A Sunday drive to Stellenbosch: Wine tasting at Neethlingshof and lunch at Hillcrest

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.

Driving along the cutely named Polkadraai Road (which makes me think of couples dancing the polka in the middle of the road, which perhaps was the case in the old days?)

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.

If you look really closely, you may be able to see the fountain spouting a gigantic column of water into the air. It's just on the left of the road, partly hidden by a lamp-post.

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.

The fountain also marks the entrance to Neethlingshof

Neethlingshof

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)

We signed in at the security gate up ahead

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.

The long avenue lined by pine trees appears on their label

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.”

Beautiful, shady oak-lined avenue

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.

Gorgeous view, isn't it?

“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)

Vineyards

We found parking and followed the signs down towards the wine cellars and the tasting rooms.

Although I don't drink wine, I do love visiting wine estates, because they are always so extraordinarily beautiful

We sat around a table, studied the list of available wines, and the guys picked six each for tasting.

Those lovely whitewashed buildings with their thatched roofs house the wine cellars and the tasting rooms

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.

The entrance to the wine cellar

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!

The wine tasting centre (or Wyn-proe-sentrum in Afrikaans)

One of our friends had been to Africa several times before, including Namibia and South Africa, but the other two hadn’t.

I wonder what the history of this crest is?

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.

The wine tasting costs R30 a person, and you can choose 6 wines

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.

A close-up of the wine list

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.

View more or less towards the southwest

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.

View towards the jagged mountains in the direction of Franschhoek more or less towards the east

We, however, were there for the restaurant and tea garden.

Ooh! Look! A cake decorated as a soccer pitch!

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 cake from the other side, with some of the shelves behind

The views from the outside verandah across the valley and up to the tall mountains behind towards the east are truly magnificent.

While we waited for our meals to arrive, I took some photos - isn't this a lovely white rose?

We were also blessed with such wonderful weather, that it was hard to believe we were in the middle of winter!

A Cape Robin helpfully posed for me

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.

I'm not sure if this colour is pink or apricot, but it is probably my favourite 🙂

We all had some salad or a soup as a starter dish.

This is bobotie and yellow rice, with a little bowl of coconut flakes

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).

A smoked salmon and broccoli quiche, and a spinach and feta quiche, with a small salad

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.

Good friends! May we meet again!

4 thoughts on “A Sunday drive to Stellenbosch: Wine tasting at Neethlingshof and lunch at Hillcrest

  1. We are planning a reunion day for our staff [+- 20] for a day trip. I have been to Neethlingshof before and the experience was was eccellent. We were thinking of having lunch and just spending some time together.
    Would you please be so kind and send me some information about your lunches and prices.
    Thanks a lot
    Marie Olivier

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