Tag Archives: Whale Cottages

21st Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc vintage launched!

Hamilton Ruell Right 2015We have had a very soft spot for Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc and Pinotage at our Whale Cottages, the Hamilton Russell second brand suiting our guest house perfectly. It was one of the first wines we added to our wine list (joined by Creation’s Whale Pod more recently) when we opened our first Whale Cottage in Hermanus 19 years ago.

The Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc 2015 has just been launched, its 21st vintage. The wine has won ‘Best Value’ five times in Wine Spectator. It has complexity, depth, dry minerality, and ‘age-worthiness we are proud of’, explains the media release received from Hamilton Russell.

The Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc is unique in that : Continue reading →

Help predict MasterChef SA winner and win a whale of a weekend away!

In 15 weeks we will know who our own MasterChef SA is.  We are curious to hear who our readers think will become MasterChef SA, and why.  We ask you to send in your nominations with a motivation via Comment to this Blog (please add your name and surname).

To thank you for your input, we will award one lucky reader a complimentary weekend of your choice location at one of our Whale Cottages in Camps Bay, Hermanus, or Franschhoek, subject to availability, out of all of those entries correctly predicting the winner of MasterChef SA.

Whale Cottage Camps Bay is ideally located 500 meters from Camps Bay beach and 25 restaurants on the Camps Bay Promenade.  It offers secure parking on the property, with seven seafacing double rooms, and single rooms facing the Twelve Apostles and Lion’s Head.

Whale Cottage Hermanus is located on the seafront, with a wonderful view onto Walker Bay, in which Southern Right whales and their calves frolic from May – November.  The region is also known for its excellent Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines in particular, from estates such as Hamilton Russell, Hermanuspietersfontein, and Creation on the Hermanus Wine Route.

Franschhoek is best known as the Gourmet and Wedding capital of South Africa, and some of its wine estates recognised  as the best in the country. Whale Cottage Franschhoek is situated 200 meters from the main road in the village, up the road from Le Quartier Français and Reuben’s Franschhoek.

Jorgensen’s Distillery has generously donated two of its brands to the runner-up of the competition to correctly predict MasterChef SA, their Savingnac Potstill Brandy (value R300) and Naked Lemon Limoncello (value R120). The Savingnac Potstill Brandy is made in Wellington, and has roots of brandy making on the same property going back more than 300 years. Specially made wine is double distilled in owner Roger Jorgensen’s copper pot still to concentrate the flavour and the alcohol, and then is matured for a period of ten years or more in French oak barrels. The Naked Lemon Limoncello is made from hand-picked organic lemons, hand zested, with the skins macerated for 12 days in fragrant wine spirits to infuse the spirit with the lemon oils, giving the liqueur the vibrant yellow colour. It is bottled at 30% alcohol, and can be served with desserts or drunk ice cold.

To get the ball rolling, a listing of the eighteen MasterChef SA finalists, and our predictions of the chances of some of them winning MasterChef SA, follows:

Babalwa Baartman – would it be feasible for her to run the MondoVino restaurant at Montecasino in Johannesburg for a year, being from Cape Town, if she wins MasterChef SA? No exposure in episode 4 and 6. Eliminated in episode 8.

Berdina Schurink – she auditioned in each of the three MasterChef SA cities, so determined was she to become a finalist. The MasterChef SA write-up describes her as ‘serious, determined and focused’. They warn viewers to not be fooled by her quiet and reserved nature. Pastry is her speciality.  Berdina kept her pose when she fell into the bottom five for a childhood dish in episode 4, and her ‘pressure test’ koeksisters were judged to be perfect. She went into the ‘Pressure Test’ for the second time, but her lamb was undercooked, and therefore she was voted out by the judges in episode 5.  Berdina has opened Bella Sophia Culinary Café in Riviera in Pretoria.

Brandon Law – little is known about him, but he has done fan signings at Eastgate. He is interested in molecular gastronomy. Could he become our next Chef Richard Carstens?  No exposure in episode 4 and 6. Eliminated in episode 8.

Charles Canning – being based in Cape Town, can he afford to be away from his family panel beating business, a family with four children, and the Cape Town Highlanders, which he leads, to take over the MondoVino restaurant for a year?  Both his childhood dish and ‘pressure test’ koeksisters bombed and he was one of two sent home in episode 4.

Deena Naidoo – his Butter Chicken was loved by Chef Pete in episode 1 and he finished it all, it tasted so good!  He has been interviewed by the Sunday Times. on 15 April.  There is no real story to the interview, entitled “Masterchef hopeful not just ‘curry guy’“, but it does state that he took unpaid leave to participate in the competition.  Interesting is that he wears a MasterChef branded chefs’ top in the newspaper photograph.  Interesting too is that he is the only one of the 18 contestants to use ‘mcsa’ in his Twitter address.  No exposure in episode 4.  Made top curry dish of all in episode 6.  Leader of winning Blue team in Navy challenge.  Did well with Denningvleis dish in episode 8. Only finalist not yet in a pressure test. To go into his first Pressure Test in episode 12. One wonders how MasterChef SA could have chosen Deena as a candidate if he does not drink, given that a chef would have to know his wines, and pair them with his foods. Given that Nederburg is a sponsor, and a wine training course offered by the South African Sommelier Association is part of the prize, they could not have a MasterChef SA winner who does not drink wines. Deena made a superb Passion Hazelnut Gateau in his Pressure Test, to his own surprise, in episode 12. In Pressure Test in episode 13, but survived it, despite heavy criticism from Chef Pete Goffe-Wood of over-smoking his fish.  Not very successful in his Springbok loin Pressure Test in episode 15. Won the bell for best dish, to call on Chef/Judge input in episode 17, in episode 16. Highly praised by Chef Michel Roux Jnr from La Gavroche in London.  Deena won the best dessert in episode 17, winning him a test drive in the Hyundai Elantra for a picnic with his wife Cathy at Plaisir de Merle in Franschhoek. Deena has gone through to the Finale.

Fortune Kangueehi – could a MasterChef SA come from Namibia?  The judges may vote this advertising executive out over time on this basis alone.  Her childhood dish did not make it, and she forgot to add baking powder to her ‘pressure test’ koeksisters, and became the second person to leave in episode 4.

Guy Clark – from friends of friends we have heard that he has made it close to the top.  He is not visible on Social Media.  Has this former model and now property broker gone underground? Does this make him the winner? No exposure in episode 4 and 6. In Red Team ‘Pressure Test’ with not so good pig’s ear dish. Eliminated in episode 9 for his soufflé.

Ilse Fourieshe attracted attention for the most favourable comments of all for her hot cooking (salmon steak) in episode 1, and she was the fastest egg whisker of all finalists in episode 2. She has had a write up on Channel 24. She is also pretty, having been a lingerie model, and this would add an extra touch of spice to the award! No exposure in episode 4. Praise for her curry dish in episode 6, and pork shoulder in episode 7.  Did well with Tripe dish in episode 8. Not visible in episode 9 and 10.  Seen in M-Net promo ad for MasterChef SA on 15/6, in which she says she will move to Johannesburg, should she win.  Eliminated in episode 14, after her mini Boerewors popped, and she struggled to debone her lamb shoulder in the resultant Pressure/Perseverance Test.

Jade de Waal – loved by some and hated by others for her odd English/Afrikaans/undefined accent, she is a true character.  Her cardamon ice cream was loved by the judges in episode 1. She was interviewed extensively after this episode by her aunt Sonia Cabano on the Robertsons Twitter account, when she still was the Social Media Manager for Robertsons.  Jade received extensive ‘airtime’ in this Twitter interview, which no other contestant has received on this account to date.  She has changed the name of her Twitter account, and has locked it as well, only allowing certain Tweeters to read it.  Is she too hip, trendy, and frivolous for such a serious accolade?  Based in Cape Town.  Her Avo Ritz with a twist was highly praised in episode 4.  She has announced that she has written a Cook Book on vegetables with her aunt.  She was interviewed by Huisgenoot, she announced on Twitter. No exposure in episode 6.  First criticism seen, for her Waterblommetjie bredie dish (with Sue-Ann Allen). She made a very poor soufflé, which should have seen her eliminated in episode 9, many on Twitter felt. In the Elimination Challenge in episode 10. Going into Pressure Test in episode 12.  Voted out in episode 12, for a mess of a Passion Hazelnut Gateau.  Reported to have written a cookbook ‘Luscious Vegetarian’ with her aunt Sonia Cabano, to be published in October.

Khaya Silingile – this Marketing Co-ordinator attracted attention in episode 1 for her highly praised scallop and smoked salmon dish, which she served with an unusual rhubarb tart. Her salmon childhood dish was praised by the judges in episode 4. No exposure in episode 6. Won the International Cuisine challenge in episode 9, with her French dish.  In the Elimination Challenge in episode 10.  Won best wine and food pairing in episode 11.  Was beaten by 4-point margin by Chef Reuben Riffel in making his Seafood Fricasee – had she won, she would have won an Immunity Pin for the next five episodes.  Announced her pregnancy in episode 13. In Pressure Test in episode 14. Eliminated due to her Springbok loin dish errors in episode 15.

Lungile Nhlanhla – this young fashion designer from Durban wants to create a link between fashion and food, says her MasterChef SA profile. No exposure in episode 4.  Was praised for her curry in episode 6 and pork tail in episode 7. Came in on budget and her R150 budget meal acceptable in episode 10. Eliminated in episode 16 for not getting her chicken ballotine correct.  It has been announced that Lungi has been appointed Junior Food editor of Drum magazine.

Lwazi Mngoma – appears very confident in his Tweets, and has been interviewed on Johannesburg radio stations Highveld Stereo and Kaya FM, and proud of it!  Due to a less than satisfactory childhood memory dish, he went into the ‘pressure test’, and was lucky to have been retained, as his koeksisters were not perfect in episode 4.  Back into ‘Pressure Test’ in episode 6, and was sent home due to his ‘Salmon Three Ways’ not meeting the judges approval.

Manisha Naidu – she cut short her honeymoon to audition for the show, says her MasterChef SA profile. She made the second best childhood memory dish, and was voted a team leader by the judges in episode 4. Commendably she elected herself into the ‘pressure test’ in episode 5, taking responsibility for her team losing the Harvest Celebration challenge, and she did not perform well in preparing the lamb rack.  She will live with the conscience of having taken Berdina into the ‘pressure test’, and causing her elimination indirectly. No exposure in episode 6. Did well in Tripe dish in episode 8. Made top Budget family meal in episode 10.  Her Boerewors dish voted best of all by the judges in episode 14, becoming a team leader in episode 15. In the Sunday Times on 8 July, a most honest interview reflected a sad past for Manisha, battling bulimia, a suicide attempt, and a divorce. But she remarried last year, and was on honeymoon when she received notification that she had been selected to participate, and therefore cut the honeymoon short. Manisha did not have to go into the Pressure Test in episode 17. Manisha forgot to add the pea shoot to her dish in episode 18, and made plating mistakes which cost her a place in the Finale, and she was sent home.

Mmutsi Maseko – as a ‘stay-at-home’ mum, she may not be able to take up the prize of the restaurant chef. She ‘cooks from within’, says her MasterChef SA profile, and her favourite foods to prepare are meat, pap, and chakalaka.  Floundering in her childhood memory dish by running out of time, she redeemed herself in the ‘pressure test’, making perfect koeksisters in episode 4.  She went into the ‘pressure test‘ for the second time in episode 5, but her rack of lamb was praised by the judges. No exposure in episode 6.  Voted out in episode 7.

Samantha Nolan – also from Cape Town, and ‘stay-at-home’ mother of four children, according to her MasterChef SA profile, so the MondoVino restaurant prize may also be a problem. Her childhood memory dish was voted the best of all, and she was chosen a team leader too in episode 4. Best judge of spices in Chef Vanie Padayachee’s curry, and could choose main ingredient for curry in episode 6.  Clearly leading the winning Blue team in the Navy challenge. First time in Pressure Test in episode 9, for having too many spices in her mince with the vetkoek.  Voted out in episode 10 for Minestrone soup.

Sarel Loots – very quick to correct an error on this blog, asked to be followed on Twitter (a no-no), and subsequently blocked our account, possibly due to our Robertsons blogpost. He also auditioned at all three MasterChef SA venues.  He loves making desserts most.  Embarrassing poorly spelt Tweets were sent by him to Chefs Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal, and Guy Fieri, all with the same message:”Love your programs. U insired (sic) me to enter @MasterChef_SA and made it to top 18 and stil (sic) going“!  He also Tweeted ‘I will win this’, at a time when the MasterChef SA winner is known to some or all of the last 18 finalists. His poor English and Afrikaans spelling should be enough reason to disqualify him. No exposure in episode 4. Into Pressure Test in episode 6 due to his curry dish, but redeemed himself with an excellent ‘Salmon Three Ways’. In Pressure Test in episode 9, for not trying hard enough with his Brazilian dish.  No exposure in episode 10.  Second best Boerewors dish in episode 14, to be second team leader in episode 15. Except for his Bearnaise sauce, his Springbok loin dish for the Pressure Test in episode 15 was a close copy of the dish by Chef Andrew Atkinson.  His peppadew stuffing of his chicken ballotine clashed with the truffle on his stuffed artichoke in episode 16. Voted out in episode 17, for forgetting the hazelnut gel.

Sue-Ann Allen – also from Cape Town, so the MondoVino restaurant prize may also be a problem.  She was so dedicated to participate in MasterChef SA that she resigned her job as lighting designer. No exposure in episode 4.  In ‘Pressure Test’ in episode 6, and was lucky to not be voted out.  Pork loin not well received by judges in Red Team ‘Pressure Test’ in episode 7.  Criticised for poor Waterblommetjie dish in episode 8. No exposure in episodes 9 and 10. Sue-Ann is on holiday in Croatia (June).  Due to her Boerewors becoming ‘droë wors’ in episode 14, she did a brilliant Rolled lamb shoulder in the Pressure Test, judged to be her best MasterChef SA dish. Her stuffed artichoke said to be closest to that of Chef Michel Roux Jnr, but her chicken ballotine, stuffed with cream cheese, less successful, in episode 16.  Survived the Pressure Test in episode 17.  One of the two Finalists going into the Finale in episode 19.  Sue-Ann was the Runner-up to Deena Naidoo to MasterChef SA.  She is doing a one-month apprenticeship with The Greenhouse, Eat Out‘s number one Top 10 restaurant, from 21 August.

Thys Hattingh – received high praise for his dessert in episode 3, when the challenge was to make the best braai dish.  Not a ‘braaier’, by his own admission. No exposure in episode 4.  Made second best curry dish in episode 6.  Leader of losing Red team in Navy challenge in episode 7.  Did well in Denningvleis dish in episode 8.  Came second with his Moroccan poached pear dish in episode 9, even if he poached it in Nederburg wine, Morocco being a Muslim country!  Into Pressure Test in episode 12.  Struggled greatly with his chocolate mousse in making the Passion Hazelnut Gateau in the Pressure Test, and was lucky that Jade de Waal’s Gateau was even less perfect than his. Eliminated in episode 13, for overcooking his fish in Zanzibar.

We look forward to your votes – please keep them coming!

POSTSCRIPT 16/4: M-Net’s Senior Publicist Ingrid Engelbrecht provided the following information about the restaurant prize: Regarding the restaurant prize, Southern Sun is happy to tailor-make the options in order to meet the needs of the winner and to ensure that all parties are happy going forward with this amazing prize. They will take into account factors such as the contestant not being from Johannesburg, having a family and any other obligations, and will assist to whatever degree is necessary’.

POSTSCRIPT 19/5: Die Burger ran a poll today, asking readers to vote who will win MasterChef SA. This is how they voted:

Ilse Fourie 32 % 367 Stemme

Jade de Waal 6 % 70 Stemme

Sarel Loots 15 % 175 Stemme

Thys Hattingh 22 % 246 Stemme

Deena Naidoo 5 % 59 Stemme

Khaya Silingile 5 % 56 Stemme

Lungile Nhlanhla 3 % 33 Stemme

Manisha Naidu 2 % 20 Stemme

Samantha Nolan 4 % 41 Stemme

Sue-Ann Allen 6 % 68 Stemme

POSTSCRIPT 27/7: The winners of the MasterChef SA Winner competition are the following:

*   Weekend at a Whale Cottage guest house in Camps Bay, Hermanus, or Franschhoek: Francesca Tiganis. Her motivation for nominating Deena was as follows:My vote is for Deena Naidoo – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching him evolve with such passion and confidence, but in the most humble way. The way he listened so carefully to Chef Michel Roux and Chef Margot Janse really helped him execute his dishes so very well – he deserves to win Masterchef SA!’

*   Jorgensen’s Distillery’ Savingnac Potstill Brandy and Naked Lemon Limoncello: Alicia Peter, for nominating Deena as follows:I nominate Deena Naidoo – because he has managed to impress the judges and audience with almost all his dishes. To impress THE Michel Roux Jnr himself is simply superb! He is so talented yet so humble. I take my hat off to him…Go Deena!’

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

Tourism Seasonality in the Cape: it’s getting worse!

Every year Cape Town Tourism and Cape Town Routes Unlimited, both bodies tasked to market Cape Town, tell the tourism industry that Seasonality is a problem unique to the Western Cape, and that they have planned events for the quieter months and scheduled more advertising, to address the problem which swallows up in the winter months the income generated in the summer months.

To evaluate Seasonality for our Whale Cottages, we went back to our Occupancy information as far back as 2007, and found interesting trends:

*   Occupancy for Whale Cottage Camps Bay was at 72 % on average in 2007, 70 % in 2008, and dropped every year, to 63 % in 2009, 56% in 2010 and 41% this year to date.

*   During the period May – August, the Cape winter season, Whale Cottage Camps Bay Occupancy declined year on year, from 54 % in 2007, to 45% in 2009 and 2010, to 28% this year, an almost 50 % decline in Occupancy between 2007 and 2011!  Despite an average Occupancy of 70 % over the World Cup, from 11 June – 11 July last year, the World Cup had no effect on 2010 Winter Occupancy, as the good June and July performance was negated by a sharp decline in Occupancy before (19 % in May, being the lowest Occupancy ever in the five year period) and after (36% in August last year, vastly down compared to previous years) the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

*   Every individual month has seen a decline in Occupancy for Whale Cottage Camps Bay over the past five years, February 2011 showing the least decline in Occupancy (88% in 2011, our best month by far this year, compared to 97% in 2007), and September 2011 showing the most drastic Occupancy decline (28% in 2011, compared to 60 % in 2007).

*  These trends apply to Whale Cottage Hermanus and Whale Cottage Franschhoek too, both towns having seen Occupancy in 2007 (on average around 50%) halve this year for the period January – September.

*   Hermanus recovers from Seasonality more quickly in winter, due to the arrival of the Southern Right whales from May.  However, in the last two winters the average Occupancy was around 10% (despite the World Cup, which made no impact on business to this town), compared to 40 %  on average in 2007).

*   Franschhoek shows a similar Seasonality decline, but is at a far lower level in winter, dropping by half from 16 % in 2007, to 7%  this winter.  The World Cup made no impact on business.  The village has seen a decline in the number and size of weddings, and despite an increased activity in hosting events, which fill up the guest houses for the two days of the event, the remaining 28 days remain close to empty!   The trend is for a vastly reduced Occupancy, from 41 % on average in 2007, to 13% on average this year, for the period January – September.  September has been the month with the most drastic decline in Occupancy in the past five years, but Occupancy declined consistently year on year in each of the months.

*   The Occupancy trends reflect the changed tourism pattern, with more international tourists staying in Cape Town, and not travelling to inland towns to stay over, doing a day trip to Hermanus and Franschhoek at best.  Cape Town Routes Unlimited is responsible for marketing the Western Cape, and it appears to have failed in its work, if our figures are taken as a benchmark.  It shocked me to hear that Cape Town Routes Unlimited has lost both its Marketing Executives David Frandsen and Itumeleng Pooe, and that all marketing is now handled by the CEO Calvyn Gilfellan.  Cape Town Tourism’s Marketing Manager Velma Corcoran has only been in the job for a month, and has not made her mark in any way.  She has no tourism marketing experience specifically, and no marketing experience generally.

Not having a firm statistic as to the contribution of UK tourists to our Whale Cottage business, we checked our country of origin statistics over the past years.  This source market has represented as much as 53 % (November 2007) of our bookings over the past five years, but the average has been at around 33%.  It is this percentage of bookings which we will miss this summer, as bookings from the UK are extremely rare, due to the economic woes of the United Kingdom.  German bookings for Camps Bay have represented as much as 24 % (December 2007), but have seen a steady decline over the past five years, averaging at about 10 – 15 %. Our forward bookings show a strong increase in German bookings for this summer. Not surprising is that the proportion of South African bookings has climbed steadily, as we have lost international business, and this may also be due to our Whale Cottages still charging affordable 2007 rates, and discounting rates by close to half in the winter months.

A Carte Blanche programme on Sunday highlighted the tourism crisis.  Portfolio of Places CEO Liz Westby-Nunn spoke about 52 of her client establishments having closed down in the past year.  She has been in business for about 25 years, and business is so bad that she has consolidated her three Portfolio Guides into one, and has dropped her advertising rate by about 50%, just to hold on to her clients.  Mrs Westby-Nunn has been a feisty business person, who took 20 % advertising rate increases year on year in the past.  Clive Bennett, Managing Director of the One&Only Cape Town, said that “We aren’t seeing growth we should be seeing, and you couple that with the surplus number of beds, sadly there are going to be closures”. Bennett added that the recession had hit South Africa post-World Cup. Shamwari’s Tom Jager said that business for them has seen ‘a big drop’.  SA Tourism’s Chief Marketing Officer Roshene Singh said she would look at the impact of the tourism industry’s poor performance on jobs at the end of this year.  SATSA President Heather Guiterrez was controversial in stating that blaming the recession is a convenient excuse:  “There is 4% tourism growth within tourism worldwide, and we’re not seeing it in South Africa. In fact, we are seeing a huge decline of tourism into South Africa”.  She blames the lack of post-World Cup marketing for the current status.  ‘South Africa went dead. People don’t go to a country that goes dead’, she said.  SA Tourism defended its work, stating that April had seen a 7,5 % increase on the year before.  Ms Guiterrez said that SA Tourism does not have enough marketing money to market South Africa on international TV, and this was confirmed by Ms Singh, stating that their marketing budget is minuscule relative to their main competitors.  Mrs Westby-Nunn was critical of the official arrival statistics, stating that the 8 million figure should be closer to 1 million. The tourism players interviewed said that the impact of the decline in tourism is its effect on job creation, the target of 250000 having been set, and would not be achievable.  Both Bennet and Protea Hotels CEO Arthus Gillis called for more flexibility in the airlines, allowing charter flights, and making SAA the tourism loss leader, to bring as many tourists to the country as possible.  Gillis says his business is predominantly focusing on domestic tourists, being their ‘saviour’.

We received the following response to our latest WhaleTales newsletter from Herbert Henrich, a fellow guest house owner in Franschhoek, and he hits the nail on the head in confirming the poor state of the guest house industry: “Thank you for your most comprehensive ‘Tales’ and the detailed information contained therein. For one, like me, sitting on the hospitality industry outer parameters, your reports provide much insight in what would remain obscure otherwise. Our business suffers. The reasons are probably a) global recession and b) lack of exciting promotion of South Africa as a special tourist destination. The most remote parts of the world are being offered to potential  tourists on TV almost daily. Very little – if anything – from the RSA. But promotion alone will not re-instate what once was a flourishing industry. There will still be the economic millstone around the consumers’ neck. Hence, business will shrink and establishments will close down, bringing about further lack of income and loss of jobs. Our operational cost go up, however, irrespective of the business slowing down. Municipal rates, levies, electricity, taxes – you name it, will be collected whether there is income or not. I would suggest that it is time that the government will consider easing up on us somewhat. Why do we still have to pay inflated rates for business premises which bring no business? Is it not time the government supports those who do not close down in order not to increase the number of job-less ? Those who actually subsidize the government rather than the other way around ? I think the hospitality industry, which has no alternative replacement business option , should make a united appeal to provincial and national government departments to reduce their every increasing fiscal demands and allow some time to regroup and allow the business to come back to some sort of reasonable level”.

We once again call on Cape Town Tourism and Cape Town Routes Unlimited to involve our industry in utilizing our information as a predictor of tourism activity for the season ahead, and to focus on the domestic market, in getting them to Cape Town.  Our tourists are not on Twitter and Facebook, in our experience, and need good old-fashioned advertising and articles in newspapers and magazines to attract them to our beautiful Cape.

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

‘Star wars’ lead to much milder Tourism Grading accommodation assessment!

In March accommodation establishments were shocked to receive an onerous set of guidelines for a new grading assessment system to be implemented by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa.  It caused such an outcry that the Tourism Grading Council had to delay its implementation of the new grading criteria by four months.  

Input was sought from assessors, who themselves appeared to be unhappy with the greater number and more onerous criteria to be evaluated, and from accommodation establishments, both individually and as representatives of accommodation associations, such as the Camps Bay Accommodation association, which I head up.   The Tourism Grading Council must have been overwhelmed by the response it received from the industry, to such an extent that it had to go back to the drawing board, and delay the implementation of the new assessment criteria to this month.

The new criteria have been implemented, and many accommodation establishments have been in shock, and taken the bold decision to revoke their star grading, not feeling that they will meet the new criteria sufficiently enough to make them retain their previous star grading.   What is surprising is the poor communication by the Tourism Grading Council, in having had feedback that many establishments would withdraw from the voluntary grading assessment system, and that many others were unhappy with the extremely onerous proposed requirements.   The CEO of the Tourism Grading Council was invited to speak to accommodation establishments in Franschhoek, Somerset West and Hermanus, but no one (least of all Cape Town Tourism, who sadly remained silent on the topic) set up an information session with Cape Town based accommodation establishments.

We were critical of a number of new grading assessment criteria which were proposed, but are willing to give the new system a try.  Despite having been assessed by the Tourism Grading Council since its inception about ten years ago,  the new grading systems requires all existing clients of the Tourism Grading Council to be registered from scratch.  When I received the close to 20-page document for registration alone, and knowing that I would have to complete it for four Whale Cottages and not just for one guest house, I was immediately switched off, so switched off in fact that I have not had the energy to complete it yet.  Some of the information that is requested purely for the registration process includes the following: 

*   Company turnover (this should have no relevance to the grading)

*   Number of employees (this should have no relevance to the grading)

*   Number of “visitors handled by your company on an annual basis” – most establishments might know their occupancy, but number of guests per annum is not a standard measurement in an establishment.

*   Bank details are required, with onerous details requested such as date of opening the account, with details of the accountant and insurer too, information which has no relevance to the Tourism Grading Council, in our opinion.   The questionnaire states that bank details are requested in the case of (unspecified) refunds – however, the ‘Schedule of Conditions’ excludes any refunds to be payable “for any reason whatsoever”.  

*   Documentation is required for company registration, provincial/municipal registration, ‘sufficient’ insurance cover from one’s insurer (would they ever say it is sufficient?), BEE scorecard compliance, liquor licence and municipal rezoning.

Ten pages are dedicated to the Tourism Grading Council “Schedule of Conditions”, which include the following:  assessors may “overnight”, and in that instance accommodation, lunch or dinner (specifying that it be a 3-course meal – most guest houses and B&B’s do not offer meals other than breakfasts), one drink, one local call and one breakfast must be provided.  The form on which one has to sign acceptance of these assessor rights differs from the detail provided in the Schedule of Conditions, the former being very vague.  We have seen the ‘overnight’ privilege abused in the past, with assessors bringing partners and using their assessment visits as their annual holiday.   It is also a way in which establishments can ‘influence’ the assessor in terms of the expenditure on the meal and drinks offered, taking the assessment out of the purely professional level.  The time commitment to an “overnighting” assessor is tremendous – instead of a 2 -3 hour assessment visit, one is required to entertain the assessor from late afternoon until check-out the next morning, an extremely onerous time commitment for the owner/manager of the business.

*   fees are payable annually, which is as before – in fact the fees must be paid upfront, so that the assessment can take place. 

*   assessments must be done annually

*   “The TGCSA has the choice of the assessor to be assigned for the annual assessment at its discretion” – this is most contentious, as grading is voluntary in general, and one has always been able to select one’s own assessor.

*    The Tourism Grading Council will award a star grading.

*   One may dispute the grading awarded

*   Graded establishments must maintain their establishments’ standards to comply with the grading awarded, and must display their grading plaque (which has been changed, meaning that each establishment must order a new one).

*   Establishments must promise to not offer “any gratuity/incentive/bribe to any person in order to influence such person…”, clearly referring to the assessors, and to only provide truthful information

*   The Tourism Grading Council excludes its liability for any claims against it caused by any claims which may be lodged against a graded establishment.

*   Should the establishment be sold, it cannot cede or sell with it the current grading, which means that it has to be terminated, and the establishment must be assessed from scratch for the new owners.

All of the above relates to the paperwork purely to be (re)registered with the Tourism Grading Council!  The application form was not offered to the industry for input originally.  We have been told that most of questions are for one to receive government business!

A most pleasant surprise is that the actual assessment has been vastly simplified compared to the initial draft, which ran to 60 pages, and the criteria have been relaxed relative to what was intended in the draft, making most of them little different to the existing assessment criteria.  We highlight the most important ones:

*   The scoring for 4 stars, which was proposed to change to 74 – 88 % in the draft, has been changed back to the current 85 – 94 %

*   The draft document required a security guard, and onerous specified security features.   This caused an outcry due to the cost of the extra staff and features needed.  Now the minimum requirement is for the ‘best possible” safety and security to be offered for one’s guests, including providing emergency information, contact details of staff on 24 hour call, adequate lighting outside and inside the establishment, the “best possible locking devices”, and a safe for valuables (in the draft the safe was specified to be a laptop size one, but this requirement has been dropped, probably out of cost considerations in replacing existing safes).

*  Statutory obligations include being registered as a business; registered with the provincial authority (the exact registration is unclear); having public liability insurance; and complying with local authority fire; and hygiene and building access regulations.

*   The establishment must be open throughout the year, except if seasonal in nature, and if being renovated

*   No discrimination of any kind is allowed, in terms of denying access to any guests

*   Marketing communications must specify the cost of accommodation, meals, refreshments and any extra services, as well as surcharges and levies, and must be quoted inclusive of VAT;  the cancellation policy must be communicated; the “in-house rules” must be visibly communicated; and all facilities and amenities must be “honestly” described

*   Bed linen and towels must be changed every five days – given water shortages and rising electricity costs, the draft requirement of changing towels daily and of changing bed linen every three days having caused an outcry.

*   The bedroom and bathroom size, specified in square meters per accommodation type and star grading in the draft document, has been dropped, the only requirement being that the space “should allow guests to move easily”, with a minimum ceiling height to cater for guests 1,8 m tall, and should provide “freedom of movement”.   The minimum bedroom and bathroom sizes were a very sore point in the draft, and would have disqualified many establishments from retaining their current star grading.

*   Airconditioning is only required of 5-star establishments – the draft required all 4-star and 5-star establishments to have airconditioning, causing an outcry due to the cost of purchase, as well as cost of running in terms of electricity.   A heater or fan must be made available.

*   Colour TV’s are required, but no longer have to be flat-screen, as specified in the draft

*   “Stationary (sic) and writing materials” must be supplied, a new requirement

*   Telephones in guest rooms are optional, and not a requirement

*   One of the biggest issues was the provision of an 18 hour reception service in the draft document – this has mercifully been changed to “reasonable hours during the period that the establishment is open”.

*   the minimum Breakfast requirement is a Continental one.  Breakfast serving time was specified in the draft, and this has been removed.

The Tourism Grading document for Guest Houses contains 38 pages of guidelines of how assessors are likely to score the criteria out of 10 points.  Assessors welcome the new criteria and scoring sheet, saying that it takes the subjectivity out of the assessment.

It is a shame that the Tourism Grading Council communicated the initial draconian draft document, as it frightened many of its existing graded properties from renewing their grading.   The Tourism Grading Council has made no attempt to inform its clients that the initially strict criteria have been greatly relaxed, making it likely that establishments will retain their  existing grading – a PR campaign aimed at existing graded establishments is sorely needed!   One wonders how much of taxpayers’ money was wasted by designing a draft assessment document, utilising consultants, when the Tourism Grading Council has largely reverted back to where it was in March this year!   It needs to address the registration questionnaire, in terms of length and onerous requirements, as this is now the only off-putting part of being assessed.

POSTSCRIPT 28/10:  We believe that this blog post may have led to the Tourism Grading Council sending out an invitation to Cape Town accommodation owners/managers to attend a four hour breakfast presentation at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 3 November.  While we salute this very late attention to Cape Town’s accommodation industry, in trying to obtain buy-in to the new grading assessment criteria, breakfast time is the one time of the day that guest houses and B&B owners cannot be away from their establishments, and certainly not for four hours!    It proves how out of the touch the Tourism Grading Council is with its customers. 

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