When I visit Franschhoek, I love to revisit the shops in the village, and am always on the lookout to see what is new. A surprise discovery was the new Café Roca in the village, a hidden gem tucked away behind an art gallery, formerly the home of the now defunct Melissa’s. I loved it so much, that I went back on three consecutive days, Continue reading →
Chef Nic van Wyk needs no introduction, having been the judge for two seasons of Kokkedoor, and having made a name for himself as a sauce man of note whilst he was at Terroir with Michael Broughton, and more recently having served honest food at Diemersdal Farm Eatery. Now he has opened bistro 13 at Stellenbosch Vineyards, in the same building as the new tasting room for the wine estate, also known as Welmoed.
Chef Nic’s partner Roxy Laker has been excellent at documenting the journey of the transformation from a construction site into the restaurant, showing us on Facebook how Chef Nic and she were hands-on in erecting shelving and adding the decor. Yesterday a new journey commenced, it being the official opening day. I was inquisitive to see the new restaurant and tasting room, and a chat between Roxy and I on Facebook led to an invitation from Stellenbosch Vineyards’ Business Development Manager Guy Kedian to visit yesterday, whilst I was in Stellenbosch anyway. Continue reading →
Yesterday the Franschhoek Wine Tram operated for the first time, having been eagerly awaited, after its introduction was announced more than two years ago. In the first month the Wine Tram will only travel between its starting platform, and Grande Provence and Rickety Bridge, but will expand from 15 December with an additional hop-on hop-off bus service.
We have written previously about the Wine Tram, and its owners David and Sean Blyth, a father and son team who are avid train fans. They identified the potential to introduce a tram service, a modern built tram based on the Brill Tram design of the 1890’s, as a hop-on hop-off service for tourists and winetasters wanting to taste wines without having to drive themselves.
Having received a newsletter about the new tram service early yesterday, announcing its opening day, my colleague and I made use of a two hour gap before guests arrived to try out the tram. We thought the station was alongside Franschhoek Cellars, where the tram has been securely parked since it was completed. It was a little further along, past the old Pippin Farm Stall (soon to open as The Stall), one seeing the tram in an open field, that one reaches by turning left just after The Siding, where Graham Beck now has its marketing offices, and first left again, following a road alongside the track. It was impressive that we could pay per credit card in the middle of nowhere, receiving an SMS notification of our payment, having been asked for our ‘South African’ cell number! The tram, sporting French flags, was waiting to depart (every hour, on the hour), and goes to Rickety Bridge first, where one can be picked up every hour, allowing one to spend more than hour there to taste and buy the Rickety Bridge wines, buy from their gift shop, play boules, stay over, and enjoy lunch at their new Paulina’s restaurant. On the way back, one can get off at Grand Provence, to enjoy their restaurant, art gallery, and tasting room.
The tram track uses that of the original railway that transported wine and fruit from Franschhoek, a line that has been dormant for ten years, an informative commentary spoken by recent new Franschhoek property owner Malcolm Gooding, well-known as a radio and TV voice going back to Springbok Radio days, informed, unfortunately at times inaudible due to some noisy children on board. The tram travels along the tree-lined track, and the vineyards of Grande Provence and Rickety Bridge. The tram crosses side roads, and must stop at each of these, its staff getting off, and waving red flags, with a hooter going off too. We were told that clients get on on a first come, first served basis. No food and drink, nor smoking, is allowed on the tram. An environmentally friendly bio-diesel is used to fuel the tram.
At Rickety Bridge we got onto a 1950’s farm Dodge truck that has been transformed into a vehicle transporting one to the tasting room and restaurant. One is given a list of eight Rickety Bridge and four Paulina’s Reserve wines, and one is allowed to taste five of these for free, as part of the ticket price of R60. Paulina de Villiers was the first female owner of a wine farm in South Africa in the 1800s, and the wines and restaurant have been named in her honour. We were lucky to find Sales Manager Jackie Rabe and her partner Guy Kedian at the wine estate, and were spoilt with a personalised wine tasting. Rickety Bridge is the entry level wine range, and is unwooded, while the Paulina’s Reserve range is partially wooded. Guy shared that Chenin Blanc once made up one third of South Africa’s vine production, and that it was largely used to make brandy, a large part of it consumed in the army. When the compulsory conscription came to an end, the consumption of Brandy & Coke fell dramatically, and many farmers removed their Chenin vines, this varietal only making up 20% of the country’s vine production currently, yet it is still the largest varietal. Rickety Bridge still has 34 year old chenin vines, which are full of flavour. Interesting is that Semillon vines dominated 250 years ago, and Franschhoek is particularly well suited to grow this big wine varietal. Rickety Bridge is best known for its Shiraz. The Rickety Bridge range consists of Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Chenin Blanc 2011, Semillon 2006, Rosé 2011, Merlot 2008, Pinotage 2011, The Foundation Stone 2010 (made from Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Tannat, and Cinsaut), and Shiraz 2010. The Paulina’s Reserve Range consists of Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Chenin Blanc 2010, Semillon 2008, and Cabernet Sauvignon 2009.
We did not have time to get off at Grande Provence, but the farm tractor with a trailer with seating fetches the guests from the La Provence platform, and transports one down to the wine cellar, the tasting room, the delectable restaurant for which Chef Darren Badenhorst and his team cooks, and an award-winning art gallery, winning Best Art & Culture recently in the Great Wine Capitals Global Network awards.
We are confident that the visitors to Franschhoek will enjoy their outing on the Franschhoek Wine Tram, and at the two inaugural wine estates Grande Provence and Rickety Bridge. From mid-December the route will expand to include Dieu Donné, Platter Winery of the Year 2013 Cape Chamonix, Haute Cabriere (which will offer a welcome glass of Pierre Jourdan MCC), and the Huguenot Museum, utilising a special bus, also on a hop-on hop-off basis, in conjunction with the Wine Tram. There is no doubt that current wine tour operators could see the Wine Tram as a competitor.
POSTSCRIPT 18/11: It was impressive that Sean Blyth called on Saturday evening, to obtain feedback about the Wine Tram trip, and has made changes already as a result, for example children may no longer travel unaccompanied by the parents.
POSTSCRIPT 21/12: Sean Blyth sent an update e-mail today: To give you an update, we have had a excellent response from passengers re the service with several positive reviews on Tripadvisor: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g469391-d3536165-Reviews-Franschhoek_Wine_Tram-Franschhoek_Western_Cape.html
We are averaging about 50-70 passengers a day at this point and this is with very little marketing. We have also opened our new ticket office in Franschhoek which has been a great way to attract passengers. Top Billing will be doing a segment on the tram with the shoot lined up for mid Jan – this should be great exposure. We are now getting ready to launch the bus service early next week which will extend the stops from 2 to 6 – will you been in Franschhoek next week to join us as our guest to experience the full product?
POSTSCRIPT 26/12: Today the Franschhoek Wine Tram has announced that the Franschhoek Wine Bus has begun operating, stopping at Chamonix, Dieu Donné, Haute Cabriere, and the Huguenot Museum, in addition to the Tram stops at Rickety Bridge and Grande Provence.
Franschhoek Wine Tram, Tel (021) 300-0338. www.winetram.co.za Twitter:@WineTram. Monday – Sunday 10h00 – 17h00. R60, includes one complimentary wine tasting.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
Franschhoek’s newest restaurant The Kitchen opens on Wednesday 16 November on Maison wine estate, in an elegantly renovated 1920’s cottage, decorated with Weylandts’ furniture, not surprising given that the farm belongs to Chris Weylandt and his partner Kim Smith. The Tasting Room has been incorporated into the restaurant building, and Maison has become a relaxed home away from home of friendly people, good wines, and good food.
Yesterday I attended the opening of the new The Kitchen (could cause some confusion with the Franschhoek Kitchen at Holden Manz) and The Tasting Room (could cause some confusion with its generic namesake at Le Quartier Français) at Maison, Nina Timm and I being the only bloggers, with magazine food writers. The function also celebrated the launch of the new Maison Chardonnay 2011 (only 2300 bottles produced, 7 months in barrel, and costs R120) and Maison Viognier 2011 (only 1000 bottles, R140). The function also saw the introduction of new Chef Arno Janse van Rensburg and new Manager Julian Smith. The opening is the culmination of an eight year investment, planting Chenin Blanc and Shiraz vines from scratch, with a small amount of Viognier and Chardonnay too, and for the Weylandts to build their dream home opening onto the vineyard. The wine estate was closed for the past few months, while renovations took place.
We were taken through to the spacious Weylandts’ home, and offered a refreshing branded The Kitchen lemonade, in a reusable glass bottle. I chatted to Chris Weylandt about his latest venture, opening a Weylandts’ store in Sydney, there being a different way of doing business in Australia, he said. He would not commit to future expansion plans in Australia, stating that they would like to do Sydney well first before considering Melbourne or other locations. Weylandts’ philosophy is one of Good Living, appreciating the good things of life every day, and living as nature intended, and this he has embodied on his property, having moved to Franschhoek from Camps Bay. The Kitchen restaurant brand was launched at Weylandts in Durbanville in May, and there is one at their Kramerville branch too.
Winemaker (or ‘process facilitator’, as he calls himself) Antwan Bondesio, who studied viticulture and oenology at the University of Stellenbosch, and who has worked at Spier, Kaapzicht, Uva Mira and at Limerick Lane in California, took us into his 4,6 hectare vineyard. They make wines from their own grapes, and don’t buy any of it in. Chenin Blanc, Shiraz, Chardonnay, and Viognier proved to be the grape varieties suited to the terroir and soil on the farm. Maison has made its first 100% Chardonnay MCC, on the lees for three years already, with another two years to go, Chris said. They have also made their first port, as well as a Straw wine. The total wine production of 30000 bottles will be sold via The Kitchen and The Tasting Room, the Weylandts’ stores, and at La Cotte Inn in Franschhoek. Viognier is a difficult grape variety to grow, and susceptible to downy mildew, Antwan said, especially in this cold and wet summer weather. The 2009 Shiraz has sold out already, and we tasted the young 2010 vintage. The production of the Chardonnay and Viognier is so small that Antwan has personally finger-printed each bottle.
In the Tasting Room the Weylandt’s decor touch is immediately evident, with unusual ‘chandeliers’ made from wine bottles. Outside, the garden space has been reduced, to create organised parking. I chatted to M&C Saatchi Abel’s Weylandts’ account manager and Twitter ‘friend’ Wouter Lombard, and the ad agency’s involvement showed in its professionalism of the function organisation and communication presented. The agency is responsible for the Weylandt’s communication programme too, and I loved its simple logo for The Kitchen. Looking out of the window where we chatted, I noticed herbs being grown, for use in The Kitchen. The Kitchen eating area flows from The Tasting Room, with a wonderful view onto the lawn and vineyards. The restaurant interior can seat 30, and a good 20 more outside.
The menu consists of ‘simplified food’, we were told, with tapas dishes, pizza, steak and more. Only Maison wines will be offered, with Topiary Blanc de Blanc and Morena Rose Brut MCC’s, and Darling beer. We sampled a number of the menu’s four tapas-style dishes and eight starters, some individually served and others shared on bigger wooden platters. Chef Arno studied at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch, and worked at Die Ou Pastorie, Terroir, Ginja, Shoga, and Myoga alongside chefs Mike Basset and Richard Carstens. I shared a table with Eat Out and TASTE editor Abigail Donnelly, You/Huisgenoot food writer Carmen Niehaus, Hannah Lewry from TASTE, and Peta Oshry from Fair Lady, and we teased Abigail about the highly sought-after information she has about the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant list. The wooden tables were matched with wooden boxes in which the bread baked by Chef Arno is served. The Wilkinson cutlery was folded into a material serviette, and hessian string tied them together. The attractive white side plate was from a crockery range sold in Weylandts’ stores, and imported from Portugal.
The first tapas dish was pink salt and pepper squid (R35), attractively served with a wooden spoon with the salt on the side. Other tapas options are smoked bone marrow (R35), Huguenot cheese served with grape pickle (R40), and Jamon and roasted olives (R65). This was followed by two salads, the first being a shared cured salmon trout served with asparagus, watercress, lime dressing and plums (R75); and the second a colourful shared kudu bresaola, nectarine, rocket, cucumber, and lemon dressing salad (R75). Lamb rack (R95), prawn tempura (R75), and gnocchi (R65) are some of the other starter options. Prime rib on the bone costs R140.
The wood-fired pizza had a welcome thin base, and was topped with Buffalo mozzarella, artichokes, and wild mushrooms (R85). Working with Chef Arno at the lunch was Charlene Pretorius, who runs The Kitchen at the Durbanville Weylandts, having a most gorgeous smile. The meal was finished off with the highlight for most of us, being a pecan and malt tart, gooseberries, and grape sorbet (R45), its verjuice content giving it a ‘Fanta grape’ taste, according to most palates at our table. Other dessert options are a most interesting sounding tomato sorbet with almonds and basil meringues and goat cheese mousse; vanilla panna cotta with strawberry ice cream; and chocolate torte with fresh berries and berry frozen yoghurt. The staff were professional, their first opportunity to work as a team under the guidance of The Tasting Room Manager Julian, who has worked at the Twelve Apostles Hotel, Grande Provence, Waterkloof, with a short stint at Pierneef à La Motte.
I have found Maison a most welcome and friendly stop in and out of Franschhoek when the tasting room was managed by affable Guy Kedian. With the opening of The Kitchen, and its easy relaxed atmosphere and good food, it will become a stop again on my regular visits to Franschhoek, when it re-opens next week.
Disclosure: We were given a straw basket (a very practical ‘goodie bag’) with a bag of lemons, a mini baguette, and a bottle of Maison Chenin Blanc 2009 on our departure, with a thank you note from Chris Weylandt, writing that his approach is one that ‘values simplicity, authenticity, and provenance’. ‘The good life’ for him is farm breads, fresh vegetables, and great wine.
POSTSCRIPT 4/12: Maison will be open on Tuesdays from 6 December onwards, until mid-January. I had a wonderful squid tapas dish today, and two days ago, at R35. The cappuccino is excellent at Maison too, the coffee coming from the nearby Terbodore Coffee Roasters based on the Goederust farm outside Franschhoek.
POSTSCRIPT 22/1: I tried the kingklip, langoustines (although I would have preferred it with the crayfish tail as advertised the day before) with coconut sorbet as a main course special, a very eventful lunch with blogger Clare ‘Mack’ McLoughlin making a spectacle of herself in harassing this regular patron. Manager Julian did not allow me to pay, because of the disturbance she caused.
POSTSCRIPT 26/1: The prices have increased at The Kitchen, the pink salt and pepper squid by 33% to R45, and the foie gras parfait by 15% to R75.
POSTSCRIPT 5/2: The Kitchen at Maison seems to have become a local Franschhoek meeting place, or so it seemed today, a nicer alternative to meeting in the local Pick ‘n Pay! At a temperature of close to 40°C a vanilla panna cotta and strawberry ice cream was very refreshing.
The Kitchen and The Tasting Room, Maison, Main Road, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 876-2116. www.maisonestate.co.za Twitter: @MaisonEstate. Wednesday – Sunday 10h00 – 17h00.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage