A South African Adventure

If one of your bosses emailed to ask if you would like to spend five days in South Africa with a group of awesome Peaches & representatives from our wine suppliers Boutinot, tasting wine and eating all manner of deliciousness, how long do you think it would take you to reply? With me it was precisely seventy seconds, which includes the thirty seconds that it took me to read from the top of the email to the bottom.

This was early December; silly season had just begun, and we were about to face the most intense month of our working year. The fuel of knowing a new year, wine getaway was within reach, held me strong while serving our one hundredth Turkey, making Brookmans Christmas a joy. New year came and went, and before we knew it, our itinerary was announced and an overly keen WhatsApp group created.

Meeting at Gatwick on a wet Sunday in March was;

Michael Moriarty- Boutinot’s ‘Godfather’

Jo Eames- Wine Queen & a Founder of Peach

Jack.B.Wild- Wild by Name, Boutinot’s Health & Safety Co-ordinator by Nature

David Cumberlidge- Peach’s Pod/Port Director

Sharon Colcannon- The Latest Packer in Peach

Me (Terri Dell)- Selfie Queen of Peach

A few whistle wetters in the airport whilst we all got to know everyone’s tastes, before prepping ourselves for an 11 hour flight. We were soon on our way (Champagne on the flight a necessity of course), arriving to an equally damp Cape Town, unsure if we’d actually gone anywhere or just watched too many aeroplane films and eaten the best Scrambled Egg James Martin had to offer as part of the inflight ‘breakfast’ (at least that’s what they called it).

We were heading to Boutinot’s very own Vineyard in Franschhoek, the Wildeberg estate, and arriving in Franschhoek days after a Wildfire had spread rapidly, only marginally missing our home for a few days. As we drove up to the most amazing back drop, the blackened mountains had a boundary that showed just how close the vines (and the house) had come to being destroyed. The local fire service had used the dam at Wildeberg to put out the fire, with incredible support from residents and people who had travelled in to help.

 

Surrounded by vines, seeing the beautiful house with all its outbuildings, glimpsing the gigantic oak barrels outside the cellar doors as we came up close, we were greeted by the wonderful team at Wildeberg- Winemaker Rayno, Farm Manager Pierre and Thalia.

We divvied up beds and as rooms with a view go, my bedroom window looked out over the perfect arrangement of mountains to allow the sunshine to sit in between with a line of vines directly below.

It was an early morning arrival, so after some time to freshen up and some incredible Bobotie for lunch,  we were able to fit our first of very many tasting sessions. Our first visit was from the Winemaker from Zorgvliet, Bernard Le Roux. With an amazing collection, it was a wonderful way to start the week, sipping a variety of wine on the terrace as the sun started to break through the clouds. The Banghoek terroir is one of the coolest of the Bordeaux cultivar estates so is well suited to making their restrained and elegantly styled wines, making it easy to see how the Silvermyn Sauvignon Blanc from these producers has made it to the Spring/Summer list. A great addition, with wonderful gooseberry, green apple and sweet melon on the nose, it’s clean and crisp acidity make it the perfect sipper in one of our pub’s sunny spots this season.

We rounded the day off with a dip in the pool (well Michael & I were the only one’s brave enough), generous helpings of Braai & plenty of wine from Zorgvliet & Wildeberg. The next morning after a breakfast on the terrace, watching the low-lying mist lift from the base of the mountains, we went straight into our key purpose of the trip- creating two blends, a red wine & a white wine, that might be suitable for the Peach wine list. I don’t want to give too much away on this yet, but let’s just say, we all found new career opportunities in winemaking in just one session…

This blending session took place in the Dam House, a serene location to taste and experiment with wines, with the imposing mountains running behind the calm (and at this point tarred) water. We took a bottle of each of our blends to lunch with us in town, and enjoyed our crafts over some delicious, if very experimental pizzas.

Back at the estate and we were straight into another tasting, with a visit from Willie the Kloovenberg King, a real charmer in the wine world. The Kloovenberg Shiraz that we have on our list is a spectacular example of the wines they are making, with an amazing array of rich red fruit and spiced wines, as well fresh and tropical whites. A great family story, they even have a wine called Eight Feet, named after their four son’s sets of feet. Kloovenberg Shiraz happens to be one of my favourites on our list, and with its intense dark cherry aroma and gentle spice, it’s certainly possible to see why this family run vineyard have had such success for such a long time. If I’m ever lucky enough to manage another trip to South Africa, I will certainly be putting Swartland and the Kloovenberg Estate on the list of must see!

I haven’t yet talked much about food much yet, but our meal that night is definitely worth a mention! It was a good excuse to get dressed up, and after a couple of beers at the Craft Beer Brewery in Franschhoek town, we ventured to Chef’s Warehouse at Maison. They describe their work as and experience with food like you’ve never experienced before, which is all about the sheer pleasure of taste. By pairing flavours in unexpected and exciting ways, you get an infinite number of fresh taste sensations, and this is exactly what we found out. The menu was unusual in that it was tapas style so meant for two to share, but with high-end ingredients and combinations; pastrami, horseradish and whipped butter, or foie gras, asparagus and pistachios were just a couple of examples from the nine-course menu. The food was phenomenal, although admittedly there were a couple of plates that came up that resulted in some confusion around the table, and the paired wine magnum was perfect. Stumbling back to the house in a food coma, we were all raving about the amazing taste experience we had had that night, so I guess Chef’s Warehouse certainly lived up to their description for our team!

The next morning, after a quick breakfast and a from the barrel tasting at Wildeberg, we were saying goodbye to this beautiful place and heading to our next stop. When Jo’s snippet of description in her email on our next location said ‘as well as being a pioneers in organic winemaking, their restaurant at Waterkloof has recently been awarded Best Restaurant in South Africa’ I was obviously caught hook, line and sinker. There really was no way of fully preparing for what we were about to experience, however.

I am a wine enthusiast, my team might say wine obsessive, (but who needs to split hairs on that), so I have been lucky enough to go around the world on ‘Wine Holidays’, visiting vineyards, tasting wines and eating food to match in incredible countries. It’s easy for me to say now though that the most beautiful and mind bending of all these visits has to be Waterkloof.

The dramatic drive up the long winding hill to get to the looming building that is Waterkloof winery which hugs the edge of a cliff had us surrounded by bush vines & beautiful colours. Animals glanced along the way including pigs, ducks, horses & even a mongoose, though the latter didn’t aid the production of wine at Waterkloof as all the others do as we would come to learn.

We were met at the top by Paul Boutinot, founding father of the wine company, now custodian of Waterkloof, and Christiaan Loots, the Farm Manager responsible for all things vine care. We piled in the 4×4 for a tour like no other, we talked soil breakdown, earthworm involvement and biodynamic vine care for a good hour, meeting the horses that pull the harvest engineering, and discussing the impact of the moon on vine growth. A true example of biodynamic farming, it is the most scientific of any vineyard tour I’ve been part of.

Back to the winery, we were met by Nadia Bernard, the cellar master, and, with a tour of the gravitational cellar, saw how gentle the press at Waterkloof is on the grapes, including some human foot interaction, before a from the barrel tasting, which made the quality of their wine shine through immediately. Anything as young in its development as the wines in these barrels that tastes as good as they did already, had to be special. Into a glass high tasting room, and we were sampling the fruits of all the incredible work that goes in at Waterkloof and it was easy to taste the skill. It’s exciting that we have gained a member of the Waterkloof family on our list this season- False Bay, Crystalline Chardonnay. It’s unoaked, natural style has none of the cloying notes of some heavily treated Chardonnay’s, resulting in crisp balanced grapes with flinty minerality. We found it to be intense yet delicate right through to the finish.

Now for lunch at Waterkloof- unbelievable. Even the trip’s resident Food Photographer Jack put his camera away for this one; there was no time to waste before diving into all the incredible plates we were presented. When you start with the bread which came with three kinds of butter, including a Chicken Consumme butter, you know you’re in for a treat. There were so many phenomenal plates of food that came out to us, including our table favourite Mauritius Seabass, Leek Ash, Watercress & Pommes Boulangères. With one of their amazing wines to match every course, it was a proper treat afternoon for all of us!

After an incredible 5 hours at Waterkloof, we headed to Cape Town for our last night before flying home. Straight to Table Mountain’s Cable Car (we won’t mention our lovely minibus driver breaking his own van on the way up- I can still smell the clutch burn), and we were heading up the side of the mountain; me eyes closed tight in fear of the cable car journey. Views like no other at the top of the mountain, some of the best model-esque photos taken in the whole trip (ahem, David), we were ready to head back down for some (more) food. The two hour queue that followed to get back down the side of a mountain definitely took its toll, as the wind rose- maybe not the smartest day for me to be wearing a tea dress.

Our last night and day in Cape Town were spent reminiscing all the amazing things we had tasted in the last few days and chatting about the many complexities behind writing a Gastropub wine list, as well as eating and drinking just a little bit more of course. It was with heavy heart that we made our way back to the airport; Cape Town & Gatwick.

This experience truly was like no other. Boutinot showed us exactly why South African wines have a real place on our wine lists, as well hospitality at its finest. It was the best gang to taste, see and laugh with, and yet again I’m reminded why Peach have been in The Times Top 100 three years in a row now. There’s not many pub companies that would allow such a fantastic trip to be gifted as it was, so thanks Boutinot and Peach for being legendary.

Oh yeah, and uhmm, when are we going back?