On Sunday morning, we met up with our friends from Germany, who were staying in a guest house in Milnerton. They were keen to explore some wine farms in the Stellenbosch or Franschhoek areas.
Not being wine drinkers ourselves, and only vaguely familiar with a handful of wine farms that we have visited in the past, we couldn’t quite decide where to take them first.
Luckily, it appeared that they already knew where they wanted to to go, so we drove straight out to Neethlingshof on Polkadraai Road outside Stellenbosch.
This wine estate has an old history. Willem Barend Lubbe, a German settler, was granted permission by Simon van der Stel to farm here on the Bottelary Hills as far back as 1692. He named the farm “De Wolwedans” (The Dance of Wolves), after the jackals that lived in the surrounding hills at that time – he thought they were wolves.
“Grapes have been grown on Neethlingshof for more than 300 years or within 50 years of the Dutch East-India Company establishing a victualling station at the Cape to supply its passing ships.” (Website)
After Charles Marais and his young wife Maria purchased the farm in 1788, they began to focus strongly on wine-making, increasing the land under cultivation by vineyards, and building a cellar (in 1802) and a manor house (1814) so that they could make their own wine.
Sadly, Charles died in 1813 at a fairly young age; Marie, however, lived for many more years, only passing away in 1839. She was a remarkable woman:
“Within a few years she was producing 30 leaguers of wine (about 17 100 litres) and just under 2 leaguers (about 1 000 litres) of brandy, so that she does not only count among the first female winemakers of the young colony but probably also its first female brandymaker.”
When Marie’s daughter married Johannes Henoch Neethling (or was it Marthinus Neethling?), he became joint owner of the estate with Marie’s youngest son; after some time, he took over the remaining 50% of the property, and changed the estate’s name to Neethlingshof.
“The Neethlings’ daughter married Jacobus Louw and the farm remained in the Louw family for the next 100 years.
“In 1963 well-known politician Jannie Momberg bought the estate while Gys van der Westhuizen, who had farmed for the Louw family since 1950, continued to run the farm for the Mombergs.
In 1973 Schalk van der Westhuizen, now at Alto, took over from his father as manager and winemaker and today the young and passionate De Wet Viljoen is at the helm in the cellar.” (Website: http://www.wine.co.za)
We found parking and followed the signs down towards the wine cellars and the tasting rooms.
We sat around a table, studied the list of available wines, and the guys picked six each for tasting.
The staff were very helpful and friendly. All of them were wearing scarves with the name of a soccer team, which provoked much hilarity and light-hearted bantering about the fates of their chosen teams.
They soon realised that we were not in a hurry, and more interested in chatting and socialising than in quickly getting through the six wines. We had so much to talk about, after all!
One of our friends had been to Africa several times before, including Namibia and South Africa, but the other two hadn’t.
They were thus curious to discuss all kinds of topics, ranging from soccer (of course!) and the impact of the World Cup on our country, to the history of apartheid and the political and social changes in the decades since Nelson Mandela’s walk to freedom, and everything inbetween.
We also spoke about the effects of the Wiedervereinigung between East and West Germany (their town of Dresden was part of the East), and the importance of choosing a good first name for one’s children (strange, hey?) to ensure that they will not be discriminated against when they seek employment. And we discussed movies, including the excellent “The Lives of Others” (“Das Leben der Anderen”), which dealt with the prevalence of surveillance by the Stasi during the time of the DDR.
I was struck, as I had been before, by how well-informed and knowledgeable visitors from overseas tended to be about our country, sometimes far more so than we were (both about our country and about theirs), largely because they often saw reports on the television and read in the papers about current events in South Africa. It was a reminder not to be too insular and self-focused on our own country, but to open our eyes to what is going on internationally.
Hillcrest Berry Farm
After our lengthy wine tasting, we were more than a little hungry, and so I booked us a table at the Hillcrest Berry Farm on the Helshoogte Pass between Stellenbosch and Franshhoek. It is one of our favourite places to visit when we are in the area.
It is situated in a very scenic area, on a small hill surrounded by valleys and mountains. There are berry orchards all around, and you can even stay in a couple of cottages on the farm.
We, however, were there for the restaurant and tea garden.
There is also a gorgeous shop, where you can purchase both fresh and frozen berries, as well as all kinds of jams, marmelades and honeys, and of course adorable gift packs of everything! We usually end up taking along a packet of their fresh scones, which are absolutely superlative.
The views from the outside verandah across the valley and up to the tall mountains behind towards the east are truly magnificent.
We were also blessed with such wonderful weather, that it was hard to believe we were in the middle of winter!
The sky was clear and blue, the sun was not just mildly warm but actually quite hot, and there was even a smog haze all the way from the Stellenbosch mountains to the Peninsula.
We all had some salad or a soup as a starter dish.
While the men then followed this up with a dish of traditional bobotie and yellow rice, I hungrily devoured a pair of delicious quiches. (By the way, if you want some seriously delectable recipes, have a look at the ‘Recipe’ section on the Hillcrest website).
After a leisurely, extended lunch, we waved goodbye to our friends, who were keen to visit another wine farm in the Franshhoek area before sunset.