Wine tasting in the Western Cape? Slip away from the crowds in Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Constantia and head for Wellington instead. You may be surprised to discover an area that’s not just about dried fruit and a large whiskey distillery, but its hidden Bovlei Valley produces some memorable wines.
Taste 19 of the best wines in this region, across five estates, for under R200 per person.
1. Andreas Wine Estate
Bovlei Valley, Wellington
This picturesque little boutique wine estate and luxury guest accommodation is a haven of quiet in Wellington’s Bovlei Valley. The original Cape Dutch farm house, which dates back to 1799, has been fully refurbished and the thick walls, sash windows, solid wooden floors and heavy wooden ceiling beams all mark its era.
In juxtaposition, upstairs you’ll find a loft converted into a calm, modern space that accommodates guests in four luxurious, en-suite bedrooms, two of which overlook the garden and vineyards beyond. We spent the night here and recommend the guest house as the ideal getaway for couples looking for a serene environment to unwind in. The home is surrounded by a tranquil garden and there is a swimming pool, for those hot Wellington summer days.
The estate produces a single wine, the award-winning Andreas Shiraz and the vineyards lie on 4.5 hectres of farmland. The region’s sandy and loamy soil together with long hot summers days, cooled by late afternoon breezes and the cold, wet winters combine to make it particularly well suited for producing this cultivar. The vineyard was planted in 2002 and the previous winemaker, Ettienne Malan, coaxed magic out of these grapes. We sampled some of the 2014 vintage that he and his team produced before he left.
The 2014 Andreas Shiraz is full-bodied and spicy – as a good Shiraz should be – and yet not too heavy, with a hint of liquorice, some berries and black pepper that linger on the palate. As fine as this wine is, we look forward to the next batch, which will have been blended by the new winemaker, Shaun Meyeridricks, formerly of Boekenhoutskloof (if you’ve tasted Boekenhoutskloof’s Chocolate Block, you’ll understand our eager anticipation).
Cost: R45 per person for wine tasting, if the party is larger than four and no wine is bought, otherwise it is free. Booking is essential.
2. Bosman Family Vineyards
Bovlei Valley, Wellington
We spent a delightful hour, sipping some of Bosman Wines produced at Lielienfontein farm. The Bosman family started making wine here in 1707 and today their descendants, the eighth generation, own a number of farms the Wellington area and one in the Hemel en Aarde Valley, near Hermanus. They harvest their grapes from across the various vineyards and produce wine at Lilienfontein.
Before sitting down to the tasting our hostess, Marga Vermaark, showed us into a room, which is a tiny museum that holds relics such as old spades and other implements once used on the farm and also an oak barrel that was once auctioned to the local Dutch Reformed Church (NG Kerk) filled with communion wine. We were impressed with Marga’s knowledge of the wines and history of the farm, even more so when we discovered that it was only her second day on the job.
We started our tasting, primarily of reds, in the 260-year-old cellar with its large barn door open letting in sunlight that cascaded through the old oak tree in front. First up was the Bosman Pinot Noir, which according to Marga is, “light and fruity with a hint of tobacco on the nose.” My nose was a little blocked so I must confess that I didn’t pick up some of the subtleties that a seasoned wine connoisseur – or my husband, who has nose of a bloodhound – could. I did enjoy the Cabernet Sauvignon, but the one that really stood out as superior to the rest was the Twyfeling Cinsaut, which has deep plum and a bit of spice (apparently). The Sauvignon Blanc is also a fine specimen and of interest was the Bosman Adama, named after Adama Apollas who was a farm worker and forefather of many of the current Bosman staff.
We were happy to hear that Bosman Family Vineyards invests profits from its European sales into a preschool, staffed by eight teachers, on the farm and a computer lab for high school students, as well as karate lessons for the farm workers’ children, as part of the its Fairtrade commitment. The company also signed an agreement with the Adama Workers Trust in 2008 giving eligible workers co-ownership of 430 hectres of farm land.
3. Dunstone Wines
Bovlei Valley, Wellington
A visit to Dunstone Winery is a must, if not for the wines (which are good) then at least for the setting and the food at The Stone Kitchen restaurant. The farm lies at the foothills of the Hawequa and Limiet Mountains, about a kilometre past Andreas Wine Estate.
Winemaker Danie de Bruyn took us on a farm tour to the cellar, leading us through a grove of guava trees, fragrant at this time of year and reminiscent of the guava fruit roll that I love. Inside, the modern, compact cellar is lined with French oak barrels, each marked with the section of forest they hail from in France, on the one side and stainless steel vats on the other. The family-run winery produces three reds, three whites and a rosé.
We tasted the three 2015 reds and enjoyed them all. Both the Dunstone Merlot and Dunstone Shiraz have won awards, although we preferred the Shiraz and the cheaper ‘Stones in the Sun’ Shiraz was not without merit too. The latter is the farm’s charity wine and all proceeds go into schooling for the farm workers’ children.
Along with the wine we each tucked into a home-made lamb burger, topped feta and merlot-onion marmalade from The Stone Kitchen Bistro. It provides the most delicious combination of flavours and we highly recommend it. Dunetone’s Stone Kitchen Bistro was renovated last year and the restaurant has been enlarged and an indoor and outdoor children’s play area has been added. If you would prefer to sit a little way off, choose the front stoep (which has a lovely view).
4. Doolhof Wine Estate
The Doolhof Wine Estate tasting room lies in our favourite setting of the lot. It is exquisite. Tucked in between Bain’s Kloof and the Groenberg Mountain Range the farm lies in a valley surrounded by hills, mountains and forest.
The name Doolhof, is the Afrikaans word for labyrinth and according to literature in the tasting room, the estate acquired the name from the Eighteenth century settlers when they first laid eyes on the farm’s “many hills and vales.” Jaques Portier of Flanders was the first owner of Doolhof and grapes were introduced to the area as early as 1728 by French Huguenot settlers. One more titbit of the farm’s history is that Andrew Geddes Bain, who began the building of the Bainskloof Pass in the late 1840s (it opened in 1853), lived on the farm for a period during the project. We can see why he choose this location.
We sampled a selection of five wines in the modern tasting room as we sat on white ostrich leather arm chairs, soaking up the autumn sunshine and overlooking the lushest grass that we’d seen in the Western Cape in a long while – fed by the property’s gurgling Kromme River.
The farm’s premium range of vino is known as Legends of the Lybirinth and includes the aptly named Minotaur and Theseus (the Greek god who according to legend slew the minotaur that had been trapped in the Cretan Labyrinth) reds, as well as the Lady In Red, Lady in White and Dark Lady. Our favourite was the 2014 Theseus and the 2016 Malbec, from the signature range, satisfied our palate in the most delightful manner.
You can pre-book lunch at the tasting room or order a picnic (also 24 hours in advance) that you can enjoy on any of the picnic spots along the farm’s River Walk. This walk meanders for several kilometres along the Kromme River, flanked by forest. Visitors are also welcome to enjoy a 10km walk through the vineyards. Open daily 10am-5pm, Sundays 10am-4pm
5. Diemersfontein Wine Estate
The Diemersfontein Wine Estate is not a quaint or picturesque as the other farms listed above and lies outside the Bovlei Valley and the other side of Wellington. However what it lacks in charm it does make up for in the quality of wine. It’s here that the first chocolate/coffee Pinotage was developed. At first I crinckled my nose at the thought, having had a previous bad experience with an imitation.
However our hostess, Jo-Ann de Vries was confident in the product and after tasting a 2015 Shiraz and the 2016 Malbec – it seemed to be a day for Malbec as the Diemersfontein Malbec outdid the one from Doolhof – we moved on to Pintoage. The first, the 2016 Carpe Diem Pino’ was paired with biltong, which turned out to be a perfect match. Then it was on to the pièce de résistance, the Diemersfontein Pinotage “The Original Coffee/Chocolate Pinotage,” paired with a dark chocolate pistachio truffle. I was more than just pleasantly surprised, I experienced a combination of subtle and complimentary smells and flavours that, had I been an expert, would have received my firm seal of approval. I have been converted.
After the tasting Jo-Ann produced a dark wooden stave and explained that the oak stave gets burnished and then the blackened charcoal gets sanded off before the stave is placed in contact with the Pinotage. It is this contact that brings out the chocolate and coffee overtones.
We also tasted the Voigner and it was outstanding, so we promptly purchased a bottle, along with the Ovation Merlot. Ovation falls under the the farm’s Thokozani brand, which is 80% owned by the cooperative of farm staff of which Jo-Ann is a proud member. You’ll find Thokozani at Woolies, as one of its BEE, fairtrade wines and for R50 a bottle the Merlot is quite enjoyable as an everyday drinking wine. Open daily from 10am – 5pm