Each time I pass through the gates of Rustenberg estate it seems to me once more that this is surely one of the most beautiful drives up to a winery anywhere. By the time I reach the manor house, among gardens and vineyards and all the splendour of the Simonsberg rising up behind – by then I’m convinced. For a while, at least….
But the famous beauty of the Cape winelands is not limited to the classic, iconic glories. Travelling in search of interesting wine away from its heartland, I decide every now and then that, after all, this, or this, must actually be the most beautiful winery in the country!
It happened forcefully at Lismore, for example (in the pic, right) – a bravely isolated estate near the town of Greyton. The Riviersonderend Mountains are as majestic as mountains are meant to be, and it is hard to believe that vines anywhere could have a finer view (though they might feel a trifle cool and damp occasionally). Californian escapee Samantha O’Keefe presides here. It is a few years since I have tried her wines, but no doubt they are still good: the Viognier and Shiraz are particularly well-reputed.
Less loftily grand, but even further off the beaten track – one of the loneliest wineries in the Cape – is Tierhoek, which I visited recently and promptly added to my list. It is a lovely farm, up the Cape’s West Coast, in a corner of the apparently largely empty Piekernierskloof, with vistas of layered mountains stretching far, far inland. Although it’s not much west of the north-south N7, between Citrusdal and Clanwilliam, the last many kilometres to Tierhoek are on a long and dusty road.
But the journey there is much of the pleasure, of course, travelling from the citrus belt centred on Citrusdal through buchu and rooibos tea, and plenty of wildness. (As with Lismore, a wonderful destination – but make an appointmentment before arriving.) The Piekenierskloof, incidentally, gets its name from a band of Dutch soldiers – pikemen – who crossed here in the seventeenth century, in the ongoing settler process of wresting the land from the Khoisan.
Commercial grape growing in the region came much later than pastoralism. There is still little in the way of viticulture in the Piekenierskloof, though in recent years Neil Ellis, Ken Forrester and Vriesenhof have made well-known wines from imported Pikenierskloof grenache, the variety emerging as the area’s signature.
Tierhoek – its name recalling the wild animals with which the area teemed – was started less than a decade ago. Winemaker Roger Burton (in the pic) now has a growing range, and the latest vintages show increased understanding of the sandstone soils of his vineyards. On the dry white side, there’s a Sauvignon Blanc with fine lemony freshness and good texture, and an excellent, lightly oaked Chenin Blanc – the 2009 richly austere, pure-fruited and harmonious.
My favourite Tierhoek, though, is probably the 2007 Grenache, a notch up from earlier vintages, and one of few Cape wines made solely from this variety. It’s powerful, but well-balanced and structured, with lots of interesting flavour reminiscent of the wines of France’s Châteauneuf du Pape, one of the classic expressions of grenache (it is usually blended there, however). Priced like the Chenin at around R90 – and also a good buy. If you can source it in the Piekenierskloof itself, it’ll taste even better.
This article was first published in the Mail & Guardian, 22-28 October 2010