While summer may be more popular, off-season at Spier Wine Farm is in my opinion the best time to visit. Devoid of crowds, one can really take one’s time exploring the farm, the lush indigenous gardens, the historic Werf and hotel.
I had the pleasure of spending a quiet weekend at the iconic Stellenbosch estate in order to better acquaint myself with just what winter in the Cape winelands can offer. Looking to wind down and reconnect with myself after a whirlwind few months of work on my upcoming book, the hotel and surrounds offered the idea hideaway from the dreaded laptop for at least a handful of nights. I also made a point of avoiding the rest of my tech – bar that of my camera – for the weekend to ensure I could absorb as much of the Spier experience as possible and live in the moment.
The term “hygge” was such a buzzword two years back (I remember doing a lengthy article on it) but I still feel it’s relevance in everyday life. The Scandinavian description for the ritual of enjoying life’s simple pleasures was especially evident during my weekend stay on the Spier estate. The hotel was a particular surprise for me as I hadn’t stayed before but had seen the most beautiful images on Spier’s Instagram. Interlacing courtyards and terrazzos linked the apartments, each one painted a muted shade of ecru, terracotta or sandstone. While I can see the appeal that visiting this Mediterranean paradise during summer’s balmy embrace would hold, the crisp mornings, scent of rain and the sound of the nearby Eerste River in full flow made me all the more grateful for the opportunity for a winter weekend in the winelands.
While I’m naturally drawn to colder climes, the weather itself refused to play ball and we found ourselves enjoying unseasonably warm temperatures. That being said, July nights are still very chilly and dawn broke each morning over a misty landscape that wouldn’t have been out of place in England’s Lake District. Fortunately, each room of the hotel has it’s own fireplace, and the hotel’s spacious lounge also boasts a beautiful hearth where one can curl up over coffee and a newspaper.
But I hadn’t come to Spier for their coffee. It was the estate’s vast range of award-winning wines the I was keen to sample. Serendipitously enough, Spier is running a winter wine pairing special that involves three of their excellent varietals paired with three delicious soups. Held in the main tasting room, with winter sunshine spilling through the windows, we were treated to a tasting of Spier’s 21 Gables Chenin Blanc paired with a smoked chicken and coriander consommé, the Ideology Rhône-style blend matched with a slow-roasted mushroom and Gorgonzola soup and finally the Private Collection Cabernet Sauvignon was joined by a springbok shank and barley broth.
The 21 Gables Chenin Blanc is a full-bodied, creamy wine with a slightly salty aftertaste that was heightened when sipped alongside the smokiness of the consommé while the tart berry flavours of the Private Collection Cabernet Sauvignon cut through richness of springbok. My personal preference ran towards the Ideology Rhône-style blend – an enticing combination of Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsault lent its palate to the umami sapidity of the mushroom and Gorgonzola soup. Decadently rich, the soup in turn gave the wine a wintery appeal, although I could possibly imagine myself enjoying the Rhône-style blend slightly chilled come summer.
Since soup is universally accepted as a starter, an informed decision was made to head to lunch. Boasting three spots to have a bite – hotel restaurant, the Farm Kitchen and Eight – it was the latter of Spier’s eateries that hosted us. Lunch is held in a spacious double-height room that allows diners a view into the bustling kitchen while on warmer days, patrons can spill out into the courtyard. Presided over by a cheeky elf topping the fountain, the sound of water bubbling from the leaf cupped in his hands adds to the natural music provided by birdsong and the cadence of the nearby Eerste River.
The number eight represents infinity in the fact that it folds around on itself and the restaurant has followed that understanding by adopting a farm-to-table philosophy that ensures only fresh produce grown on Spier’s own land or neighbouring farms is used on the menu. Chef Loríanne Heyns ensures that the menu changes seasonally, with organic, ethically-reared meat and vegetables dictating the specials. Light and unpretentious, the meals prepared at Eight are devoid of frippery but rather choose to showcase how the simplest of ingredients can be used to great aplomb. After a starter of homemade rosemary bread served alongside a verdantly tangy pesto of rocket, almonds and garlic, we feasted on Farmer Angus chicken, leek and mushroom pie with garden vegetables and a Nicoise-style chicken and green bean salad with new potatoes, olives and a wonderfully creamy anchovy dressing. Pairing the meal with Spier’s Creative Block 2 Sauvignon Blanc Semillon blend’s grassy undertone really brought out the al dente crunch of the green beans and the delicate peppery flavour of fresh nasturtium blossoms.
For dessert a Baked Lemon Pudding with creme Anglaise gently lifted with Malay spices was shared whilst overlooking the rambling gardens. Thick with a mix of indigenous and imported greenery, a winter weekend spent at Spier is able to provide the explorer with a diverse experience of sight, sound and scent. King proteas crown the collection, as does the ancient oak tree holding court in the centre of the Werf. Red hot pokers and others in the aloe lineage line the walkways and a relentless buzzing of the busiest of bees in the early Watsonia blooms create a drowsy, dreamlike environment. Its the ideal time to head back to the room for a nap in front of the fire.
Once one’s food has settled, the best way to explore the farm is on two wheels – with on one of the bicycles available to all Spier guests or on a Segway. As I had previously only seen security guards whizzing along on these strange creations in shopping malls, there was a slight level of apprehension on taking a Segway out over uneven terrain. But after 15 minutes or so of careful instruction from our guide Maurice (who takes the most amazing videos of his guests wheeling around), we set off; me burbling along whilst my laughing mother hurtled past me, sending unflattering names in my direction. Over the rolling lawns, across the bridge, up the hill, past the citrus groves and through to the perimeter of the farm, this fantastic machine skilfully handled every bump and succeeded in providing me with the most fun I’ve ever had on two wheels. The liquid light of golden hour was upon us as Maurice wheeled us on to meet Farmer Angus’ chickens. Yes, the selfsame ones I had so savoured over lunch – but I kept in mind that choosing to be a carnivore is all about being aware of where one’s meat comes from – and these were certainly happy hens!
Scattered over a field lush with green growth, the hens subsist on a diet that is as nature intended. Bugs, worms and plants make rich pickings and specially-designed coops keep the chooks safe at night. What with chickens being a suspicious lot (in my experience), I was sure that the hundreds of fluffy white birds would prefer to avoid three helmeted interlopers. But instead of heading for the hills, the entire flock came bustling over with peeps and chuckles, hoping to make our acquaintance and perhaps sneak a handful of grain or two. But since none of us had any spare chicken feed hidden in our pockets, the birds kept themselves busy by pecking at our ankles. Never before have I had a mob of feathered fowl so intent on preventing me from leaving a field. Nevertheless I got in a few shots before we turned back towards the farm for dusk – ankles more or less intact.
The winter season has always offered up the most spectacular sunsets and the ones I witnessed at Spier were no exception. Still on the Segways, we whizzed along a dirt track before stopping off on a private road to greet a donkey and some sheep. Behind the animals the entire Helderberg mountain range was lit up in the softest pink, providing a truly breathtaking display. There is something to be said for whirring along on two wheels, surrounded by the golden light of the dying sun, the evening air crisp and scented with fertile earth, new growth and running water. At this point my appetite had been firmly whetted and I had another meal at Eight to look forward to – dinner.
I’ve always enjoyed eating at a restaurant twice – for lunch and dinner – as I feel the mood changes and diners are able to have an entirely new experience. In the evening, Eight takes on a cosier feel, with a large wood-burning fire warming the space and muted light adding intimacy. A bottle of Spier’s Signature Shiraz was promptly ordered before I got stuck into snacking on more of Eight’s moreish rosemary bread with rocket pesto. Made with whatever the kitchen garden yields up, the pesto was so delicately delicious that I could have gone a few more rounds with it. Providentially, the dinner menu featured such a tempting array of options that my adoration of the pesto was promptly replaced by a lusting after the Farmer Angus organic beef rib-eye with carrot pureé, herbed potato, confit onions and garden greens. The jus served alongside the steak had the most alluring stickiness to it, with a sweet-sour flavour that was masterfully picked up by the brûléed sugar and ripe plum notes of the Shiraz.
After a day such as this, the only thing for it was to roll into bed and revel in the velvety darkness and silence that only a night in the countryside can provide.
Some other activities to enjoy at Spier:
The hotel is currently having a wonderful winter special that includes 20% off a three night stay, 25% off a four night stay and a couple’s retreat. The hotel has it’s own wonderful restaurant that caters a buffet breakfast to guests – I had the most pristinely poached egg of my life here and the fresh fruit table needs to be paid multiple visits. Dinner here is also a treat – opt for the SASSI-approved Franschhoek farmed trout, it’s sublime!
The Origins of Early Sapiens Behaviour is a multimedia compilation that is currently exhibiting in the Old Wine Cellar. Made up of film double-exposed over collage, video footage, reenactment and carefully crafted replicas of the archaeological artefacts discovered at Blombos Cave and Klipdrift Shelter by Professor Christopher Henshilwood, Dr Karen van Niekerk and their teams, the exhibition celebrates our common ancestry through the genetic evidence that humankind originated in Africa. I attended the exhibit after dark and experienced a thrilling trip back in time.
The Spier Artisan Studio is a recently opened space that allows visitors to the farm to witness local artists and craftsmen at work. I had the privilege of watching a series of intricate mosaics being made.
What would a visit to Spier be without a picnic under the trees? Even if the weather doesn’t agree, hotel guests can opt to have a spread of their favourite Farm Kitchen goodies sent to their room to be enjoyed in front of the fire.