Cape Town - An Afrikaner stronghold and birthplace of Voortrekkers, named after the British field marshal who led the army that defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, Wellington has long presented an interesting mix of conservative tradition and energetic enterprise.
Beautiful centuries-old farms in secluded valleys reflect the contemporary character of this fruitful valley, with some still owned by descendants of Huguenot pioneers, others now boasting British or German custodians, investors who combine winemaking with hospitality.
Doolhof, tucked into a highland Bovlei valley, is a fine example of the latter, sited just beyond the historic farm Welvanpas, still in Retief hands after many generations.
Dennis and Dorothy Kerrison bought Doolhof a decade ago and have invested immense effort, funds and time into restoring vineyards and buildings, adding a cellar, admin offices, tasting room and kitchen, and making wine worthy of a unique site.
The farm marked its tercentenary last year with a memorable label and fascinating booklet tracing the history from founder Jacques Potier, a French mercenary, through generations of names that pepper Boland history – Du Toit and Lategan, Retief and Cillie, Malan and Du Toit again in the 20th century.
Roll back to 1797 and we find that indefatigable traveller and diarist Lady Anne Barnard visited Doolhof and admired its orange groves, while our most famous road engineer, Andrew Geddes Bain, lived there four decades later while building the pass that bears his name.
Today Doolhof is intent on conserving its lands, rich in wildlife and fynbos, that adjoin the Limietberg nature reserve.
Winemaking was in full swing by 1720, and was re-established at Doolhoof in 1996, vineyards that had already proved their potential when Kerrison bought in 2003. Today the 380-hectare property exudes tranquillity, sleek horses grazing in a paddock in front of the oldest farm building, now a luxurious honeymoon cottage, while the imposing farmstead has been transformed into a five-star country house offering six luxurious suites. Grand Dédale also boasts a spa and promises a gourmet table from a professional chef whom I last saw in a Sea Point hotel a decade ago.
Settle in a shaded garden where stone seating offers a place to sip and dream while you wait for your picnic or al fresco lunch, the former including children’s options. Smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers or smoked chicken, mushrooms and tomato pesto are offered as either salad or sandwich filling, and there are pastas, linefish, burger and wraps as well. Chef Linfred Louw’s irresistible passionfruit cheesecake appears on the menu occasionally.
Visitors pay a refundable R20 for tastings. Start, I suggest, with the entry-level Cape Range, offering exceptional value at prices from R40 to R44. The 2010 Cape Eagle is unwooded chardonnay with a splash of chenin, offering fruit and cream at their synergetic best, while the 2011 Cape Robin is an all-shiraz rosé that should enhance any Valentine romance. Look for a 2011 chenin dubbed Cape Crane and try the duo of red blends – 2010 Cape Roan in Bordeaux style and the 2010 Cape Boar in Rhone mode.
Winemaker Friedrich Kûhne’s considerable talent is also evident in the mid-priced Signatures range, which has attracted a heap of accolades. Don’t miss the 2010 malbec (R115). It is brilliant, complex , dark and rich, sourced from a high vineyard favoured by baboons and bush pigs with impeccable taste. The cab franc is another winner, violets and graphite on the nose and minerality on the palate, while the 2008 pinotage and shiraz are examples of Wellington grapes given meticulous attention. Both wooded (R90) and unwooded (R55) chardonnays will please fans of either style.
Top of the range Legends of the Labyrinth includes 2010 Lady in White, a low-alcohol lively blend of chenin, semillon and sauvignon (R80) offering excellent value, with Lady in Red offering Bordeaux-style elegance at the same price. The Minotaur (R150) is a commendable Cape blend of malbec, shiraz, merlot, petit verdot and cab.
Doolhof is a labyrinthine destination combining beauty, history, tranquility, good value and friendly service, a must on every Wellington itinerary.
Reap a juicy harvest of fun
Harvest celebrations at Grande Provence in Franschhoek are deservedly popular, delivering family fun, great wine and gourmet braais on an estate with an intriguing indoor/outdoor art gallery.
This year’s harvest day takes place on February 23, starting with a light breakfast followed by tractor transport to the vineyards.
Picking precedes a wine tasting led by Karl Lambour – who will surely include the estate’s delightful 2012 viognier/chenin (R85) in his line-up. Vigorous stomping in barrels will help work up appetites for the al fresco lunch, and live music will add to the atmosphere.
Adults pay R295, which includes a bottle of Angels’ Tears to take home, and children under 12 are charged R130. Contact Nicole on 021 876 8600 to book or e-mail [email protected] - Weekend Argus