Wine doesn’t immediately come to mind in discussions of the Cape West Coast. This doesn’t mean there isn’t anything for wine lovers to see.
Short excursions to favourite places may not always appear to link up with interests in wine, but in the Cape, that’s rarely possible. One route where this again reveals its truth is up the West Coast. Just two hours out of the city, the region provides not only an array of marvellous experiences but some outstanding wine-related stops too.
Our own destination is Velddrif, a town at the mouth of the Berg River. We’d been tasked with a test drive of a Suzuki Jimmy custom-rigged for camping.
Two routes generally suggested for such a trip – the shorter R27, commonly referred to as the West Coast Road; and, the N7 to Malmesbury, turning off on the R45 to Hopefield or at Piketberg on the R399.
The latter direction takes you through the Swartland with the opportunity to make quick stops at places like Capaia Wines near Philadelphia; Hofstraat Cellar in Malmesbury; and, Nieuwedrift and Org de Rac estates near Piketberg. In this regard, the website of the Swartland Wine & Olive Route is useful.
The quicker route however can be just as interesting to the oenophile and allows for a better visualisation perhaps of the influences on the region’s wine grapes. It is characterised by the cold Atlantic Ocean, mild to warm climate, low rainfall throughout the year, and significantly, moisture-laden ocean mists and icy breezes. These allow the typical coastal scrub to survive, but also help cool cultivated fruit.
Wineries around Darling, for example, are known for outstanding quality in particularly – but not exclusively – their white grape varieties.
If you’re taking the R27, the first stop appears near Grotto Bay. A 10km detour along a gravel road gets you to the 18th-century farm of Groote Post. The restored homestead has preserved much of its history that includes serving as the residence of Lord Charles Somerset
Nick and Peter Pentz bought the property in 1972 and in 2001 dedicated the property to wine farming.
Vineyard plantings are mostly on the upper slopes of the Darling hills that overlook the sea, a location that encourages the slow and longer development of fruit. The farm typically harvests its Sauvignon Blanc almost a month later than vineyards further inland.
The winery’s restaurant is located in the Cape Dutch manor and called Hilda’s Kitchen, after another of Groote Post’s famous residents, author Hildagonda Duckitt. It serves lunch from Wednesday to Sunday with its bistro-style menu based on Cape traditions echoed in the collection of the fascinating antiques of its décor.
Getting back on track involves returning on the same route to the West Coast Road or through the charming village of Darling.
Darling Wine Shop
Ideal for people pressed for time, the Darling Wine Shop is ideal even if just for insightful perspective on regional produce. It was established in 2011 by Charles Withington, who worked for many years at two leading vineyards. He started out on his own in 2001, releasing wines under his eponymous label and eventually establishing the boutique store with an expanded range at 5 Main Street.
There are some 70 wines listed in the store, with the focus on wines registered as Wine of Origin Darling. Although Darling only has four producers – Cloof, Grootte Post, Darling Cellars and Ormonde – many wineries from outside the region own vines here or source grapes from here for their own brands.
The store also has a small section called Not Darling But Dear To Me, which stocks interesting wines from other areas. A range of spirits includes Charles’ own eight-year-matured Withington Voorkamer Potstill Brandy.
Leaving town, the R315 connects back with the R27, but just a little further at the outskirts of Yzerfontein lies another wine must-see.
Blake Family Wines
Blake Family Wines was established by Andries Blake and is a side-hustle for the CEO of Klawer Cellars. The family comprises wife Marinda, and two sons, Christoph and Van der Bijl. It’s the latter who hosts us for a tasting, introducing us to the flagship blends Amethyst red and Tourmaline white; and, the easy-drinking 16 Mile Beach range, named in reference to the popular destination.
All are produced from fruit sourced in the Swartland region. The wines have until recently been made off-site, but Andries is in the process of moving operations to a space behind the tasting room.
A bonus to the venue is its association with a neighbouring pizza-maker, who makes sure visitors can eat as well as taste wine.
From there, it’s but a 46-minute drive to Velddrif. The town itself caters for diverse interests. The estuary at the mouth of the Berg River makes the area a magnet for birders. The Fisheries Museum is unmissable for the well-maintained exhibits and fascinating information about the birth of South Africa’s commercial fishing industry.
Russell’s on the Port
While wine isn’t produced in the town, one place that prides itself on its wine list is Russell’s on the Port, in the suburb of Port Owen.
It was apparently against much advice that Russell Foster a few years ago opened his restaurant in the marina that now includes a guesthouse. At the time, he was the owner of 17 other restaurants and bars in the UK, as well as gin distillery and engineering company. Few believed in its viability, but it has thrived.
The outdoor dining area overlooks a jetty for sailing boats. The menu offers a range of wines, including Russell’s own Raunchy Red, a Shiraz produced by Groote Post; and, some 20 South African brandies including Dr Schumacher produced at Oude Wellington Estate, Joseph Barry and Sydney Back.
Also worth a visit is Russell’s nearby distillery, Poetic License, run by Renaldo and Wilhelmina Fourie. Renaldo studied oenology at Stellenbosch University, working his way up as distillation technologist for Distell and later with Triple Three Gin. In completing a diploma in distillation through the Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD), he became the content author for the Brandy module for the IBD. He is currently busy with his master’s degree in distillation through the IBD too.