SA wine estates are up there with the very best GEORGINA CROUTH
International contest crowns Cape, writes
TOURISM is a lucrative money-spinner for any country, and in South Africa wine tourism is rapidly transcending other travel sectors. No longer are wine estates merely offering a dreary tasting room facility with spittoons, wine and a few crackers to cleanse the palate – the smart ones are opening their doors to visitors with a variety of tastes, interests and requirements.
This doesn’t come cheap or easy: not all estates are necessarily attractive, and not all estates have boodles of cash to spare. Those that don’t have to become clever about attracting tourists on a relatively tight budget.
Over lunch at the restaurant Pierneef a la Motte on the La Motte estate outside Franschhoek, chief executive officer Hein Koegelenberg, pleased with the estate’s recent Great Wine Capitals Best of Wine Tourism Award for sustainable wine practices and a string of other accolades, said South African wine tourism had come far.
“When you visit an estate in Bordeaux, you get to taste the wines, but you don’t get an amazing meal on the estate. Italy is better, but South Africa is so much better at it.”
At Pierneef a la Motte, the kitchen showcases heirloom vegetables and fruits from their organic gardens, which guests enjoy while sipping on their certified organic wines. They’re also part of the Leopard Project, which tracks lone cats in the region.
In 1970, the late Dr Anton Rupert, the leading cigarette industrialist and founder of the Rembrandt Group, bought the property. The farm is now owned by Rupert’s daughter, Hanneli RupertKoegelenberg, a leading mezzo- soprano, and is one of three wine estates owned by the Rupert family – L’Ormarins and Rupert & Rothschild are the others.
Last month the GWC Best of Wine Tourism Awards were held in the US, to celebrate innovation and excellence in wine tourism throughout the 10 greatest wine regions in the world.
The Best Of programme allows wineries and other “visitor-serving businesses” in each region to gain exposure and recognition for their commitment to presenting leading wine tourism options, while giving visitors a one-stop list of the best places to experience.
The competition, which pits Bilbao (Spain), Bordeaux (France), the Cape Winelands, Christchurch (New Zealand), Firenze (Italy), Mainz-Rheinhessen (Germany), Mendoza (Argentina), Porto (Portugal), Napa Valley (California) and the newest member, ValparaisoCasablanca (Chile), against each other in regional and global contests, is designed to reward businesses in each member region that have distinguished themselves for the excellence of their facilities and in delivering quality experiences to visitors in various categories.
Awards are for: wine tourism restaurants; sustainable wine tourism practices; innovative wine tourism experiences; wine tourism services; accommodation; art and culture; and architecture and landscape.
Vergelegen, outside Somerset West, won the international Best of Wine Tourism Award for the third time this year, excelling in nearly all categories in the contest.
The results were announced on November 7 in California’s Napa Valley, attended by world wine tourism leaders.
The Helderberg winery won both the arts and culture and the restaurant categories, and came second in the architecture and landscapes, innovative wine tourism experiences, sustainable wine tourism practices and wine tourism service categories.
As an international GWC winner, Vergelegen joins the ranks of the best of the best in global wine tourism. The other “best of the best” winners are: Spain’s Bodegas Dinastia Vivanco in Rioja, a museum and winery complex celebrated for its Enoturismo y Experiencias that offers a wide range of exhibitions, courses and other innovative experiences; France’s Chateau de Rouillac, which dates back to the 19th century and once belonged to the Baron Haussmann, who introduced major urban planning reforms to Paris under Napoleon III; New Zealand’s Brancott Estate Heritage Centre at Brancott Vineyard, the site of the original Marlborough sauvignon blanc plantings; Italy’s Castello di Gabbiano, which has a medieval castle dating back to the 16th century; Germany’s Weingut Eppelmann Stadecken-Goslar, recognised for its innovative use of QR codes in communicating with hikers; Chile’s Bodega Ruca Malen at the foot of the Andes celebrated for its restaurant; Portugal’s The Yeatman, a luxury wine hotel with an award-winning wine cellar and Michelin star restaurant acclaimed for its modern interpretation of traditional Portuguese cuisine; and California’s The Hess Collection Winery in the Mount Veeder area, renowned for its extensive private collection of international modern and contemporary paintings and sculpture.
The innovative wine tourism experience winner is the Spice Route Destination in Paarl. It’s so much more than a wine estate – there you can sample artisanal chocolate at DV chocolates (which produces chocolates from cocoa nibs and sugar – no cocoa butter), CBC craft beer made in a state-of-the-art facility on the property, biltong and a wine-tasting room, a grapparia, tea and cake, a glass-blowing studio and a pizzeria (also recently announced as the 2013 Klink Wine Tourism Awards Best New Cellar Door Attraction, as well as its overall “Supernova” winner).
Dating back to 1685, Vergelegen is renowned for the preservation of its historic buildings and its gardens. The estate is also highly regarded by wine connoisseurs, gastronauts and art lovers. Their award-winning restaurant, Camphors, is named after the ancient camphor trees on the farm that are said to be more than 300 years old. The winery’s signature eatery was recently revamped, with PJ Vadas, formerly of the Roundhouse, appointed as the executive chef. Camphors was named in the EatOut Top 10 best restaurants in South Africa.
The Vergelegen manor house and associated buildings have been refurbished, and its interiors provide a layered historicism of the 300 years of the property’s existence. Built by Willem Adriaan van der Stel, the estate boasts five original camphor trees and the country’s oldest oak tree, which is hollow in the centre. Antiques, objets d’art and ceramics dating from the Dutch East India Company days are displayed alongside artworks from the Permanent Collection of Iziko Museum’s South African National Gallery in Cape Town.
Visitors to the estate can wander through the camphor forest, walk through the manor house’s fragrant gardens, and take in Cape cultural history in their museum.
The Stables bistro at Vergelegen, once the stables, showcases artworks by landscape artist Strydom van der Merwe, William Kentridge and other renowned artists. Its gardens, complete with a growing maze and a fantasy play area for children, are designed according the grand VOC axis design, which included rectangular plant beds grouped into fours, with corners cut away at central focal points.
A newcomer to the competition, Babylonstoren, also in Paarl, came second among the South African contenders, winning the accommodation and the architecture and landscapes categories, and taking third place in the restaurant category for Babel. The estate, renowned for its exquisite gardens and water features, luxury “farm-style” accommodation, a “plaas dam” and spa, produces its own wine, fresh produce and olive oil.
Wine tourism service winner Delaire Graff prides itself not only on superb service, but on one the country’s finest collections of art (property owner Laurence Graff is one of the world’s top 10 art collectors), award-winning restaurants (Delaire Graff and Indochine), and a chic terrace under pin-oak trees overlooking the Helshoogte Mountain Pass.
The property, founded by Simon van der Stel in 1679, was bought in 1983 by John and Erica Platter, who sold it to Graff 20 years later.
Graff, a renowned international diamond trader, has transformed it into one of South Africa’s leading luxury destinations.
Last Friday, the estate unveiled Tretchikoff ’s Chinese Girl for public viewing. Graff ’s collection includes works by Damien Hirst, Basquiat, Picasso, Banksy, Warhol and Renoir.
It is hoped that, in time, more wine estates will expand their tourism offering.
It’s a win for everyone.
HISTORIC: Vergelegen homestead boasts 300-year-old camphor trees.
SCENIC: Babylonstoren won two categories.