Staying in Tulbagh for a wedding this past weekend afforded me the opportunity to visit some of the better known wine estates in the area. What is surprising is that almost all wineries close on Saturdays at 2 pm, and are not open on Sundays. Tulbagh promotes itself as a wedding destination, so most visitors to the town would only have two or three hours before a Saturday afternoon wedding to visit the Tulbagh wine estates, and therefore many visitors would not be able to visit them all.
A handy Tulbagh Valley and Village Map with tourist attractions, including the 13 wine estates in Tulbagh, was made available to us at Rijk’s Country House. An interesting note on the Manley’s website indicates that Tulbagh was previously known as a white wine region, but the earthquake in 1969 changed wine production to red wine (the connection is not explained), and the region now produces fine red wines, Shiraz in particular.
Rijk’s Private Cellar
We stayed at Rijk’s Country House on our first night, and therefore the winetasting at the Rijk’s Private Cellar the next morning was a must. We had been welcomed with a most generous glass of Shiraz at Rijk’s Country House on arrival, so we were familiar with it on arrival at the tasting room. I asked the charming Lucilia Turner which were the signature wines, and she said that the Pinotage and Chenin Blanc win the most awards, yet most associate Rijk’s with Shiraz. I admired Lucilia for her ability to chat, pour and sell her wines to all the visitors, without offending anyone.
The tasting room is extremely functional looking, with a counter in a vast room, creating an echo as it is not filled with enough furniture. The furniture is wooden tables and chairs, and a far corner has some couches. Lots of certificates for prizes won by the wines are against the wall. There is no marketing information about the Rijk’s wines at all to take away, other than the price list. A folder on the counter contained interesting information about the history of the wine estate, and technical details about the wine-making. Johan Wiese is the viticulturist, and Pierre Wahl the winemaker. Günter Brözel, ex-Nederburg, was a consultant to the setting up of the cellar, which was completed in 1999.
The 136 ha property was bought by Neville Dorrington twenty years, and was named Rijk’s after Rijk Tulbagh, the Governor of the Cape between 1751 – 1771. The wine estate produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Pinotage, Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc.
The tasting fee is R 10 per wine tasted, but the fee is waived if one buys Rijk’s wines. One can taste a large selection of wines – Rijk’s Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (R90), Chenin Blanc 2008 (R90), Chenin Blanc Reserve 2007 (R160), Chardonnay 2006 (R90), Chardonnay Reserve 2007 (R160), Fascination 2008 (R120), Iceberg Red 2004 (R70), Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (R120), Pinotage 2006 (R130), Shiraz 2005 (R130), The Crossing 2006 (R80), Bravado 2004 (R120), Rijk’s Estate Syrah 2007 (R250), and Rijk’s Estate The Master (R250.
Rijk’s Private Cellar. Tel (023) 230-1622. www.rijks.co.za Monday – Friday 10h00 – 16h00, Saturday 9h00 – 15h00
I had previously tried the Saronsberg Shiraz, which had come highly recommended, but really did not like it. I had been recommended on Twitter to visit Saronsberg, and decided to do so, notwithstanding my feelings about the Shiraz, and I am so happy that I did, as this wine estate is completely out of the ordinary, with a very modern tasting room, which seemed a surprise to find in Tulbagh.
Great care and lots of money appear to have gone into the building, set at the edge of a pond, with interesting looking sculptures by Angus Taylor in the garden attracting one’s attention immediately. In fact, as one drives in, the sculpture with a stone on its head attracted attention to something different to expect. The path leading to the tasting room gives earthiness through a stone walkway, but is very uncomfortable to walk on. The tasting room is a triple story open plan building, a surprise interior when one enters it. Downstairs is the tasting room, with a Paul du Toit painting facing the tasting counter. The two staff members were hard pressed to serve everyone, and seemed disinterested in answering all the questions. I was referred to the website to find out more about Saronsberg and its owner Nick van Huyssteen, the staff only knowing that he is an entrepreneur from Pretoria, and a property developer, who bought the land from Twee Jonge Gezellen in 2002, naming it Saronsberg after a local mountain. The tasting room was completed in 2003, and the first grapes were harvested in 2004. Van Huyssteen is about to open an art gallery near or in the Old Biscuit Mill, the staff said. A Grand Piano is also in the tasting room, and the wine tasting assistant told me that it is used for events, if they are asked very nicely to host them in their venue. There are also two long wooden wine tasting tables, surprising with the Philippe Starke ghost chairs placed around them.
Upstairs, over two levels, are the works of art from Van Huyssteen’s private collection, including three by Christo Coetzee, as well as works by Jan Vermeiren, Walter Battis, Norman Catherine, and other artists. It would have been helpful to have had a pamphlet about the art collection, to explain more about the artists and their paintings and sculptors.
The tasting fee is R 25 for an unspecified number of wines, and is waived if one buys Saronsberg wines. I asked the tasting assistant what their signature wine is, and he said that 50 % of their production is Shiraz, it being the only red wine that they produce. The Paul du Toit painting is depicted on the Provenance wine labels. The winemaker is Cape Winemakers’ Guild member Dewaldt Heyns, and the wines are sold under the following labels:
· Saronsberg – one can taste Chardonnay 2008 and Viognier 2009, costing R85 each, Shiraz 2008 costs R 150, Full Circle 2008 (a Shiraz, Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier blend) costs R 195 and Seismic 2006 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec blend) costs R 170. Seismic has won an impressive collection of awards, while the Shiraz has also performed well at the Veritas and Michelangelo Awards 2010.
· Provenance includes in its range Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (R60), Shiraz Rosé 2010 (R45), Shiraz 2009 (R95) and Rooi 2009 (R95)
· Nick & Forti’s has three wines, but the Shiraz 2006 and Epicenter Red 2006 are not available for tasting, yet can be bought at R75 each. The Viognier 2008 is available to taste, and costs R65. The name for this sub-brand is made up of Van Huyssteen’s name as well as that of Forti Mazzone, the owner of Pretoria restaurant Ritrovo Ristorante.
· Saronsberg MCC Vintage Brut costs R120 for the 2007 vintage
Saronsberg’s pay-off line is “A Passage to all senses”, and “Discover – Listen – Breathe – Feel – Taste” is the mantra of this estate.
We left, feeling disappointed that the wealth of art and investment in Saronsberg is not matched by the tasting assistants, who were functional wine pourers and payment takers, but did not spontaneously volunteer one piece of information about their wines.
Saronsberg Winery, Tel (023) 230-0707 www.saronsberg.com Twitter: @Saronsberg Monday – Friday 8h30 – 17h00, Saturday 10h00 – 14h00.
Manley Private Cellar
We stayed at Manley’s Wine Lodge on our second night of the weekend, and the manager Alicea was sweet enough to offer to do a wine tasting with us on Sunday, as we had run out of time on Saturday. She did add that she was not a professional wine assistant, being employed to run the guest house. The owner of the wine farm is David Ovenden from London, who visits regularly.
We were recommended the Shiraz, which covers 2,9 ha of the farm, Cabernet Sauvignon makes up 1,75 ha and the Merlot, Pinotage Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc a hectare each. The Shiraz has a 4-star rating by Platter and an International Wine Challenge silver. Alicea said that the Shiraz 2007 and Pinotage 2009 are the best sellers, each costing R85, as do the Merlot 2008 and Cabernet Sauvignon 2008. A Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 blend costs R80, Thatch House Red 2009 R 50, and Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2010 blend R65. The Tasting fee costs R 25 for an unlimited number of wines, but is waived if one buys any wine.
The tasting room is very unimpressive, with a cottagey look, with three small wooden tables. Bigger groups can do the tasting outside. Big blow-up posters of each of the Manley wines decorate the wall. On weekdays one can be lucky to have the winemaker Stefan Hartman do the tastings, while on Saturdays it is done by Theo.
Manley Private Cellar, Tel (023) 230-0582. www.manleywinelodge.co.za Monday – Friday 9h00 – 17h00, Saturday 10h00 – 14h00.
We popped in at Montpellier on our way back from Saronsberg, and were surprised to see so many cars on the estate. We could not find the tasting room open, it having a note to say that it closes at midday on Saturdays. Clearly they had a function at the wine estate. We saw a sweet-looking chapel in the vineyards some distance away as we were driving towards Montpellier.
Montpellier. Tel (023) 230-0656. www.montpellier.co.za Monday – Friday 9h00 – 16h00, Saturday 9h00 – 12h00
Other wine estates in Tulbagh
· Drostdy Hof Wines : Tel (023) 230-0203. www.drostdyhof.co.za Monday – Friday 10h00 – 17h00, Saturdays 10h00 – 14h00
· Lemberg is a Boutique Winery, started in 1978 by Janey Muller. Now the winemaker is Henk du Bruyn. Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé, Shiraz and Pinotage. Tel 082 749 7585. www.lemberg.co.za Monday – Friday 9h00 – 16h00, Saturday 10h00 – 14h00
· Theuniskraal Wine Estate was bought by the Jordaan family in 1927, and is associated with Riesling, even though it also makes Semillon Chardonnay , Bouquet Blanc, Prestige and Rosé. Tel (023) 230-0687. www.theuniskraal.co.za . Open Monday – Friday 9h00 – 12h00 and 13h00 – 17h00, Weekends 10h00 – 12h30.
· Tulbagh Winery was founded in 1906, and produces a wide variety of wines: Chenin Blanc, Colombard/Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rosé, Dry White, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Pinotage, Shiraz/Pinotage, Dry Red, Klein Tulbagh Range, and Paddagang Fortified Range. Tel (023) 230-1001. www.tulbaghwine.co.za Monday – Friday 8h00 – 17h00, Saturday 9h00 – 13h00.
· Twee Jonge Gezellen Estate – The House of Krone offers underground MCC cellar tours. Tel (023) 230-0680. www.houseofkrone.co.za Monday – Friday 11h00 and 15h00, Saturdays 11h00.
· Waverley Hills Organic Estate offers organic wines and olive products. Tel (023) 231-0002. www.waverleyhills.co.za Monday – Saturday 10h00 – 16h00, Sunday 11h00 – 15h00.
· Schalkenbosch – Edenhof Wines. Tel (023) 230-0654. www.schalkenbosch.co.za Tasting by appointment.
· Blue Crane Vineyards Tel (023) 230-0823. www.bluecrane.co.za Tasting by appointment.
· De Heuvel Wine & Olive Estate Tel (023) 230-0350 www.deheuvelestate.co.za Monday – Friday 9h00 – 17h00, Saturday 9h00 – 14h00
Generally marketing is not a strength of the wine estates in this region, characterised by extremes in the estates presenting themselves – from the unexciting Rijk’s and Manley tasting rooms, to the avantgarde and colourful Saronsberg. In general all wine estates were guilty of not providing brochures or any marketing collateral for visitors to the Tulbagh wine estates to take home, bar a little pamphlet at Saronsberg. All wine estates were on the Tulbagh map, but this just provides contact details and opening hours. The Tulbagh Tourism brochure does not even list all the wine estates, probably because it costs to be listed in it. Saronsberg is the only Tulbagh wine estate to be on Twitter, it would appear.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage