Secret visit to slave of the vines

Published Aug 18, 2014


Cape Town - There are no stylish signs like the ones you see advertising the swish vintage wine estates in Stellenbosch. Post House is so difficult to find you wonder if you’ve lost your way, let alone the plot.

My guide, wine connoisseur Mark Shepstone, was also baffled. Although he comes from the area, he had never visited the Post House estate.

“Almost like Brigadoon,” he laughed as we bumped our way up another rough track. “Here today, gone tomorrow.”

However, enchantment wasn’t far away. An old-fashioned red pillarbox still standing in the same position as it has for a century or more, was enough to tell us that we had arrived at Raithby’s first Post Office.

Raithby, I learnt, was named after an ancient Doomsday Book village in Lincolnshire. Today it is home to a small farming community, seldom visited by outsiders, situated between the towns of Somerset West and Stellenbosch just off the R44.

An evangelical community for emancipated slaves, it was established by Yorkshire missionary Barnabas Shaw following the abolition of slavery at the Cape in 1834.

Even today this small village has a strong sense of community. You can see it in the way that people quietly go about their business. The community also maintains a strong church-going spirit.

“We stick to ourselves,” a local vendor told us. “It is very peaceful and friendly here. It is a good place for our children.”

Another historic titbit is that Shaw used a donation of £100 made by a Mrs Brackenbury of Raithby Hall in Yorkshire to buy three morgen (a little more than three hectares) of ground and a house for the mission station, hence the name, Raithby.

The land was subsequently rented to about 800 freed slaves so that they could work on the surrounding farms and use their spare time to cultivate their own plots. Many of the 600 descendants of the freed slaves still occupy the Raithby cottages in the town.

While the little white-washed postal depot, a one-time favourite meeting place for the Raithby residents, no longer operates as a post office, it has given winemaker Nick Gerbers, who bought the post office and the land surrounding it a few years ago, a rich and glorious stamp collectors’ theme for his hand-crafted boutique Post House wine range.

I first sampled Post House Bluish Black at Chris Black and Guy Cluver’s Lupa Restaurant in Hillcrest and instantly fell in love with its dark red colour and rich, fruity, smooth taste.

So when a Cape trip beckoned, I thought, right, let me track down this relatively new kid on the block.

For the record, the Gerbers family bought the farm in this picture book area between the Somerset West and Stellenbosch in 1981, systematically planting it to vine.

In 1996, Nick Gerbers made a few experimental barrels. “It was really a process of trial and error,” he says, “mixed with a little local inspiration and a love of good wine.”

Two vintages later, and after a stint in Burgundy, the first vintage was released. As the homestead on the farm had originally operated as a post office, it was a logical step, he says, to associate the wine with its postal origin and to name it Post House.

Our guide on this particular Post House journey was Riana Theart, who sees to the administration of the estate and is happy to give selected guests a taste of the new 2014 wines.

Again nothing fancy – the whole storage area looks like a large garage filled with oak barrels – but we are here for the wine tasting, and that in one word was awesome.

Bluish Black is still too young, but should be ready for next year. So my favourites meanwhile are Merry Widow, with its nose of blackcurrant, chocolate white pepper, cinnamon, raspberry and a hint of floral petals, and Black Mail Merlot.

Wait for it. This wine has a strong nose of raspberry and fynbos with a hint of mint and violets but will benefit, we’re told, from a year to two of bottle maturation.

As we moved away from the Post House ridge down the rough road back to Raithsby, I decided this is was a place worth revisiting.

Then I thought of Brigadoon. I looked back and could only see a few trees and a soft winter haze – you see what magic, good red wine and inspiration do for you.

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Wines derive distinctive names from stamps

Here is a sample of some of the Post House wines with stamp-collecting references.

Black Mail Merlot is named after a famous black mailbox on State Route 375, known as the Extraterrestrial Highway, situated in south-central Nevada in the United States.

The mailbox, labelled “alien”, is an extraterrestrial meeting point as it’s near UFO hot spot Area 51.

Blueish Black refers to a term used in stamp collecting and describes a stamp in terms of its colour tint variation.

A stamp which should have been mostly black but has blue undertones would be described as bluish black and thus valuable.

The name also refers to the colour of the wine, which has a dark blue tinge.

Bulls Eye Cabernet Sauvignon is named after a Brazilian postage stamp issued in 1843. The resemblance to a bull’s eye led to the unusual name. Brazil was the second country in the world to print countrywide-valid stamps, after Britain.

Golden Monkey refers to a golden monkey depicted on a Chinese stamp, the monkey being part of the Chinese Zodiac.

The stamp combines three lucky symbols in Chinese culture – the number 8, the colour red and the monkey, making it a truly lucky stamp in Chinese culture and increasing its popularity. It has become a valuable stamp for philatelists to collect.

Merry Widow Shiraz derives from the US special delivery stamp named after the operetta composed by Franz Lehar in 1905.

British actress Lily Elsie took the main role and had a fondness for large-brimmed, heavily plumed hats, which became known as Merry Widow hats.

Missing Virgin refers to a printing error on a Virgin Island stamp. The virgin figure was omitted; hence the nickname.

St Ursula was a virgin martyr who lived some time before the fifth century. Born in Britain, she avoided marriage to a pagan king and was slain for her faith with 10 000 virgin companions in Cologne. Christopher Columbus named the Virgin Islands in her honour.

Penny Black refers to the first stamp, printed in 1840. The British stamp featuring the head of Queen Victoria was worth one penny and printed in black.


Treskilling Yellow is named after a Swedish stamp considered the world’s most expensive. The three-skilling banco was normally printed in a blue-green and the eight-skilling in a yellowish orange. When the wrong plate was used, a stamp that should have been green ended up yellow. Few of these turned up.


Vineyards close to the coast

The property covers 71 hectares, with 45ha used for vineyards. Cultivars were selected to suit the terroir, and production since 2007 has included cabernet sauvignon, merlot, shiraz, petit verdot, pinotage, chenin blanc and viognier.

Post House is 7km from the False Bay coast between Somerset West and Stellenbosch. A breach in the coastal ridge channels the cool south and south-west winds towards the vineyards, which help moderate the summer temperatures.

One of South Africa’s pre-eminent wine regions, it falls under the Helderberg sub-ward, part of Stellenbosch.

Post House wines are not yet in the bottle stores, but you will find them at selected restaurants.

Liz Clarke, Sunday Tribune

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