By Samantha Hartshorne
Cape Town - Winemaker Francois Haasbroek dips his pipette into the oak barrel and expertly empties a light red fluid into four outstretched glasses, warning us that the fizzy shiraz he is doling out still needs a year in the barrel.
Five ladies on tour, we had chosen Franschhoek as our sorority escape – as much for its food as for its atmospheric wine-tasting rooms. Having shed our Joburg jerseys, we overloaded a hired car with four days worth of casuals and set off for Waterford wine estate, where we had been promised a chocolate and wine tasting.
The drive up to the cellar of the Stellenbosch estate set the tone for the experience waiting within and we parked the car in a citrus grove. The valley was breathing a spring bouquet of sweet pea and lavender.
Inside the estate courtyard, we accepted a glass of sparkling wine from Kerry Sutherland, national sales manager, to freshen our palates before climbing in to a game viewing vehicle to go on a wine safari for which Waterford is known.
A bouncy drive took us through forest and vine, our driver tackling deep furrows formed from water run-off on the gently sloping north side of the Helderberg. At the very back of the vineyard, we climbed up a shaded deck to find the winemaker himself waiting to introduce us to a few of the estate’s wines.
We helped ourselves to light snacks while getting a small taste of the farm’s young history as well as their excellent wines. Haasbroek, who has spent time in New Zealand and Californian wineries, has been at Waterford for eight vintages and, during that time, helped the estate develop their flagship wine – “The Jem”, named for Jeremy Orford, one of the owners. The deep-coloured juice is described as “appealing to the serious wine drinker”, but we tried it anyway.
When Sutherland started joking about the snakes she had seen in the vineyard, we opted to head down to the French-style reception area and into the hands of Melvin, who had chocolate and more wine waiting for us.
Situated in the sheltered Blaauwklippen hills, views of the Stellenbosch wine area lie below the Bordeaux-style homestead like a quilt on the rolling hills. Around the pond inside, visitors relax in the courtyard of quarried stone walls I imagine offer excellent shelter on a windy day.
Melvin, whose family has always lived on the farm, introduced us to three reds, inviting us to sample the chocolate pieces and then sip the matching wine. Hints of Turkish delight were particularly enjoyed paired with the “Heatherleigh”.
Back in the care of Haasbroek, he took us through his office: the cellar where enormous aluminium vats are used to store wines initially, blending grape types before being moved to the barrels that infuse them with the sought-after wood flavours.
It is the final barrel cellar that is fondly known as “The Cathedral”. The likeness to a church was not lost on us: the dim lighting and length of the hall highlighted by a series of domed alcoves, with a sacred window hinting at the summer heat outside.
A massive ceiling acts to regulate the delicately chilled sanctity where rows of barrels line up, waiting their turn to offer up their contents to wine-drinkers the world over.
In this holding room, five women who usually opt for a chenin blanc with ice had the privilege of tasting Waterford wines long before they reach the tables of enthusiasts.
The texture of the wines tasted directly from the barrel felt clean and light, with an acidity that wasn’t evident in the tasting room. Like disciples clutching chalices we followed Haasbroek in the gloom as he sampled barrels with his giant dropper and filled our glasses with the spirit of Waterford – the perfect way to begin a girls’ trip. - Saturday Star