Entries tagged with “Spatz Sperling”.


StellenboschWhen I see any writing by Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, CEO of tourism consultancy Destinate and former ineffective Mommy-Tweeting CEO of Cape Town Tourism, I have to hold back the urge to laugh, not only because of her poor writing skills (despite English being one of her BA majors!) but also because of her lack of marketing skills.  Helmbold has just launched the ‘Stellenbosch Wine Experience’ for the Stellenbosch Wine Routes and Stellenbosch 360, as a joint venture between the wine and tourism elements of the second oldest town in South Africa, with the goal of becoming ‘the leading wine tourism destination in Africa‘. Helmbold adds in her document that Stellenbosch should be positioned as ‘amongst top in the world‘ too, and become ‘Africa’s wine tourism capital’!

The Stellenbosch Wine Routes is the first wine route in our country, having been established in 1971 by Spatz Sperling of Delheim, the late Frans Malan of Simonsog, and the late Neil Joubert of Spier.  Its mandate is to market the wine estates and wines of the 150 or so wineries in Stellenbosch, with its CEO Annareth Bolton having mainly run a PR campaign to date.  Previously sponsored by American Express, it no longer appears to have the backing of the credit card company.  Credit card companies appear to be all over the seemingly lucrative wine industry, Diners Club appearing to have a head start. Stellenbosch 360 is the new name for the Stellenbosch Tourism Bureau, and is run by a very competent Annemarie Ferns, long the SA Tourism Country Manager for Germany.

Helmbold spent nine years at the helm of Cape Town Tourism, never being able to rise to the level of the marketing done with close to zero budget by her predecessor, the vivacious Sheryl Ozinsky.  Helmbold did formula marketing, if one can call it that (more…)

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*  On 27 October Virgin Atlantic resumes its daily non-stop flights between Cape Town and London, and will be using larger aircraft on the route three days per week.

*   Delheim is celebrating Heritage Day on 24 September with a Snoek Braai.  ‘Fuelled by more than six decades of quality winemaking, Delheim was the first wine estate in the country to serve food almost four decades ago. Today good food and wine still play an integral part in our daily existence as it brings people from across the world together. We invite everyone to gather their taste buds and celebrate Braai Day in the warm company of Delheim, where the spirit of Ubuntu makes one truly feel at home,’  shares Victor Sperling, son of pioneer Spatz (more…)

Cuvée Restaurant opened on Simonsig wine estate nearly three years ago, and its interior curation by Neil Stemmet put him on the map, with its unusual marriage of old and new.  Cuvée Restaurant is a sparkling complement and compliment to the Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

Simonsig is on the Kromme Rhee Road, one I had never previously driven, connecting the two roads to Stellenbosch via Klapmuts and Joostenberg.   There is ample parking, and one sees the modern oddly shaped posters within red frames outside the tasting room and restaurant entrance.  Dirk the waiter told me that Strijdom van der Merwe, co-owner of Casparus restaurant and nature artist, had prepared the curved large metal posters on the lawns outside to commemorate the 350th anniversary of winemaking in South Africa for Simonsig last year, a very modern statement for a long established wine estate owned by the Malan family. The late Frans Malan, with Spatz Sperling of Delheim and the late Neil Joubert of Spier, was one of the trio establishing the Stellenbosch Wine Route, which itself celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.  The Simonsig 210 hectare farm has been farmed by the Malan family for ten generations, and the late Frans Malan was a pioneer in creating the first Méthode Cap Classique, being their Kaapse Vonkel.  The Malan brothers Pieter (Marketing), Francois (CEO and Viticulturist), and Johan (Winemaker) run the farm.   In addition to the Kaapse Vonkel, there is a Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rosé, Cuvée Royale, and Encore Vin Sec. Other wines in the Simonsig range include Vin de Liza noble late harvest, Chenin avec Chéne, Chardonnay, Sunbird Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Tiara Bordeaux blend, Frans Malan Cape blend, Redhill Pinotage, Merindol Syrah, Labyrinth Cabernet Sauvignon, Mr Borio’s Shiraz, Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz, Shiraz Mouvèdre Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, and Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot.

The tasting room and restaurant are design extremes, the tasting room being part of the historic building, with traditional sash windows, yet it has a modern crockery and sparkling wine glass chandelier made by Jacques Erasmus of Hemelhuijs, and Tord Boordje paper curtains, one of only three establishments to have these designer curtains in Stellenbosch!  The restaurant appears to be a building addition, with more modern architecture but with classic interior touches added by Stemmet.  The room is on two levels, the lower one having a very dominant thick black and white striped wallpaper, with black, brown and white striped curtains, modern crystal chandeliers, a riempiesbank hanging from the ceiling, a red painted wall, and glass doors facing the vineyard.  A massive fireplace ‘divides’ the room into two.  The higher level appears more modern, with a raw concrete ceiling, one wall painted in a deep grey, and another left in rough brick.  At the back end, or entrance to the restaurant, is a modern black bar counter, behind which the wines are stored across the length of a wall.  Above the bar counter are large ‘Fifties style black and silver round lights.  One wall has seating as benches against the wall, and there is a small lounge area. The tables are black stained wood with glass tops.  There is a large Persian carpet in each of the sections, adding a homely touch.  Contrasting the more modern furniture is the traditional yellowood and stinkwood heritage furniture, such as a bakkis, and an amoire.  Modern perspex lamps and shades are spread around the restaurant, and there are bold white leather pouffes near the fireplace.  An interesting Ikebana tree, with coloured silk wrapped around it, is a ‘small wishing tree’, Dirk explained. Classical music chosen by Stemmet rounded off the quality impression. I would have loved to walk through the restaurant with Stemmet, to hear the ‘story’ about his curation.

Each table has a ceramic vase with a red protea, with cutlery by Arthur Krupp, and a most impressive serviette which has a crown logo and 1971 date embroidered on it, to attract attention to the October 40th anniversary celebrations of the Cap Classique at Simonsig.  The bread knife is by WMF.  Three types of bread, beautifully folded into a serviette, were brought to the table.  Coarse salt and pepper were brought in small bowls, with a spoon.  Stemmet dictated the crockery and cutlery, and it reflects class.  Staff wear black T-shirts and trousers, with a black apron.  Dirk showed me the Van Niekerk Room upstairs, a special events function room for about 20 guests, which also has strong elements of black and white stripes, with red leather chairs around a large table.  Mr van Niekerk was the father-in-law of the late Frans Malan, whose family is now at the nearby Knorhoek, on which wine estate Stemmet did the interior curation for their Towerbosch restaurant.

I met the new chef Lucas Carstens, who had moved across from Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town at the begining  of the month.  He has introduced some of his own dishes on the new menu, and kept other favourites.  He previously worked at Terroir restaurant and at the Kleine Zalze Lodge.  Dirk Smit, ex-Tuscany Beach, is the new Restaurant Manager, but was not on duty on Saturday.

The menu is A3 size on white board and well-presented, each item having a Simonsig wine suggestion. The Black pepper-seared tuna (R85/R140), with a Kaapse Vonkel pairing recommendation, is printed in gold, with the logo for the 40th Cap Classique celebration on it in gold too.  Starters and mains are not separated on the menu, as most dishes can be ordered as a starter or a main portion. Not listed on the menu, but offered was fresh oysters at R12,50 each.  I chose a starter portion of pan-fried kingklip, a smallish but very juicy thick piece of fish, served with asparagus (not specified on the menu and offered as a replacement for artichoke, but was served with artichoke too), braised fennel, slices of naartjie, and a most unusual citrus butter sauce.  With this was served an apple salad with a good dressing, not mentioned on the menu, making the R70 (R130 for full portion) charge good value.  Other interesting starter/main course options are Wild mushroom soup (45), Warm green bean and tomato salad (R50/R90), Tomato tartlet (R50/R90), Kleinrivier Gruyère soufflé (R85), Cape Malay butter chicken with Basmati rice (the restaurant smelt of this lovely curry when I arrived, and will be my first choice for my next visit, at R100), Grilled Mocambique prawns (R70/R140), Bobotie (R90), Joostenberg pork neck (R60/R110), Lamb shank (R140), Venison and wild mushrooms (R80/R150), and Flame-grilled beef fillet with Café de Paris sauce (R85/R160). I had the Valrhona  66% chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream (substituted for a red wine and cherry ripple ice cream), baked in a white dish, and thick and creamy inside (R60).   Crème Brulée, pecan nut tart, malva pudding served with Amarula and rooibos ice cream, and White chocolate panna cotta cost between R45 – R55.  A South African cheeseboard with preserves sounded expensive at R150, but I did not see it to judge the price.

The winelist is a folded A3 board, listing only Simonsig wines.  Kaapse Vonkel, the Brut Rosé, and Encore Vin Sec cost R27/R135, a R45 surcharge on the bottle price in the Tasting Room.  I had a glass of the Brut Rosé, and it was a good match to the kingklip. Cuvée Royale costs R54/R270.  The Mr Borio Shiraz costs R18/R90, and the Merindol Syrah R66/R330.  No vintages are listed for the wines, but the Platter star rating and awards won are denoted.

I almost felt sorry for Cuvée that such an excellent restaurant is so hidden away in the Winelands.  It has a dramatic ‘Cape Dutch modernism’ interior, excellent food, and stands for quality in everything that it does, much like its excellent sparkling wines.  I will go back, now that I know where it is.

Cuvée Restaurant, Simonsig, Kromme Rhee Rhee Road, between R44 and R304, Stellenbosch.  Tel (021) 888-4900.  www.simonsig.co.za  (The website contains the menu and winelist, but still has details of the previous chef.  Few of the many photographs in the Image Gallery are of the food).  Tuesday – Sunday lunch, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday dinner.

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

The pioneering Stellenbosch Wine Route, founded in 1971 by winemakers Frans Malan of Simonsig, Neil Joubert of Spier, and Spatz Sperling of Delheim, celebrates its 40th anniversary with an extensive wine and food feast and fest from 28 – 31 July.  The Route has established itself not only as one with the largest number of outstanding wine farms of the 18 wine routes in the country, representing 18% of all vines planted in South Africa, but also with the largest collection of outstanding restaurants in South Africa, Stellenbosch now wearing the Gourmet Capital crown.

The trio which established the Stellenbosch Wine Route was inspired by the wine route Routes de Vins at Morey St Denis in Burgundy, the late Frans Malan and Neil Joubert returning from their 1969 trip and connecting with Spatz Sperling to establish the Stellenbosch Wine Route, the first wine tourism activity in our country.  I was delighted to meet Spatz Sperling (who celebrated his 81st birthday last week) and his wife Vera, as well as daughter Nora and son Victor on their Delheim wine farm recently.  To create the Stellenbosch Wine Route, the founding wine farmers had to overcome red tape and bureaucracy, and even had to have wine legislation rewritten to accommodate the new Stellenbosch Wine Route.  Meals were not allowed to be served at wine estates, and bottled wine could not be sold from a winery in those days.

The renamed Stellenbosch American Express Wine Routes has 147 wine farms, making it the largest wine route in our country, but also is the only one to celebrate its assets with the Stellenbosch Wine Festival for the 10th year running.   Not focusing exclusively on wines, food has been added to the Festival.  Celebrity chefs from Towerbosch Earth Kitchen, The Restaurant @ Clos Malverne, The Restaurant at Waterkloof, and De Volkskombuis (the oldest restaurant in Stellenbosch) will be cooking in the Gourmet Lane at the Stellenbosch Wine Festival venue of Paul Roos Centre in Stellenbosch.  Presentations at the Clover Demo Kitchen will be done by outstanding photographer Russell Wasserfall with his wife Camilla on ‘Home Entertaining at its Best’ in conjunction with De Meye wines; by @KitchenVixen Bianca du Plessis, who reviews restaurants on the Expresso Show; by wine PRO Emile Joubert with wine writer Neil Pendock; by chef George Jardine of Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine on ‘Cheese if you Please’; and by Chef Greg Czarnecki of The Restaurant at Waterkloof, who celebrates the ‘French Connection’.

The Stellenbosch Wine Festival has been stretched out into the Stellenbosch Wine Week, which commenced on Friday, and continues until Sunday.  During the Stellenbosch Wine Week one can enjoy dinner with the Warwick family, a fundraising concert at Delheim, vertical tastings of Simonsig’s Kaapse Vonkel, vintage tastings of Scintilla Cap Classiques at the House of JC le Roux, a salt pairing with Fleur du Cap wines by Sofia chef Craig Cormack, a food and wine pairing dinner at Neethlingshof with Katinka van Niekerk, paired venison carpaccio with Vergenoegd wines, blend and bottle one’s own Cape Blend at Clos Malverene, enjoy free winetastings in the Waterkloof Tasting Room, vertical tasting of Kanonkop wines followed by a snoek braai, vintage and barrel tastings of Jan Boland Coetzee’s Vriesenhof wines, tasting with David Trafford of his De Trafford wines, taste rare Cabernet Sauvignon vintages at Le Riche, wine and venison pairing at Middelvlei, picnics at Chabivin with Champagnes and Cap Classique tastings, art-house films screened at Le Bonheur, ‘Dine and 30 Seconds’ dinners at Uitkyk, and participate in a chipping competition at Ernie Els Wines,

A new feature of the Stellenbosch Wine Festival will be a MCC Lounge, in which Simonsig Estate, which created South Africa’s first Méthode Cap Classique Kaapse Vonkel, Villiera, Mooiplaas, Longridge, Spier, and Pongrácz will be presenting their MCC’s, paired with oysters and other delicacies.

We wrote last year that the Stellenbosch Wine Route should create the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route, and while they have not yet done so, we have created it on this Blog nevertheless, and in honour of the cuisine excellence in Stellenbosch, list from it the restaurants on wine farms in Stellenbosch:

Rust en Vrede – named the best restaurant in the country in 2010 by Eat Out, a slick operation, previously with talented chef David Higgs, on the Rust en Vrede wine estate.  Featured on the Eat Out Top 10 list 2009, and 2010, number 74 on 50 Best Restaurants in the World 2010 list, and Top vineyard restaurant of 2010 Great Wine Capitals in the World – read the review here.  Tel (021) 881-3881

*   Overture – Chef Bertus Basson is a hard-working re-inventor of his menu and operation, always looking to improve.   On the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant list for 2009 and 2010.  Fantastic views from the location on the Hidden Valley wine estate – read the review here.  Tel (021) 880-2721

*   Terroir is a perennial on the Eat Out Top 10 list, with Chef Michael Broughton.  The outside seating on the De Kleine Zalze wine and golf estate is great for a warm day.  Tel (021) 880-8167

*   Delaire at Delaire Graff –  no money was spared in building and decorating this restaurant and winery building, and it houses a most impressive art collection.   Chef Christian Campbell is doing outstanding work and good service. Read our review here.  Tel (021) 885-8160

*   Indochine at Delaire Graff- is relatively less opulent in its interior design compared to its sister restaurant.   Young chef Jonathan Heath is a star to watch, and his Asian fusion menu is sure to attract the attention of the Eat Out Top 10 judges.   He explains the menu, and the dishes when he serves them personally.  Read our review. Tel (021) 885-8160

*   Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine –  a mouthful of a brand name but also a mouthful in value and excellent quality. Set at the end of a long road, on the Jordan wine estate, it overlooks a big pond and the beautiful Stellenbosch mountains in the far distance, teeming with birdlife.  Interior functional.  Most beautiful and unique ”bread” plate ever seen.   Read the review.  Tel (021) 881-3612

*   The Long Table Restaurant and Cafe – set at the end of a long road up a hill, above Rust en Vrede, on the Haskell Vineyards (marketers of Haskell and Dombeya wines), the food of Chef Corli Els is a wonderful surprise.  The restaurant interior and waiter service do not match the excellence of her food or the quality of the Haskell wines. The Papaya and Avo salad stands out as one of the special treats.   Read the Review. Tel (021) 881-3746

*   Warwick wine estate – owner Mike Ratcliffe is a good marketer, and his gourmet picnics are a great hit in summer.  Winter Tapas menu – read the picnic review here.  Tel (021) 884-3144

*   Tokara DeliCATessen – has a buffet lunch too, very large restaurant space combined with a deli, but service poor and food quality average – read the review here.   Tel (021) 808-5950

*   Eight at Spier – the menu was designed by Judy Badenhorst, ex-River Cafe, now running the Casa Labia Cafe in Muizenberg. Tel (021) 809-1188

Wild Peacock Food Emporium on Piet Retief Street – belongs to Sue Baker and is managed by ex-Rust en Vrede front of house manager and daughter Sarah, selling deli items, a range of cold meats, imported French and local cheese, fresh breads, and has a sit-down menu as well. Wine shop to come. Tel 082 697 0870

Pane E Vino – this food and wine bar is hidden to those who do not come to Bosman’s Crossing.  Owned by Elena Dalla Cia, husband George and father-in-law Giorgio do wine and grappa tastings in the restaurant too.  Good Italian fare. Tel (021) 883-8312

*   Bodega @Dornier – Tel (021) 880-0557

*   Cuvee Restaurant, Simonsig – interesting modernist Cape Dutch interior curation by Neil Stemmet. Impressive quality food, tableware, stemware, napery, and service.  Tel (021) 888-4932

*   Tokara – Etienne Bonthuys has left Tokara to open Casparus on Dorp Street, and Richard Carstens has stepped into the kitchen, cooking up a storm as South Africa’s Ferran Adria of El Bulli fame. Read the review. Tel (021) 808-5959.

*   Towerbosch Earth Kitchen on the Knorhoek wine estate, designed by Neil Stemmet. Lovely fairy-like setting, fantastic Boerekos feast served in bowls rather than dishing up per plate.  Read the review. Tel (021) 865-2114.

*   Johan’s at Longridge is a refreshing new restaurant on LongridgeWinery, with a focus on fresh vegetables from its large vegetable garden alongside the restaurant.  Co-owner Chef Johan comes from a Michelin two-star restaurant in Holland, as does Chef Marissa.  Attentive service led by Chris Olivier, excellent food, great wines.  Read the review.   Tel (021) 855-2004

*   Delheim restaurant – read about the visit during the Delheim Nouvelle Mushroom Week earlier this month.  Tel (021) 888-4600

*   The Table at De Meye opened in September, and won the Eat Out Best Country-Style Award in November.  It is only open for Friday. Saturday and Sunday lunches.

Stellenbosch Wine Festival, 28 – 31 July.  Paul Roos Centre, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 886-4310.    www.stellenboschwinefestival.co.za. Book www.webtickets.co.za.  Entry R120 on-line, R140 at door.  R350 for a pass for entry over the whole period of the Stellenbosch Wine Festival.

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

This week Delheim wine estate is focusing on the delectable exotic mushroom, in running a Mushroom Week in its restaurant in conjunction with Nouvelle Mushrooms, the only commercial producer of exotic mushrooms in South Africa, and sole supplier of this delicacy to Woolworths.

I was part of a group of journalists (those from The Star and the Sunday Times flying down from Johannesburg especially for the event) and bloggers that was invited by Erica Meles Public Relations to attend an outing to Delheim yesterday, which kicked off with an interesting talk by Dr Adriaan Smit of the University of Stellenbosch, a mycologist and MD of the SA Gourmet Mushroom Academy.  He impressed with his knowledge of poisonous and edible mushrooms, giving tips about how one ensures that one only picks and eats edible mushrooms.  There are about 1,5 million mushrooms species, and Dr Smit recommended a number of steps for aspirant mushroom gatherers: read every book on the topic (he had five local books), join the Edible Fungi Association, collect with an expert, don’t rely on photograph matching with books only, smell the mushrooms, scratch the stem for colour changes, rub the flesh to check the texture, taste only a tiny piece and spit it out without swallowing the juices, make a spore print on a sheet of white and black paper or on aluminium foil, use chemical tests, eat only one variety at a time, never eat wild mushrooms raw, and always keep some uncooked mushrooms on the side, for a test in case one gets ill.  

For successful foraging his first recommendation is to take along a magnifying glass, to check the mushroom for spores, gills and teeth.  So, for example, the pine ring mushroom must emit an orange-coloured milk to confirm that it is not its poisonous look-alike.  Mushrooms with a white cap, white gills, free unattached gills, a white spore print, with a ring on the stalk, that are small and brown, and/or have a swollen stalk base could be poisonous.  If one has signs of mushroom poisoning, call the Tygerberg Poison Information Center at tel (021) 931-6129.  Dr Smit loves mushrooms so much that his boutique hotel outside Stellenbosch is called The Wild Mushroom, and each of the six suites is inspired by and decorated in the theme of a mushroom variety.

After the talk, guests were taken on a walk to the pine forest on the farm, to look for wild mushrooms (mainly Boletus Edulis, or better known as cep or porcini, and pine ring) with Dr Smit and Nora Sperling-Thiel, daughter of farm owner Spatz Sperling, who is knowledgeable about mushrooms too.  I had a long chat to son Victor Sperling, who told me that about half of the 365 hectare farm is planted under vine and the balance has pine forests.  The pines were planted by Spatz Sperling, possibly as a reminder of his country of origin, on slopes that are too steep to plant vines.  Victor told me that the pine forestry is not really economically viable, but it is a good way for the farm to meet the requirements of the Biodiversity Wine Initiative, in that the shade created by the trees prevents the reseeding of alien plants.  The Delheim focus is on ‘unpretentious winemaking’, says its flyer, and Victor told me they try to change little as their customers like their wines as they are.  They try to make 100% cultivars such as Merlot, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon, a much bigger challenge, he said, but they do make some blends too.  Brenda van Niekerk is the winemaker, while Victor is the viticulturist and production manager.  His sister Nora heads sales. Victor deplored that restaurants do not support the Stellenbosch Wine Route and its wines.

Fresh out of the forest, we were taken to the cellar meeting room, in which Schalk de Beer, MD of Nouvelle Mushrooms, took us through a presentation on exotic mushrooms and their nutritional benefits.  The company was started in 2006, and currently it produces 2 tons of exotic mushrooms per week, using 10 tons of woody substrates.  About 60 % of the mushrooms are sold through Woolworths, and the balance to restaurants and hotels.  Woolworths currently has a special offer of two punnets of exotic mushrooms for R30.  It has a production facility in the Hemel en Aarde Valley outside Hermanus, and prides itself on its distribution efficiency, given the perishability of its products.  Not known to all is the health benefits of mushrooms, Schalk told us, generically being high in protein.  The exotic mushroom varieties that the company supplies are the following:

*   Shiitake mushrooms are rich in cholesterol-lowering properties, and contain anti-oxidants.  This variety enhances the flavour of the foods that it is served with.  It is the biggest seller in the East.

*   King oyster mushrooms contain anti-oxidants.  They are ideal for Italian dishes.

*   Enoki mushrooms are mainly used in soups in Japan, and look attractive when used in salads. 

*   Shimeji mushrooms can be used as antipasto, or for a pasta sauce, due to their aroma. 

Lunch was served and not unsurprisingly the three-course menu only consisted of mushrooms, paired with Delheim wines, reflecting the menu which Delheim is offering for Mushroom Week running until Sunday 10 July, at R120, inclusive of three glasses of wine, and coffee, offering exceptional value.  I loved the refreshing Paw Paw and Shimeji mushroom salad, an unusual combination served with a light lemon dressing.  The alternative starter offered is Baby spinach salad with seared King oyster mushrooms.  Both starters were paired with Delheim’s Sauvignon Blanc 2010.

The main course was a choice of Risotto with dried Boletus mushrooms, and Tagliatelle with Nouvelle Exotic Mix mushrooms, and guests were offered a choice of Delheim’s Merlot 2007 or the lightly-wooded Chardonnay Sur Lie 2010.  Coffee was served with a Shiitake mushroom and chocolate cookie, paired with the Delheim Gewürztraminer.

I was lucky to sit at the same table as Schalk de Beer, and Spatz Sperling and his wife Vera.  Spatz Sperling is 81 years old, and is an icon in the wine industry, making his first wines 60 years ago on the farm which was originally owned by Hans Hoheisen since 1938, married to his aunt Adele, after whom the farm was named, and having created the country’s first wine route, being the Stellenbosch Wine Route with Frans Malan and Neil Joubert 40 years ago. When asked what changes he has seen in the wine industry over the years, he laughed, and said that it has just got better, and cellar buildings have become more attractive. Vera Sperling told us about the laws that governed wine tasting in early days – a minimum of 12 wines had to be bought, one had to receive a KC6 form as proof of a legal sale if one was stopped by the police, no wine was allowed to be bottled without a ‘white’ person present, and one had to buy wine from the cellar and bring it to the restaurant on a wine estate, as restaurants on wine estates were not allowed to sell wine.  Delheim was the first wine estate to serve food almost 38 years ago, serving a choice of cheeses and patés initially.  A year later Blaauwklippen and Hartenberg followed suit.

Delheim, Knorhoek Road, off R45, Stellenbosch.  Tel (021) 888-4607.  www.delheim.com.  Monday – Sunday. 

Nouvelle Mushrooms, Tel (021) 887-5593. www.nouvelle.za.net

Mushroom Academy, Tel (021) 881-3586.  www.mushroomacademy.com

Disclosure: All guests received an information pack, which also contained a bottle of Delheim Merlot 2007, and a punnet of Nouvelle Mushrooms, with a collection of pine needles and oak leaves from the farm.

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

A book just published, entitled ‘Grape’,  and sub-titled ‘Stories of the Vineyards in South Africa’, covering the history of wine and grape farming in the period 1652 – 2011, is certain to cause discomfort to the wine and table grape industry, in its accusation that there is much room for improvement in the way this industry treats its staff, despite many changes over time, especially since 1994. The industry is asked to get its house in order, in being ethical in the treatment of its staff.  The book concludes that the future of the wine and table grape industry is a depressing one, and one that can be to the disadvantage of those workers it aims to uplift. 

A large part of the blame must be placed at the door of the Department of Labour, which does not appear to be doing its job properly in regulating working conditions for farm workers, said ‘Grape’ co-author Dr Wilmot James, a member of Parliament for the Democratic Alliance, addressing the Franschhoek Literary Festival about his book on Sunday.  Written with Professor Jakes Gerwel, Chancellor of Rhodes University, and freelance journalist Jeanne Viall, the book paints the picture of the history of labour on grape and wine farms since 1652.

In hearing Dr James speak, it felt as if he has a chip on his shoulder, as he told the audience that the book’s initial focus was the abuse of ‘Coloureds’ by the wine industry, but as he was told that this was a racist approach, and he could not define exactly what this racial label means, he and his co-authors decided to broaden the focus of the book to include all workers in the industry.  The book kicks off with a “Note on terminology”, and in it is written “it is questionable whether one can speak of the coloured people at all.  In this essentially residual category are to be found people of the most diverse descent”, including slaves from Indonesia, the San (Bushmen) and Khoikhoi.

The book documents the stories of workers on grape farms, “which is the story of South Africa, mostly that of the Gariep/Orange River area and the Western Cape”.  The book continues: “The history of workers on grape farms is a sad one; indeed, the history of farm workers in South Africa in general, and also elsewhere in the world, is often one of hardship.  But the ‘dop’ system, and its ongoing effects over many generations, adds another dimension to disempowered and marginalised grape farm communities.”  It likens the history of our wine industry to that written about by John Steinbeck in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, first published in 1939.

The first vines were planted by Jan van Riebeeck in 1655, and four years later the first wine was produced in Wynberg – Van Riebeeck wrote: “Today, praise be to God, wine was made for the first time from Cape grapes… mostly Muscadel and other white, round grapes, very fragrant and tasty”. 

South Africa is predominantly a beer drinking nation, the book states, with 65% of the population drinking this beverage, as opposed to only 15 % drinking wine.  In 2009, 1089 million litres of wine, brandy and grape juice were produced.  Of the total of 125000 hectares planted under vines, 81 %  was used for wine production and the balance for table grapes in 2009.  The number of grape farm workers is estimated at 30000 – 50000 permanent staff, and ‘many thousands’ of seasonal workers.  Half of the 396 million liters of wine that was produced in 2009 was exported. 

The book tells the stories of interesting wine personalities:

*   Mohammed Karaan, now Dean of AgriSciences at Stellenbosch University, is quoted as saying:”The wine industry takes money. It is squandered on image and ego, these are not good values, the downside of the industry is that it destroys human capital, along with its stepbrother, the fruit industry.  I used to be astounded at how fellow students justified the ‘dop’ system.  And now they are saying that wine is good for the heart…  All politicians have a romanticism around wine, they’re intoxicated with wine.  They were going to legislate against ‘papsakke’.  Nothing happened.”

*   Spatz Sperling of Delheim was one of the driving forces in wine marketing, and the legal constraints of wine-selling locally and to overseas markets led to his pioneering marketing, often more for the benefit of the industry than for his own brand

*   Michael Back, owner of Backsberg, is the first wine farm to become carbon-neutral in South Africa, and is the third in the world

*   Professor Mark Solms, whose aim is to not lose money with his farm Solms-Delta: “Wine is not the way to make money quickly; my long-term view is that what will make it truly sustainable is doing it excellently”.  He added: “Only by delving into the social history of the farm could I properly understand it.  What needed to be done was to understand the nature of the problem in order to change it. I found things I wouldn’t have anticipated: people had no hope, no sense of the future.  They were at best fatalistic, and most were clinically depressed”.  The Solms-Delta Oesfees is written about in the book, as is the trust in which the farmworkers have ownership, with owners Mark Solms and Richard Astor. 

Interesting wine industry facts are spread throughout the book:

*  Constantia wines were acclaimed, and Vin Constance was enjoyed by royalty, including King Frederick the Great of Prussia, King George IV, King Louis-Philippe, and Napeolean Bonaparte, amongst others.

*   Muratie’s first owners, when the farm was named ‘De Driesprong’, were Lourens Campher and the freed slave Ansela van de Caab, and was handed to them by Willem Adriaan van der Stel in 1699.

*  Evidence of a Stone Age civilisation from 4000 – 6000 years ago was found when renovation work was done at Solms-Delta, after Mark Solms bought the farm in 2002.

*   One needs at least R25 million to buy a farm, and ‘the margins are paper thin for growing grapes for basic wine”, Professor Joachim Ewert from Stellenbosch University is quoted as saying.  He says it takes three generations to make money on a wine farm. Added to this, is that many foreign owners have bought wine farms, for ‘status and the snob value of your own wine label…’.  One of the main findings of the book, the writers state, “…has been a revelation to find that not only have wine farmers always struggled to survive, but that still today wine farming is marginal.” 

*   Wine farms are not always well-known for their wines, but often more for their owners, e.g. Jan Boland Coetzee, the rugby player who makes wine at Vriesenhof; Beyers Truter who has become known as ‘Mr Pinotage’, of Beyerskloof; Dr Paul Cluver is a brain surgeon; Professor Mark Solms is a neurologist.

*   Good ‘table wine’ has only been produced in the past 15 years, WOSA CEO Su Birch is quoted as saying, with only Meerlust, Delheim and Kanonkop known to make good wines before this time. 

*   The Stellenbosch Wine Route was the first route to open, in 1972, and was the brainchild of Spatz Sperling of Delheim, Frans Malan of Simonsig, and Neil Joubert of Spier, the first of now 15 wine routes in the country. 

*   Spatz Sperling of Delheim, Frans Malan from Simonsig, and Sydney Back of Backsberg got the Wine of Origin wine certification system established 

*   Distell’s Nederburg, JC le Roux and Graça, as well as Van Loveren’s Four Cousins, sell well in our ’emerging markets’ (a nice way to say ‘township’), the book states, and Nederburg Baronne in particular is known in Soweto as the ‘Coca Cola wine’. 

*   The ‘dop’ system is not South African in origin, and was probably introduced by the French Huguenots

*   South African wine production appears least likely to be affected by climate change, most wine-producing areas, other than the Northern Cape, having the lowest average increase in temperature of all wine-producing regions in the world.  Yet more costly water and climate change will influence berry ripening, and will lead to earlier harvests and to different wine styles being produced.

*  Wines were sold in supermarkets in 1966 for the first time.

*   ‘Black-owned’ wine farms include Constantia Uitsig, Bloemendal and D’Aria (Tokyo Sexwale having a part ownership) and Sexwale’s fully owned Oude Kelder in Franschhoek; Paardenkloof owned by Valli Moosa; and M’Hudi Wines, owned by the Rangaka family.

*   Empowerment schemes for grape farm workers include Malmaison near Groblershoop; Beyerskloof; Naftali Estate at Dyasonsklip; black consortia own shares in Distell and the KWV; ’empowerment’ wine brands include Epicurean Wines, Ses’fikile; LaThiThá Wines; and Thabani. 

‘Grape’ moves backwards and forwards in time in presenting an overview of far more than the labour on grape farms, and this is its weakness.  It has so much material to cover that the book loses focus in the presentation of its wealth of information. Making so much in its build up of the exploitation of mainly ‘Coloured’ farm workers on such farms, as well as the production of ‘cheap wines’ to target this population group, it is a surprise when the book’s “Last Word” paints a depressing future for the industry, which “is facing incredibly tough times”,  “soaring production costs”, “poor return on their product”, a “changing climate”, and a “strong rand”. “Very few farmers are making a profit; many wine farms are on the market”.  Given this scenario of a challenging future, one gets the feeling that the authors backed off their initial tough stance, as all these challenges that the industry faces will affect the workers on these farms, as well as their livelihoods.   For the wine and table grape industry currently survival is a greater priority than its continued transformation!

Jeanne Viall, Wilmot James & Jakes Gerwel: ‘Grape – Stories of the Vineyards in South Africa’.  Tafelberg.  2011. www.tafelberg.com

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