By Simon Capstick-Dale
In travel writing, the words ‘best-kept secrets’ are thrown around with little regard for whether a destination is in fact largely undiscovered, or whether one may feel even the slightest reluctance to share the so-called secret with others. But when I fell in love with Stanford, a feeling of possessiveness took hold. Only after some self-appraisal did I realise that in keeping Stanford all to myself I would be defying the very essence of what the story I’m about to share with you is all about.
Hermanus has long been the go-to destination along the Cape Whale Coast for tourists. After all, it’s the whale capital of the world and the first town in the region to fully develop its tourism industry. And Hermanus has lots on offer: the blue Atlantic, swimmable beaches, five-star hotels and guesthouses, restaurants and even a magnetic observatory.
But Hermanus also has traffic jams, shopping malls and noise pollution. This once sleepy fishing village is now a throbbing metropolis, and although it’s still a tourism mecca in its own right, it no longer has the tranquility and charm it once possessed. The neighbouring village of Stanford is a world apart.
For many residents, tourism is an afterthought to living the good life. People from close and afar have settled here because they see Stanford for what it is: a peaceful, picturesque village where they can enjoy life’s most simple pleasures.
Typical of any village you may visit, in Stanford everyone knows everyone else. Locals greet passersby as they go about their daily business and there is a general goodwill among residents. But where I found Stanford to be quite unique is in the way residents look after one another’s interests without trying to corner what (sometimes little) tourism business there is.
It’s funny the things that can restore one’s faith in humanity. In this ultraconnected but interpersonally fragmented world, one often forgets the values underpinning the idea of community spirit.
So, in the spirit of community I will share my secret with you.
STANFORD HILLS ESTATE
Jami and Peter Kastner who own Stanford Hills came to the area when Hermanus had become too frantic, deciding to pursue a farming life in the hills. They now run a working wine and pincushion protea farm, where their young children are always outdoors exploring the acres of the farmland that is now their scenic playground.
The estate has an outdoor restaurant called The Tasting Room in a quaintly restored labourer’s cottage, with a verandah overlooking a small dam. Here guests enjoy world-class wines as well as some creative homemade delights such as Pinotage jam (made from their grapes, of course) and chorizo pâté. These are elegantly served on a platter along with springbok carpaccio, blue cheese and biltong quiches, and freshly baked ciabatta. We found this finger lunch on a 26-degree afternoon to be a fitting complement to the estate’s crisp 2012 Sauvignon Blanc.
Stanford Hills produces a pinotage under the label ‘Jacksons Pinotage’, the last three vintages of which were awarded four stars in the Platter’s South African Wine Guide. During a typical lunch, Peter moves between tables conducting casual wine tastings while his wife Jami ensures guests are content, in between helping the chef Bridgette in the farm kitchen.
Peter and Jami love their new life in Stanford, thriving off the village atmosphere. They often have friends over to visit the farm where, on the weekend, they share toasts to the sunshine.
“Running the farm is a lot of hard work most of the time, but it‘s also very rewarding work and it never feels too much like a job,” says Peter.
What excites him from a winemaker’s perspective is the terroir (natural influences such as soil, climate and location) that characterises the Stanford area. “A favourable factor is the cool air that comes off the Atlantic Ocean about five kilometres away, which ensures my grapes ripen slowly – giving a smooth quality to the wine,” he says.
When it’s time to leave after lunch, Peter directs us just 200 metres down the road from his restaurant to the hangar where good friend Evan Austin keeps his light aircraft and operates his flying safari business.
“If you’re nervous … please don’t worry … the safety of guests is always my main priority,” Evan reassures us. We’re tightly strapped in aboard his tiny Cessna 175 and about to depart on a 30-minute flight over Stanford and its surrounds.
Evan is the owner of African Wings and has clocked up more than 6 000 hours flying light aircraft. He runs a one-man show doing all the flying, bookings, maintenance and marketing for his business on his own.
As his father was a flying instructor, Evan has lived a charmed life of aviation from a very young age, with experience zipping above countries such as Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and, of course, South Africa.
Once we leave the gravel of the short runway and take to the skies, we immediately gain a renewed perspective of our environment. From our privileged position above, the vineyards look stunning – neat as school children in their well-kept rows. The dams turn to mere puddles as we soar higher still, while Evan points out some significant Stanford landmarks we’ve already visited while back on terra firma.
“This is magic, isn’t it?” asks Evan. I most certainly concur.
The highlight of the flight comes when Evan finds several pods of dolphins playing in the ocean a couple hundred metres off the coast. His Cessna is able to fly as low as 1 000 feet above the ground, which makes for marvellous sightings. Observing sea creatures from a light airplane you’re also able to be quiet enough so as not to disturb them, as can sometimes happen when viewing from a helicopter.
On our arrival at Springfontein, we are greeted by ‘Vino’, the general manager, and winemaker Tariro Masayiti’s four-year-old Great Dane. The large dog leads us upstairs to his master, who is conducting a tasting with some other guests.
The estate’s tasting room is a simple family dining-room table where tastings are conducted without the impersonal over-the-counter pomp that so often typifies the practice.
If you want to know the wines you’re drinking, it’s best to first meet their maker.
Tariro Masayiti is Zimbabwean by birth, once living in the small town of Marondera just outside Harare before moving to South Africa. He studied a Bachelor of Science degree (Chemistry and Biochemistry) at the University of Zimbabwe while working during his holidays at Mukuyu Wineries as an analyst in the lab.
After completing a winemakers’ course at the University of Stellenbosch, he worked for two years at Distell and then Nederburg Wine Estate, where he became senior winemaker. It was just after that, while working at KWV and dreaming about starting his very own wine label, that he saw the advert for winemaker at Springfontein. In January this year, he took up the position from Christo Versfeld, who had managed the estate for the past six years.
On Springfontein, the vineyards are planted in 100% limestone soil and irrigated by a natural spring, which Tariro says plays a big part in the wine’s distinct personality.
“The potential of Stanford as a wine-making area is still very undervalued,” he says.
“We have the typical South African varietals – Chenin Blanc and Pinotage – growing extremely well here, but what’s interesting is that they’re not at all typical in their taste profiles. In order to work this to our advantage, we need to come together as winemakers; complement each other in terms of our wines, and learn as much as we can from one another.”
Tariro’s girlfriend, Hildegard, is studying horticulture at Stellenbosch University and is currently putting together her thesis on Buchu. Soon she’ll also be involved at Springfontein, helping with the cultivation of the estate’s vegetable garden for the new restaurant scheduled to open soon.
On wishing Tariro farewell, we inform him that we’re staying the night at Blue Gum Country Estate. “Please send Anton my regards – he recently included some of the Springfontein wines on the list at both of his restaurants,” he explains.
BLUE GUM COUNTRY ESTATE
Situated in the valley that climbs from Hermanus toward the village of Stanford, Blue Gum is a working farm providing tranquil accommodation overlooking the fertile banks of the Klein River. Exuding a classic colonial feel, Blue Gum is that place conjured up while fantasising about drinking a glass of Shiraz with your feet up in front of a crackling fire.
Before relocating to Stanford, part owner and managing director of Blue Gum, Anton de Kock, and his wife Tarryn both worked demanding corporate jobs in Cape Town. When the opportunity arose to take over Blue Gum, they were very pleased as they knew the move would allow them more time to spend together as a family with their two young children.
“Not many people are able to take time off work in the middle of the day to play with their kids on a trampoline, or run around a 52-hectare estate,” Anton says.
Having visited Stanford on several occasions before relocating, the De Kocks also saw huge potential for the village as an up-and-coming tourism destination.
“Not only is there peace and quiet, but Stanford has a certain magic that nearby towns like Hermanus don’t – especially not anymore,” says Anton.
He and Tarryn have found the people of Stanford to be very friendly and helpful, making it an easy place to integrate themselves as a family.
“Coming from a big city, it’s a really novel experience being greeted by everyone while walking down the street. In the nearly two years since we arrived, we’ve created strong connections within the community. Eating at all the village’s restaurants – many times over – has especially helped these connections and to create reciprocal business for us at Blue Gum.
Also, if a restaurant or guesthouse owner is full or closed, they are always sure to recommend somewhere that may be able to accommodate the guests.
“So, there isn’t any feeling of competition among entrepreneurs in Stanford; it’s all about creating a great overall experience for visitors to the village,” says Anton.
With spacious rooms of open-plan design and lofty ceilings holding delicate chandeliers, Blue Gum has the refined personality of a bygone era.
From the antique wooden dressers and wicker furniture that fill the rooms, to the large fireplaces and traditional African art that decorates the walls, there are few places more regal.
At Blue Gum you can stay either in the Manor House or in the Mountain View Rooms, both with private verandahs offering spectacular views of the mountains or the beautiful vineyards on the estate.
Blue Gum has two restaurants, both offering delicious country cuisine made from fresh, locally sourced ingredients but with quite different dining experiences. Blue Gum Restaurant provides a romantic, candlelit, white linen and silver-service setting, while Barke has recently been introduced as a separate family-friendly venue where light lunches can be enjoyed.
Blue Gum is not merely a place for much-needed winter hibernation, it’s also a great place to take in the sights and sounds of the Overberg countryside. Leisurely pursuits such as a morning amble among the Blue Gum trees, an afternoon swim, or a game of boules on the sprawling lawns will have you feeling like an aristocrat of old.
It is with some sadness but also with great gratitude that I bid farewell to my friends in Stanford and head home to Cape Town. Having met some inspirational people and had a wealth of new experiences, I make my promise, one that no doubt countless townies who came here before me have made in vain: I pledge allegiance to the village life, solemnly swearing to pack up and head for the country the moment I’m greeted by the arduous hubbub of the city.
Source: Explore SA