Every so often I’m introduced to a wine that just resonates with me. It could be the packaging, it could be the farm of origin, it could be the taste; but usually it’s this combination of education and emotion that creates the connection. Seasalter wine – a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon from the Groote Post Vineyards in Darling is one of these wines.
Dairy farmer-turned-winemaker Nick Pentz sees Seasalter as encompassing the unique heritage of the Groote Post Vineyards and their home on the Cape West Coast;
“Sauvignon Blanc has always been our standout varietal at Groote Post, so it was fitting that it would play the leading role as a component of our icon white wine. Seasalter has a refreshing new look that shouts out West Coast. The name was chosen as symbolizing the unique minerality and saltiness of our whites.”
Crisp and clean, with a pleasing mineral sapidity that reminds one of ocean swims on golden afternoons, Seasalter has to be one of my favourite white wine varietals to come from the West Coast-based estate. Immediately recognisable from its distinctive blue and white label, the gulls whirling across the bottle bring to mind many a windswept weekend spent gazing out across the endless blue of the Atlantic, swimming in the shallows of the Berg River or exploring the catch of colourful fishing boats, hoping to negotiate the sale of a fresh fish for dinner. I recently spent time up at Rocherpan Reserve, a place known for it’s raw beauty, solitude and proximity to both the fishing towns of Velddrif and Elands Bay. What with it being summertime, the evenings long and balmy, a seafood braai was unquestionably the only way to eat.
Luckily, I managed to acquire a brace of fresh harders – the selfsame silvery sardine-like fish that are usually turned into the addictively salty local delicacy known as bokkoms. Endemic to the Cape West Coast, specifically the town of Velddrif, the small harders would be caught in the estuaries of the Berg River mouth, salted, pressed and hung out to dry in front of the historical whitewashed huts that line Bokkom Laan.
Made using this mostly unchanged process for the past two centuries, bokkoms are to Velddrif what hotdogs are to New York. Incredibly salty, with a distinctive fishy tang and an immediately recognizable smell, this “fish biltong” of the West Coast was a way for the fishing community to preserve their seasonal catches for the months when fish were scarce.
More recently, the annual harder catch has been lessened by overfishing in the River and crippling quotas given out to commercial fisheries that strangle smaller local businesses. A few months ago, this even led to a bokkom shortage, the drying huts of Bokkom Laan standing dormant and empty.
Although I have many a time tasted bokkoms (I tend to prefer mine filleted and soaked in garlicky olive oil – a sort of South African anchovy) the fresh harders that we bought for the princely sum of R9.70 for 5, were gutted and braaied over the coals in a style not dissimilar to the sardines of the Mediterranean. Eaten simply with olive oil, lemon and crusty bread, this was truly a dish fit for the gods.
I don’t always understand why we as South Africans go mad for exotic seafood such as Norwegian salmon, bluefin tuna and Mozambican prawns when we have such a wealth of more sustainable, delicious local fish on offer. True, they may not be as glamorous as the above, but if it’s simple, authentic flavour you’re after, then the humble harder will surely appeal.
Grilled West Coast Harders
Prep time: 15 mins / Cook time: 8 mins / Serves: 4
You will need:
- 5 to 10 fresh Velddrif harders or large sardines
- 3 large garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 large lemons
- 100ml extra virgin olive oil
- 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- Coarse ground sea salt and black pepper
- Fresh crusty bread
- a bottle of chilled Seasalter Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2015 blend
Rinse and if necessary, gut the fish by removing the viscera. Rinse the fish again and rub a little sea salt over their skins.
Zest both lemons and pull off the rosemary leaves, discarding the woody stalks. Combine the zest, rosemary and garlic and chop finely. In a bowl, combine the olive oil with the juice of one of the lemons and the chopped zest, rosemary and garlic. Season the marinade with salt and pepper and allow to stand.
Grill the harders whole over medium coals for about 3 minutes a side. Halve the second lemon and place flesh side-down on the grid to grill. When the skin of the fish is blackened, they are done. Remove from the heat, place on a platter and serve with the garlicky marinade as a drizzle, the grilled lemon to squeeze over, the crusty bread and a few chilled glasses of Seasalter. Don’t forget to carefully remove the backbone of the fish and eat with your fingers – there will be bones!
What with only 2000 bottles released in 2017, I consider Seasalter to be more than just a wine – its a lifestyle. Preferably one that needs to be experienced in the golden hour after a perfect summer’s day, a few fat harders sizzling over the coals and the scent of the sea on the evening air.