Sampling Stanford’s Wine Route

You heard it through the grapevine… There’s a great deal to be discovered and sampled on the new Stanford Wine Route in the Overberg – and not all of it wine.

Words: Nancy Richards
Pictures: John-Clive

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“There are 13 frog species in this area. They advertise themselves through sound and water waves.” Naas Terblanche knows what he’s talking about. Since he and his wife Elsabie arrived in Stanford in 2005, he’s spent long hours listening for their croaks, capturing them for a documentary he’s making.

We’re at his Vaalvlei farm for a wine tasting, but it’s impossible not to get sucked in to his fountain of frog knowledge. The land when they arrived was very wet and needed drainage, but the damp clearly had appeal for the elusive, resident amphibians.

“You seldom see them, but I taught myself their calls so I can creep up on them with video equipment,” says Naas. Drinking his rich red port featuring the tubby western leopard toad on the label, we watch clips from Naas’ movie. Had we been able to stay a little longer – they have self-catering cottages up by the lake where you can flyfish – we would have gone on patrol ourselves. Dying to see one of those weeny arum lily frogs in situ. Next time.

A number of the winemakers on this small, recently launched wine route seem to have other interests up their sleeves. For Piet Dreyer, it’s calamari. A full-time fisherman known as the Barefoot Skipper in his heyday, Piet’s other nickname was Raka, a creature said to be half-man, half-beast. He used it to christen one of his first fishing boats. He still has a squid fleet, but when he developed a passion for wine it followed that the farm and wine estate would take the Raka name.

Like any self-respecting fisherman, Piet spins a good yarn about his life and about wine and, if you’ve time to spare, you could spend a colourful afternoon shooting the breeze with Meneer Raka. But a story he especially likes to tell is about the rare Erica shannonea, named after an 18th-century botany patron. “It was thought to be extinct, but they found a large patch,” says Piet. “Right here on my farm.”

STAN 13Fynbos of all sorts proliferates in this underdeveloped region, so it should be no surprise to discover, when we settle down to sip in the Tasting Room restaurant overlooking the dam at Stanford Hills Estate, that owner Pete Kastner and his wife Jami also cultivate proteas and pincushions.

“We have ten varieties, including the naturally occurring hybrid called Veldfire,” Pete tells me. Appropriately, the dazzling bloom has become the name of his Pinotage and Shiraz. Be interesting to see what they call the anticipated Cap Classique when its bursts from their cellars next season. But while the wine brings in the visitors, it’s the view that hooks them here at the Hills. In consequence, breakfast and lunch in the Tasting Room are lingering affairs, more especially as it’s all child friendly – little boats on the dam, and a sandpit, jungle gym and trampoline. If you can’t tear the kids away, it’s a big plus that you can stay over too. The numerous self-catering options include a manor house that was a girls school back in the day.

In contrast to all those with extra-curricular portfolios, Tariro Masayiti, winemaker at Springfontein wine estate, is a complete purist. For him wine is an all-embracing art, science and lifestyle.

Over a five-course, wine-pairing lunch in the estate’s restaurant, called Eats, he talks about calcium and magnesium levels in the lime-rich soil, about minerality, malolactic fermentation and his goal to lower the alcohol levels of his all-natural wines.

Tall, rangy and stylish, Masayiti is the appointed chairman of the new Stanford route. Elected by his brothers-in-wine, he wears the title well. And while we’re talking class acts, only a Michelin-star chef such as Jürgen Schneider could produce a dish at Eats that honours the humble carrot in four different guises – and that’s before the starters. Eats is an experience not to be rushed.

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Over just two days we manage to squeeze in all eight wineries on the route. Our overnight base is the nostalgic manor house at Boschrivier Wines, where Laing de Villiers remembers childhood weekends roaring around the farm that’s been in his father’s family for years. Strolling around the surrounding bird-filled fields at sunrise, we can only envy his memories. But there’s nothing old-fashioned about the vision he has for the future of their wines, which you can sample at their roadside outlet.

Another young man with his sights set on a healthy future is Reinhard Odendaal, outdoor activist of note and winemaker at Walker Bay Estate and Birkenhead Brewery, where the underground aquifer called the Stanford Eye supplies water for both the vines and the range of craft beers that attract droves of brown-brew pilgrims.

“We source everything local and we don’t use insecticides, so the birds have a field day with our crops,” says Reinhard. Happiest running in the local mountains, he was managing a trail-damaged ankle and pair of crutches when we met – didn’t seem to dampen his enthusiasm. Nor his enthusiasm for the slap-up breakfast we enjoyed with him at the Birkenhead Galley, where it’s excusable to wash it down with honey ale instead of coffee.

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Green-minded wine lovers will be pleased to know that natural and local are recurring watchwords in this eco-amicable region. At Misty Mountains Estate, general manager Robert Davis also blesses their water that comes from the Langkloof catchment area, rightly so, what with rainfall down 30 per cent from previous years. They use it for wine and bottled-water production, but they’ve been experimenting too, with a syrupy vincotto and with olives, and have plans for cheese making using raw milk from the neighbouring farm. So it’s a space to watch.

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But it felt to me that fun was the predominant element on the route – notably for Jan Malan of Sir Robert Stanford Estate. He moved to this wind-cooled region for very serious reasons of climate change, but his default is to enjoy life. And at The Royal Oke, next to a lily pond, that is exactly what you’re encouraged to do.

But it wasn’t always so, and Jan relates the story of previous owners. Back in the 19th century, the Du Toits decided that alcohol was evil, and pulled out all the vines, and turned the taps on the stills and barrels to let the demon liquid go down the drain.

Having successfully re-established both the vines and wines, Malan has also installed a massive copper grappa still on the spot where one stood 75 years before. “It’s a labour of love really and I have lots of fun with it.” As do the people drinking it. He takes us in the tractor trailer for a tasting at the dam where his wines are good, but oh that grappa.

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Just goes to show that, while there’s plenty of good wine on the Stanford Wine Route, just keep your mind and taste buds open to other suggestions.

Handy Contacts

Savour the Stanford Smile

  • At the heart of the wine route, Stanford the village is as cute as a button, so allow time to browse the art and antique shops between wine tastings.
  • Don’t miss Don Gelato, the Italian home-made ice-cream shop in Queen Victoria Street.
  • Especially don’t miss Klein River Cheese farm (for what is wine without cheese?) just off the R326, with its playground and petting farmyard.

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