Paarl – the pearl of the Boland in South Africa’s Wine Region
By Cindy-Lou Dale
A 40-minute drive outside Cape Town, on Route 62, at the foot of the second-largest granite outcrop in the world, you’ll find an unexpected jewel: the scenic town of Paarl, a place brimming with Cape Dutch, Victorian and Art Deco architecture, country hospitality, but more importantly, world-class wine estates – respected amongst wine connoisseurs the world over.
From large international wine companies to the smallest ‘garage’ wine, Paarl’s winemakers produce a range and different styles of wine – rich full-bodied, spicy reds to crispy whites – all with a sense of place.
There’s a backstory to Ridgeback Wines, a 62-hectare working wine farm hunched over by the Limietberg Mountains. In 1997 Vernon Cole, an ex-Zimbabwean tobacco farmer acquired what was a fruit farm running at a loss. He uprooted the orchard, sought some advice from a friend and planted vines.
Says Cole: “In many ways not having experience in growing wine grapes was a blessing as we sought expert advice which, as the vineyard developed, served the farm well.” He recruited a then newly qualified viticulturist and winemaker, Toit Wessels, who went on to win the estate several national and international awards.
Showing me around the vineyard, which is interspersed with olive trees, Wessels explained the Ridgeback trademark.
“Deciding on a brand name identifiable with the Cole’s family history in Zimbabwe was easy – their farm dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback.
It’s a breed with strong ties to southern Africa’s pioneering history where legends and stories speak of their exploits and bravery in the bushveld, of their tenacity and ruggedness which are symbolic of the spirit of Africa. We strive to reflect this in our boutique wines.”
The vineyard itself is a nature conservation site. The Cole’s have embraced the natural heritage of the region, joining forces with the Department of Wildlife and Conservation, ensuring the protection of the native flora and fauna.
“This area is famous for its granite soil,” says Wessels, “resulting in a terroir that helps us annually produce around 200,000 bottles of Ridgeback, as well as our second label, Vansha.
The wine tasting is a tranquil affair, set against the backdrop of a lagoon, complete with bird-life. Sitting on the terrace of the Deck Restaurant, which juts out over the water, a large cheese and meat platter appear, as does the Merlot, Shiraz, Chenin and a rather splendid Viognier – rich, round and friendly and is best summed up as South Africa in a glass. Ridgeback Wines
Druk My Niet
Amongst the endangered fynbos and protea bushes, you’ll find Georg and Dorothee Kirchner on the Druk My Niet estate, a 24-hectare boutique winery.
While living in Hong Kong they visited an Australian vineyard and, as wine enthusiasts, this gave them the notion of throwing in the corporate towel and becoming wine farmers.
Since the acquisition of the Druk My Niet estate in 2002, the +350-year old Manor House has been sympathetically restored, three guest cottages built, a lodge and the fruit orchard has been replanted, returning it to red vines — using only sustainable farming methods (they’re proud members of the Biodiversity Initiative).
Dorothee showed me around the guest cottages, introduced me to Blessing, the estate’s Zimbabwean gardener and spoke of their ‘investment in people’ undertaking which regularly has them sending their staff on further ‘wine’ education courses.
Dorothee also spoke of Druk My Niet’s recently created boutique Cheesery, showcasing a range of artisan goats’ cheeses made by celebrated cheesemaker, Ulrike Christensen.
“We started with a small herd of five Swiss Saanen goats and have now grown the herd to twenty-two and produce outstanding Camembert, Pecorino and Chèvre from organic milk.
We milk the goats the old-school method and leave kids with their nanny’s which makes for happy, relaxed goats which in turn means better milk.”
Says Georg: “When we tasted our first wine in 2008, we got more than we expected, which is why we allow the grapes to ripen at their own pace. Thanks to our winemaker, Alexandra McFarlane, we’ll soon be producing around 30,000 bottles for our 400-year old cellar.” Sampling a Chenin, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Shiraz and several blends, Georg tells that a tasting could take several hours, which it did and I salute every one of their six award-winning wines. Druk My Niet Estate
Sitting at the base of Paarl’s granite rock is the historic French Huguenot vineyard of Laborie – one of the country’s oldest wine farms. They’ve been producing Méthode Cap Classique sparkling wines as well as white, red and fortified Pinotage dessert wines for more than 300-years.
At their renovated ‘Taste at Laborie’ tasting room, I look through their pairing menu options – olives, charcuterie, cheesecake, chocolate. Kids aren’t left out as they too get to join in with their own grape juice and sweetie tasting experience – complete with a coloring book and a jungle-gym in a picture-postcard setting.
Sitting on the veranda, with the Drakensberg Mountains at my back, surrounded by vineyards and shaded by ancient oaks, Laborie’s Franciska Pienaar explains: ‘ve focusedsed primarily on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but in total produce twenty different wines from 59-hectares of land – 31 of which are under vine.”
Popping an assortment of olives into my mouth I sampled Laborie’s Méthode Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2010; Rose 2014; Chardonnay 2015; Cabernet Sauvignon 2015; Shiraz 2013 and finally their Pineau – all the while Franciska relays the story of each outstanding wine.
It’s difficult not to taste the passion and skill that’s been passed down the generations. Laborie
KWV Brandy Tasting
No trip to the Cape vineyards is complete without a visit to the KWV Wine Emporium – for a brandy and chocolate tasting.
“Tasting the rich decadence of a good brandy is one thing, seeing where it’s made makes it more interesting,” says Millicent Moss of KWV Wine Emporium. “But pairing brandy with handcrafted Belgian chocolate is something else altogether!”
I’m presented with four shot glasses of brandy and four chocolates. The pairing, I’m told, will educate my palate as the hand-crafted chocolate (created by local Belgian-trained black entrepreneurs) will disclose the spice, vanilla and cinnamon notes found in the brandy.
First down the hatch is KWV’s 5-year old brandy, paired with a hazelnut Praline – the fruitiness of the brandy is truly enhanced and complimented by a delicate nutty flavor.
This was followed by a 10-year old, paired with a milk chocolate – which creates a smooth and mellow feel on the palate.
Onto the almost sweet 15-year old brandy, paired with a dark chocolate – the bitter sweetness is a perfect match. Finally, KWV’v 20-year old brandy, paired with white chocolate – there’s a creaminess on the palate and a long aftertaste of the brandy’s smooth fruitiness. KWV Wine Emporium
Whether you’re a casual wine drinker, a connoisseur, or a teetotaller, you’ll find what you’re looking for when you visit South Africa’s Route 62.
Elegantly leaning into the slope of Paarl Mountain, surrounded by 360-degree panoramas that have left me breathless, I look out across the working winelands of the Grande Roche Hotel. This idyllic oasis appears as if it’s been especially tailor-made to escape, but of course this is not the case.
Here the seamless combination of heritage and rustic charm is how this centuries’ old Cape Dutch manor house has always been. Now of course, it’s been complimented by first-world creature comforts.
All the outbuildings – stables, tack rooms, a granary and cellar – set amongst abundant gardens filled with fruit trees and culinary herbs, have all been sensitively converted into 35 suites, studios and terraced cottages, complete with a 14-metre long swimming pool, a gym and holistic spa.
Dinner at Bosman’s Restaurant adds another layer to the experience; I soon experience why they’ve been named as one of the top 100 restaurants in the world. Michelin-trained Austrian chef, Roland Gorgosilich, blew me away with his melt-in-the-mouth oven roast ostrich fillet – it was love at first bite.
The Grande Roche is a proud member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. B&B room rates start at ZAR2,810. Grand Roche, Tel +1 877 234 7033
Other accommodations in Paarl
- Ridgeback Wine estate has a gorgeous four-star guesthouse, Ridgeback House. It’s a luxurious historic six-bed Cape Dutch homestead, set in the middle of the vineyard.The best room is ‘Berlon’ in soft shades of taupe with spectacular vineyard views. B&B rates start at ZAR650. In harvest time (January to March) the estate encourages guests to participate in a night harvest of Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Ask after their picnic spot, situated on a large granite rock in the middle of the vineyards. RidgebackHouse
- Druk My Niet estate has three beautiful Cape Dutch style self-catering cottages. There’s also a magnificent lodge which sleeps ten, the main Manor House which has four bedrooms and a small cottage off the back courtyard. Ask after their cheese making weekends. Room rates start at ZAR1,200. DrukMyNietGuestHouse
- Laborie, one of the most beautiful wine farms on the Paarl wine route, also has a stately Manor House with a special ‘Kings’ room (so called following an overnight stay by a Scandinavian King). To the side of the Manor House are nine sizable terraced guest suites, luxuriously dressed in a unique Cape-French style. B&B rates start at ZAR780. LaborieWinesStay
When to go
Paarl is spectacular in spring (end October to November) when the orchards are in bloom and the oak trees that line the main road have their first flush of green; harvest time is mid-January to end March/early April, while autumn (April to early July) is balmy with cool evenings.
For further Paarl inspiration see the PaarlOnline.
If you liked this article, you may like these as well:
Cindy-Lou Dale originates from a small farming community in Southern Africa and has a nomadic lifestyle that moves her around the world. Currently she lives in a picture postcard village in south-east England, surrounded by rolling green hills, ancient parish churches and designer sheep farms. Cindy has been featured in international publications around the world, including GoNOMAD, TIME and National Geographic Traveller.