 list exclusion of the restaurant, and he said that they were disappointed, as they work hard to up their game, and treat every customer with passion, not only the Eat Out judge. Most important is that what they do is consistent. He is a perfectionist, and did not even allow himself time off for his honeymoon, to make sure he is in the kitchen every day. His kitchen is proudly local, and they do not import any products. Increasingly they are sourcing from the Waterkloof farm, and herb (including the scarce tarragon) and vegetable planting has started. Trout comes from Lourensford close by, fish from the West Coast, kabeljou specifically from a sustainable farm in Port Elizabeth, and the farm supplies eggs, chickens and lamb too. They want to become as self-sustainable as possible.
The farm drive in farm manager Christiaan Loots’ bakkie was impressive, and his passion for what he does, and for applying the principles of sustainability (an earthworm farm is being created, and he reuses everything on the farm, with little thrown away), shows. He is going in the opposite direction to most other wine farmers, looking to sell his mechanical equipment to be able to buy more horses, not only to do the work but also to use the dung for compost, which benefits his land and the vines. ‘Nature does the stuff for us’, he said. The farm is 120 hectares in size, of which just less than half is under vines. They apply organic farming principles, not spraying for weeds, just keeping them under control, as they add silicon and nitrogen to the soil. They don’t add fertiliser, only adding compost, their seven horses and more than 80 Dorper sheep assisting with this, and all kitchen scraps are composted as well. They have just bought the next door farm, so that they can grow feed for the horses, rather than buying it in, which means that the bottom section of the road will be tarred. The farm planted 20 hectare in 1995, but Christiaan started in 2005, and has more than doubled this. He is a trained viticulturist, and taught himself the principles of biodynamic farming, with the encouragement of owner Paul Boutinot. It takes three years to be certified Biodynamic, and this is what Christiaan is working on. Not using tractors anymore, the vines can be planted closer together, giving more yield. More than 30 hens run around in the vineyards, eating bugs, and laying eggs in a special egg truck. Only fynbos is planted in the garden, and they have 111 species on the farm. Christiaan has two cows, which he uses to make ‘cow dung tea’ to compost his vineyards.
I have seen Anel at many a function, and know her as a fun no-nonsense person, with a love for laughter and wines, and very successful at what she does with Spit or Swallow, together with her partner Jan. She told me a little more about herself – she is a Libra, typically undecided, says she is a hippy at heart, loves animals, was born in Kroonstad, lived in Grootfontein and Pretoria, until her parents moved to Betty’s Bay. She studied clothing production management at the Cape Technikon, and worked in clothing manufacture for ten years, before leaving because she felt that she was in a rut. She enjoyed drinking wines when she came to the Cape on holiday. She started Tweeting, and created Spit or Swallow and Wine Times too.
The backdrop to our table was majestic. Our meal started with Chef Gregory personally taking our order. An amuse bouche of biltong and miso soil, pomegranate and yoghurt mousse, beetroot smear and buchu meringue was served, with the Waterkloof Circle of Life White 2010. Paul Boutinot came to say hello, and told us that biodynamic farming is good for the environment, but even better for improving the quality of wine. It makes the vineyards more resistant to diseases, and takes farming back to its original roots of more than 70 years ago. He said that the Waterkloof wines reflect what is in the vineyards. He chose the farm as it is the site to make the ideal wine, where nature is in ‘perfect balance’. They have 113 days from flower to picking, the average being 80 days, he told us. Boutinot has an agency in the UK which distributes Italian, French and South African wines.
Anel and I chose different dishes, so that we could share the look and taste of each dish. Plating is a strength of Chef Gregory. I started with a Camembert Crème Brûlée, rich and creamy, with the most beautiful celery shavings, curried walnut, and Granny Smith and celery sorbet (R55). Anel enjoyed her Smoked farm egg and parma ham starter (R50). With the Magaliesburg duck breast was served puy lentils, a terrine of confit leg with foie gras and rhubarb, and carrot and tarragon puree (R150), and the dish was paired with Circumstance Syrah 2008. Anel chose Monkfish and crispy prawn (R155), a very attractive dish. Deconstructed orange parfait and citrus shortbread was served as a pre-dessert, my dessert choice being a strawberry and hibiscus comsommé, with fromage blanc and cucumber sorbet, while Anel ordered the cream of Ivoire white chocolate served with matcha tea and black sesame (all desserts cost R60).
A 6-course Degustation Menu is excellent value at R385, and if wines are added to each course the cost is R490.
I had been impressed with Chef Gregory’s plating of the dish he prepared earlier this year at the Grande Provence Big 5 Multiple Sclerosis charity lunch, and he demonstrated this strength again at our lunch. He and his team of ten create cuisine masterpieces, and the restaurant deserves to be on the Eat Out Top 10 list. Its increasing self-sustainability, the biodynamic farming methods, and organic wines make this a wine estate that is in perfect balance. Last week Waterkloof was recognised by the Great Wine Capitals Global Network as the top South African wine estate in the Architecture and Landscape category.
Waterkloof Restaurant, Sir Lowry Village Road, Somerset West. Tel (021) 858-1292. www.waterkloofwines.co.za Twitter:@WaterkloofWines Lunch Monday – Sunday, Dinner Monday – Saturday.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter @WhaleCottage