The Road Less Travelled
By Cindy Taylor
There’s one thing that needs to be clarified before you continue reading. If you’re the type that likes to tick off everything in one go then you’re going to need a fair amount of time to truly discover the Cederberg. If your boss is unlikely to let you out of the cage for at least a week then the best way to approach the Cederberg is in bite-sized weekend chunks, with the idea firmly rooted in the back of your mind that other adventures are to be ticked off at a later stage. Although option two might sound like second best, it’s in fact the more favourable of the two because firstly, once you’ve tasted the magic the Cederberg has to offer there’s no doubt that you’ll be back, and secondly, you’ll have something incredibly amazing to look forward to.
The Cederberg Wilderness Area lies between the Pakhuis Pass north of Clanwilliam and the Middelberg Pass in the south, near Citrusdal. The area encompasses roughly 71 000 hectares of rugged mountainous terrain, making it a mecca for hikers, mountaineers, mountain bikers, bird watchers and adventurers alike. On the wine side of things the Cederberg doesn’t have a formal wine route, but rather a number of absolute gems that are tucked away deep in the corners of the mountains. Getting to these farms is quite an effort but worth every inch of dirt road travelled. It should be understood that there’s no hopping about in the Cederberg especially when it comes to wine farms – the farm that you choose to visit will become your end destination rather than a stop along the way. The farms offer accommodation and the opportunity for most of the outdoor adventure activities you’ll find elsewhere in the area. And there’s the added bonus of being able to amble back to your abode, through the vineyards if you please, after an afternoon of tasting wine.
The Piekenierskloof Pass marks the start of the adventure and it’ll take you roughly two hours to reach this spectacular rise from Cape Town. Piketberg is the last town before you hit the pass and it’s recommended you fill up here.
It’s also not a bad idea to pack in some padkos to nibble on along the way – you’ll pass a handful of farm stalls, but besides their usefulness in providing a toilet break they’re sadly limited when it comes to the fare one would expect to find in such establishments.
Stopping at a farm stall for a homemade pie and a jar of figs is as much a part of a successful roadtrip as a decent playlist, but what’s lacking in the form of these strategic stops is made up for by a feast of a visual kind. As my roadtripping companion, Julie, aptly pointed out, as you get closer to the pass the vistas are such that it’s not a stretch to image Pierneef having sat somewhere nearby carefully painting on his canvas the scenes before your very eyes.
At the crest of the pass you’ll find a road leading to the left indicated by a ‘Paleishuewel/Clanwilliam’ sign. This is a shortcut to Clanwilliam and your first turn in the direction of Tierhoek. From the turn-off it’ll take you about a half hour to Tierhoek’s gates.
On arrival at Tierhoek we are greeted by the winemaker, Roger Burton, a gentle and down-to-earth character who is crazy about surfing despite his lack of proximity to the sea. Roger has completed seven vintages at Tierhoek and knows the intricacies of the farm better than anyone. The farm itself is over 200 years old and the buildings only 50 years younger. In 2001, Shelley and Tony Sandell bought the farm from the Marais family after which they went about restoring the Sandveld buildings to their former glory. Included in this revivification was the farmhouse. Charming and cosy, it sleeps nine people and makes for a wonderful weekend with family or a group of friends, spent whiling away the afternoon in the breeze on the stoep, cosying up to a crackling fire in the lounge with a glass of Grenache or quietly drifting off to sleep under a snug blanket on the lawn while gazing at one of the most spectacular starlit skies you’ll ever see.
When Shelley and Tony took over the reigns, the farm was home to a block of Chenin and a block of Grenache that, much like the old buildings, had seen better days. The Sandells worked hard to bring these vines back to life and the fruits, literally, of their labour are now the fabric of their flagship wines. The Chenin, which today is 35 years old, and the Grenache, which recently clocked 60, were joined in 2003 by plantings of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Mourvèdre, Shiraz and Viognier.
Roger leads us to a block of Grenache planted five years ago and as we walk he tells us why Tierhoek is so well suited for growing this particular grape. He explains that the soil resembles that of the smooth, rounded stones or ‘galetsroulés’ found in Châteauneuf du Pape – a region in the south of France that has long been revered for its ideal growing conditions and production of Grenache. The significance of the stones is in their loosely packed arrangement and corresponding drainage of water. As a result the rootstocks have to dig much deeper in order to find moisture and it’s at these greater depths that they also pick up a natural minerality. This ‘water-stress’, as Roger explains, causes the vine to concentrate on its production of berries rather than lateral growth of leaves and shoots, which results in a dynamite-comes-in-small-packages type effect where the grapes are slighter in size but more concentrated in colour and flavour.
Tierhoek is currently offering the ’09 Chenin (R80), an unassuming beauty abounding in minerality and fresh stone-fruit acidity, and one that you’d be silly not to include at your next dinner party. The Grenache (R100) is a 2010 vintage and although it works superbly as a food wine it’s equally impressive on its own with hints of plums and cherries and just the right amount of spice. The 2007 Straw Wine (R150) – think dried apricot and honey – is also one to look out for and is perfect for those who enjoy something sweet after dinner. With a straw wine, the grapes are picked at the same level of ripeness as that of table wine but instead of going straight into the cellar for fermentation, they’re left to dry naturally on straw mats for two weeks, which ultimately results in a higher concentration of sweetness and flavour.
Heading back on the pass towards Citrusdal it’s a short distance before Hebron pops up on the left. Here you’ll find a brightly coloured farm stall – one that’s worth stopping at – a restaurant and beautifully quaint accommodation (R330 per person per night including breakfast). There’s also talk of a wine boutique in the pipeline for Hebron, which is great news as none of the other shops are stocking local wine – we’ve got fingers crossed. From Hebron it’s a slow, meandering decent to the lush, green oasis of Citrusdal. Much like Clanwilliam, Citrusdal is a sleepy little dorpie that can be explored in the space of a morning. In both towns you’ll find a couple of country eateries, but just keep in mind that you’re not working on city time.
Another gentle word of warning for when you’re in Citrusdal: beware of one-way roads. If like us you land up making the honest mistake of reversing out of the supermarket parking and motioning to the stop sign a few metres away, in the wrong direction, you’re going to land up in hot water – in our case we were scolded by one of the towns octogenarians who hooted at us for half the length of the high street before bringing her ’91 Nissan Langley to a halt in order to shout at us from her window. Apart from running into this particular person, you’ll have nothing to worry about.
Situated a stone’s throw from Citrusdal is the Waterfall Farm – a place that will have you scouring the depths of your wildest imagination for an excuse not to leave. Getting to the farm is a breeze: simply drive straight through Citrusdal and follow the road, which includes a stretch of gravel, until you see the ‘WF’ sign. Once you turn off the dirt road and have driven through the farm gates it’s a matter of seconds before you’re hit with an aromatic tsunami of orange blossom. A short drive through the orchards takes you to one of three accommodation options, all of which are privately positioned and fully equipped for self-catering: the Weavers Nest, Honey Cottage and main house sleep four, seven and 10 respectively. Rates are per unit per night and range from R1 000 for the Weaver’s Nest, R1 700 for the Honey Cottage and R2 500 for the main house. The place has a wonderfully relaxed feel to it and is appointed in such a way that you can really let your hair down.
As the name suggests, this working citrus farm is home to a breathtaking waterfall. It’s an easy 10-minute stroll to the falls and, as with any excursion in the wild, it’s worth keeping a keen eye out for ‘permanent residents’ while walking, for obvious safety reasons but more importantly for preserving your dignity. I say this because despite how brave you think you are, there’s absolutely no telling how you might respond when you’re faced with a black spitting cobra on its defence. In our case, the unfortunate soul in the front of the queue spotted the critter a mere metre away and instead of warning the rest of us proceeded to swivel with the speed of Michael Jackson in the 80s and, in an every-man-for-themselves fashion, run away flapping with the determination of an ostrich trying to take flight. If you’ve ever considered purchasing a go-pro it’s at times like these you wish you had.
The deep hum of the waterfall lures us closer and at first sight all the commotion is forgotten. The water, which is purer than anything you could drink from a bottle, is refreshingly icy and a welcome relief from the heat. It’s easy to forget about time here so you might want to pack some sunblock and an umbrella.
After basking in the sun for a while, we all congregated under the shade of the lapa off the main house for a lazy afternoon of, in no particular order, reading, napping, drinking and nibbling. The lapa is encircled by gum trees and decked out with a 12-seater table and benches, day beds, loungers and comfy wicker armchairs, and is spacious enough for eight people to disappear into a book while still feeling like they’re a part of the conversation. A large braai area leads off the lapa, just metres from the kitchen, and for the boule enthusiasts a cricket-pitch-sized lawn lies just to the left.
Between the gentle, warm breeze floating through the lapa, the sweet sounds of Edith Piaf, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, the perfectly chilled Cederberg Rosé and the company of seven of the most wonderful people I know, it was by far one of the most enjoyable and memorable afternoons of my life, one that will not be soon forgotten.
Beaverlac is somewhere to look into if you’re after a quiet weekend in the Cederberg as they have a no-noise policy. Although I’ve never been there, a good friend, seasoned traveller and author of Bike: Tar and Gravel Adventures in South Africa, Greg Beadle says, ‘One night at Beaverlac for me is like a week-long holiday anywhere else – soul-feeding relaxation at its best.’ The farm boasts an array of rocky landscapes, with rock pools and waterfalls and rustic accommodation – you’ll need to take your own linen. Rates range from R140 a night for a two-sleeper hut to R280 a night for a four-sleeper cottage.
If you’d prefer a bit of luxury, or absolute luxury should I say, then Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Wellness Retreat is for you. A Relais & Châteaux property and National Heritage Site, Bushmans Kloof offers the opportunity to get up close and personal with nature without breaking into a sweat or getting your feet dirty. It offers everything one would expect from a five-star resort, from world-class dining and fine wines to nature drives and lodge activities. Just a few notches on its lengthy belt of accolades includes winning the Diners Club International Wine List of the Year Diamond Award for five years running, the Virtuoso Sustainable Tourism Leadership Award 2012 and being voted ‘One of the Best Places in the World to Stay’ in the Condé Nast Traveller UK Gold List for 2011. Rates range from R3 515 to R5 985 per person sharing per night.
From Citrusdal it’s about an hour-and-a-half’s drive to Cederberg Private Cellar – 28 kilometres on the N7 to the Algeria/Cederberg turn-off and a further 48 kilometres from there. There’ll be times when you feel like you’re driving on the inspiration for the Talking Heads’ ‘Road to Nowhere’ but just keep at it; the end-goal is most certainly worth the time it takes to get there.
After winding your way up the Nieuwoudt Pass, past Algeria, through two more passes and back onto the not-so-straight-and-narrow you might notice a slight drop in temperature. The reason for this is that you’ve driven to a point that’s equivalent to the top of Table Mountain.
The high altitude, David Nieuwoudt tells us when we do eventually reach the cellar, is one of two factors needed when producing Sauvignon Blanc, a variety he admits to having a soft spot for. The other, he says, is maritime conditions. Cederberg’s unique location, which is best described as a plateau on top of a mountain, boasts the highest vineyards in the Western Cape at a height of between 950 and 1 100 metres above sea level and as a result of its altitude a cool, Mediterranean climate.
Dwarsrivier Farm, the official name for the land on which Cederberg Private Cellar is housed, has been in the Nieuwoudt family since 1893. The farm has seen a variety of produce over the years including tobacco, cattle, apples, pears and table grapes. David, who is the 5th generation in his family to work on the land, took the baton in 1997 after completing his studies at Elsenburg Agricultural College and a year at Lievland Wine Estate in Stellenbosch.
David brings out two bottles of Sauvignon Blanc – the Cederberg and the David Nieuwoudt Ghost Corner – and pours a tasting for each for us. We start with the Cederberg and as we sip David tells us that this wine is from 14 hectares of cool, south-east facing slopes at 1 100 metres above sea level. He goes on to say, ‘With these two wines the vinification is exactly the same: the same yeast, the same temperature fermentation, it’s a duplicate.’ He allows us to take a sip of the Ghost Corner before continuing, ‘But they’re worlds apart.’ And he’s absolutely right. With the Cederberg you’re met with a burst of white asparagus and lime zest, while the Ghost Corner exhibits plump green figs, gooseberries and grapefruit. The difference, which David places great emphasis on, is a result of terroir. The vines from which the Ghost Corner Sauvignon Blanc grapes are harvested are located 500 kilometres away, a mere 12 kilometres from the ocean’s edge at Cape Agulhas on a block that David bought from Black Oyster Catcher in 2007. Of the four vintages of the Ghost Corner Sauvignon Blanc produced this has secured a spot in the SA Top Ten three times. ‘If you take the top 10 Sauvignons there’s a fine line through all of them – this is the only one that stands out,’ says David about the wine, which he also says is a fantastic food companion. The cellar door prices for the Cederberg Sauv and the Ghost Corner Sauv are R90 and R165 respectively – the difference in price David explains is due to the low yield of the Elim vineyards as a result of the pressing wind experienced in the area.
We then move onto the Ghost Corner Sémillon (R165), a cultivar that David says is not well known locally but back in the early 19th century occupied 90 percent of South Africa’s vineyards. ‘It’s very potent on the nose and you either love it or hate it. When they’re young they’re very green but with a bit of age they get a more glycerol, fatty feel,’ he says about the Sémillon, which he also regards as a fantastic food companion.
We then taste the Bukettraube (R75), an aromatic cultivar that originated in the southern parts of Germany (it means spicy grape in German and is a German variety), and one that David says is dying out around the world – there are only 77 hectares left in South Africa. David explains the decline saying, ‘The reason why no one wants to farm with it anymore is because it’s sensitive to downy mildew. Up here we don’t need to spray for downy mildew at all.’ Due to the farm’s isolated location and low winter temperatures they don’t have problems with viruses or diseases on the vines, ‘I haven’t seen one rotten berry up here, ever,’ says David before continuing about the Bukettraube, ‘We want to keep the cultivar alive and of the 77 hectares left in South Africa we’ve got about seven. It’s a lifestyle wine – floral and peachy with an apricot nose that goes great with spicy food or mature cheeses, green Thai prawns or just on its own.’
When it comes to the reds, Cederberg has the advantage of late-ripening. ‘There aren’t many areas in South Africa where we’ve got extended hanging times. We pick Cabernet here after mid-April. In Stellenbosch they’ll be finished picking by the end of March,’ says David. The extended hanging time allows the grapes to reach full phenolic ripeness and it’s at this stage that the grapes will be picked instead of according to their sugar levels. ‘We don’t pick on sugar so that you end up with those crazy alcohols,’ he explains, ‘but rather a really nice ripe tannin structure.’
Like Roger, David firmly believes in planting cultivars according to what grows best in the soil, saying ‘Planting the right rootstocks and the right cultivars in the right soils is a fantastic advantage. Here we farm with late-ripening reds like Cabernet, Shiraz, Petit Verdot and Malbec. We inherited a block of Pinotage but it doesn’t lend itself to the conditions of the area because it’s an early ripening cultivar, so we removed it.’ Playing an important role in the extended hanging time is the extreme difference between day and night temperatures. In February, David explains, they experience differences in temperature of up to 20 degrees.
David admits that the Cab is his favourite and that, ‘although the Shiraz is doing exceptionally well, in the long-term Cederberg will be a better Cab farm than a Shiraz farm.’ Currently available is the 2009 Cab (R130), an elegant and complex number with concentrated blackcurrant and cassis flavours laced with a delicate hint of mint.
We didn’t sample the Cederberg Sustainable Rosé (R50) during the tasting but going on David’s recommendation we took a few bottles with us. Having recently spent some time in Provence where I naturally grew accustomed to the style of rosé produced there, as one does, I returned determined to find a similar kind of wine to enjoy in the heat of summer in the Cape. I can confidently say that my search is over.
On the Cederberg area, David says, ‘It’s a fantastic spot. The wine is such a small part of it, it’s more about the environment, spots to see, it’s unbelievable. The reason you come here is the reason I live here. I also want to sit on my stoep having a nice glass of wine and looking at the mountains.’ And at Sandriff, the holiday resort on the farm, that’s just what you can do. The cottages are all equipped for self-catering with an outdoor braai and fireplace inside at a rate of R680 per unit per night for four people – additional costs apply for extra people. The Dwarsrivier farm shop can supply you with all the information, permits and keys you need to explore the area. Nearby attractions include hikes to the Maltese Cross, Window Rocks and Wolfberg Cracks, the Stadsaal Caves, where you’ll find bushman paintings dating back to when elephants freely roamed the area, and the Maalgat, a 50-metre-long rock pool.
As we finish up our tasting, David highlights the importance of working hard but making sure you take the time to enjoy the beauty around you. And although he’s referring to his little piece of heaven, as he calls it, his words apply to all the incredible destinations we have at our doorstep in our beautiful country. It’s a good piece of advice and, although we’ve all heard it before, it’s one that we should take more seriously because as David says, ‘If you don’t do that then you’ve missed out on a lot in life.’
Source: Winestyle Magazine