Nancy Richards hops on a Magic Grape Tour to meet the winemakers of Durbanville and uncover the history, wines and tastes of the region.
I have a friend called Beryl Eichenberger. And not unlike her namesake, SA Country Life food and wine writer Greg Landman’s feisty foodie companion, she’s always up for an outing. So in the absence of his Beryl, I invited mine to join me on one of Greg’s inaugural Magic Grape Tours to the lesser known winelands of Durbanville. Milnerton Lighthouse is our pick-up point – and can you believe it, they know each other from way back in the days of food, wine and book launches! Why am I not surprised?
What’s no secret is that Greg is a gastronome of note. Less well known is that he has a history in the movie business and is also newly, a tour guide – and, it turns out, a lover of uncovered history. Hence his choice of Durbanville as a less trod wine route relative to big hitters Stellenbosch and Paarl.
Welcome to Durbanville
Conversation and information flows as Greg negotiates the back streets and byways of the suburb’s clipped gardens and gated communities as our designated driver for the day. Durbanville was known as Pampoenkraal in the days when Simon Van der Stel sent outriders on site and soil sleuthing expeditions, but the jury’s out on the origins of Tygerberg – did the settlers see a leopard or was it named after the ‘spotted’ vegetation they mistakenly thought appeared on tigers. But what we know for sure is that this is serious Sauvignon Blanc country as a result, Greg explains, of the limestone-rich land and the coastal mists that cool the vines.
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First stop is Diemersdal Estate on the cooled slopes of Dorstberg (thirsty mountain). The Louw family have been here for six generations. Tienie Louw, father of the current innovative winemaker Thys, tells us stories of his grandfather’s Salt River vinegar factory, of his grandmother’s jam and butter making enterprises and her missionary expedition to the Congo in the 50s – there’s got to be a book in this. They produce no fewer than six Sauvignon Blancs here, including a bubbly, as well as Thys’s particular pride, the Austrian varietal, Grüner Veltliner – a first in South Africa. After a tempting tour of the barn style Farm Eatery, with original feed trough and horseshoes, I made a mental note to come back for the roasted beetroot tart, Adam figs, green sunflower seeds, fior de lait mozzarella and pickled tomato. With tales of the farm’s legendary ridgebacks and a nod to the grazing sheep under a bush, Greg whisks us back to the car for the next destination.
Travel back in time
Enroute story sharing and the passing, patchworked landscape eat up the kilometres and suddenly we’re at Altydgedacht, looking for all the world like a period piece movie set. “One of the oldest wine farms in the country, goes back to 1698.” Greg explains, dropping in that Napoleon’s secretary once stayed here and described it as ‘being removed to the very extremity of the civilised world’. First owner of the estate was Elsje van Suurwaarde (after whom Elsie’s River is named) and was later acquired by George Francis Parker arriving from England in 1819. His great, great grandsons John and Oliver continue the winemaking tradition. Greg relates the more recent tragedy of the young Mrs Jean Parker (said one of the first women winemakers in the Cape) whose husband died in a freak shooting accident and who was left to bring up their baby sons and run the farm alone. She did a meticulous job, recording and diarising everything. Over a wine tasting which included their flagship white blend The Ollo, we look at the wall of iconic family photographs and hear more of the inspirational Mrs Parker from Marilyn Hansen. Here for over thirty years, says she owes Mrs P her entire education, “She also taught me to drink wine!” Finally on our way, we were pleased that the slave bell had fallen silent these past centuries.
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Time to feast
We are in the dark at Klein Roosboom. Load shedding had struck. Which meant that the deliciously decorated eating and drinking alcoves or ‘caves’ lining the cellar barn were candlelit only. Marvellously moody, but not good for pics. Making up for it, tasting-room manager Pierre-Benn de Villiers showed us round the site of what is going to be a real destination restaurant in final stages of construction and with vineyard views to die for. (Second note to self, come back when it’s finished in July). In the meantime we were more than happy to sit at the barn’s long table for our cornucopian cheese and charcuterie platter lunch presented with wispy herb leaves, strawberries and pomegranate arils. There’s clearly a designer’s soul at work here – aside from the stylish food and playful décor, broken china and cutlery is set in cement at the doorstep and the source is estate owner Karin de Villiers. In her absence, Pierre-Benn tells the story of the bubbles Karin had always longed to make with Klein Roosboom grapes. Finally achieved, it’s called Marné after her daughter, now living in Amsterdam and herself about to have a baby. Never one to miss a theatrical opportunity, Greg offers to sabrage a bottle for us (slice the top off with a sword) – which he does with aplomb!
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Because the gourmet world is a small place, it’s no surprise to bump into foodista and author Isabella Niehaus from Langebaan, famous for her ‘Long Table on the Dunes’ lunches. Busy tying labels on bottles and gifts, Isabella was preparing for the launch of her book Duinhuis in the Klein Roosboom cellar that evening. Needless to say Greg and Beryl felt right at home!
With so many stories, wine and cheese under the belt, there wasn’t time or room to visit the last destination on Greg’s tour – the spectacular De Grendel. So that’s a story for another day. Luckily I’ve been before and can vouch for its breathtaking view across all Cape Town, that would undoubtedly render Beryl – both of them – speechless.
Tours are priced at R850pp and include the tasting fees for all the wine farms, meet-and-greets with the winemakers as well as Greg as your knowledgeable tour guide and designated driver for the day. To book your tour, visit www.magic-grape-tours.co.za
Disclaimer: Nancy Richards was invited on a complimentary Magic Grape Tour by Greg Landman.
Words and Photography Nancy Richards