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How serene is my valley

Published Jul 21, 2014


NO PAIN, no gain – this echoed

through my head as I puffed uphill,

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sweat trickling down my spine. A

group of us, or so I thought, were

cycling up Robertsvlei Road near

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True to its origins as one of the

Southern Hemisphere’s oldest

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winemaking regions (since 1688),

vineyards stretch to cloud-soaked

mountains, with raptors

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performing aerial displays.

That was a few hours ago, after

leaving foggy Cape Town to arrive

on the fringe of Franschhoek. Fresh

from a transatlantic flight and

ready to go, Stuart and Nicole Berg

and daughters Rebecca, Shira and

Natalie were here on a two-week

holiday from New York.

Sharing a tree-lined track with

pedestrians and dogs, we turned off

on to Cabriere Road. With the Cape

Dutch houses and vineyards was

the promise of wine-tasting.

“But you have to work for it,”

said Bevan, Bike & Saddle’s

accredited guide. This eco-active

travel company runs tailor-made,

fully supported and one-of-a-kind

cycle, hiking and kayaking trips.

We had been warned and put

foot to pedal as we climbed towards

a cross on the hillside. The

mountain-surround scenery was

good distraction – baby grapes on

vineyards interspersed with roses,

dogs and horses, and some of the

country’s best-known wine estates.

Taking a left turn, Bevan

explained about drip irrigation and

how the 29 wine farms of

Franschhoek exported between

70 and 80 percent of their


Cooling off on an exhilarating

downhill stretch, we zoomed

through La Bourgogne to brake at

the Huguenot Monument, the

symbol of Franschhoek. The

nearby museum chronicles the

history of the first settlers – 176

French Huguenot refugees, many of

them given land by the Dutch

government. But more of this later.

After the Americans posed for

pictures we retraced our track to

enter a wine estate – at last. By now

the mercury boiled and, in need of

liquids – well, that’s my excuse – we

slaked our thirst on jugs of ice

water while John Bongani Twala

served one wine after another.

Holden Manz was established in

2010 and is named after owners

Gerard Holden and Migo Manz.

Situated “where two rivers meet”,

between the Franschhoek and

Stony Brook Rivers, the wine

produced on this 22-hectare initially

reds-only farm benefits from being

kept at least 12 months in tanks and

French oak barrels.

The flagship wine, Big G 2010,

named after Gerard Holden, is an

equal blend of cabernet and

cabernet franc and gets an

additional six months in barrels.

This voluptuous dark ruby-coloured

wine has a spicy, blackberry full

nose with a dark chocolatey herbal


Fruit for the first white, a barrelfermented

chardonnay, was sourced

from Elgin and is whole-bunch

pressed, fermented and matured in

a combination of new and used

French oak barrels, creating a wine

with fresh, crispy minerality and

ripe lemon, marmalade, caramel

and toffee flavours.

Light salmon and peach in

colour, the Holden Manz Rosé is

well-balanced with creamy ripe

fruit and a full heady finish and

would go well with fish or chicken.

But it was the 2010 merlot that

received our nods of approval. Deep

ruby red in colour, this smooth,

creamy wine has a rich full nose of

blackberries and strawberries, with

gentle spicy notes.

Commenting on the labels’

elephant head and tusk, Twala said

the idea was to reflect the history of

the town, originally called

Olifantshoek (Elephants’ Corner)

because of the vast herds of

elephants said to have roamed here.

Having hiked the elephant trail a

few weeks before and had lunch at

the Elephant and Barrel Village

Pub, it was Bevan who told us that

the origin of the pachyderms

reputed presence was a painting in

a nearby cave.

The town’s name was soon

changed to le Coin Français (the

French Corner) until 1881, when it

became Franschhoek (Dutch for

French Corner). Many settlers

named their farms after the areas in

France from which they had come:

La Motte, Champagne Estates,

La Cotte, Cabriere, Provence,

Chamonix, Dieu Donné and La


These were among some of the

first farms – most of which retain

their original homesteads today – to

become renowned wineries. Many

surnames in the area are of French

origin: Du Toit, Marais, Du Plessis,

Malan, Malherbe, and Joubert.

By now we were hungry and

keen to work for our lunch. Back in

the saddle we cycled to Excelsior

Road, then left into Robertsvlei

where, rapidly changing gears, we

climbed and climbed some more.

Steaming hot, we were thankful for

a cooling breeze.

Whooping for the sheer joy of it,

as we flew downhill, wind whistling

through our helmets, with the Berg

River Dam whizzing past in a

shimmering turquoise blur.

Welcomed by restaurant

manager André Lourens, we were

soon settled under willow trees at

Le Bon Vivant. He said what made

GlenWood a boutique winery was

that it produced fewer than 120 000

bottles using only grapes grown on

the estate.

Owner Alistair Wood left a

career in business consulting to set

up his picturesque estate. He has

built a reputation for outstanding

chardonnay and consistent quality

throughout the range.

Sipping the 2013 sauvignon blanc

we agreed that everything was

better with sauvignon, or

chardonnay, in fact anything grown

and bottled in Franschhoek. The

balanced crisp sauvignon has

tropical flavours and a zesty lemon

finish and was perfectly paired with

the starter of mozzarella salad.

The mushroom tagliatelle was

perfectly paired with slightly

chilled merlot 2012. Full-bodied,

with layers of chocolate-dipped ripe

plums and mulberry, this full and

elegant wine was a satisfying

complement to a delicious dish.

A trio of mouth-watering sorbets

completed our meal as we tasted the

unwooded chardonnay.

Like a breath of fresh air, this

wine offers a full, creamy, tropical

palate of citrus and delicate green

apple flavours.

With time running out, we

ventured into the heart of bustling

Franschhoek, where Huguenot Fine

Chocolates is the country’s first

black economic empowerment

producer of hand-crafted Belgian


Leon Groenewald gave us a tour

of chocolate history, from the

Aztecs who drank it on special

occasions to the Spanish, who tried

grow trees, without success.

.Call 021 813 6433, or e-mail

[email protected] or see

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