velegantly elgin wine route launches with a wine weekend

What sets Elgin apart from other wine-making regions is the valley’s unique cool-climate terroir. Surrounded by mountains and less than 10km from the Atlantic, vineyards enjoy the benefits of high altitudes, cool summer breezes and abundant winter rainfall, while wines grow alongside pristine mountain fynbos in the Koegelberg Biosphere. It’s a place where grapes ripen slowly – and longer ripening means the grapes develop a broader spectrum of flavours, resulting in wines of character, purity, and complexity.

This weekend is the official launch of the Elegantly Elgin Wine Route and the start of a series of Wine Weekends, the first of which takes place on Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 October from 10am to 4pm at 16 wine estates. The varietal focus is Flagship Wines: a celebration of cool climate.

You’ll be able to taste wines from renowned estates including Almenkerk, Catherine Marshall, Corder, Elgin Ridge, Hannay, Iona, Lothian, Mofam, Oak Valley, Paul Cluver, Shannon, South Hill, Spioenkop, Winters Drift and more.

You can find more details at the Elegantly Elgin Facebook page or website.

Alternatively, download a handy map of the wine route, along with details about the Elgin Valley wine producers and all Wine Weekends coming up between now and May 2013. The document is about 1MB and is available here

b-moved to almenkerk in the elgin valley

In comparison to the rest of the Western Cape industry, the Elgin Valley wine region is very young. Even so, the elegant wines being produced in this breathtaking, cool climate area have been making waves and earning accolades and awards worldwide from the beginning. Family-owned and run Almenkerk is one such estate.

Joris and Natalie Opstaele arrived in South Africa from Belgium in 2002 and started looking for a farm with just the right cool climate terroir. In 2004 they bought the perfect place, except, of course, for the fact that it was an apple farm. Undeterred, they planted the first of their now 15ha of vines and released the maiden Almenkerk vintage – a Sauvignon Blanc – in 2009, which promptly went on to win a Gold Medal at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, one of the world’s most prestigious wine competitions.

This achievement was followed by Silver Medals at both the Decanter World Wine Awards and at Concours Mondial de Bruxelles for the 2010 Red Blend – a blend of Shiraz (36%), Merlot (28%), Cabernet Sauvignon (18%), Cabernet Franc (17%) and Viognier (1%). More recently, the 2011 Chardonnay was awarded a Gold Medal at the 2012 Decanter World Wine Awards and a Silver Medal at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show.

I asked Natalie for her personal recommendation and she responded that while it’s not possible to choose a single stand-out favourite (understandably so), it is worth noting that the 2010 Red Blend is just as good served chilled during the hot summer months. As a red wine drinker, this was music to my ears.

So how does one go from apple farm to award-winning wine estate in a few short years? Joris and Natalie combine extensive research, innovative new techniques and precision viticulture that can be summarised as “making wine in the vineyard”. Natalie explained that this attention to every vine is only really possible on smaller estates like Almenkerk. With the help of aerial photography that allows them to see the slightest changes in colour and growth, they can ensure that each vine receives the right care and attention – from health to adjusting pruning and harvesting times – to ensure that every grape that goes into each wine is perfect. Changes in weather patterns every year will also affect the vine, so this, too, is factored into care, pruning and harvest.

Almenkerk is open to the public for sales and tasting from 10am to 4pm Wednesday to Sunday, but if you have a special request, would like a technical tasting or to visit in a large group an appointment is essential. Visitors looking for a deeper experience are welcome to make arrangements to spend the day at Almenkerk learning how to pick and sort grapes, visit the cellar and learn more about the wine making, followed by a leisurely lunch and wine tasting. A word of warning though: it’s hard work and an early start to the day!

Sadly, the 2011 Chardonnay (awarded a Gold Medal at the 2012 Decanter World Wine Awards and a Silver Medal at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show), which was produced in limited quantities, is completely sold out. That said, Capetonians can still enjoy it at The Test Kitchen at the Old Biscuit Mill (at least for now). In fact, Almenkerk also makes The Pot Luck Club’s (sister to The Test Kitchen) house red and white, which we mentioned here last year.

A trip out to Almenkerk is its own reward even before you taste the wine. Besides gracious and friendly hosts, you get to bask in the beauty of the Elgin Valley and the estate itself, as well as the stunning winery and tasting room, which was featured in the 2009 Architecture Digest

Find out more at the Almenkerk website and follow Almenkerk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates.

b-moved to lothian vineyards in the elgin valley

Lothian Vineyards is a breathtaking family-owned and managed wine estate in the equally breathtaking Elgin Valley, but before I get to the wine, I must mention the stunning, luxurious Lothian House, which offers accommodation for up to 16 guests. Situated on the banks of the Palmiet River the sumptuous décor, numerous indoor and outdoor entertainment areas and state of the art facilities mean you will never want to leave. In fact, it was shortlisted as a location for a recent James Bond movie!

It’s available for family (or friends) holidays, business conferences and intimate weddings for up to 80 guests. To see how truly magnificent it is, we suggest heading on over to the gallery on the Lothian website. We’ll wait.

Onto the wine. Lothian produces a Riesling, Chardonnay, Dessert Wine and the Pinot Noir. Pinot originates in France, but is made by an ever-increasing number of South African estates. That said, crafting a really good Pinot Noir can be quite challenging and is often referred to as the “heart-break grape” by winemakers. But with Lothian’s 2011 Pinot Noir picking up silver at last year’s Decanter Word Wine Awards, we can safely say it’s one of the notable ones.

Tasting notes
> […] has a bouquet abounding with ripe strawberry, blood-orange, white pepper, nutmeg and floral notes. The Pinot Noir’s medium-bodied palate is a mixture of sour black cherry, ripe strawberry and tobacco spice, with undertones of weathered leather – all of which are tempered with fine oak, mineral and savoury flavours. Carefully cellared, this Cape wine will develop in complexity for well in excess of a decade. When young it will partner perfectly with roast quail, duck and cherry pie, cured meats or fine cheeses.

By now, you probably want to taste and buy some, right?

Wine tasting at Lothian is usually by appointment, but it just so happens that this Saturday, 6 April, is another in the popular series of Elegantly Elgin Open Wine Weekends and the varietal focus is the Pinot Noir. Which means you can pop into Lothian anytime between 10am and 4pm to breathe in some exhilarating country air, have a swim, play some croquet or just relax and taste (and pick up a few bottles of) some really good Pinot Noir.

While you’re in the area you may want to check out a couple of the other 16 participating estates. Details and a map can be found here.

Finally, make sure to diarise Saturday, 4 May, when the Elgin Wine Valley once again throws its doors open to the public with excellent wine, great food, entertainment and fun at the inaugural Elgin Cool Climate & Country Festival. You can find details here.

LOTHIAN VINEYARDS
021 859 9901
Rockview Dam Rd
Elgin

Website
Facebook

b-moved to south hill in the elgin valley

Call me unadventurous but I love travelling locally, going so far as to take both a weekend and five-day break within 20km of my home. Firstly, because lengthy travel time takes all the relaxation out of a shorter break and secondly, we tend to take the stunning beauty and attractions in the Western Cape very much for granted so taking time to truly enjoy it is always worth it.

With its cool climate wines taking the world by storm in recent years, the magnificent Elgin Valley has shrugged off its label of “the apple and pear growing region along the N2 on the way to one’s destination” and come into its own as both a wine region and holiday destination. Plus, it’s less than an hour from Cape Town.

South Hill Vineyards offers more than just superb wines. For those looking for a weekend getaway, mid-week break or even a longer stay they offer two luxurious options: a fully equipped five-bedroom guesthouse and a secluded romantic cottage.

The beautifully decorated and very elegant Guesthouse, which offers four double bedrooms downstairs, as well as a large loft area upstairs, is available either per room or as a self-catering villa, making it ideal for families or groups of friends. All bedrooms are en-suite, including the loft room, which has three single beds and one king size bed. The loft includes a television with all DSTV channels and a small collection of books to read, too, so it can double as either a play/relaxation area or an ideal place for kids and teens. All rooms also include a docking station for your iPod or mp3 player and WiFi is available. The open plan living area has a large fireplace to warm you on cold winter nights and a dream kitchen to inspire even the most amateur home cook. The Guesthouse is also stocked with a selection of South Hill wines, offered on an “honesty basis”.

When not relaxing in front of the fire with some South Hill wine, there’s a 15m pool, a boulé court and a croquet set for the lawn. Prepare a feast and dine al fresco in the garden or on a patio or make use of the pizza oven and get creative with unusual toppings. There is plenty for those who like being active and outdoors, too, including walks, kayaking and mountain biking. Of course, no visit to South Hill is complete without wine tasting – and buying!

The Pumphouse is a gorgeous secluded cottage set on the banks of a dam surrounded by an indigenous garden, stunning fynbos and vineyards. There’s a private courtyard complete with a spa for the ultimate relaxation. It’s ideal for a romantic getaway or honeymoon cottage. In fact, South Hill is very popular as a wedding and celebration venue, as well as for end of year events and even conferences.

Chatting with Sandra King about the South Hill wines, I asked for a recommendation. She told me that their Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé is perfectly suited to both summer and winter. The wine is made from grapes harvested specifically for the rose, unlike most rosés, which are made from “bled juice”. And at about R45 a bottle, it’s delicious and affordable. South Hill also makes an exclusive, limited amount of MCC, which comes highly recommended.

South Hill is one of the few Elgin boutique wine farms that is open for tasting daily, during the week and on weekends. Details can be found on the website. The wines are available for purchase at the farm, online or at selected stockists (see website). And, if you are just passing through on the N2, both the Peregrine and Houw Hoek farm stalls stock their wines, too.

If you’re thinking of a break, do yourself a favour and head over to the website for a virtual tour. You’ll be making a booking faster than you can say, “I need a break.”

SOUTH HILL
Sandy King – 083 627 7950

b-moved to oak valley cottage in the elgin valley

The last time we highlighted the magnificence of Oak Valley estate was when The Pool Room opened late last year. It is closed for winter right now, but is set to re-open on 21 August and we can’t think of a better way to sample the sublime cuisine, celebrate the imminent arrival of Spring and enjoy a relaxing break on a working farm framed by by spectacular mountain vistas and lush natural scenery.

Oak Valley cottage is one of the oldest buildings on the farm and was recently renovated to what is now a cozy, fully-equipped self catering cottage that includes a large loft bedroom upstairs (with skylights!), a king size bed with all linen supplies and an adjoining bathroom.Downstairs you’ll find an open plan kitchenette / lounge / dining area and another bathroom and shower. To set the mood, a bottle of award winning Oak Valley wine is provided with each booking.

The cottage is equipped with a stove, fridge, microwave, as well as braai facilities and outdoor furniture for sunny days and al fresco dining.

While there is a TV, you will need to take your own DSTV card, but we reckon with everything on offer at Oak Valley and in the region, watching television will be the last thing on your mind.

The cottage is within easy riding distance of the highly rated Oak Valley MTB trails, which play host to the famous ABSA Cape Epic and the Wines2Whales mountain biking races and are said to be a 5 star experience. The three trails cover parts of the farm through the orchards, oak forests, vineyards and cattle grazing paddocks. You can choose from the 14km, 28km or a 32km route.

The wine tasting bar is open 7 days a week, Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm, and on Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm. As we mentioned, The Pool Room re-opens on 21st August 2013 where from Tuesday to Sunday your can enjoy a relaxing lunch or celebrate the weekend with dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings.

With Oak Valley being the largest production unit of freshly cut flowers in the Western Cape, guests can also enjoy an hour long tour through the greenhouses, production units and more, but please note that prior arrangement is essential. Oak Valley also has a Gourmet Meat division with over 350 head of free roaming cattle along with a free range piggery.

A comprehensive information manual is available on the website, which provides all the information you need about the cottage, booking and availability. Rental is R1,050 incl. per night, with a maximum of 2 adults plus 2 small children on mattresses (provided).

For more info about Oak Valley, visit the website, call 021 859 2510, or email mail@oak-valley.co.za