During one of the most manic times of the year, a weekend break to the countryside can be just what is required to recharge. After being invited to stay at Saronberg Cellar’s vineyard cottages, I jumped at the chance to revisit the Tulbagh valley and further explore this historic area. This time around I opted to venture farther afield and sample some of the smaller boutique wineries producing some curious cultivars.
Although perhaps not as vaunted as other wine-producing regions of the Western Cape, Tulbagh is no less successful with the cultivation and creation of exceptional wines. Fringed in on three sides by the Obiqua, Winterhoek and Witzenberg mountain ranges, the basin enjoys a Mediterranean climate that is ideal for viticulture, with a range in terroir resulting in an impressive diversity of distinctive wines.
The best place to start is with a stay at Saronsberg Vineyard Cottages – where guests are accommodated in the midst of a working wine farm.
Comprising of 16 self-catering cottages – each sleeping 2 to 4 people – Saronsberg offers comfortable simplicity for those after peace, quiet and perhaps an early morning hike. A pool, braai area and lapa add to the family appeal, and the cottages themselves have been recently refurbished. Framed by a towering jacaranda tree bedecked in full lilac regalia, our cottage made for an enjoyable base from which to plan out the weekend’s activities. En-suite bathrooms, air-conditioned bedrooms, a spacious lounge and well-equipped kitchen makes for a comfortable stay, whilst the estate’s tasting room is within walking distance. Take a wander through the impressive collection of painting and sculpture from local and international artists (our cottage featured no less than two Skotnes etchings) or settle down for a lakeside tasting and sip on Saronsberg’s famed Shiraz, or my favourite Viognier or Full Circle red blend with a backdrop of blue mountains. Similar in climate to the neighbouring Swartland, the Tulbagh valley also produces olives in abundance and Saronsberg makes their own extra virgin oil. This and the estate’s refreshingly flinty Sauvignon Blanc inspired me to fire up the braai and throw together a few Portuguese prego rolls using the EVOO in the marinade and pairing the deliciously fiery chicken with a glass or two of icy wine.
For those not keen on cooking, Obiqua Café is conveniently situated a few minutes away from Saronsberg. Found on the Duikersdrift guest farm, the café offers knees-up country comfort food in a welcoming setting. As the last light of the day turns the mountain ranges pink, settle in for a gin cocktail and choose from the eatery’s varied menu. Paired with Lemberg Estate‘s excellent white blend of Harslevelu, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc, I sampled Obiqua’s creamy chicken livers as a starter followed by their famed beef burger with caramelised onions and Cheddar as a main. Catering to all tastes, the restaurant also specialises in an impressive array of Tex-Mex cuisine and authentic wood-fired pizza.
If it’s more wine one has in mind then a meander into the foothills of the surrounding Obiqua, Winterhoek and Witzenberg mountain ranges is a must for any oenophile. Take a winding dirt track and you’ll stumble upon the independent wineries making a name for themselves with some noteworthy blends.
Headed by winemaker Albert Brink, the curiously-called Digger’s Home is a micro winery that uses the area’s warm climate to produce varietals full of personality – namely their delicately spiced Shiraz and unwooded Chardonnay. The latter is golden-hued, with suggestive notes of creamy banana whilst the Shiraz displayed subtle white pepper that didn’t overpower the red fruit base. Albert kindly showed us his cellar and we enjoyed a barrel tasting of the 2019 Shiraz as well as his own barrel of wooded Chardonnay. Digger’s Home also has a restaurant that offers visitors delicious breakfast and lunch options made from seasonal produce grown on the farm.
A short drive on from Digger’s Home you’ll find Oude Compagnies Post. Founded in 1699, this historical farm has been making some seriously appealing sippers since the mid-Nineties. Under the direction of Jerry Swanepoel (who heads the estate’s Compagnies Wijn label) son Dirk has started his own range of wine. Simply titled Swanepoel, Dirk’s creations embrace the unique terroir of Tulbagh – and his small-batch manifesto and contemporary approach to Old World cultivars is refreshing to experience. Using an old barn renovated to accommodate his almost 7 metre-tall fermentation tanks, Dirk’s passion for the grape is evident in his blends. My personal preference ran to the 2018 Syrah Rosé and the White Pinotage – the latter made from red grapes picked early and whole-bunch pressed to prevent the skins imbuing their colour into the wine. Barrelled in oak, the white Pinotage develops into a wine ideal to pair with more robust seafood dishes like West Coast Sole – definitely on my to-cook list this season. Renowned for their Grenache, a barrel tasting of the Oude Compagnies Post fruit-driven ruby red wine is a must for anyone visiting the estate.