I THOUGHT I knew Franschhoek pretty well – it’s not that tough really, considering the town is little more than one main street with another couple of roads running behind on either side.
I thought I more or less knew all the wineries there too – I’ve either been to most of them or have seen them nestled in folds of mountains or lying alongside the road as you drive in.
So it came as a surprise the other week to find not only a new farm I’d never visited, but an entirely new valley, reaching up to the other side of the Berg River Dam. GlenWood lies in the Robertsvlei Valley where its vineyards grow in a unique micro-climate, quite unlike anywhere else in the Franschhoek area. The grapes here were planted more than a quarter of a century ago and the same man who planted them is still in charge today.
DP Burger must be one of the longest-serving winemakers in South Africa, celebrating his 26th vintage this year. When owner Alastair Wood approached him to help develop the farm, he was actually on his way to have a gap year travelling overseas.
After a 10-minute conversation, hearing Alastair’s plans and vision for the future, he cancelled his plane ticket and stayed in the valley in which he was born and raised. There were a few chardonnay vines already planted on the farm but the rest – around 30 hectares – was planted by DP and his team.
They chose chardonnay as their focus and it would seem that this was a good idea, although DP modestly jokes “We just got lucky!”
They now make three versions of chardonnay and their flagship wine, the Grand Duc, has just been awarded Five Stars in the 2016 Platter Wine Guide.
This comes from the original block of vines which was almost grubbed up because of low-ish production of fairly indifferent fruit. “And then it suddenly came good” marvels DP “so we left it and now look how well it’s done!”
According to him, the secret to successful chardonnay lies in deliberate oxidation at a very early stage as well as plenty of lees contact. Over time, the wine clears and settles naturally, leaving a wine with much greater texture and complexity. The GlenWood Unoaked Chardonnay 2015 (R105 cellar door) is very zingy with lots of depth and interest, but if I was choosing just one wine to drink, it would be the Vigneron’s Selection 2015 (R200) – wild ferment, partial malo, 12 months in mostly new oak. If that’s a bit tecchie – apologies, just take it from me that it is lively and fresh with vanilla, flowers, pineapples and cream.
The Grand Duc Chardonnay 2014 (R400) is being released now and DP is hopeful of continuing success although he says that they now have such a good local following, as well as increasing demand from overseas, that he has few worries about selling out quickly.
If you can’t get your hands on the chardonnays, my next tip is to try GlenWood’s new wine to be released shortly. This will be the Vigneron’s Selection Semillon/ Sauvignon in an 80/20 blend, all of it oaked to differing degrees. White Bordeaux blends are becoming very trendy these days as we all search for something beyond simple sauvignon and this has a wonderful balance between fresh green notes backed up by creamy spice.
GlenWood feels like Franschhoek’s best-kept secret, tucked away in a side valley at the end of 4km of (fairly respectable) dirt road, with no real neighbours, no shops, no noise except the chirping of the birds and the wind in the trees.
If you make the trip, make sure it’s at lunchtime, make sure you have a designated driver and make sure you plan to stay there the whole day. Melissa Bird is the chef, previously from Rickety Bridge restaurant, and her cooking is spot-on for a relaxing afternoon – small dishes followed by bigger ones, but all served with extra forks and plates for you to share.
Sitting on the terrace of their restaurant under the most glorious spreading oak tree I think I’ve ever seen, you feel a million miles from anywhere. So order a bunch of stuff, uncork the chardonnay and settle back into the wonderful world of GlenWood. Bet you never want to leave.
l www.thewinecentre.co.za, follow on Twitter @CathyMarston