Tag Archives: quality

Dombeya wines have cellaring potential, good value!

Haskell Chardonnay and Merlot 2013Grant Dodd, Australia-based partner and CEO of Haskell Vineyards in Stellenbosch, hosted a #DombeyaDay on Thursday, a vertical tasting of five vintages each of their Dombeya Chardonnay and Shiraz, proving that their inexpensive wines can be cellared.

Haskell Vineyards belongs to Preston Haskell, who bought Dombeya, which makes wines under the Dombeya and Haskell labels, its winemaker being the highly regarded Rainie Strydom, who celebrates her tenth year with the wine farm this year. The farm was named after the Dombeya pear tree which grows on the farm, and originally produced angora wool.

Dodd related the conversation between Haskell and himself ten years ago, when Haskell bought the farm, about the Dombeya brand name.  Dodd suggested its Continue reading →

Cape Town festive season tourism up on 2010

Cape Town is bursting at the seams, and will get even fuller from today onwards, when international visitors fly into the city after their Christmas celebrations with their families.  While the occupancy for the festive season (i.e. Christmas – 8 January) is improved, the overall occupancy for December is on a par with that of last December.

The Cape Argus front page story headline ‘Tourists pour into Cape’ was based on a 4% increase in domestic arrivals in November, relative to the year before, and is therefore sensationalist and incorrect. Expectations of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company (100000 visitors estimated for December) and the V&A Waterfront (3 million visitors expected in December) are optimistic, but comparative 2010 figures are not provided .   The newspaper, which also reported a 14% increase in international arrivals on 21 December, relative to the ‘last festive season’, appears to be confused about the definition of the ‘festive season’, seen by the industry as only starting with Christmas, and running until the day before the first working day in January (as early as 3 January, or 9 January for most).

The article also quoted Cape Town Tourism in saying that the arrival statistics were not reflected in the occupancy levels of accommodation establishments in the city, many arrivals staying with friends and family.  Cape Town Tourism’s market research methods have been dubious in the past, and do not appear to reflect that many international visitors now own a house or apartment in the Cape.  The tourism body spokesperson Skye Grove also blamed price sensitivity for hotels and guest houses not being fully booked, due the ‘current economic conditions’. One wonders how Cape Town Tourism drew this conclusion, without interviewing tourists.   She also blames the unfilled beds on the 40 % increased room capacity in the past four years, in preparation for the 2010 World Cup, with a current total bed availability of 60 000 in greater Cape Town, she said.  Ms Grove did not mention the feedback about Cape Town having become an expensive destination.  She also said that tourists are “looking for added value and expect excellent service. They are, more than ever, prepared to shop around for the best deal when it comes to experiences, food, drinks and accommodation”.

The competing tourism body Cape Town Routes Unlimited provided a different statistic, its CEO Calvyn Gilfellan saying that 20 % more beds had been added in the past two years, and his body expected a ‘slight return to normality’, without a definition thereof.  He warned the industry to not overcharge: “Competition is tough, people know they have to be realistic with their rates”. Alan Winde, Western Cape Minister of Tourism and Finance, echoed Gilfellan, in stating that there would be a slight improvement in visitor numbers, but he warned the tourism industry to ‘…don’t expect fireworks’.  He added: “The market is tough and is going to become even more competitive, so we have to up our game. Quality and service will set us apart from the rest”.

Whale Cottage Camps Bay is likely to finish December with an occupancy of 70 %, slightly up on December 2010, but a huge drop from the 90+% occupancy of December 2007 – 2009.  What is different is that the guest house is fully booked for the Christmas days, which is an improvement on the past years. However, the first two weeks of December were much quieter than in the past.  A similar pattern is evident in Franschhoek, although the occupancy level for the month is below 20%, while occupancy in Hermanus is much reduced relative to last December.  The Mount Nelson Hotel is not full at the moment, but will fill up later this week, one of the managers told me yesterday.

For Cape Town to be a world class city offering quality service, as per the call by Minister Winde, restaurants should be encouraged to open on Christmas Day, and particularly in the evening. Kloof Street is a restaurant street boasting 35 restaurants, of which only three were open yesterday evening, two of them being franchise restaurants, and Mason’s being filled with tourists staying in the Tamboerskloof and Gardens areas.  The service at Mason’s was particularly slow, the owner apologetically saying that all his staff had called in sick, so patrons had to expect a 25 minute waiting time for food (my cappuccino took this long to make too). Poor spelling on their Christmas dinner menu does not give our city a professional image.

Newspaper headlines about the tourism season should wait until the festive season has ended, and should be based on reliable information, journalists having to be responsible in their information sources. Cape Town tourism bodies should be professional in conducting their market research!  The increased tourism numbers, mainly domestic tourists, do not seem to be the result of any marketing efforts by Cape Town Tourism or by Cape Town Routes Unlimited. Cape Town Tourism launched its ‘You don’t need a holiday, you need Cape Town’ campaign to huge fanfare at the World Travel Market in London and at its AGM in the past two months, but the campaign seems to have run out of steam, and is not visible in any media.

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

Consumer Protection Act no joke, affects every business from 1 April

It is surprising how little has been written about the new Consumer Protection Act No 68 of 2008, which comes into operation on 1 April.   It gives tremendous power to consumers in their dealings with businesses, and will put every business on its toes, the punitive fines of R1 million or more being a strong motivator.

The Act itself runs to just under 100 pages, and whilst written to be understood, it is a volume of information to comprehend.  We bought the book written by Advocate Neville Melville, ‘The Consumer Protection Act Made Easy’, to guide us in evaluating our business in terms of compliance with the new Act.   It is frustrating that there are many grey areas, as the author had to write the book as broadly as possible, to be applicable to every South African business and industry.   I have written this blogpost with a focus on how the new Act will affect the hospitality industry, not as an expert by any means, as an hospitality business owner.   Accommodation provision is most specifically identified as a type of Service covered by the Act, whereas restaurants are not mentioned as such, but the Act applies to the provider of “Goods”, which includes anything “marketed for human consumption”.   Any contracts entered into before 1 April 2011 are excluded from the provisions of the Act.

The Act is introduced as follows: “To promote a fair, accessible and sustainable marketplace for consumer products and services and for that purpose to establish national norms and standards relating to consumer protection, to provide for improved standards of consumer information, to prohibit certain unfair marketing and business practices, to promote responsible consumer behaviour, to promote a consistent legislative and enforcement framework relating to consumer transactions and agreements, to establish the National Consumer Commission…”. 

It has been designed with the express purpose to protect the poor, and vulnerable and historically disadvantaged consumers, and to ‘promote their full participation as consumers’.  It also aims to apply ‘internationally recognised customer rights’, and seeks to ensure transparent ‘redress’ for consumers subjected to ‘abuse or exploitation in the marketplace’.  From a consumer perspective, it will certainly lead to improved customer service and better quality products, as complaints about service and product quality, as incorporated by the Act, can be taken to the newly established National Consumer Commission.   The penalties that businesses can face are R1 million or 10 % of the annual turnover, whichever is the higher figure.   Advocate Melville advises that businesses must ensure that they have sufficient public liability insurance.  

The Consumer Protection Act ascribes eight rights to consumers:

!.   The Right of Equality

     A business may not exclude or unfairly discriminate against any person, or category of persons, prioritise one set of persons over another, or charge certain types of persons more than another.  This raises an important issue about the “Right of Admission” signs in hotels and restaurants.  Le Quartier Français in Franschhoek, in banning patrons from its establishments, may fall foul of the new Act on this point.  

One may not contract with a minor, or with mentally challenged persons. 

2.   The Right to Privacy

   Consumers have the right to reject or block unwanted direct marketing or any other communication via e-mail, telephone and sms.  Allowable contact times for direct marketing may be specified in future.   Newsletters, for example, must have an ‘unsubscribe’ option, to allow recipients the right to not receive them in future, especially if they are deemed to be for ‘direct marketing’ purposes. 

3.   The Right to Choose

Products may not be bundled together with another product or service linked to it, and therefore a supplier or retailer cannot make it mandatory to buy another (possibly unwanted) product as part of a package.   Consumers also have the right to ‘examine goods’, yet cannot be held liable for damage in doing so, a bizarre ruling – however ‘gross negligence, recklessness, malicious behaviour or criminal conduct of the consumer’ is chargeable. 

By agreement, the consumer and supplier can agree how, when and by whom the product or service will be delivered.  If it is not specified, it is implicit that the supplier must deliver the product within a reasonable time period.   The consumer has the right to check the goods on delivery, to ascertain whether they meet the specifications of the order.   

4.   The Right to Disclosure

     All documentation must be written in plain and understandable language (the tenancy clause in the Taj Cape Town ‘legal document’ when one checks in will not meet this criterion in the Act!).  The advertised or marked price is the one that must be honoured, even if it is an error.   A brand name or trade mark must not attempt to mislead consumers.  “Grey market goods” must be identified by the sellers as such.  Important to note is that a ‘written record of the transaction’ must be provided, and must contain the following prescribed information:

*   Supplier’s full registered business name and VAT registration number

*   Address

*   Date of transaction (could be two dates for accommodation establishments, if a deposit is taken to make the booking.  The transaction date will differ from the actual accommodation dates, so there could be three sets of dates)

*   Description of goods and services provided

*   The unit price

*   The quantity supplied

*   The total price before tax

*   The VAT amount – few establishments separate this amount, as all transactions are VAT inclusive

*   The total price. 

The right to disclosure also would include information about anything that can affect the consumer’s use of the product, in containing potentially hazardous or harmful ingredients (e.g. Reuben’s at One&Only Cape Town correctly specifies which of its dishes contain nuts, alcohol, and pork).

5.   The Right to Responsible and Fair Marketing

     Marketing must be honest.   One may not over-promise, exaggerate, mislead or make false claims, so as to lead the consumer to have a different expectation.  One must honour one’s commitment to have a specified product or service available on the date/time that was agreed.  Restaurants, for example, may not claim that their dishes contain ingredients that they do not, or that they are imported when they are sourced locally.  Advertising must realistically portray the benefits of the product or service.  

Loyalty programs are specifically mentioned, and the ruling is that the promised reward must be available to the consumer.  The communication of how the loyalty programme works must be clear. 

6.   The Right to Fair and Honest Dealing 

The Act uses the word ‘unconscionable’, a complex word Melville writes, given that the Act itself calls for ‘plain language’ in all dealings with the consumer!  This clause calls for positive conduct with the consumer, and does not allow a supplier to use ‘undue influence, pressure, duress or harassment, unfair tactics or any similar conduct’ in getting payment due to the supplier, or goods returned.   As a hospitality supplier, it would be great if the Act protected suppliers against such abuse and blackmail too!

The supplier may not withhold material facts about the product or service (e.g. renovations taking place at a guest house), nor imply a benefit of the product or service that does not exist, or fail to correct a misunderstanding that the consumer expresses about the product or the service.   Reasonable availability of the product or service must be accurately communicated, as must be the availability of parts for repairs.   Pyramid schemes are expressly forbidden. 

Overbooking, with the express purpose of taking more bookings than one has the capacity for, based on the knowledge that not all booked customers will arrive (e.g. airlines, hotels) is no longer allowed, as one must have the service/product available if it has been booked.   Any such overbooking and therefore inability to honour a booking calls for a refund of the cost of the booked service as well as the costs involved in cancelling the booked service (e.g. loss of business suffered by the customer), which could become very costly for the supplier!   However, the supplier may make an alternative arrangement on behalf of the customer, and that customer is reasonably expected to accept the alternative arrangement.

7.   The Right to fair, just and reasonable terms and conditions

       The Act regulates ‘agreements’ (not calling them contracts) between suppliers and consumers.  One may not contract with minors, and those that are mentally unfit.   Information in the agreement must be in plain understandable language.  Repairs must be pre-quoted.    Some agreements will be specified by the Minister to be in writing.  The sales record must contain the required information (as specified above).  Any risk to the consumer that may lead to serious injury or death must be highlighted (does a pool count?).  Any other potential risks associated with the product or the service must be highlighted.   A ‘fair’ price must be offered, and the terms must be ‘fair’ and reasonable, although ‘fair’ is not defined.  “Unfair” is however defined as agreements which are one-sided in benefit to a party other than the consumer, or are based on misleading information.  No clause in an agreement can be in contravention, or cancel any provisions,  of the Consumer Protection Act.   PIN codes and ID books may not be kept by the supplier, and only copies may be made of the ID book and the PIN code used for a transaction.

A contentious provision for businesses is the right to a cooling-off period, which allows the consumer to return bought goods within five days of purchase, and must be refunded in full within 15 business days.  The notice of cancellation must be in writing.  Melville uses the word ‘good’, and not ‘service’, so it is not clear if this applies to bookings made for services such as accommodation, for which a 50 % deposit is likely to have been taken.   Even more uncertain is how the provision that a consumer can return a ‘good’ if he/she did not have a chance to see the product beforehand, but only of it is not hazardous to the public health (which would exclude food and beverages) or if it has been tampered with.  Such a clause could apply to accommodation too, being an unsighted purchase (but is defined as a ‘service’), so this may not be applicable.   

Consumers have the right to cancel an advance booking or order, ‘but may be liable for a charge for doing so’.   A supplier may “require payment of a reasonable deposit in advance and impose a reasonable charge for the cancellation” . The ‘reasonable’ is not defined, but Melville writes that it should be decided on the basis of the following:

   *   The nature of the products and services

   *   the length of notice of the cancellation

   *   the “reasonable potential for the service provider, acting diligently, to find an alternative consumer between the time of receiving the cancellation notice and the time of the cancelled reservation”. 

   *   The general practice of the industry concerned

In the case of the death or hospitalisation of the person making the booking, the deposit paid must be refunded in full, but this does not apply to a family member’s death or hospitalisation. 

Should a supplier close a service facility (say a guest house which decides to close over winter), 40 business days’ notice must be given to the customer, and the deposit payment must be refunded within 5 business days after the service facility has closed. 

8.  The Right to fair value, good quality and safety

Any good, or element within a good, that can cause harm, injury or potential death to the consumer must be spelt out to the consumer.   These risks can include those that the consumer may not ordinarily have expected, especially those which can lead to serious injury or death.   At Whale Cottage we have evaluated our operation relative to this clause, and have changed our breakfast menu to highlight all nut-based cereals, and have changed the content of one of our Huguenot Fine Chocolates’ turn-down chocolates, which previously was a hazelnut praline.

Products that are available to or sold to the consumer that may contain hazardous substances must have the warning and description on the pack or available separately (e.g. we stock Tabard insect spray in our guest bedrooms, with instructions and health warnings on the pack). 

The Act calls for compensation to consumers if the products bought caused harm to themselves and/or their property.  Not only the direct supplier is liable, but also the importer, the retailer, the manufacturer, the distributor, and the installer can be sued for damages within a three year period from the date of the loss or damage.

A further requirement is that products and services should be of a quality that consumers are ‘generally entitled to expect’.  It states that industry association codes and practice would guide what this reasonable level of quality would be.  For the accommodation industry, the Tourism Grading Council guidelines and requirements probably would be a good quality guide.  Timing of the delivery of the service is once again highlighted as having to be ‘reasonable’, and suppliers must give consumers ‘reasonable’ notice (timing undefined) of ‘unavoidable’ delays.   A good requirement, for anyone dealing with builders or repairmen, is that the property must be left in the condition it was when they first started their work.  Suppliers of repair services must safeguard the consumers’ goods in their care, and this includes deposits that may have been paid.

Products bought must deliver on what they are expected to perform.  They must be in good working condition and free of defects.  So, for example, a toaster used in a guest house can not be expected to perform the same service compared to one used domestically, and the consumer must declare the usage, so that he/she can make the most suitable purchase.  If the product does not perform, the consumer can return the product within a six month period, and can demand a new replacement product, money back, or repair of the item.   The consumer has the right of choice in this regard, not the supplier.  This places a responsibility on suppliers to stock enough of any products to be able to replace products, especially if the items might be discontinued!   Repaired goods have a three month warranty period through the Act.   No ‘voetstoots’ clause applies for any purchase any longer.

The Consumer Protection Act is a lengthy piece of legislation, and each business is advised to check its practices and communication to customers, to evaluate its compliance with the new Act.  It could become an explosive minefield if opportunistic consumers were to try to exploit the provisions of the Act, especially for the service industry, where things are not always black or white.  However, the protection it affords consumers is welcomed, and the improvement in the level of service and quality of products one can expect as a result is too.

POSTSCRIPT 26/5:  This afternoon I attended a Consumer Protection Act workshop at the Radisson Blu hotel, organised jointly by Cape Town Tourism and FEDHASA Cape.  The first part was presented by a lawyer from Webber Wentzel, the most boring speaker, who quoted clauses from the Act and had assumed that the audience knew nothing at all about the Act.  He had misread his audience completely.  He was followed by FEDHASA legal consultant Peter Cumberlege, who was far more entertaining as well as informative, but with strong views that FEDHASA Cape appears to rely on, without robust debate!  The key points made:

*   nothing in the Act is new – we all treat guests fairly

*   the most contentious statement was that the hospitality industry should NOT have a standardised cancellation and refund policy – all establishments are unique.  However, the Chairman of the National Consumer Tribunal said in Franschhoek recently that the hospitality industry should form an industry body, and should standardise its cancellation policy, given that the Act regularly refers to standard industry practice.

*   Establishments must try to resell cancelled rooms, and should try not to charge for these.  If there is a charge, it should be to recover expenses, and not a full room rate, especially if the establishment is not fully booked on the day of the cancellation- this is a contentious view of Cumberlege, and many would disagree with him.

*   SQ prices must come off restaurant menus

*   Invoices can no longer be handwritten, given the invoice requirements in the Act

*   All websites and brochures should be checked for accuracy of claims.  Avoid overclaims.

*   If one overbooks one’s accommodation, the guest must be given equal or better accommodation, or one must refund: interest on money held plus monies paid plus cost of cancellation to the client

*   One is responsible for guests’ belongings on one’s property

*   Disclaimers and waivers are now meaningless in contracts

*   Sites representing a number of establishments must state the rate of the establishment and the percentage commission that they have added = full disclosure

The Consumer Protection Act Made Easy, Adv NJ Melville, 2010.  Exclusive Books.

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

Overhex Balance wines are good balance between quality and price!

On Friday I was fortunate to experience a tasting of some of the wines in the Overhex Wines International range, and specifically their new additions to the two year old Balance range, which was held at one of the most popular restaurants in Cape Town, namely Luke Dale-Roberts’  The Test Kitchen.

The Test Kitchen in the Old Biscuit Mill premises in Woodstock is a small space, and we must have been about thirty journalists and bloggers who were lucky enough to be invited by charming PR consultant Nicolette Waterford.  The stature of the event was reflected by the attendance of Sunday Times wine writer Neil Pendock, Cape Wine Master Christine Rudman, Cape Times wine writer Cathy Marston, Christian Eedes, Wade Bales, Spit or Swallow’s Anel Grobler, Joanne Gibson, Greg Landman, and more, and the restaurant venue must have been an important attendance drawcard.   Spread over the two tables were staff of Overhex, including the co-owner Gerhard van der Wath, who manages the company, in close co-operation with JC (for Jean Claude) Martin, who is the Production Director, and is responsible for the wine styles and blends, assisted by Jandre Human, the cellar master.  Being private-owned means that Gerhard and JC can make quick decisions.   They are not restricted to only the grapes of their region, but can buy in the best grapes to suit their requirements, including from the Swartland, West Coast, Franschhoek, and Stellenbosch, allowing them to make wines at different price points.  The Overhex farm in the Breede River Valley outside Worcester produces about 10 000 tons of grapes, and about 5 million litres are bought in, JC told us.

JC (on the right, chatting to Greg Landman) has a Swiss German lilt when he speaks, and arrived in South Africa six years ago, having met his wife Carolyn (daughter of Walter Finlayson) on the wine estate in Switzerland on which he worked at the time, where she came to present label designs on behalf of the London design agency she worked for.  His association with Overhex started in 2005.  Alongside the Overhex wine involvement, JC makes his own Creation wines in the Hemel en Aarde valley outside Hermanus.   While this was not a Creation function at all, we did discuss the wines and the marketing of them, which JC does on the side when he represents Overhex wines overseas.  His wife does the marketing of Creation wines locally, and they had an average of 300 visitors per day in their tasting room over the festive season, he said.  They are very excited about the fact that the Western Cape province has placed the Caledon – Hermanus gravel road going through their valley as number one priority on the list of roads to be tarred in the province, and they see this as being of huge future benefit to themselves and their colleagues on the recently created Hemel en Aarde Valley wine route.   I sat opposite JC, and asked him questions abouit Creation – he did not talk about Creation when he addressed the guests.  JC told me he studied winemaking in the French part of Switzerland. Switzerland is not generally known as a wine producer, but JC told me that the Swiss drink all the wine produced in the total area of 25000 ha, and therefore it is not exported.  Whalepod is a new Creation brand, and we have started stocking it in our Whale Cottages.  JC told me that they are launching a new Syrah/Malbec Whalepod blend. Tasting rooms on wine farms are unique to South Africa, in that one can visit most wine farms without making an appointment, making this wine tourism valuable to wine farms selling their wines from the cellar door – for Creation it represents 30 % of their sales. 

In 2003 Overhex was started as a co-operative, and was bought by Gerhard and a partner in 2005.  Initially their focus was on the international market, and they now export to 25 countries.  JC told us that they export to supermarket and liquor groups such as Marks & Spencer, CO-OP UK, and Fosters, making own label wines for them.   Most of the wine is made to the specific requirements of each of these chains, and exported in bulk, and bottled in the UK and in Germany.     Ten Overhex brands are exported, being 3,5 million bottles in total. 

The reason for the launch function was to introduce the new additions to the Balance range, being the Winemaker’s Selection Shiraz 2010 and Winemaker’s Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2010.  They complement the existing Balance range of Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (won a gold medal at Michelangelo 2010),  Shiraz Merlot 2010, Pinotage Shiraz 2009, Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2010, Chenin Blanc Colombar, Reserve Unwooded Chardonnay, Sparkling Vin Sec, Sparkling Vin Doux, Shiraz Rosé and a sweet Rosé, aiming them at the domestic market for the first time.  Balance has been shaped for local wine drinkers, and the range is designed to be easy drinking wines with a shorter life span.   We were asked to evaluate the wines relative to their price point, the Winemaker’s Selection Sauvignon Blanc costing R40 and the Winemaker’s Selection Shiraz costing R45, representing incredible value, as none of the white and red Balance wines are more expensive than these two prices.  JC said that the Balance wines should not be judged on price alone, in that a cheaper wine does not mean that it is a bad wine.   Overhex operates ethically and cares about its supplier farmers, in that they offer them a price for their grapes that allows the farmers to survive.  The Balance wines are available at ULTRA intitally, and they are working on expanding the distribution at local outlets.   I asked about the elephant on the label, and the designer was at the function, but she could not explain it, other than that it was on the first Balance labels.  The Balance pay-off line is “for life’s lighter moments”.  The Overhex cellar now has a tasting room and Bistro, and locals are invited to visit the wine estate.  “Our goal with Balance is to get the wine lover to celebrate everyday wine culture, making it easy to enjoy delicious wines from a varied range at an affordable price point”, said Gerhard.

The Test Kitchen food was outstanding, and deep fried sushi was served before we started.  I chose a Trout tartar starter, which was light and perfect for the hot summer’s day.  As I had the kingklip when I had dinner at the restaurant in December, I ordered the beef fillet, and it is the softest I remember ever having, simply presented with green beans.   For dessert the choice was a cheese platter and lemon tart. 

The launch and tasting of the Overhex Wines International Balance range of wines, ‘paired’ with the wonderful food by Chef Luke-Dale Roberts of The Test Kitchen, and the gift pack of Balance wines, was the start to an exceptional day, which ended with the attendance at the U2 360° concert at the Cape Town Stadium for many attending the function.

Overhex Wines International, 71 Stockenström Street, Worcester. Tel (023) 347-6838.  www.overhex.com  Tuesday – Thursday 10h00 – 17h00, Friday and Saturday 10h00 – 16h00.

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

Restaurant Review: Seasons Restaurant at Diemersfontein functional, no Woolworths!

I cannot help but associate Diemersfontein with Woolworths, which creates a very high expectation.  Max Sonnenberg first bought Diemersfontein in 1943 as a fruit farm outside Wellington, and it now is run by his grandson David.  Max Sonnenberg was the founder of Woolworths in 1931, and is South Africa’s leading retail outlet,  synonymous with quality and innovation.   I did not find any such “Woolworths” quality at Diemersfontein and its restaurant Seasons when I had lunch there last Sunday, on my weekend visit to the Wellington Wine Route.  

It starts when you drive in, and the entrance wall states that Diemersfontein is a ‘residential wine estate’, which seems to be more focused on the residential side of things.  As one drives to the restaurant, one does not see any vineyards, just dry dusty land.   The view from the restaurant is onto the Paarl Mountain in the far distance, and onto a very dusty and dry field below, with some horses on it, as well as a dam.  Again, one has no sense of being on a wine estate at all. 

The Seasons restaurant and wine tasting building is a functional one, and the two sections are linked by a courtyard, with shading provided, given the Wellington heat.   There is no Seasons branding on the restaurant building, and if I had not seen guests eating outside, I would not have known where to go.  I had expected the restaurant to be the old manor house, which I had visited many years ago, but that has become guest accommodation, and serves as an office for Mr Sonnenberg, I was told.  For the quality of the wines, the Diemersfontein reputation, and the Sonnenberg ownership, I was shocked at the restaurant interior, with garden furniture inside, and a gap in one section, with no tables at all.   There is no attractive reception counter, or any redeeming feature to make this restaurant look attractive, and it is purely function-driven.  My heart sank, and I feared the worst.    I chose to sit outside, also on garden furniture, which was more appropriate.   Plants have been planted in old wine vats, but looked sadly neglected and probably take a beating from the south-easter and heat, and were more functional looking, to fill a vat, rather than to look attractive or to add colour to the courtyard. 

I was ignored when I arrived, and there did not seem to be a Restaurant Manager on duty at all. I had to ask the waitress Denisia, who walked past me, if she could seat me.  She wanted to know for how many persons the booking was, so that she could find my booking.  She was not interested in my name, as the number of persons booked would identify which table I should be seated at!  My heart sank further when Denisia could not tell the surname of the chef, and she told me immediately that he was not on duty anyway!   Edward Maqegu took over from Chef Johan van Schalkwyk, who now runs The Stone Kitchen on the Dunstone Boutique Winery  on the Bovlei Road in Wellington.   Chef Johan still does the catering for events at Diemersfontein.   Denisia redeemed herself, and was very attentive throughout the rest of my visit, and brought me a massive jug of lemon and ice water.  

The tables have a good quality white table cloth with a burgundy material serviette.  The cutlery is average, certainly not purchased from Woolworths!   Each table has a small Cape Herb and Spice Company salt and pepper grinder, which could have been bought at Woolworths.  The black plastic covered menu has untidy plastic pockets for each menu page, and an introduction promises: “Fresh local ingredients, beautifully presented”.  The latter certainly is an overpromise.  The menu also asks one to tell the waitress if one is rushed for time, something I have not seen before.  The menu has a Tapas list of ten items, which serves as the starters, Denisia said, and then lists main courses (none above R110, which is for venison) and desserts (R35 – R40).   The menu has a Diemersfontein wine recommendation for every item on the menu, including each Tapas item. 

I had ordered the duck liver paté, and it arrived soon after the order was placed, three generous triangular slices, a steal at R20.  I had asked for it to be served with toast, but the bread arrived untoasted, and was quickly returned toasted.  It was functionally presented on a sideplate with a sprig of parsley, not passing the ‘beautiful’ test. I took half of the paté home.   Other Tapas options include Bobotie Wontons, salmon and asparagus, and prawn cocktail, ranging in price from R20 – R38.  One can also order light meals such as burgers and a prego steak roll, and there is a choice of four salads.  The kingklip (R95) was fantastic, to my surprise, just simply grilled, with no hard crust as I had experienced at Mange Tout last week,  two very generous pieces, with crushed new potatoes and a green vegetable mix of beans (slightly undercooked), broccoli and courgettes.  Out of place, and not really adding to the ‘beauty’ of the dish, was a very dangerous-looking orange aioli made with roasted peppers and mayonnaise.   I was served a fish knife for it.  Other main course choices include fillet, lamb cutlets, chicken Malay curry, prawns, and venison.  Had I stayed for dessert, I could have ordered Créme Bruleé, chocolate mousse, milk tart, lemon cheese cake and chocolate and pecan nut tart.

The winelist is in a similar plastic cover, and will not win any Diner’s Club Winelist awards.  It is a very restricted winelist, and consists mainly of Diemersfontein wines and is proudly-Wellington in the choice of the rest, and the prices are exceptionally reasonable.  What is a shame is that the Thokozani (Zulu word for ‘let’s celebrate’) brand is not explained on the winelist, as being an empowerment project at Diemersfontein.  Two sparkling wines are offered: Thokozani (R18/R105) and Villiera Tradition Brut (R150).   The Thokozani “CVV” (a chardonnay, chenin blanc and viognier blend) costs R16/R54. The Thokozani Rosé  costs R12/R39.  The Shiraz options are both from the estate – Diemersfontein Shiraz costs R23/R78 and Carpe Diem R34/R120.

Seasons also serves breakfast from 8h00 – 11h00, costing R55 for Boland Eggs Benedict, and the other egg options cost less.  A fruit platter with yoghurt and muesli seems expensive at R55.  I would go back to Seasons Restaurant for the kingklip alone, but the restaurant is in need of a major interior and management overhaul, and must live up to its ‘beautiful’ plating promise.  Seasons has such amazing potential, with a captive audience of home owners on the estate, and its proximity to the traffic flow in and out of Wellington.  Given that the town is in dire need of good quality restaurants, it is missing a golden business opportunity. 

Seasons Restaurant, Diemersfontein, Jan van Riebeeck Drive, Wellington.   Tel (021) 864-5050.     www.diemersfontein.co.za  (The website dedicates only one page to the restaurant, and has no photographs of the food.  The menu is available.  It clearly has not been updated for a while, as the Thokozani wine range is not featured in the Wine section).   Monday – Sunday, Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

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

Life’s a Blue Flag Beach! Western Cape beaches best

For the tenth year running South African beaches have been evaluated, and 15 beaches in the Western Cape, and five in Cape Town alone, have been awarded Blue Flag status, reports Southern African Tourism Update.  In total 27 beaches have been awarded Blue Flag status around the country, meaning that the Western Cape has the cleanest beaches in general in the country, an excellent benefit for tourism.   Another 14 beaches are ‘bubbling under’, working on their Blue Flag status for next year. 

Ten years ago only three South African beaches were awarded Blue Flag status.   South Africa is the only country outside of Europe to have its beaches tested for quality.   This ensures that locals as well as tourists can be guaranteed world-class beaches and facilities, being safe, clean and well-managed.   Climate change is affecting the quality of beaches and its facilities, and municipalities are commended for spending scarce financial resources to rehabilitate these beaches in order to meet and maintain the Blue Flag standards.     

The 27 Blue Flag beaches are the following:

MacDougall’s Bay, Port Nolloth  
Yzerfontein Main beach, Yzerfontein 
Clifton 4th beach, Cape Town 
Camps Bay, Cape Town    
Muizenberg, Cape Town    
Strandfontein beach, Cape Town  
Mnandi beach, Cape Town    
Bikini beach, Gordon’s Bay   
Kleinmond beach, near Hermanus   
Hawston beach, near Hermanus   
Grotto beach, Hermanus    
Lappiesbaai, Stilbaai, Southern Cape
Witsand at the mouth of the Breede River  
Santos beach, Mossel Bay   
Hartenbos beach, Mossel Bay
Robberg 5 beach, Plettenberg Bay  
Dolphin beach, Jeffrey’s Bay  
Humewood beach, Port Elizabeth 
Wells Estate, north of Port Elizabeth  
Kelly’s beach, Port Alfred    
Kariega Main beach, Kenton-on-Sea 
Umzumbe (Pumula) on the south coast KZN (new)
Lucien beach near Margate (back)
Trafalgar beach, south coast KZN 
Marina beach, south coast KZN  
Ramsgate beach, near Margate  
Margate beach 

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