Entries tagged with “Charles Back”.


The new The Yard in the Silo District of the V&A Waterfront opened last week, as a multi-cultural cuisine restaurant, but also offering a bar, a homeware shop, and a Deli. It is the most unique restaurant I have experienced, in its diverse food offering. (more…)

It fascinates me how the local Gin market is growing by leaps and bounds, and that new Gin producers see new gaps to launch their brands. On Monday I attended the launch of Cape Town’s newest Gin brand Geometric Gin and associated with it unique Symmetry Botanical Tonics.  (more…)

johnplatterbook1John Platter’s name is synonymous with the wine industry, having created the Platter’s Wine Guide 36 years ago with wife Erica. His surname is still linked to the Guide by name, even though he has sold the Guide. Launching a new book, it was obvious that it would have something to do with wine. ‘My Kind of Wine‘ is such a book, (more…)

Bertus Basson at SR Interior doilies Whale CottageI received a personal invitation from Chef Bertus Basson to join him for lunch at his new Bertus Basson at Spice Route restaurant, which opened on the Paarl wine farm 6 weeks ago. He and his charming wife Mareli managed to re-invent the restaurant within five days from taking over the space, modernising it to reflect their promise of ‘A Modern South African Restaurant’, both in terms of its decor and its food offeringBertus Basson at SR Bertus Whale Cottage.

A lot has changed at Spice Route, my last visit having been when Charles Back had taken over the wine estate, previously called Seidelberg, next door to his Fairview.  I didn’t have time to see all the artisan businesses which have opened at Spice Route since Back took over, but they include a Richard Bosman charcuterie outlet, with tastings at R30 (a bit cheeky I thought), a wine tasting centre, and Cape Brewing Co, about which I (more…)

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*   The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) countries have signed an agreement to create a New Development Bank, reports The New Age. The Bank’s first loans will be made in 2016, from its pooled resources of $50 billion.  South Africa is reported to have contributed R 5 billion to the establishment of the Bank.  In addition, a $100 billion ‘contingency reserves pool‘ will be set up, to safeguard any of the five countries from being hit by ‘an exodus of foreign capital‘.   The Bank headquarters will be in Shanghai, reports Mail & Guardian, while Johannesburg will be the regional centre of the Bank for Africa.

*   SAA has been named Best Airline Africa for the 12th year running, and won the Best Airline Staff Service Africa award for the third time, presented at the Skytrax World Airline Awards in London.  The airlines were evaluated on the basis of customer surveys conducted amongst 18 million travelers.   SAA has a 4-star rating from Skytrax, the only airline in Africa to have achieved the service quality rating.

*  SA Tourism is working on improving Indaba, its Chief Marketing Officer Jan Hutton has said, adding that she is taking (more…)

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*   Creative Week Cape Town forms part of the Loerie Awards being held from 14 – 22 September, with a range of ‘crowd-sourced’ events on offer at no charge.  Cape Town will be turned ‘inside out’ , offering film, yoga, night time bicycle rides to street art installation, artist’s tours and talks, gatherings, poetry,and public space pop-ups. (received via media release from Rabbit in a Hat)

*   Tim Atkin praises the ‘Swartland Revolution‘ for being ‘one of the most dynamic regions in the southern hemisphere‘, and Charles Back of (more…)

Spice Route is the new name of the wine estate previously called Seidelberg, and also is the name of the brand new restaurant on the wine estate, which now belongs to Charles Back of neighbouring Fairview, which he bought from Roland Seidel last year, and re-opened the renovated estate in October.

The first impression is not a good one as one drives to the restaurant and tasting room, as the Cabernet Sauvignon vines have had to be removed due a red ant infection, and new planting will only take place in winter, I was told by the tasting room staff, my first stop at Spice Route.  The staff had no knowledge of the history of the wine range, which was first made for Mr Back by maverick winemaker Eben Sadie.  The tasting room has been renovated, painted white now, with new furniture, and has been brought out onto the terrace and the lawn too, with a lovely view, even onto Table Mountain.  The Spice Route wines were produced in 1997 for the first time.  It was explained that the exceptional Spice Route wine brand, being one of four Fairview brands, was not receiving the attention it deserves, and therefore Mr Back bought the neighbouring farm.  All Spice Route wines are made by winemaker Charl du Plessis on the Swartland farm, the Malabar having its own cellar. The Spice Route wine range consists of Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Mourvédre, Pinotage, Shiraz, Chakalaka, Flagship Syrah, and Malabar.  One pays R25 to taste six of the nine Spice Route wines, and can also order an excellent value-for-money Spice Route wine and food pairing at R90, with a taste of all nine wines and three dishes off the restaurant menu: paté, kingklip, and pork belly.

The restaurant too has been extensively renovated, under the guidance of architect Johan Malherbe of Malherbe Rust, and the interior decor has been designed by René de Waal of Experience Makers.  René chose a white interior for the walls, chairs, and tables, and added decor elements from the Middle East and Zanzibar to emphasise the spice link to the restaurant name, through tiles on the floor, lamps, massive jars of spices on the restaurant counter, the chairs, the place mats, works of art on the walls, and wall cornices.  The spice theme also manifests in the cinnamon coloured aprons of the waitron staff.  The menu/winelist cover is brown leather, and each page is Spice Route branded.  Each table (without tablecloth) has a bottle of Fairview olive oil, and a set of Goldcrest coarse salt and black pepper grinders.  Quality material serviettes, Fortis Hotelware cutlery, and good glassware is on the table, including a small Greek style water glass.  There was no music at all, an element which could have enhanced the theme. Outside the furniture is wooden and looks like it was there before, not tying in with the inside decor.  Surprising is that the cloakrooms have not been renovated yet, having been painted in a ghastly pink/red, with wall tiles missing, and having the cheapest toilet roll holders.

Staff are mainly from the previous Seidelberg restaurant, but the Manager Lize Rossouw (studied at the Institute for Culinary Arts and the International Hotel School, and moved across from Fairview) and the Chef Phillip Pretorius (previously at Fairview’s The Goat Shed and Sevruga) are new.  Theo, the waiter who looked after me, worked at Meerendal with David Higgs, at Grande Roche, and at Seidelberg.

Exciting changes are planned, and in future visitors will be encouraged to follow the route at Spice Route, with a micro-brewery planned with Jack Black, and a new chocolate factory to be set up by DV chocolates (from Hermanus) in the manor house in the next two months. The DV chocolates have already been incorporated into the menu.  A grappa distillery is also being considered, and picnics on the lawn outside the manor house are also planned.   An organic vegetable garden is being developed, to supply both the Fairview and Spice Route restaurants, and the School House guest house near the Agter Paarl Road is planned to open as a farm stall, selling its vegetables, chocolates, beer, wine, and more.  The Red Hot Glass glass blowing studio is still there, and appears unchanged.  Wedding bookings are starting to roll in, Lize said.

The menu is not extensive, but interesting, and each menu item has a Spice Route wine recommendation (without the vintage or price indicated). The menu items are not all Mediterranean or Middle Eastern, but contain spices which leave a spicy after-taste. I chose a prawn and paw paw salad (R65) as a starter, which came with  a generous portion of prawns, citrus segments, pineapple, cherry tomatoes, roasted peanuts, green beans, and paw paw, and was served with a lemongrass, coconut, soy, ginger, and peanut oil dressing, a refreshing start to the lunch.  A treat was that Chef Phillip brought the salad to the table, so that we could have a brief chat. The suggested pairing was the Chenin Blanc, but I enjoyed it with a taste of the Shiraz.  Very special too was the duck liver parfait served with an unusual pear and ginger chutney (R56), a lovely marriage, and even more unusual was the presentation of the parfait, being coated in the orange-coloured chakalaka and sesame seeds, making me nervous about it initially, but being absolutely delicious, rich and creamy.  The parfait pairing recommendation was the Mouvèdre, but I had it with a taste of the Flagship Syrah.

Other starters are a ceviche of cured linefish, a spicy duck breast, pork belly with a Madagascar DV chocolate lentil salad, and a Panzanella Bread salad with marinated buffalo mozzarella, ranging in price from R48 to R62.  Six main courses start at R89 for handmade potato gnocchi to R218 for a Roast rib-eye steak on the bone, for two persons to share.  One can also order linefish with tandoori paste; Chalmar beef fillet; venison loin served with a DV chocolate, black currant and chilli jus; and an Indian butter chicken served with espresso foam.  Five desserts cost between R42 – R58, and include a delicious apple tart tatin served with home-made vanilla pod ice cream and an unusual carrot and ginger puree, which I enjoyed with a perfectly made cappuccino, the coffee coming from Beans for Africa in Paarl; DV dark chocolate and fresh chilli Crème Brûlée; white chocolate and rose water mousse served with goat’s chevin; coconut and banana bread; and beetroot panna cotta.

Selfishly I liked that Spice Route has not yet been discovered by the tourists as is the case at Fairview, and does not feel touristy, the service being personalised and efficient. All the plans for the wine estate are likely to fill up the restaurant in future.  I was sceptical about going to Spice Route for lunch, given its past offering, but was impressed with all aspects of it, except for the cloakrooms of course! I will be back to try more of Chef Phillip’s spicy menu and to taste more of the Spice Route wines!

Spice Route restaurant, Spice Route wine estate, Paarl.  Tel (021) 863-5222. www.spiceroute.co.za. Sunday – Thursday 11h00 – 18h00, Friday – Saturday 11h00 – 21h00.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage

Earlier this week I attended a winetasting of Sequillo wines, led by well-known and highly respected maverick Swartland winemaker Eben Sadie, at French Toast. It was the most enjoyable wine function I have ever attended, largely due to the refreshing down-to-earth three-hour tasting done by Sadie, and excellent value at R100.

The name of the winemaker leading the tasting was clearly a big drawcard, with 45 winelovers having booked.  I was introduced to Eben by Karen Visser, co-owner of French Toast, and Eben struck me as a really nice and friendly person, without any airs and graces, not what I expected at all, for a winemaker who has achieved a number of career highs, including having his winery selected as Winery of the Year, and his Sadie Family Wines Palladius selected as South Africa’s top white wine in the 2010 Platter’s South African Wine Guide.

It took some time for the tasting to get going, due to some late-comers, but we were served a Mystery wine, which we were asked to identify.   It was a Riesling, only 60 bottles made (unwooded) by Eben from grapes coming from Elgin, and not one of the attendees could identify it.  Throughout the evening, Sadie told us stories, and for him the most important role that his wines play is that they too tell stories.  He loves to play with wine, to experiment, and his greatest goal is to get locals to enjoy wine, without any fancy references to the aroma wheel (which should be burnt, he says), as it puts people off wine-tasting.  He said ‘my guava is not your guava’, explaining his controversial winetasting views.  Eben came across as the most down-to-earth, hands-on winemaker. Awards generally do not mean much to him, and he would not answer my question as to how he views the Platter’s guide.  In the introduction, French Toast co-owner John Harrison said that Eben is recognised as a ‘renegade’, who has broken all the rules of conventional winemaking.  This ‘enfant terrible’ is South Africa’s first certified celebrity winemaker’, Wikipedia writes about him.

Eben’s big passion is surfing, he studied at Elsenburg, and he started his winemaking career at Romansrivier Winery in Wolseley, moving to Charles Back and making his Spice Route wines for him.  Sadie Family Wines is a joint venture between two Sadie brothers Eben and Niko, and their older sister Delana, starting with R9000 in 1999. They grew up on a vegetable and pig farm on the West Coast, and it was grape farming, and winemaking with it, that attracted Eben to this sector of agriculture, telling me that winemaking ‘can carry a century’.  They have three wine operations, making Sadie Family Wines (a wine for weekends and special occasions) and Sequillo (a wine for weekday drinking) in the Swartland, and make wine in Priorat in Spain (Terroir Al Limit label) too. Studying winemaking in Germany, Austria, Italy, the USA, and Burgundy, Eben liked the lifestyle of the Spanish the most, choosing this country, but clearly declaring his love for the Cape. Taking a swipe at ‘molecular gastronomy’, Eben said he believes that winemaking has been ‘intellectualised’, in that wine drinkers are encouraged to sniff and spit the wine.  He said one should not bother with drinking one glass of wine only, as it was as good as drinking a glass of water!  Wine drinking must be done in volume, so that one can enjoy it, he said.

All the Sadie wines are blends, and they do not make any single varietal wines to sell.  Eben said that winemakers could make wines to the ‘100 point formula’, to tick all the judges’ boxes, but this would be an ‘intellectual wine’, made without regard for soil and climate.  It would have ‘blueberries, cigarbox, cream, and fennel on the nose, would be opaque, and have tannin’. He mentioned this dig at the ‘aroma wheel’ a number of times during the evening.  Rather, wines should be an ‘ambassador’ of the place and the climate, and that is why Eben does not irrigate his grapes anymore, to be a true representation of the climate of that vintage. To counter climate, Eben will reduce his crop by half, depending on whether there is late rain or not.  His wines have no added yeast, and only about a third of the allowed quantity of sulphur is added two days before bottling.  Very old barrels are used, adding little or no wood to the taste.  Eben said it was hard to move from conventional farming to ‘natural farming’.  He told us how they have built up the resistance of their grapes in Spain, and plough with mules there.  Mules were not suitable for the Swartland, he found, so they use horses.  We laughed when Eben said that one can read how to get onto the moon, but the internet does not guide him as to how to use horses to plough his land!

Eben became very fiery about Law 70 of 1970, which does not allow the sub-division of agricultural land. This means that Eben leases 53 blocks of land in different areas, which he tends to with his staff, driving from one piece of land to another.

Sequillo is a second label, and the name comes from the Latin, meaning ‘dry arid place of great purity’.  To introduce the Sequillo Red and White blends to us, Eben ‘deconstructed’ the wines for us, and we drank most of the individual varietals that made up each of these two blends.  The Sequillo White blend 2010 consisted of:

*   Grenache Blanc: Eben said this wine is like someone you know who is in jail, being someone you love but you cannot mention it.  This variety came from the south of France.  It is used in the blend to ‘build volume of wine’.

*   Palomino: the origin of this grape is Jerez, from which sherry is made in Spain.  It has acidity, firmness, coming from a 65 year old block in Piketberg.  It has minerality, and white peach and other stone fruit, with a lingering after-taste. There is some saltiness.

*   Verdelho:   This wine is made from grapes originating from Portugal, planted in its northern areas.  Eben said that his wine comes from 8 year old vines, the youngest vines he has.  He tested this variety’s suitability in different soil types, and it does well across a variety of these.  It does not have the prettiest bunch nor leaf, not having been to ‘finishing school’, he says in Sadie-speak, but is a great grape that is conducive to good natural farming.  Their grapes are planted in Wellington, Perdeberg, and Stellenbosch.  It has spiciness, potpourri, great nose and taste, easy to grow but hard to make in the cellar.  Presenting it to Portuguese winemakers, they were very complimentary about his wine, Eben said.

*   Viognier:  This variety comes from Croatia originally. Eben said that it was grown too ripe originally in South Africa, giving too much alcohol.

*   Grenache Noir: This is the most planted grape in the world, about tenfold of the planting of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a Mediterranean grape, which can go to 17% alcohol, but Eben keeps his at 13.5 % by picking the grapes earlier.

*   Semillon and Roussanne are also part of this blend, but we did not taste them.

The Sequillo label design is done in-house, and is refreshingly different, changing every year.  The ‘Dorper skaap’ on the Sequillo White symbolises the hardiness of this sheep variety, like his wine, and is politically correct in being white and black, he laughed!  The Sequillo Red has a locust on it.  The Sadie wines are sold in 35 countries.  When asked how they market internationally, Eben said that he answers his e-mails!  They do not have a website for the Sadie Family Wines, and have only just created a website for Sequillo.  They will never get into Social Media, Eben said, and he probably will throw away his cellphone when the contract expires, he said.  He has no TV nor radio, and does not follow rugby.  He makes all his own wine, and does not buy any of it in.  While Eben had to keep reminding himself to ‘focus’ on the tasting, to great laughter, he explained that he is ‘semi-German’, and has ‘structure and order’, answers his e-mails, and is organised about his wine-making.

Asked which wine estates and their winemakers he admires, Eben mentioned Mullineux, Hamilton Russell, Newton Johnson, Adi Badenhorst, Neil Ellis, Boekenhoutskloof, Paul Benade, and Chamonix, and described them as mavericks too.  He told us that he used to make full-bodied heavy wines, but now he makes lighter ‘roadblock’ wines, that will get one through a traffic control! He said that the wine industry has come a long way, and that the country’s political transformation in 1994 caught the industry by surprise, not being ready to compete on an international platform initially. Eben deplored that rarer and interesting wine varieties do not sell locally.  He is focused purely on making wine, and is not there to set up pretty gardens with fountains on his wine estate!

The Sequillo Red blend 2009 is made from the following varietals:

*  Syrah is Eben’s favourite varietal, and he told us that its origin is said to be Persia or Greece.  The Australians could not pronounce its Old World ‘Syrah’ name, and called it ‘Shiraz‘. While other winemakers pick their Syrah grapes in March, Eben picks his in January, to prevent it being ‘jammy’, sweet and pruny, because of its thin skin, and the intensity of our sun, giving him 13,8% alcohol compared to 16 % for others picked later. He says it is a lunchtime wine, is well suited to the Cape, although it may be too hot, needing altitude to do well. He would not reveal where the special Syrah is grown, but hinted that the block is 60 km from the city, just above that of a very well-known wine brand. Platter’s Guide says 65% of the blend is Shiraz.

*   Mouvèdre is the most difficult wine to make, Eben said. It is great to farm, a beautiful grape and a vertical grower, but difficult to make in the cellar.  It has ‘nervous aromas’, ‘energy and electricity’, ‘is alive’ and great to use in blends, as it raises the fruit in these.  This grape variety makes the world’s greatest Rosé in Bandol in France, Eben said. He added that Rosés are cool wines now, not a ‘chick wine’ any more!

*   Cinsault is like one’s brother that is in jail and about whom cannot talk (Eben likes to use the analogy of wines and jailbirds!), being one of the greatest varietals but that has ‘suffered from human ambition’, he said, extending the analogy to say that it has been ‘framed for a murder he did not commit’, referring to its poor appeal as a variety. He says it is one of the most drinkable red wines in the world, it is seductive, and a wine he thinks about every day.

*   Grenache and Carignan are two further varietals used, but not offered for the tasting.

As if we had not had enough to taste, Eben opened a 5 litre bottle of his newly 5-star rated 2012 Platter’s (for its 2009 vintage) Columella 2007, a Rhone blend of 80 % Shiraz and 20% Mouvèdre, according to Platter’s.

Eben Sadie and his wine brands will continue to make waves, given his passion and charisma, his dedicated focus on what he loves doing best, in making wines, and his fresh anti-bureaucracy and anti-convention views.  Marc Kent of Boekenhoutskloof said of Sadie that he makes wines as an ‘artisan’, and not as a chemist or a technician!

Sequillo Cellars, Malmesbury.  Tel (022) 482-3138.  www.sequillo.com

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com,  Twitter: @WhaleCottage

A controversial and damaging 96-page report, entitled ‘Ripe with Abuse: Human Rights Conditions in South Africa’s Fruit and Wine Farm Industries’,  and published by the New York-based Human Rights Watch, has been widely written about by international media in the past 24 hours, and has been met by a strongly worded media release by Wines of South Africa (WOSA), representing the wine industry.  The report implicates the tourism industry too, benefiting from wine tourism.

Sounding like a far more potent finger-pointing at the wine industry than the recently launched South African book Grape’, co-authored by Dr Wilmot James, Professor Jakes Gerwel, and Jeanne Viall, the Human Rights Watch report describes less than acceptable conditions on fruit and wine farms.  WOSA challenges the report on behalf of the wine industry, in that the selection of the more than 260 respondents for the report is not specified, nor have the interviews conducted over the last two years been ‘independently verified’, nor did the organisation seek a response from the farm owners whose workers were interviewed.  WOSA CEO Su Birch writes:”The study relies on anecdotal evidence that uses the cover of respondent protection to avoid substantiating the claims it makes.” She added that the international media release to announce the report was not balanced in its presentation of information about conditions in the wine industry, making it misleading.

The media release of the Human Rights watch, entitled ‘South Africa: Farmworkers’ Dismal, Dangerous Lives’, blames the wine industry for denying their staff ‘adequate housing, proper safety equipment, and basic labor rights’, and calls on the South African government to ‘take immediate steps to improve their working and housing conditions’.  More specifically, the report highlights ‘on-site housing that is is unfit for living, exposure to pesticides without proper safety equipment, lack of access to toilets or drinking water while working, and efforts to block workers from forming unions.  While the Western Cape’s fruit and wine industries contribute billions of rand to the country’s economy, support tourism, and are enjoyed by consumers around the world, their farmworkers earn among the lowest wages in South Africa.  The report also describes insecure tenure rights and threats of eviction for longtime residents on farms.  The wealth and well-being these workers produce shouldn’t be rooted in human misery’, said Human Rights Watch Africa Director Daniel Bekele.  It points a finger at the South African government in the main, in not monitoring conditions of workers, and in not enforcing labour laws.  Only 3% of the local wine workers are unionised, the report says, and there were only 107 labour inspectors to investigate 6000 farms in March this year.  The damaging report has been widely written about in the international press, including The Telegraph, The Guardian, Montreal Gazette, AFP, Times of Oman, as well as broadcast on BBC. 

Mrs Birch added that the report did not write much about the good work which the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association and Fairtrade are doing, and about the wine farms with empowerment deals. “With positive examples of the progress made in redressing past wrongs rendered virtually inaccessible to all but the most serious readers, the report negates the work of those who should be allowed to stand out as role models to their peers”, says Mrs Birch.  The Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association has more than eighty farms audited by the Wine Supply Chain Support Programme, and many of the members of the Association are writing compliance requirements into supplier contracts.  In addition, training is being done about workers’ rights amongst both farm managers as well as their workers, in addition to a training programme ‘addressing discrimination and sexual harrassment’, writes WOSA.  The largest number of Fairtrade wine producers worldwide are in South Africa.

WOSA’s response to the complaint relating to lack of protection for workers spraying pesticides is that clear guidelines for the use of pesticides and worker protection are specified in the Integrated Production of Wine protocol, and is regularly and independently monitored.  Should producers fail to meet the guidelines in this regard, they could lose their accreditation, and therefore their ability to export their wines.

Housing conditions are also addressed in the Human Rights Watch Report.  WOSA acknowledges weaknesses, but states that 200000 workers are housed on wine farms, and quotes Charles Back of Fairview questioning whether any other South African industry provides housing to the extent that the wine industry does. Responsible Alcohol Use, anti-alcohol abuse, and Foetal Alcohol Syndrome programmes are funded by the wine industry.

Neil Pendock, wine writer for the Sunday Times, is not known for his support of WOSA.  Whilst not writing in its support specifically, he urged the Johannesburg correspondent of The Telegraph yesterday to observe how advanced Solms-Delta in Franschhoek is in its relationship with its workers. 

Mrs Birch concluded by saying that the damaging report affects a South African wine industry already struggling with sales due to the strong Rand and the global downturn, and thereby affecting the jobs of the farmworkers even more.  She states strongly:”Let me make it very clear: we condemn out of hand any and all human rights abuses on wine farms. Our disappointment in the bias in the report is in no way an indication of our support for inhumane practices.  It expresses our concern that trade and consumers all over the world could become alienated from South African wines. We call on Government to partner the wine industry in accelerating reform and in rooting out problems”.  The Human Rights Watch media release ends off on a positive note for the wine industry: ‘The answer is not to boycott South African products, because that could be disastrous for farmworkers.  But we are asking retailers (in the UK, Netherlands, Germany, USA, other European countries, and Canada) to press their suppliers to ensure that there are decent conditions on the farms that produce the products they buy and sell to their customers’, urged Bekele.

POSTSCRIPT: 31/8:The Western Cape provincial government has threatened Human Rights Watch with legal action for its defamatory report about the alleged abuse of farmworkers on wine and grape farms in the province, which may result in loss of income for local farms, reported the Cape Times  yesterday.  The report states that the MEC for Agricultural Sector and Rural Development, Gerrit van Rensburg, has requested details of alleged transgressions from Human Rights Watch, but these have not been forthcoming from the organisation.  COSATU trade union federation and the Black Association of the Agricultural Sector has supported the Human Rights Watch Report.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com   Twitter:@WhaleCottage

An outing yesterday to Paarl, to try out the Laborie Wines Lazy Days weekly market, led me to Fairview in Agter Paarl, probably because I had chatted to the friendly representatives at the Eat In  Produce Award’s Night Market on Thursday, and I had promised them a visit.   I was disappointed about the extreme unfriendliness displayed by the Fairview Goatshed Manager Shannon Riley and her assistant Portia, and felt that it has become a non-caring tourist destination, which is expensive food-wise but offers good value wines.

I have not been to Fairview in years, and definitely not since the Goatshed opened five years ago.  A sign at the door commands one to wait to be seated.  The problem, however, is that the desk behind which the managers stand, doubling up as the payment desk, faces inward, so all staff have their backs to the new arriving guests.   I stood for some time before Portia bothered to come to me.  There was no welcome, just a ‘machine’ asking my preference for inside/outside and smoking/non-smoking seating, without interest.  When I asked her where the deli was, not having been to the tasting room and cheese shop at that time yet, she looked at me as if I had lost it, and as if she did not know what the word ‘deli’ meant.  I remembered a long restaurant building with a counter from which one could buy cheese, breads and other deli items, which I did not see in the Goatshed, nor in the ‘supermarket’ type cheese shop later.  She did not show me a table when we got outside, seemingly having lost interest in me already. 

Luckily Yolandy came to the rescue, and was efficient in bringing a glass of water.  I asked for a foamy cappuccino, but was brought a flat white.  I reminded Yolandy of my request, and she told me that it is only made flat, but that she would speak to the barista.  Then I asked her if I could have a slice of rye or wholewheat bread instead of the ciabatta with the duck liver paté, and I was told that it only comes with the ciabatta, and if I wanted any other bread served with it, I would have to buy one of their loaves, and then they would cut two slices for me and serve it!  I had to laugh out loud.  Thereafter Shannon presented herself, and asked me rudely what the problems were.  She confirmed that the cappuccino could only be made flat, on the basis of which I declined it, but showed some flexibility on the bread request.   Surprisingly, soon thereafter a beautiful foamy cappuccino arrived, but Yolandy told me to not think of ever ordering one like that again, as they are not made that way at Fairview!  I did not see Shannon again.

The restaurant interior is large, but very dark inside, so I preferred to sit outside on the terrace.  There were tables alongside the terrace as well, and in total the restaurant can seat 320 guests.  The outside tables are made from wood and look well used.  Each table has a wire basket, containing a bottle each of Fairview olive oil and balsamic vinegar, a salt and a pepper grinder, and cutlery rolled into orange paper serviettes.  A heavily used tear-off pad is also in the holder, and is the order form for cheeses.  However, one is not advised of the list, and what it is for.   There is no tablecloth nor placemat.  The restaurant was heaving with customers when I arrived at about 14h30, and I heard Italian spoken by guests leaving, and there were Americans sitting close by.

The duck liver paté is the starter I ordered, and is expensive at R74.   It was topped with olive tapenade, an odd combination, and served with two big slices of toasted 70 % rye bread, but is usually served with crostini.  The menu does state that the portion is to share, but it is still expensive, given the serving size.  I found it very dry and crumbly.  I liked the clever plate decoration, which was a vine leaf, on which was placed some grapes, apple slices, peach slices, peppadews, and a lovely whole slice orange preserve.    Other starter choices are a spinach, feta and bacon quiche; snoek and trout fish cakes; stir-fried springbok; and a vegetable and goat’s chevin salad, costing between R 48 – R84.  Main courses include Sunday roast, chicken pie, lamb curry, seared trout fillet, Earl Grey infused Subu duck, pork spare ribs, and linefish, costing between R 68 – R165.  One can order 8 cheeses for one person, at R60, and 10 cheeses for two persons at R66.  Foccacia with parma ham and mozzarella, or smoked trout and Fairview cream cheese, costs R56.

I had a dessert which took me to back to my childhood, being Rote Grütze, a most delicious red berry compote, with a ball of ice cream.   Alternative desserts range in price from R36 – R48, and include cheesecake, pecan nut croquant parfait on pineapple carpaccio, chocolate brownie and ice cream, crème brûlee, and coconut panna cotta.  Breakfast is served from 9h00 – 11h30, and these prices look very reasonable, a health breakfast with muesli costing R28, as do scrambled eggs on a croissant.  When salmon is added, it costs R46, being the price for eggs and bacon, as well as smoked trout with Fairview cream cheese, too.

I was interested in the educational message in the menu, on its first page, which is a note to parents, explaining why, in a roundabout manner, they do not have a children’s menu with “fries, bangers, fish fingers and carbonated sugar-laden drinks” – only two of the menu items have a reduced children’s price, and therefore one must order from the standard menu for children.  “All Goatshed meals are freshly prepared using wholesome ingredients.  A healthy lifestyle starts in early childhood”, the menu stated.  “Thank you for understanding and co-operating in fighting diabetes and obesity amongst children”, it continued.  I was not sure how parents would react to this ‘lecture’.   I was also interested to see how few of the dishes on the menu contain cheese, this being one of the products that are synonymous with Fairview (as is its wine, of course).  The menu also contains a glossary of food and wine terms, such as dukkha, chakalaka, sobu (an Asian buckwheat flour noodle), hummus, and coulis.

Something else that appeared impressive in the menu was the special notes about the breads at Fairview and their coffee.  The ‘artisanal’ breads are baked by bakers from ‘the community’, the menu explains, and the bread range includes ciabatta, sour dough, and rye, as well as Danishes and croissants, and their ‘unique signature breads’.  All the breads had sold out at the counter in the restaurant, and most in the cheese shop too.   There seemed to be only a small space allocated to the bread sales in the cheese shop, surprising, given the attention that is drawn to the breads, and one’s ability to buy them, in the menu.  It was also written that Johan Sörberg, who owns the two top bakeries in Stockholm, has trained the Fairview bakers, and returns regularly.   The menu also proudly states about their coffees: “Our baristas strive to bring you the best in every cup”.  Klaus Thomsen, the ‘World Barista Champion’ in 2006, has travelled from Denmark to train the Fairview baristas in “the art of brewing world quality coffee”, and he returns regularly too, the menu states.  The coffee beans come from Beans for Africa, Yolandy found out for me.  

The wines are very well-priced, and only Fairview-owned wines, being Fairview, Goats Do Roam and Spice Route, are served.  Every dish on the menu has a wine recommendation.  The Spice Route wines are from Malmesbury, and belong to Fairview owner Charles Back too.    The Fairview Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Mouvèdre, Pinotage, Pinotage Viognier, Shiraz and Chardonnay all cost R27 per glass and R65 per bottle.  Riesling costs R16/R35, Darling Chenin Blanc R18/R45, Sauvignon Blanc R22/R50, and Viognier R28/R70.   Surprisingly for a wine estate, there are no vintages on the list of wines.  The availability of Jack Black beer is very visible on the menu.  I met the nice tasting room manager Neil du Plessis, and I liked the interesting lamps over the tasting counters, which looked like vine branches with lights in them.    I asked about next-door farm Seidelberg, which Back bought recently, and Yolandy thought it would be business as usual there in terms of their Cape Malay restaurant.  She was not sure what would happen on the wine side of things.   

The cheese shop has a supermarket feel, a large space selling twenty Fairview cheeses, including camembert, brie, Bleu and Blanc, Blue Rock, Feta, White Rock with cranberries, Havarti, Chevin traditional, and with different herbs, four varieties of cream cheeses, La Beryl, crottin, and a Vineyard Cheddar. Surprisingly, one cannot taste the cheeses.   There was no staff in the cheese section to answer questions, or to proactively provide information, as they have in the tasting room, which is just around the corner.  The camembert and brie cost R 16, not much less than one would pay in a supermarket.

Cyril is the chef, but I could not get a surname nor his track record from Yolandy (nor from Shannon, when I called to verify this – she said Cyril has a long surname).  However, the Goatshed website states that Andreas Küng is the chef.   My final poor impression of the restaurant was when the bill arrived in a Diner’s Club billfold, that must be as old as the restaurant is, and was falling apart, a poor reflection on the image of the Goatshed.  Yolandy told me three times that I had to pay the bill at the counter inside, as they do not have a ‘cordless credit card machine’, she said.  The payment taker at the counter did just that, and there is no farewell or thanks to send one on the road with.  There also is no attempt to encourage one to visit the cheese shop or the tasting room, as the entrance is not visible from the restaurant.     I went to the ‘Nanny Goat’ cloak room, with  ‘portable’ toilets, with open top and bottom.  The toilets are cleaned continuously, and are functional, but do not add to the Fairview experience – they just reinforced that Fairview is an expensive mass tourist destination, and that building a relationship with any of its visitors is completely unimportant – not the impression one would want tourists or locals to experience!   

Fairview Goatshed, Fairview wine estate, Agter Paarl.   Tel (021) 863-3609. www.goatshed.co.za  (The menu is on the website, and the website has a clever but restricted slide show with good photographs.  However, there is no Image Gallery.  The photograph of the bread collection does not reflect what is available in the shop and the restaurant).  Twitter: @FairviewWine  Monday – Sunday 9h00 – 17h00.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com   Twitter: @WhaleCottage