Fiona McIntosh takes a spin on the new mountain-biking trails at Paul Cluver Wines in Grabouw and rekindles a long-lost love affair with her mountain bike
Pictures: Shaen Adey
A large herd of bontebok and four Blue Cranes eye us as we ride through the game camp of the Cluver Family Reserve in Grabouw in the Western Cape. This is my second day riding the MTB trails at Paul Cluver Wines and I’m surprised at every turn. This morning’s Black Route takes us past orchards, vineyards and pristine fynbos to the upper reaches of the farm for an exhilarating section of single-track switchbacks, down to a waterfall and the famous Pofadder – a 100m section of technical wooden track that got the adrenalin pumping.
More adventure is to follow in the form of twisting single-track and bermed corners through the pines before we cruise back on a path enjoying the magnificent mountain backdrop, the sunbirds darting from protea to protea, and the water birds foraging at the tranquil dam. It is one of the most varied and stimulating rides.
Situated in the Kogelberg Biosphere reserve, at the heart of the Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site, the 2 000ha family-owned estate of Paul Cluver Wines has been a pioneering force in the Elgin Valley, both in terms of wine production and conservation. Half of the estate has been set aside as natural habitat in perpetuity.
Dr Paul Cluver, a former brain surgeon, is also a founder member of the world’s first wine and biodiversity route, the Green Mountain Eco-route. The four-day Green Mountain Slackpacking Trail, which meanders around the Groenlandberg, is another brainchild of Paul’s.Invigorated by a shower, and lunch on the lawn at the restaurant Fresh on the estate, I’m back on my bike for the grand finale, a circuit of the Amphi Bike Park. Somewhat to my surprise I discover that most of the structures at the Cluver Amphitheatre, including several bridges of the Building Bridges at Paul Cluver project that were chosen as one of the design projects for the international World Design Capital Cape Town 2014, were built by Dr Cluver himself.
“I took woodwork to Standard Five,” he explains, “and that stood me in good stead for my job as a neurosurgeon. The neurosurgery helps with what I like to do now – woodworking and what a friend calls my Obelix architecture. Same tools, just different size.”
He’s clearly enjoying my confusion. “A couple of decades ago I started an alien-clearing programme with five young, unemployed guys whose parents work on the farm. They were very green but I showed them how to work with sanders and saws. We started off small, building a little place at the amphitheatre, where we sold food for the [email protected] Cluver Summer Festival concerts. My first bridge was the Ark.” Paul takes me on a loop through the forest as he explains how they chopped off the tops off these bluegums and used more alien wood to make the struts. But the supporting trees are still alive.“Then Johan wanted a bridge for the Wines2Whales mountain bike event, so we built him one,” he states matter of factly.
It’s no coincidence that Johan Kriegler, MTB director of the Wines2Whales, also employs his own team of local men from the township to cut trails for the famous three-day MTB event.
“The Wines2Whales is unique,” Paul explains. “It runs through the farm every year but the route is always changing. I think it’s the only event in the country where there’s a team that actually builds single track. Most of the others use existing tracks. Johan and I initiated similar projects so we had an immediate bond. He took these unemployed youngsters and motivated them by giving them bikes. Because they’re riders they understand how to build MTB track.”
Although it was the Cape Epic that put mountain biking in the Elgin Valley on the map, the Wines2Whales has been a major impetus in the growth of the sport. Johan and his team have opened up new routes throughout the valley and participants donated R20 000 towards the construction of the bridges on the Paul Cluver estate.
Paul has not been alone in his efforts. Once he realised the potential of the amphitheatre and his MTB trails, and those on neighbouring Thandi wine estate (South Africa’s first agricultural Black Economic Empowerment Project), he enlisted the help of Anton Potgieter, a horticulturist renowned for his eco-bridges and raised walkways, to manage the construction of the Pedal Power Association (PPA) swing, Raka, Slangpark and the resurrection of the Pofadder and Witklippieskloof trails.
Story continues in the January edition of Country Life.