Late summer is harvest time on Zandvliet estate in the Robertson Valley. There is the sweetest hint of autumn in the air, from the cool mornings to the golden light – a discernible change from relentlessly blue skies to something softer.
Having experienced almost every season in the area, harvest time is especially fascinating for anyone that’s every wondered exactly what goes into a glass of wine. Getting to call the luxurious House on Enon guesthouse home for the weekend added to the allure, as its hilltop setting afforded us an almost 360° view around Zandvliet’s sprawling vineyards and ClemenGold groves. Featuring 5 en-suite bedrooms, an elegant lounge, dining room and functional kitchen, the house is made for entertaining and we spent most of our time enjoying the large verandah and pool. I stayed in the Glen Rosa room – a beautifully furnished suite that opens up into the garden. An enormous bed, crisp cotton sheets and a roomy shower meant that I spent most of the weekend in a state of blissful relaxation, with birdsong the only sound breaking the silence. While the House on Enon is not currently available to book, it will be opening its doors to the public as soon as zoning is approved.
But what’s a Friday evening without a little festivity? We kicked off the weekend at the exhibition of Arend Louw and Juanette Menderoi at Zandvliet’s tasting room, the Kalkveld Lounge. Held in the subterranean muscat tanks, the exhibition showcased Juanette’s vibrant use of colour and texture and Arend’s exceptionally detailed landscapes. It was wonderful to experience one of my closest friends exhibiting and the energy of his West Coast landscapes filled the space. Definitive of small town life, Arend’s subject matter embraces the light endemic to the countryside, with each artwork telling a story through the pastoral scenes he chooses to paint. Whether it’s the imposing Dutch Reformed church in Redelinghuys or a small corner shop in Doringbaai, Arend’s paintings capture a nostalgia, a longing for a simpler time of life and an almost childlike enjoyment of the little things – a bright pink building, the famous zebra of Elands Bay or my personal favourite, a still life inspired by a shelf in his grandfather’s barn. A toffee-brown bottle of sheep medicine, afternoon sun illuminating the outline – a quiet, seemingly innocuous moment made meaningful through preservation in ink.
Combining two of my favourite pastimes – drinking wine and admiring art – the location of the exhibition added to the event, with the craggy coolness of the muscat tanks lending their mystery to the painting. Left un-excavated for over 60 years, the tanks are a drawcard themselves, with visitors encouraged to wander through their halls and discover the history behind Zandvliet’s famed Shiraz. I spotted a bottle produced in my birth year and it gave me the idea for the perfect birthday present for when I turn 30 in two years time. A girl can dream!
Speaking of Shiraz, the following morning I was up as early as the amount of outstandingly delicious Sauvignon Blanc I had enjoyed the night before allowed me to be. Piling into winemaker Jacques Cilliers’ bakkie, we were delivered into the heart of the Shiraz vineyards with the aim of each harvesting a few basket’s full of fruit. Directed by foreman Willem September, we brandished our shears and got to work. Deep purple grapes hung in weighty bunches, inciting Dionysian fantasies of evenings spent cavorting through the vines, scantily-clad men feeding me fruit by hand. But I digress. At Zandvliet or any other estate in the valley, the emergence of the grapes means one thing; hard work. Employees like Willem are up before dawn each day, harvesting over 50 tons of grapes before the sun reaches its zenith. Known as the ‘home of Shiraz’, Zandvliet’s celebrated cultivar is grown in a mix of limestone soil and ancient shale and is exposed to the moderate days and cold nights of the climate around the nearby town of Ashton. Featuring their trademark Zandvliet Shiraz as well as the limited release Kalkveld Shiraz and the exceptionally rare Hill of Enon “Small Berry Pick” Shiraz, the estate is unquestionably skilled in working with this cultivar, a detail that is evident during a blending and bottling workshop.
Held in an upstairs cellar of the Kalkveld Lounge, the workshop is a fun way to get better acquainted with the red varietals on offer. Lounge manager and self-confessed oenophile Leslie Sipambu took us through a tasting each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Shiraz before we had to pick percentages and blend our own wine. Being a fan of a full-bodied red, I opted for the combination of 40% each Grenache and Shiraz, with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon to lend a little fruitiness to the palate. After bottling and labelling, I got thoroughly invested in sealing off my creation with an intricate wax cap, garnering a few amused glances from Leslie.
Not only known for wine, Zandvliet is also home to ClemenGold – a popular citrus cultivar sold through the Woolworths retail chain. Grown under special mesh netting that reduces the windfall of unripe fruit, ClemenGold mandarins are a juicy, soft-peeled crop that can be enjoyed in myriad ways. Invited to experience an exclusive pairing of ClemenGold products and Zandvliet wine, we were exposed to the unlikely partnership of citrus and grape. Taking us through each match, Leslie explained that the bright acidity of ClemenGold provides the perfect foil for some of Zandvliet’s popular varietals. Think Shiraz with citrus peel-infused dark chocolate and Muscat with ClemenGold biscotti. Certainly the most interesting wine pairing I’ve experienced yet!
This is what harvest time is all about at Zandvliet – an appreciative gathering of likeminded folk that enjoy bearing witness to the winemaking process. An experience that left me all the more admiring of those who work with wine and the technique that takes it from grape to glass.