The heart of Paarl

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iol travel nov 26 nt Laborie landscape2 . With a history going back as far as 1691, Laborie today is an integral part of the Paarl community.

Cape Town - Laborie Wine Estate in Paarl is romantic, beautiful and gracious. The lands, grounds and architecture (described as the “most important house in the architectural sense in the Paarl area”) are well established, at ease with the environment and unpretentious.

Laborie lies in the heart of the Paarl Valley, with lovely views from its eight guest rooms of the manor house and towards the Drakenstein mountains.

This farm was granted by Simon van der Stel to the French Huguenot Tailleferts in 1691. Within seven years they were making a drinkable wine – the best in the colony – and since then Laborie has produced many award winners. The town has sprung up outside the gates over the centuries.

On the opposite border is the Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve. Laborie does a fair bit for conservation and has demarcated 10 percent of the total farm area and reclaimed mountainside vineyards for fynbos regeneration.

We took a walk through the Anglo-Boer War monument between the vineyards. It has beautiful sculptures set among rocks, shrubs and trees. Brass plaques recall the harshness of that war.

That prompted a change of our spirits but fortunately the tasting room was appropriately close.

The estate’s Alambic brandy hit the spot, as did the pineau de Laborie. This fresh, soft fortified wine in its attractive little bottle could find its way into a few Christmas stockings.

Of course one doesn’t begin a tasting session with the sweet stuff, and here was no exception. There were some whites and reds beforehand, as well as the methode cap classique bubblies, so I was in good cheer by the time we wandered across to the Harvest Restaurant.

The weather was, to put it mildly, variable, so the expansive terrace was not an option. So we sat close to a warm hearth and enjoyed fine meal.

Harvest is described as a “family friendly restaurant” which may give some the wrong idea. Head chef is Geraldine White and Matthew Gordon was head hunted as consulting chef.

For Gordon to switch allegiance from foodie capital Franschhoek to Paarl indicates a pretty special restaurant.

And it certainly is. The food-and wine pairings were some of the best I’ve ever had. The roasted butternut gnocchi with oyster mushrooms, leeks, brown butter and gremolata gave a whole new status to gnocchi.

The slow-roasted free-range duck, caramelised naartjies and Van der Hum sauce was yum. And the dessert – warm, chocolate tart with a white chocolate spring roll and homemade Kit Kat ice-cream – made us grateful our room was close, as a lie down and loosening of waistbands were in order.

The newly redoracted rooms are furnished in a Cape French style and the décor is inspired by the characteristics of Laborie wines. The interior of the manor house is quite something, with diverse themes and furnishings, including a huge coffee table inlaid with semi precious stones from Namibia. Laborie also has wonderful original art – in particular a multitude of Cecil Skotnes paintings and prints.

Laborie Lazy Days Markets every Saturday have made Laborie a popular meeting place. The estate also offers summer picnics – cheese platters and olive and wine, chocolate and wine/brandy pairings.

You may never make it beyond the gates, but Paarl and the surrounding area demand more than one visit. We stopped in to visit Stephen Richardson at Mellasat vineyards for a sip of his unique white pinotage and trawled the main street and side roads, finding quaint and unusual treasures. I’m going back – soon.

Rates from R550 per person sharing, bed and breakfast. Call 021 807 3390 or visit www.laboriewines.co.za. - Sunday Tribune

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