Entries tagged with “furniture”.


While I have shopped at IKEA in Southampton with my son now living in the UK, I have not been near an IKEA anything in Cape Town. This changed last week, during Design Indaba 2019, when IKEA had a prominent IKEA Överallt ( meaning everywhere in Swedish) outdoor stand at the foot of the Artscape Theatre building. It reflected the best creativity in design in Africa, a social responsibility project of the global Swedish home interior design company. But there is little chance of the company opening any stores in our country within the next five years, it was confirmed.  (more…)

Table Mountain frame from V&A WaterfrontDespite Cape Town’s year as World Design Capital 2014 having come to an end, its design legacy lives on, not only with design projects created for last year’s event, but with future design projects too.

Cape Town Tourism CEO Enver Duminy punts the legacy of World Design Capital 2014 (both are funded by the City (more…)

Watershed logo Whale CottageThe V&A Waterfront has completely transformed what was previously the Blue Shed near the V&A Market on the Wharf, renaming it Watershed (a corny name which tries to be clever, but it does not reflect at all what is inside the building), and creating a showcase of 168 crafters, designers, and more under one roof.

I was invited to attend the official opening of Watershed on Watershed Star Whale CottageThursday evening, and so were thousands of others, as the traffic jam inside the V&A was unbelievable, a trip between Kloof Street and the parking garage opposite Watershed taking 45 minutes traveling time!  There was no warning on radio nor through the V&A’s electronic (more…)

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*   The Consumer Ombudsman dealt with more than 3000 complaints against retailers and service suppliers since its inception nine months ago, reports The New Age.  The most complaints received related to furniture retailers, followed by telecommunications companies, motor vehicle retailers, appliance retailers, clothing retailers, and suppliers of financial services. Consumers have becoming more demanding in terms of disputes and are more aware of their rights in lodging complaints since the Consumer Protection Act was introduced. Retailers and service providers are improving their service as they understand the implications of the Act.

*   One of Cape Town’s best qualified chefs will be Chef Andres Condé, who is joining the Harbour House Group from Spain in June.  He will work on a revamp of the La Parada and Harbour House menus.

*   Durban will become a bigger threat to Cape Town’s tourism industry if its plans to redevelop its beachfront into ‘Miami style tourist hubs come to fruition.   The local municipality has stated that they are looking (more…)

I have driven past BREAD in The Bromwell Boutique Mall on my way to the Old Biscuit Mill on numerous occasions.  It was a welcome escape from my visit to the Neighbourgoods Market on Saturday.  It has been open for 22 months, and I was impressed with the quality and design focus in this beautiful building, housing the BREAD Deli, Boulangerie and Café downstairs, and a fashion, furniture and art boutique upstairs.

The Bromwell is a beautifully restored 1927 erstwhile hotel building, once an ‘infamous house of red doors’, the website says. It belongs to Adelaide Potgieter, the founder of the nearby The mad (Marketing, Advertising, Design) Agency, which handles the advertising and promotions for Shoprite and Checkers exclusively, and her brother Solomon, who is now the CEO of the agency.  The building, with its lovely parquet flooring, has been restored, with Heritage Society approval, to its former glory, and works of art are displayed throughout, with prices indicated.   In the restaurant, for example, a large painting by Mark Matthysen of the Dalai Lama is for sale at R10000.  The entrance is manned by a very smart doorman, almost out of place on a Woodstock street dominated by poverty.   At the reception counter a Swiss German lady directed me to the Deli/Boulangerie section, and I followed the path to the right.  She was very cagey about providing information about the owners.  One steps into the Deli section, with a range of imported and local products, including NoMU rubs, Jenny Morris spice grinders (I had not seen these before), Vanilla Man grinders, Hillcrest Berry jams, pickled walnuts, bottled gherkins, Apfelmuss, olive chutney, different brands of balsamic vinegar, stone ground wheat, Honest Chocolate organic spread, Italian pasta products, and much more.  The advertising side of the owners came to the fore in the striking black branded bag that the lady from the Boulangerie offered me to put my purchases into, and the bags form part of the neat Deli display.  Opposite it is the Boulangerie (and patisserie!), in which well-lit baskets with wholewheat and white baguettes, country loaves, rye bread, Portuguese rolls, sesame seed rolls, croissants, pain au chocolat, and brioche, are displayed.  Glass cabinets display the most beautiful selection of pastries, including velvet cupcakes, triple chocolate tarts, fruit tarts, lemon meringue, milk tarts, tiramisu, Babel chocolate tower, Apfelstrudel, lemon pound cake, marble cake, blackberry tarts, frangipani tarts, and Turkish delight. On the dessert page of the BREAD menu it states: “We produce the best quality cakes, cookies and pastries using only real chocolate, real cream, real butter and the freshest fruits and other ingredients.  We simply do not compromise on quality“.  The Pastry Chef is Shana Faes and the Baker is Eugene Knight.

Beyond the Deli/Boulangerie is a seating area for the Café, but it had hardly anyone sitting there, so I followed the sound of a guitar to a much nicer second room of the restaurant, with a window to the street, furnished with attractive genuine chandeliers, and the most comfortable restaurant chairs that I have ever sat on, some in red and some in green fabric.  Tables have Singer sewing machine-style legs and concrete tops.  Red upholstered benches run along two walls.  There are no table cloths, but each table has a BREAD-branded material serviette, beautiful Italian Pinti cutlery with the most unusually long handles, yin yang salt and pepper pots, BREAD-branded sugar sticks, and surprisingly, a terribly old-fashioned non-designer wooden pepper grinder.  I suggested to Manager Daniel Justus that the Jenny Morris pepper grinders in their Deli would match the designer feel of the restaurant far better.  The guitarist walking around the restaurant was an odd touch.  One can sit outside too, which some guests did, despite it being a chilly Saturday.  A most elegant gentleman, wearing a long pin-striped jacket on a Saturday morning, making him look like the father of a bride, attracted attention.  I was told that he is the father of the owner, and is at the restaurant regularly, called the ‘Godfather’ by the staff!

The red leather menu and beverage list cover contains well-presented information printed in white on black laminated paper.   The first page contains a piece written about bread by Nataniël (the Checkers cheese spokesperson and avant garde singer), starting with “She was old, but she was wise and powerful. Give us food, we told her. Make us strong. Teach us magic and endurance. She gave us bread. We ate and came alive.”   The lyrics are framed and hung in the restaurant too.   The breakfast options are unusual, a twist on familiar items. I had a BREAD Benedict, and the requested removal of the prosciutto or salmon trout accompaniment probably made the dish look less attractive, with only one free-range egg served on a delicious slice of wholewheat bread with hollandaise sauce, for which I was charged R35 instead of the usual R65.  The menu proudly emphasises for each dish which items are free-range and organic, probably adding a premium to the prices charged, but a commendable touch. Most egg dishes cost R45. Fried egg is served with ‘free-range mozzarella’ (an odd concept), slow-roasted tomato, and home-made mayonnaise.  Bacon and mascarpone scrambled eggs served on a baguette sounded interesting, and would be a choice for a next visit.  ‘BREAD Frenchie’ is a home-made brioche served with bacon and maple syrup.  The Breakfast Cocktail contains organic muesli, ‘free-range yoghurt’, and ‘organic mountain honey’.  The ‘Morning Yorkie’ is a take on Yorkshire Pudding, served with banana, bacon, tomato pesto, and maple syrup.  A croissant with ‘free-range cheese’ and preserves costs R35.  

Starters are soup of the day (R30), a platter of breads, dips and patés (R35), and tapas from R25 each.  Salads cost R55 – R60, and some are unusual: Chicken and Chorizo, Kudu Loin carpaccio, Butternut and Danish Feta, Camembert and Fig, and a warm Bocconcini Bowl.  Sandwiches range from R45 – R65, and include Wild Turkey, Spicy Prego, Smoked Salmon bagel, Club sandwich, roast beef, Green curry wrap, and garlic chicken.  Main courses include ‘Lucky Fish’ of the day, lamb burger, chicken burger, melanzane, and prawn tagliatelle, all under R100, and ‘Sir Lowry’s Medallions’ 25-day aged sirloin (R120), and ‘Beef on the Bone’, being oven-grilled short rib (R110).  The dessert offering is the pastries from the Boulangerie, costing R10 for croissants, and R15 – R25 for the tarts.  I took home a most delicious, rich, creamy chocolate mousse topped with strawberries in a BREAD-branded container. 

The winelist has an unspecified red and white wine by the glass at R25. Rosés are by Boschendal (R70), Delheim (R80), and ‘Solms’ (R100).  Twelve white wines are separated by variety, being Chardonnays (R100 – R170), and Sauvignon Blancs (R85 – R160) in the main.   Twenty red wines, not all identified by vintage or variety, range from R95 (Beyerskloof Pinotage) – R1000 (Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2005). The cappuccino costs R19, and was served with a mini-meringue on the side.

Upstairs is a collection of rooms with beautifully displayed furniture, decor items, hand-made leather ballet shoes by Coastal & Koi (on my wishlist despite the R1100 price tag!), clothing items, jewellery, handbags, paintings, and sculptures.  No-photography signs are visible upstairs, and I was given permission to photograph when I told the manager that I wanted to write a story about this amazing design centre. About a week ago, Top Billing featured the launch of a new clothing range by designer David Tlale, which was held at The Bromwell during Cape Town Fashion Week, I was told by Daniel.

I’ll be back to try more of the BREAD menu, to eye the shoes again, and to buy some of the wonderful bread.  Waiter service was disappointingly slow, even though the restaurant was not full, and there appearing to be enough staff on duty.  The lady in the Boulangerie was very service-driven, being proactive.  Daniel was helpful in copying the menu for me, offering this service. He told me that they are working on an integrated POS system, which allows the restaurant to add Deli and Boulangerie items to the bill, which caused a hiccup in my case, and had to be added by hand.  I liked the health focus of BREAD, many products supplied by Mushrooms & Things, Eureka Milling, Espresso Lab, and Imhoff.

BREAD Café, Boulangerie, Deli.  The Bromwell Boutique Mall, 250 Albert Road, Woodstock, Cape Town.  Tel (021) 447-4730.  www.breadcafe.co.za. (The website has the menu, but no Image Gallery, nor a link to The Bromwell Boutique Mall website). www.thebromwell.co.za (The website is a collection of photographs, and contains a link to the BREAD website).  Monday – Friday 8h00 – 17h00, Saturday 9h00 – 17h00. 

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

Yesterday I became excited about another dimension of Cape Town – I attended the Design Indaba Expo, the first time that I have attended any aspect of the Design Indaba in its 16 year history.   I am so sorry that I was not better informed about this amazing event in the local newspapers or on radio, and had it not been for Twitter I would not have known about it.   I was blown away by the quality and diversity of design, by mainly Cape Town based designers, in the jam-packed Cape Town International Convention Centre exhibition hall, and must congratulate Ravi Naidoo and his Design Indaba team for the excellent organisation, and leading-edge design on display.  I would urge all design-lovers in Cape Town to visit the Design Indaba Expo this weekend.

There is such an overwhelming number of exhibitors, in relatively small stands, that one blindly moves from one stand to another, trying to not miss anything in the vast hall.   No exhibitor map or list is provided when one buys the ticket outside the hall, and the Design Indaba Info stand is in the centre of the hall (not visible when one enters), and I only saw it near the end of my long walk through the exhibition.   Here I was able to obtain a “Visitors Guide”, which lists each of the roughly 250 exhibitors, and contains the floor plan, so that one can find the exhibitors, as well as the programme for the fashion shows and film festival, forming part of the Design Indaba programme.  Designers were chosen by a panel of industry experts, the Visitors Guide explains.   What I did observe is that many designers are brand new at their design businesses, and rather poor at their marketing, not having business cards and/or brochures with them, or having handed all of them out during the first day of the Expo.  Pierre le Roux was one of the most interesting designers at the Expo, in my opinion, but has no business card and not even a website.  Pierre described his furniture as being works of art more than functional seating.  To obtain further information and contact details of all the designers, one has to buy  a “Buyers Guide” at R100, which I decided to do, to use at a later stage – sadly Pierre’s details are not in the Buyers’ Guide either.  This information deficiency was the only flaw in the Expo that I experienced.   

Near the entrance was an impactful rainbow-coloured display to attract attention to Cape Town’s bid for Design Capital of the world in 2014.  Attendees were invited to sign the base of the display, to show their support for the bid.   Next to it stood a five-tier cake by Charly’s Bakery, which reflected different aspects of Cape Town.   in the exhibition hall one can loosely pick up a grouping of similar designers, including furniture, fashion, jewellery, craft, interior design, product design, advertising, architecture, publishing and many more design disciplines.

The furniture exhibits probably attracted the most attention, because the exhibitors required more space, and they tended to not be confined within exhibition stand walls.  I was impressed by the differentness of an outdoors chair made from pipes (left), as well as the new stainless steel tub chair from the Sofa Studio in Franschhoek.  Other furniture designers at the Expo include the Western Cape Furniture Initiative, Haldane Martin, Cabinetworks, Pierre Cronje, Raw Studios, Recreate, Pedersen + Lennard, …XYZ Design, and a most cleverly named Flower Power, making lamps shaped like proteas. 

The 24 jewellery stands probably were the most popular in general, attracting a lot of visitors.  The work exhibited was more modern and contemporary, some quirky, very creative, some art, some organic, some romantic, and all unique and non-commercialised.  The University of Stellenbosch Jewellery Design department also exhibited its students’ work.  Ceramic exhibitors include Liesel Trautman, Diana Ferreira, fun Zizamele Ceramics, John Bauer, The Potter’s Workshop, Tamarillo Ceramics & Design, Clementina Ceramics,  Hennie Meyer Ceramics, Imiso Ceramics, Sootcookie Ceramics, Tania Babb Ceramics and Wonki Ware.   Craft exhibitors include Woodhead’s, Usisi Designs, Cupcake Country, The Cape Craft & Design Institute, Phumani Paper, Design Afrika, Monkeybiz, The Letterpress Company,  Nicfredman Art and Design, Molten, The Beloved, and many more.   Fashion took up a lot of exhibition space, and was popular.  Exhibitors include Tjerrie, Matblac, GOOD Clothing, Coast & Koi, Spilt Milk, BlueCollarWhiteCollar, Homework, Mielie, Township Patterns, DURCHZUG, FACT, Baie Nice, Continent Africa, and MeMeMe.   Lifestyle designers exhibiting are Pepper Plum Designs, Yda Walt Studio, Flick Glass, Fundi Light & Living, Carrol Boyes, Chic Revolution, Tintown, Anatomy Design, and Ikhaya.  Some of the names of the designer businesses are as creative as their craft!

There are two separated design areas within the Design Indaba Expo.  The first is The Salon Privé, ‘focusing on the crème de la crème of South African design.  The Salon Privé is independently curated and designers are encouraged to use the platform to launch a new product or product range.’    In this space the Ardmore ceramics table attracted attention, as did the Veuve Clicquot champagne bar, where I indulged in a glass of their Rosé bubbly at R99, served in a most beautiful unusual champagne glass, nothing like I have ever seen before, without a stem.     Other exhibitors are architects Haldane Martin, Johannesburg-based interior designers Tonic (which one hopes will open in Cape Town too), Willowlamp, Zenzulu, Egg Designs, Ronel Jordaan, ZENZULU, and more.  Close by was a collection of small stands dedicated to “Emerging Creatives”, but it is not explained in the Visitors Guide, other than that there are 60 first-time exhibitors, under the heading “New Kids on the Block”.  The Department of Trade and Industry also had a conglomerate pavilion with about ten exhibitors, including Abode Designer, Veldt designers, Zan Zan décor, Drift Furniture, Keiskamma Art, Master Wires and Deesigned Beads.

For the hungry and thirsty Expo-goers, one can buy Woolworths’ coffees and rolls, or buy sandwiches and other foods from the Earth Fair Market.   Grolsch has an interestingly designed stand too.   Whilst I sat down at the table to have my cappuccino, I had the most wonderful experience in reconnecting with Mark Robinson, whom I had last seen twenty years ago when we both consulted to the then Colman Foods.  The lady that took his seat when he left shared a background in PR and marketing with me.   This was another enriching dimension of the Expo. 

Alongside the Design Indaba Expo is the update of the Cape Town Design Route, and this is an exciting longer-term manifestation of Cape Town’s design wealth, in that tourists and locals can visit more than fifty designers in the city throughout the year.   The Cape Town Design Route designers are all exhibiting at the Design Indaba Expo.  The updated Cape Town Design Route 2011 map was lying at the entrance to the exhibition, without one being alerted to this wonderful design highlight.  I had read about the Design Route by chance last year, and this is the first time that I have seen a map for it.  I was so inspired about the Cape Town Design Route at the time that I wrote a blogpost about it, and will write a new one about the Cape Town Design Route 2011.

Film and fashion events take place inside the Expo throughout the exhibition days, and the programme of events is detailed in the Visitors’ Guide.   Childrens’ design and art workshops are also on the programme throughout the weekend.   

Last year the Design Indaba became infamous due to the spectacle Martha Stewart made of herself as the keynote speaker at the Design Indaba Conference – this year the Design Indaba will be remembered for the most wonderful showcase of design in Cape Town!

Design Indaba Expo, Cape Town International Convention Centre, Cape Town.  Tel (021) 465-9966.  www.designindaba.com.  Today 10h00 – 20h00, Sunday 10h00 – 18h00.

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

Hemelhuijs is a heavenly new restaurant which opened two weeks ago in Waterkant Street, close to the World Cup pedestrian bridge crossing over Buitengracht Street, on the city side.   It is owned by Jacques Erasmus, who was one of the founders of Manna, which had a strong following on Kloof Street, whilst it was owned by Maranda Engelbrecht (she has just opened Babel at Babylonstoren).   Jacques assured me that Hemelhuijs is not another Manna, and that there will be no coconut bread, part of a Manna signature dish.

I asked about the restaurant name, and the Dutch imprint.   The name came from the direct translation, which would be the house of joy, or it being heavenly.  The restaurant is also around the corner from the Lutheran Church, which one sees on Strand Street.  He chose the Dutch link, to give it a more charming feel and it reflects his heritage and family tradition, coming through in the menu, for example the fresh farm eggs, farm chicken and lamb ribs, all of which Jacques and his team have reinvented.

The restaurant is a large space, and spills out onto the traffic-free pedestrian walkway.  Neighbouring buildings sell products relating to the design and decor industry (Lightworld, Finda spa baths, and a paint shop is being set up).  A Peruvian restaurant is set to open across the walkway.   When one walks in, one sees a display space for Jacques’ ‘home ware’ range, black ceramic crockery which Jacques has designed and is made for him. The black colour, not just on the outside but inside too, retains the heat of the plates when pre-warmed, for half an hour, he told me.  I thought them to be great for getting a better photograph relative to the dominant use of white plates in restaurants.   Jacques uses the restaurant as an outlet for the home ware, as well as for the wonderful slick classic yet modern square-shaped zen-feel furniture, made from wood and black steel structures, all of which can be ordered.  Material serviettes are provided, and the cutlery is new and shiny, a classic modern design. 

Jacques told me that he is the creator of crockery chandeliers, which I first saw at Manna, and he also made the three modern chandeliers with crockery from the Dutch East India Company for the new Pierneef à  La Motte.   There are no crockery chandeliers at Hemelhuijs.  Not only is Jacques an interior designer and restaurateur, but he is also a restaurant consultant, helping others to set up new restaurants.   On the ceiling is a large rectangular white structure, on which Jacques created images, ‘like a 5-year child having fun and playing’, he explained.   I asked him which his favourite restaurant is, and he immediately said it is his home, having eggs on toast.  He most regularly goes to Chef Pon’s in Gardens, for its predictability, nothing about the menu or the food changing.

Business has been good to date, and lunches tend to be fully booked, mainly by female supporters, rather than city businessmen, as Jacques had expected.  Many of the clients are ex-Manna friends.  The A3 white menu looks just like that which Manna first used, and on one side it says simply: “Hemelhuijs: Everyday Luxury”, a nice and simple positioning.   Breakfast is served all day, and most of the menu items are relatively standard dishes with one surprise ingredient, giving them a creative twist.   The wine selection is very small and focused, the “boutique house wine” being Henry Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz, made by Hennie Andrews near Napier, not only a good wine maker, but the original bread baker at Manna.  Two sparkling wines are served: Graham Beck Brut Rosé and Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel, reasonably priced at R35/R160. 

The menu has no dishes costing more than R90, for Baked salmon trout, pine nuts, dried cranberries and grapefruit butter.   I ordered Fresh asparagus, smoked salmon and a wonderful hollandaise sauce (R70), served with home-baked rye bread, which I dunked in the sauce, to mop it up.  The white asparagus spears were lightly blanched, making them super crunchy.  The dish looked beautiful in the black bowl.  For breakfast/brunch one can order fruit and yoghurt (R40); poached eggs, prosciutto, artichoke and hollandaisse sauce (R55); scrambled egg, salmon and toasted apple cake! (R50); and omelette and maple syrup glazed bacon, figs and goat’s cheese! (R55).  Salads cost R55 – R65.   Marzipan and dried apricot roasted chicken, a definite for the next visit, costs R 60; slow roasted lamb ribs cost R75; and the Hemelhuijs burger with creamed mushrooms and poached egg costs R70.   Crostini with various toppings range from R35 for mozzarella and tomato, to R50 for chicken and avocado.  The duck liver paté and preserved orange also sounded wonderful (R45).   Balsamic vinegar and olive oil (Hamilton Russell) are served in the most exquisite glass carafés, the olive oil one containing a herb sprig, giving it a special touch and taste.  The cappuccino (R17) was served with ‘anys-beskuit’, three generous helpings, at no charge.

I will be returning to heavenly Hemelhuijs for a breakfast later this week.  Jacques was very generous with his time and information.   The business card says: “Wholesome food, freshly made juices, artisan home ware, delicious daily bakes’.

POSTSCRIPT 6/11:  I have been back to Hemelhuijs twice since writing the review earlier this week, having the scrambled egg and salmon breakfast dish, as well as the most wonderful roast chicken with cherries, rocket cream, and marzipan and dried apricot stuffing.

POSTSCRIPT 13/4:  I went to look at the dinner at Hemelhuijs last night (only open on Wednesdays), but had to wait until 19h00 for it to open, so went to Keenwä, the Peruvian restaurant close by first, as they open at 18h30.  I ordered what sounded like a nice watercress and poached egg salad, at R55 – it was half a boiled egg on a side-plate full of hard-to-eat watrecress with some pine kernels.  I felt more than ripped off, especillay when the manager did not flinch nor ask a question in presenting the bill in full, after I left the plateful of watercress minus the egg!

POSTSCRIPT 10/5: Today I had lunch at Hemelhuijs with interior curator Neil Stemmet, also owner of award-winning Le Must in Upington, at which Hemelhuijs owner Jacques started his cheffing career, and with chef and cookbook writer Sonia Cobano.  I had a most unusual and very tasty combination of pork and chicken liver terrine, served with orange preserve and toasted rye bread.

POSTSCRIPT 16/5:  This evening Hemelhuijs was opened especially to cater for the persons invited to the opening of the ‘Openness to Explore’ exhibition at the Freeworld Design Centre next door.  The menu at Hemelhuijs was changed yesterday, and prices are creeping dangerously close to R100 – they had used the lunch menu and not their Wednesday evening menu.   While delicious, the three ‘frikadelle’ on a lick of mash accompanied with a sprinkling of tomato and onion was expensive at R95, but it was delicious.

Hemelhuijs Restaurant, 71 Waterkant Street, Cape Town. Tel (021)  418-2042.  No website.  Monday – Friday 8h00 – 15h00.  Saturday 9h00 – 15h00.   Wednesday evenings from 19h00.

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

A new guided tour of the wine farms, focusing on those wine estates that are ‘green’, organic, support biodiversity and generally care for nature, has been launched.  Eco Wine Tours is a joint venture between Charles Lourens of BottlePillowPlate and Pieter Geldenhuys of PG TOPS, and drives to the Winelands every Wednesday.   The tour raised the question amongst its participants as to how each one of us can make a difference too, and recycling is the first obvious step.

The tour highlighted how much work is being done by individual wine estates to give something back to nature, and how each of them do something (often more than one action) to ensure that their farming practices do not add to the carbon overload the world already faces.   It is clear that this good work is being done out of a genuine interest in and love for the environment, rather than for marketing purposes.  It also indicated what diversity there is in being a ‘green’ wine estate, with the wide range of different actions wine estates undertake to be environmentally friendly, each following their own way.  The highlights of our tour, on a grey wintry day yesterday, were the following:

Avondale  is outside Paarl, and attracted attention with its ads featuring naked persons in the vineyards, as well as their famous ducks.  Due to a fire in 1999, the wine farming practices of the estate were turned on their head, and the new cellar that was built, the grape farming as well as all aspects of production were changed to meet an environmentally friendly and non-mass production philosophy.  The welcome we received from Jonathan, the warm crackling fireplace in the tasting room, and the enthusiasm shown to our group was impressive.   Avondale focuses on the natural balance of the environment, and believes in feeding the soil, and not the vines.  No herbicides, pesticides and fungicides are used at all, and its workforce of more than 100 ducks is employed to eat snails and other pests, to maintain the ecological balance.  They apply natural farming methods, and focus on premium quality wine production, of which organic wine is an end-result, and not the other way round. 

They have branded their work as “BioLogic”, reflecting that they use organic and biodynamic farming methods and with that want to restore the land to what it would have been centuries ago, and want to keep in balance what nature has given the wine estate.  We drank their wonderful spring water, tasting as fresh as water can.  Using gravity, Avondale irrigates its vines from its six natural dams.   Grey water is re-used, not by adding chemicals but by adding yeast.  A minimum 40mm of sulphur is added to the wine just before bottling.   Weeds are used positively, to control the soil.  They indicate what is needed to improve the quality of the soil.  Wasps are hooked up in the vineyards, where they hatch, and they take care of the mieliebugs.   Special owl houses have been made from wine barrels to house the collection of owls, who take care of rodents and snakes on the estate.  Increasingly, Avondale  is seeing small buck and lynx coming back to the estate.  Gravity is used in the cellar to reduce the usage of electricity as much as possible.  A natural riverbed runs alongside the cellar, and its clay bottom ensures that the cellar is naturally cold without any airconditioning, even on 45 C days in Paarl.  Avondale only uses pumps for its bottling.   Salt water is brought in, and the salt extracted from it, to add to the soil, salt containing 90 nutrients.  Cover-crops, such as lupins, are planted to create an eco-system, adding nitrogen to the soil.  On good weather days guests are driven into the vineyard, and one tastes the wine in the vineyard block from which it is made.

The Avondale MCC Brut is the only organic sparking wine in South Africa.   Other wines in the Avondale range are Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc (organic), The Weir Chardonnay, Rosé (organic), Jonty’s Ducks (organic), Julia, Camissa Syrah, The Owl House Cabernet Sauvignon, Graham, Muscat Blanc, Les Pleurs Chenin Blanc and Les Pleurs Merlot.  Prices start at R58 for the Rosé and Chenin Blanc, up to over R 200 for the Les Pleurs range.  A new advertising campaign is to be launched, and the naked ladies will no longer feature, but the ducks will.  The wine estate impressed in being the only one to provide a folder of information, summarising its wine farming philosophy (“Wines approved by Mother Nature”), combining natural farming with 21st century science, technology and research.  The organic certification comes from the Dutch Control Union, and is accredited by Bio Nach EG-Öko Verordnung( Germany), Soil Association (UK) and USDA (USA). 

The Avondale building is mock Cape Dutch and its interior is too.  It is a very spacious building, and its interior is functional but not as attractive as that of many other wine estates.  It probably demonstrates that the wines, the farming methods and wine production are the heroes at Avondale.   A most impressively green wine estate.

Backsberg is well-known for its work in enhancing its carbon footprint, but until my visit I was not sure what it was doing, other than that it had recently launched its “Tread Lightly” range of wines in a plastic bottle.  Simon Back traced the history of the farm, to 1916, when his grandfather CL Back had bought the farm, first farming fruit before switching to grapes.  All grapes were sent to the KWV in early days, and it was Simon’s grandfather Sydney who made the first wines at Backsberg in the Sixties.   Michael Back, Simon’s father, studied viticulture and winemaking, and is the passionate owner who is driving the environmentally friendly approach of Backsberg.  He is currently attending a conference in Rio de Janeiro on renewable energy.  Backsberg became so passionate about being environmentally responsible about its wine farming, production and sales that it started by measuring the impact its operation has on the environment, in terms of fuel usage, water and electricity, and many more factors that they could quantify.  The CO2 emissions caused by their operation is offset by a dedicated program to restore their carbon footprint by tree planting, and by changing how they do things.  Energy-saving light bulbs are used; holes were cut in the roof to let in natural light; Michael drives a Ford Bantam bakkie because it is less environmentally damaging and lighter on fuel than a heavy-weight one; fresh dam water is used to cut out on refrigeration costs; smaller tractors are used; barrelwood is re-used and furniture made from it, which is for sale;  a massive counter was made from barrelwood; light-weight glass bottles are used, now weighing 450g compared to the previous 650g; the 50g plastic bottle is a huge step forward, and all indications are that the market is accepting the new ‘Tread Lightly’ range, the first wine brand to use plastic bottles in South Africa, and follows France and Australia as countries that are using such bottles with success.  The long-term goal is to become completely energy self-sufficient in future.  Simon says that the debate that may have been generated about the advisability of using plastic bottles is similar to the one five years ago of using screw caps on wine bottles.   The plastic bottles can be recycled.  A glass-blowing pair of brothers re-uses Backsberg bottles in its glass art. 

The Tread Lightly brand is exactly the same wine as is in the glass bottles, with a shelf life of two years.   Its range consists of Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, and is only sold through Pick ‘n Pay, at R49,99 and R39,99, respectively.  The Backsberg range is extensive, and consists of the Backsberg Family Reserve Range, a Kosher range, Sydney Back brandy range, Hanepoot, Port, a Mediterranean Range (Aldorina, Bella Rosa and Elbar),   Black label Range (Sparkling Brut MCC, John Martin, Pumphouse Shiraz, Klein Babylonstoren) and the Premium Range (Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rosé, Dry Red, Pinotage, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon).  Wine prices start at R31 for the Chenin Blanc, Rosé and Dry Red, up to R 161 for the Backsberg Family Reserve Red Blend.

We were surprised at how old-fashioned things appear at Backsberg in terms of its building and interior, but perhaps it is environmentally friendly to leave the buildings in the way they have always been.  The dedication to the environment is clear and they are saluted for this.   No written information was supplied proactively, and the pricelist does not contain any contact details, should one wish to order or have queries.

Mooiplaas  needs perseverance to get to in terms of its bumpy road, but again this may be a sign of the environmental orientation of this wine estate.  Tielman Roos is a passionate co-owner of the farm, and says that there is a lot of confusion about environmentally-friendly farming. One can farm organically, follow the guidelines of the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative launched by Wines of South Africa, and/or follow the Integrated Production of Wines of the University of Stellenbosch.   The challenge is to use farming methods that harm the environment (like spraying) and then to offset this with environmentally friendly actions.  He explained that there was no point in farming in a purely organic way and then lose one’s crop in not having sprayed.  It is the carbon footprint that counts.  Mooiplaas does this in having created a private nature reserve of Renosterveld on the farm, which can never be used for wine farming.  He said: “We must be responsible to keep our business in business”.  South Africa has the oldest soils in the world, and this makes its biodiversity so special.   Tielman challenged every wine farmer to dedicate 5-10 % of the farm to indigenous plants, to so contribute to the environment.   The Mooiplaas wines carry the ‘Integrity and Sustainability’ seal on the neck of its bottles, and gives traceability to that particular wine. 

The wine estate has a beautiful historic manor house, built in 1833, hidden from the tasting room.  The tasting room feels environmentally friendly, its floor made from rocks and cement (making for a very uneven walk) and walls that show the original building style, only partly plastered.   It is a “plaas” winefarm, with little that shows modernity, except for a good brochure lying in the Tasting Room, and for Tielman’s dedication to the environment.   He organises walks through the nature reserve.  The Mooiplaas range consists of Langtafel Wit, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Langtafel Rosé, Pinotage, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Rosalind and Duel MCC, ranging in price from R32 – R 127.

Signal Hill Winery is in the middle of the city, in Heritage Square, and our guide Kyle Zulch clearly loves his job, demonstrated by his enthusiasm and generosity in the tasting.  He took the group to the pavement, where he disgorged a bottle of their MCC, the process that bubbly producers use to take the lees off the MCC before labelling and corking the bottle.  The grapes for their wines come from vines on pockets of land in Cape Town (Camps Bay, Kalk Bay and Oranjezicht), leading to a small quantity of only 6 barrels produced.  In addition, grapes are bought in from Stellenbosch, Constantia and Somerset West.  Kyle and Signal Hill Winery founder Jean-Vincent Ridon are passionate about ‘fighting urbanisation’, and are looking for more pockets of land in the city on which they can plant vines.   The Premier’s residence Leeuwenhof may become a mini-wine farm soon too. They clean up weeds by hand, rather than the quick and easy spraying method, have an earthworm farm, and they plant lavender and basil in-between the vines.       

The range of 25 Signal Hill wines consists of Tutuka Shiraz (R39), The Threesome, Petit Verdot, Grenache Noir, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz/Syrah Helderberg, Pinot Noir, Clos D’Oranje Shiraz/Syrah R750), Grenache Blanc, Rosé de Saignée (R38), Empereur Rouge, Vin de L’emperuer, Straw Wine, Creme de Tete, Eszencia (R2000), Red Le Signal, White Le Signal and Muscat de Rivesaltes.

It was a most impressive day, seeing wine estates from a completely different angle.  The wine tastings were generous, and one must pace oneself and spit more than swallow, with an average of five wines tasted per wine estate, making about 20 in total!   The wonderful lunch we had at Towerbosch on the Knorhoek wine estate will be featured in a restaurant review next week.

Eco Wine Tours: Charles Lourens, Bottle Plate Pillow Tel 082 375 2884 and Pieter Geldenhuys, PG Tops Tel 083 288 4944.

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