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Cape Town - Calling winelovers who choose the road less travelled, who avoid crowds and eschew glamorous tasting centres complete with canned music, tapas and meze on tap.
Travellers who relish meandering along rural roads to farms – where cellars or living rooms double as tasting rooms – and where your host is likely to be the winemaker (also the farmer or his wife), could consult a map of the Voor Paardeberg and its farms.
Here quality grapes were grown and sourced, without acknowledgement, by large companies and estates for their top ranges for decades. Today, many of the farms are producing their own wines, specialising in fine shiraz and chenin blanc.
This wine ward of the Paarl region remains off the tourist map although it used to boast a central tasting room on David Frost’s farm some years ago. The latter has been incorporated into Vondeling, today the largest farm in the area with 680ha and, with the revamped tasting and conference centre now open, is the only venue that is open to the public without appointment.
Vondeling is also the only farm that charges a tasting fee, a modest R20 which is refunded on purchase of wine. There are two ranges, prices start at R35, and the stars of the show are Babiana, a brilliant white blend (R105) and the Erica shiraz (R120). In March, renowned London restaurateur Albert Roux will officially open the centre.
At Scali, Willie and Tania de Waal’s grapes were certified organic last year, a development that will be reflected on their 2012 labels. They export 90 percent of their production and top restaurants snap up most of the remainder, but you will find a trio of affordable quality awaiting you, a four-star pinotage and shiraz, both 2008 vintage and a 2009 Blanc which is a chenin-led blend for connoisseurs.
The Italian owners of Ayama are planting vermentino – a white Sardinian grape – this year but, while they wait for these vines to produce, will continue making appealing blends in the Leopard range: one melds shiraz with pinotage and mourvèdre, the other adds viognier to chardonnay and chenin. There’s a wide range of labels to sample, including a well-priced chenin and bubblies that have attracted praise. It may be safer to use e-mail to contact them as their telephone cables are constantly stolen.
Since I visited Oude Denneboom, the De Waals have added a second guest cottage for visitors wanting to overnight in tranquil surrounds, complete with owl house and antelope grazing on adjoining fields. Chenin and shiraz and blends starring these grapes are the wines to sample, and they make good olive oil too.
Reds are the mainstay at Bernheim Wines, where winemaker Stefan du Toit assured me that visitors are welcome although they lack formal facilities. Flexibility is the name of the game, as they will do their best to meet your needs.
At Doran Family Vineyards, well-known wine personality André Badenhorst and Irishman Edwin Doran joined forces in a new venture on Far Horizons farm. The Doran wines are still in barrel and will be bottled later this year, but they will pour the Horse Mountain wines, which will make the cellar’s second tier, for visitors.
Expect genuine hospitality at these cellars, provided you book. You are likely to be the only customers there, which allows for in- depth conversations and an intimacy impossible at formal venues. Right now the talk is about the forthcoming harvest, which promises to be exceptional. - Weekend Argus