Cape Town - Make it a fest of fizz. Or make a meal of the gourmet fare at several cellar restaurants. Or focus on the fine reds in which the region excels. Whatever route you take, the Helderberg Wine Festival is the way to party into summer in one of the Cape’s most picturesque regions. Your visit will also help fill the coffers of local charities and the Amorim CorkLife project.

The 30 cellars taking part stretch from the Baden Powell Drive area, through Stellenbosch to Somerset West and Sir Lowry’s Pass Village, each offering a custom-made programme of events, many of which are free.

With bubbly increasing in popularity year on year, Helderberg sparklers will fill many a flute, including at a destination new to many wine lovers.

Chabivin is a boutique cellar off the Blaauwklippen road where Hendrik Snyman and two Gallic partners have opened a tasting room and garden, developed a Cap Classique cellar and planted chardonnay and pinot noir on their small farm.

Winemaker Snyman is looking forward to their maiden harvest next year, but meanwhile has turned to other sources for grapes for their classy trio of Methode Cap Classique sparklers.

Mademoiselle Mégane non-vintage Brut (R120) is an all-chardonnay affair, from Breedekloof grapes, which spent four years in bottle before dégorgement. The Cuvée Jean-Michel 2007 (R150), comprising equal quantities of chardonnay and pinot noir, which also spent four years in bottle, presents a refreshing and tantalising bubbly, while the Aclémée 2005 (R210) is an all-sémillon patrician made from Franschhoek grapes. Aromas of green fig and pear are followed by citrus and honey.

Another mountainside cellar pouring a good bubbly is Avontuur, which describes itself as the home of fine wines and fast horses. Their non-vintage Brut MCC is an enjoyable all-chardonnay fizz with classic aromas of fruit and gingerbread and creamy yeastiness. Complement it with fine festival fare from their restaurant.

Longridge cellar, famous for offering superb views across to Cape Town, has undergone several changes and is aiming to become an organic operation, having rejected the use of herbicides, pesticides and chemical sprays.

Heading the cellar team is Jasper Raats, while viticulturist Albert le Roux is introducing organic practices in the vineyard. The well-regarded classic Longridge Brut MCC 2008 blends pinot from Elgin and chardonnay from Devon Valley and makes a fine introduction to their range.

Corks still reign supreme with bubbly, and they are being collected to play a new role after being popped. Part of the profits from the 2012 festival will be channelled into the CorkLife recycling initiative in Stellenbosch, a BBEEE project formed with Amorim CorkLife.

The corks make fine material for crafted items, providing sustainable employment. Look out for branded boxes at the cellars waiting to be filled with used corks.

The festival opens with The Six Senses evening on November 15 at Waterkloof’s stylish mountainside restaurant, where cellars will present tastings and serve tapas-style portions of irresistible goodies. Tickets cost R150, which includes glass, all tastings and R100 food vouchers. Buy at the door or book at www.ticketbreakco.za.

The wine festival runs on November 15-18. Festival tickets cost R75 for a one-day pass, and R120 for the weekend. Book at www.ticketbreak.co.za and plan your itinerary by visiting www.helderbergwinefestival.co.za.

Blending nature and skill, from cask to canvas

The Simonsberg has been chosen as the theme for the 2012 Wine Made Art, the annual Tokara project that commissions local artists to portray a subject in wine – this year, the 2010 Tokara shiraz. The beloved mountain, towering above some of South Africa’s most famous wine farms, is home to extraordinary fynbos inhabited by special birds, animals and insects.

Students from the Marie Stander School of Art in Jamestown, outside Stellenbosch, have produced 27 works, mostly focused on the flora and fauna. The exhibition is open until the end of the year at Tokara, on the Helshoogte Pass, every weekday from 9am, and from 10am over weekends. Visit www.tokara.com for more information. - Weekend Argus