You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Breedekloof Valley is home to only large-scale wine producing cooperatives. Anton Pretorius recently discovered that this picturesque wine hamlet, including the charming Slanghoek Valley, offers a lot more than meets the eye.
“Most Capetonians think the province’s border ends at the Huguenot tunnel,” is a quip that the friendly folk of the Breedekloof Valley are fond of using. “After that, it’s pretty much Johannesburg,” says a jolly patron at a local watering hole in Rawsonville, followed by a belly slap and a thunderous laugh.
Albeit funny, the statement was, of course, a gross generalisation. But the point this local was trying to make is that many are still blissfully unaware of the beauty that awaits them beyond the berg. The proverbial ‘light’ at the end of the tunnel if you will …
Hence, Breedekloof’s status as a wine tourism destination is still considered every much ‘up-and-coming’ and ‘emerging’ and the region flies quietly below the wine radar compared to the more established wine regions of South Africa. Although there’s a lack of prominence, this, I suspect, is all part of the Valley’s charm.
But don’t be mistaken thinking that this so-called shortage in stature makes Breedekloof inferior in any way. On the contrary, it produces the same, if not better, quality wine, grapes and vineyards as any other wine valley in the Western Cape.
Having said that, the Breedekloof’s status as a wine tourism destination is changing as we speak. Pieter Carstens, cellar master at Slanghoek Cellar, says he’s seen a steady increase in visitor numbers to the valley. There’s been somewhat of a movement among both local and international wine enthusiasts to make wine discoveries along South Africa’s less trodden wine routes – especially places which offer a more authentic interaction.
The Breedekloof is only a short 30-minute drive from Paarl, and roughly an hour from Cape Town. Once you emerge through the Du Toitskloof Mountains and Huguenot tunnel, the world opens up to a spectacular kaleidoscope of towering mountains, pristine rivers and some of the most inviting wines and wine estates you’ll ever come across.
Here you’ll find a cluster of smaller, family-owned farms that’s owned and operated at least by the third of fourth generation, each offering a unique and memorable experience for the discerning traveller. Winemakers here have put down roots as deep as the vines they grow.
Nestled snugly in between the towns of Worcester and Paarl, the Breedekloof is a charming, hill-laden valley made up of smaller towns like Rawsonville, Slanghoek, Goudini and Breërivier. It is walled by the Slanghoek and Du Toitskloof Mountains in the west and south-west, and the foothills of the Hex River Mountains in the north-east.
Although home to some of the oldest estates in the Cape, the Breedekloof Valley tends to keep a low profile. Fancy festivals just don’t fit this laid-back corner of the Cape (except for the now-popular annual Soetes en Sop), which makes it all the more worth a visit, come summer or winter.
The Chenin Camaraderie
If you’re a lover of South Africa’s foundation stone, namely Chenin Blanc, then you’ll have another good reason to visit this valley. Breedekloof’s winemaking ‘wizards’ are especially fond of brewing Chenin Blanc in their cauldrons, producing some of the best and interesting styles of this cultivar that’ll have you smacking your lips for more.
The region is so immensely proud of its Chenin Blanc that a handful of the region’s winemakers often band together to blind taste and promote the region’s signature variety. They’re called the Breedekloof Makers, a congregation of the valley’s winemakers committed to emphasising the quality of wines being made in the region, as well as accentuating the diverse terroir pockets.
The camaraderie and warmth between winemakers (and their ability to put competition, rivalry and politics aside) was an interesting sight to behold. Nowhere else is this kind of solidarity among winemakers evident, especially not in the more established wine regions (which I’ll refrain from mentioning) where the winemaking community is renowned for being ruthlessly competitive, cut-throat and sometimes a bit snooty.
The Breedekloof Tour
Our weekend stay in the valley was courtesy of Remhoogte Farm’s Shiraz cottage – a quaint little digs overlooking the farm’s vast vineyards and the majestic Slanghoek mountains. It’s equipped with everything you’ll ever need, including a rustic, yet very pleasant outdoor shower area, a massive veranda for sundowners and spectacular views and an ample braai area.
We kicked off tour with a hearty lunch at Bosjes Valley Farm. Although rich in history, the estate is a relatively new concept to the region and rebuilt with the aim of attracting a more upmarket visitor. The much-lauded chapel at Bosjes – an architectural masterpiece – tends to steal the show, but this estate has much to offer, including some tasty bistro dining and stylish accommodation.
Celebrated chef Peter Goffe-Wood does some consulting work over at the Bosjes Kombuis. I feasted on a bacon, pesto, mozzarella and rocket beef burger that was out of this world, while my wife enjoyed Bosjes’ famous beef short-rib. The food went down well with Bosjes’ white house blend and Pinotage red.
At the northern end of the valley, Bergsig Estate has been in the Lategan family for more than 170 years and today has more land under conservation than cultivation. Self-guided walking trails meander through the vineyards to a permanent bird hide, so bring your binoculars and tick off the 150-odd bird species recorded on the farm. And the wine? You’ll find a wonderful range to suit all palates and pockets.
We were treated to a very special tasting alongside winemakers Chris du Toit (Bergsig), Heinrich Lategan (Lateganskop Wine Cellar) and Justin Corrans (Mountain Ridge Wines). We were particularly fond of Lateganskop’s Livias’ Laughter MCC, Mountain Ridge’s De Liefde Chenin Blanc and Bergsig’s Icarus 2012 red. Lateganskop’s The Zahir 2017, Bergsig’s Touriga Nacional (2015) and Mountain Ridge’s Jailbreak Merlot also scored points in the red wine category.
From there, we meandered into the gorgeous Slanghoek Valley to Opstal Wine Estate, another family-owned estate with deep roots in the region. Winemaker Attie Louw’s Carl Everson Chenin Blanc is the standout wine here: made from old vines, fermented with wild yeasts and matured in old oak barrels, it’s a true taste of Slanghoek terroir.
Attie, a prominent figure in the Breedekloof region, not only possesses a warm, welcoming nature, but has a certain way with words. Describing some of his Chenin Blanc wines as ‘vet en sexy’ was a vivid and unforgettable interpretation of his wine (and surprising accurate …).
Without sounding too sexist or chauvinistic, I did notice a strong presence of female winemakers in the Breedekloof Valley (which I obviously laud!). It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that the women here can definitely hold their own in the winemaking game.
We met with wonder women winemakers Lieza van der Merwe (Merwida Wine Estate) and Elizma Visser (Olifantsberg Wines). Lieza produces some lovely Sauvignon Blanc varieties, including Pinot Grigio and Barbera and especially tasty Chenin Blanc, blending bright fruits with a minerality typical of this family-owned estate’s white wines.
Olifantsberg’s Lark Chenin Blanc 2017, Blanc 2016 (blend) and Silhouette 2015 really captured the estate’s unique location, diverse soils and natural expression of its vineyards.
We concluded our evening with a very special tasting when esteemed wine estates Slanghoek and Badsberg sent their most trusted winemakers to our cottage to rate their wines and enjoy a sunset so beautiful you would think that God was using Photoshop.
Slanghoek Cellar’s Nico Grundling and Badsberg Wine Cellar’s Henri Swiegers are old mates from competing wineries. But in Breedekloof Valley, there’s hardly any rivalry among winemakers, instead there’s a certain sense of camaraderie and support that makes this region unique to any other wine region in the Western Cape.
Apart from their brilliant signature red and white varieties, Nico and Henri also treated us to another local pleasure, fortified sweet wine made from Hanepoot grapes. Badsberg’s Jerepigo 2017 and Slangoek’s Cape Ruby was the standouts here.
One of the highlights of our tour was meeting with Jason’s Hill’s cheerful Ivy du Toit – a sixth generation descendant of JC Rousseau, the pioneer who first settled the Slanghoek Valley two centuries ago.
Ivy is a self-made and hard-working winemaker who cut her teeth in France and came back to claim the Diners Club Young Winemaker of the Year in 2003 and Women Winemaker of the Year 2004. Ivy, who helped put Breedekloof on South Africa’s wine map, says the appeal of the Slanghoek Valley as a wine tourism destination lies in the beauty of the surrounds, but also the vineyards that are planted so close to the mountains.
Jason’s Hill produces excellent Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, while its Jason’s Creek Classic Red is a great everyday quaffer: a delicious blend of Pinotage, Shiraz, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. The estate restaurant also offers casual country cooking and wonderful valley views. Hours slipped by as we listened intently to Ivy’s stories of growing up in the Breedekloof. The serenity of our surrounds was hypnotic, and while sipping on (our clear favourites) Jason Hill’s Beatrix Reserve and Izak Bordeaux Reserve, we couldn’t image being anywhere else in the world.
Mariëtte Stofberg-Coetzee is another innovative female winemaker in the region you simply have to meet. Stofberg Family Vineyard, a family-run boutique winery, hosted us to a generous supper including a wine and gin tasting at its Ou Stokery restaurant. Mariëtte infuses her gin with buchu, honeybush and confetti bush and serves it with their signature blue, pink or white Mosquito tonic water.
But if wine is your tipple of choice, you simply have to try Mariëtte’s unique Mariëtte Pinot Blanc 2017, Chenin blanc 2017 and Shiraz 2016 – South Africa’s first single bottling of this cultivar. Her Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and MCC wine ranges are also top-class and well worth a taste or ten! The affable Johan Linde from Botha Kelders joined our party and gave us a thorough tasting of Botha Kelder’s range of well-crafted wine, including it’s accessible red and white varieties, the more serious reserve wines and its delectable full sweet fortified wines.
The private cellar of Kirabo (African word meaning ‘a gift from God’) was another interesting stop on our route. This boutique red wine cellar offers cupcake-and-wine pairing, vineyard tours and some delicious craft beer brewed and served on tap at the premises.
Du Toitskloof Wines, situated right at the start of the Breedekloof wine route is a young, forward-thinking and innovative winery that has quickly established its name as a household wine brand. Here, you can begin your adventure with a coffee and hearty breakfast at Ou Meul Bakery (situated on the premises) and explore Du Toitskloof’s vast range of various wines and MCCs. We were especially fond of the Pinotage Rosé (a real strawberry rush) and the Land’s End Cape South Coast Syrah 2017.
If you think that the Breedekloof is all about wine, think again! Our Sunday was spent on the back of a Land Cruiser gameviewer (under the auspice of the spirited game and grape farmer Jacobus Griessel) spotting golden Wildebeest, Eland, Zebra and Buffalo at Wysersdrift Wine and Wildlife Estate. Here you can get up close and personal with a large variety of Southern Africa’s game species that roam in between fruitful vineyards, mountainous hills and quaint valleys. Our weekend concluded with a breakfast braai next to the river with the occasional zebra drifting towards the smell of eggs cooking on an open fire. Tough life, right?
All good things come to an end …
The warm welcomes and meaningful conversations we had with every single winemaker was testament to the region’s hearty hospitality they extend to visitors, just another great reason to make your way to Breedekloof Valley where even city slickers like us, were treated with kindness, friendliness and a burning desire to share all the pleasantries of the region.
Versatility is one of the key strengths of the wines of the Breedekloof and Slanghoek Valleys. But apart from the wine, the unique ‘terroir’ of the Breedekloof also extends to the generous servings (both wine and food), genuine warm hospitality, beautiful surrounds and an experience so authentic, you’ll never want to leave this place.
A massive thanks to Marie-Louise from Remhoogte Farm, Pieter Carstens (Slanghoek) and Jeanri-Tine van Zyl from Feed That Bird PR, as well as all the winemakers we met on this unforgettable journey. For more information, call Breedekloof Tourism on +27(0) 23 349 1791 or email email@example.com