Broadly West of the Kasteelberg
This is where much of the Swartland royalty resides with names such as Mullineux, Sadie (x21), Wickens and Badenhorst dotting the landscape. From my perspective it had been impenetrable on my one previous visit. But this time I was better prepared, or was it to be another Nick Broomfield moment2?
Or perhaps a curate's egg.
With our next 4 nights' accommodation already arranged and confirmed, we had some time for a western Swartland recce before check in. On the way we thought we'd look in at Jan Smuts' ancestral home, which is located within the grounds of a cement works at the North Eastern corner of the Kasteelberg. Turned out it was closed on account of the pandemic, which was a pity because I wanted to show Shan the humble beginnings of the man who'd had such an influence on global politics between 1919 and 1948.
We were, nonetheless, in a convenient place to pick up the road that snakes along the Western side of the Kasteelberg. Apart from the fact that the Riebeeksrivier road along the base of the mountain is uniquely lush and scenic for the area, I was hoping to pinpoint the Mullineux farm so that I could phone in the hopes of booking a tasting. If not of the Mullineux wines themselves (I'd previously done this in Franschhoek), then the recently launched Greatheart Wines facilitated by Andrea as a joint initiative with the workforce at the winery.
The scenery must've distracted from our navigational capabilities because we arrived all too soon at the main road at the Southern end of the Kasteelberg without spotting the entrance. There was a consolation in that I was able to show my dearly beloved the scenery she'd painted, sight unseen, in her home-grown Fauvist style.
(Above L to R): The Jan Smuts house, from memory the far end was accommodation for animals; Shan's Fauvist view; the original photograph taken from the R46 near the top of Bothmanskloof Pass looking East; some of the Swartland crew (Hanneke Krüger, Jasper Wickens and Ryan Mostert) in Soho in 2019 - I'd met Ryan at an impromptu hoedown at the Wine Collective in Riebeek Kasteel a few months before the photo was taken.
Andrea can be forgiven for not immediately recognising her own home turf when seeing the two pictures in juxtaposition above, but it didn't take her too long to get it with a little prompting.
Left with some time to spare before checking in at Kalmoesfontein, we decided to head towards Malmesbury and see if we could get lunch at Bill & Co., owned by David and Nadia Sadie. I'd had a healthy and scrumptious salad there two years previously. Sadly it was closed permanently and we resorted to the Swartland Winery for a bite to eat and some jars of exotic chutneys.
While we were eating our lunch, Shan asked:
"Remind me why we're going to a wine farm for 3 nights?"
I reminded her that the Badenhorst place was in an incomparable setting where she could paint and we (or I, if she chose to stay behind to focus on a landscape) could walk to various other wineries. We could also travel out by car to surrounding places of interest. I was excited. I'd been planning this for nigh on 2 years after it had been suggested by Hanneke in Soho. In fact, we'd originally booked for 4 nights but Covid ensured we had to be content with the 3 night slot a year later than originally planned.
"Please indulge me," I urged. "How often do I get to spend quality time in amongst real winemakers?"
And she did, because she's lovely and she knew how much it meant.
We arrived at the turn off for the Badenhorst place in the mid afternoon. Toyota doesn't make its bog-standard Corolla sedans like it used to do. To be honest the ground clearance was pitiful and exacerbated by the Avis get-out clause vis-à-vis insuring any underbody damage. Inching down the road, we finally thought we'd made it when we had to make a hard right and ascend an incline. We did reach our destination a few hundred metres further on but, suffice to say, I was looking forward with some enthusiasm to a glass of something VERY SPLENDID after we'd unpacked and jettisoned the car.
We followed the arrows from the car park to our accommodation where the key was in the door. And splendid accommodation it was, too. An eyrie above the whole complex in the top of an old silo. There was no one about and we ensconced ourselves in our gaff with sweeping views of the Swartland and the Elandsberg in the distance. At our feet was the old farmhouse with long views over the roof to Xanadu.
(Above, clockwise from top left): Our gaff a.k.a. the Silo; Our view; Our pool; Our view after the clouds had lifted
In search of excellence (a.k.a. something splendid)
Having kicked the tyres of our accommodation and its immediate surroundings, and after two years of waiting for Nirvana, I was raring to go. The sun was still above the yard arm so I thought I'd check out the communal areas in preparation for early doors. The farmhouse in front of us was open but deserted. I found a bar that looked inviting and resolved to return when I could hear some activity from below to lure me out from lurking in the Silo.
When I had visited the Badenhorst table at the Soho gig in 2019 the place was rammed. Everyone wanted a piece of Adi. Hanneke had a few moments when I proffered my glass but there wasn't much chance of meaningful dialogue. There were just the two of them manning their stand. She could sense my disappointment: "You'll have to come and stay with us in the Swartland," she volunteered.
Shan and I had been contemplating a trip to the Cape the following year so I expressed an interest.
"Contact Semma at the farm, she'll sort you out," my new friend suggested. "Then we'll have time to show you around," adding that I should avoid harvest time.
I contacted Semma, who recommended early November and it wasn't long before we'd secured 4 nights at the beginning of November 2020. Then Covid broke loose and we ended up settling eventually for 3 nights a year later. To say I was excited to be there was the understatement of 2021.
It wasn't too long before sounds could be heard of vehicles arriving in the parking below the Silo. I maintained a decorous pause before venturing out towards the sounds of people drinking with obvious enjoyment. A fair-sized group was seated at refectory tables on the rear veranda of the farmhouse, adjacent to the bar. I squeezed past hoping to order a drink but there was no-one currently serving. After waiting a while it became obvious that no-one was going to be and I slunk back to the Silo and a half-full bottle we'd brought with us from Riebeek Kasteel. Probably made some inroads into a complementary bottle of Papegaai, too.
The next day we walked an inner circle on the estate before presenting ourselves for the lunch we'd paid for and were hoping to share with the winemaking community on the farm. After that I would be having a wine tasting for a little extra. The food was excellent and we ate ours at our assigned table in splendid isolation with a wonderful view over towards the Elandsberg. The winemakers were at their own table on the other side of the verandah. I hung around after the meal as arranged (Shan went off to read) until I was asked if it was OK to come back a little later because I was the only one signed up for the tasting. Would I mind waiting for another family to arrive. Of course I wouldn't so I headed off back to the Silo. When the others arrived, it turned out that the predominant other was a chap out from Scandinavia setting up a wine-importing business. It was interesting to chat to him while Hanneke ran through the few wines we were to taste.
I kind of forget which ones they were but probably the reds and the younger whites in the lineup below.
You could say I'm a bit of a fan. Here are examples of the varieties and their variants (excluding the few bottles of Secateurs, Papegaai and Curator) that are currently in our "cellar" in the UK.
It was all over pretty quickly as my tasting companion had to move on to another gig. While Hanneke was packing up I asked her casually about the fun and games the night before. Evidently it had been great fun and many of the participants were suffering the consequences.
Actually even more splendid than mere mortals could comprehend
She then volunteered a story which I really wish she hadn't. Evidently a wealthy Dutchman who had been living in Durban had decided to return to live in the Netherlands. He was a wine collector of some repute, including as the owner of one of the world's largest collections of Romanée-Conti. This collector had made the decision to repatriate with the finest vintages to his home country. The remainder had been distributed to a group of close friends with the proviso that they would not sell it on but would share it with other friends who would appreciate it.
The wine being drunk in Kalmoesfontein the night before had been part of the consignment that had remained in South Africa.
"What was it like?" I asked her.
"Absolutely wonderful, out of this world," she replied (maybe not in those exact words but you get the gist).
So, the upshot of the story is that, while I was sidling round the bar the night before to see if I could get some special Badenhorst Brew, the occupants of the rear verandah would have been in a state of RC oblivion.
Striking out from the Badenhorst estate
When we had realised that striking out from Kalmoesfontein in our woesy Corolla was not going to be a thing, we refocused on places we could walk to. First on the list was David and Nadia across the road. I'd spoken to them at the Swig do, too, and they'd encouraged me to visit the farm. When I contacted them, they apologised. Sadly they'd be too busy that week.
Eventually, Shan and I decided to settle for a walk up the valley into the Paardenberg. There were some wineries up there, most significantly the Swerwer estate. It was a lovely day and we could just go out and have a look at what was available. But first there were the geese. Shan is not generally a scaredy-cat but for some reason these large birds had always gone for her since time immemorial. Not in a friendly way. So, understandably, she has developed a bit of a phobia.
(Above, clockwise from top left): Those geese weren't going to allow Shan to take her chosen path; the detour took us past some cuter aquatic birds but why was only one of them yellow?; David and Nadia signposted to the left ; The road winds up the picturesque valley and then stops at the Paardenberg.
After detouring around the geese, following a gentle route to the David and Nadia sign, standing back to let a pickup turn in to the side road and being thanked by the occupants (did I detect a Sadie in there?), we continued walking up the Paardenberg road. It was warm and peaceful with an eclectic mix of dwellings along the way. The only entrance beyond the Sadie's that appeared to be wine related was to the Swerwer winery, a few kilometres further on. The sign was a little discouraging and my Long Covid was beginning to make itself felt so we turned for home. Actually, I was being chivalrous because Shan had become nervous about the baboons barking nearby.
(Above, top two rows): some eclectic housing. (Bottom row L to R): No Swerwer today; a puppy at the Badenhorst farm at lunch time that looked achingly similar to our granddog, Georgie, inducing a pang of nostalgia.
I was a little sad to leave. For most of our stay we'd been the only guests and I had hoped to be able to say hello to Adi. We did cross paths in a doorway at lunch time but he seemed on a mission so I stepped back, unacknowledged, to let him past. I bought some of the vintages I'd tasted and collected a bottle of her own wine from Hanneke to take to our next winemaker, Francois Haasbroek.
After extricating the car from the farm road we took a quick drive along the road we'd walked the day before. We wanted to see how much further we could have gone had I not run out of steam. Don't mention the baboons. Not much further, as it turns out. While making an awkward U-turn opposite the JC Wickens entrance, a bakkie3 approached from the homestead. Its occupants gave us some space to complete our manoeuvre and when it was possible, they drew alongside and asked if they could help. I told them we'd been staying at the Badenhorst place and recalled a bit about our walk the day before.
"You should have dropped by," she replied with a cheery wave before heading off down the road.
Probably the best wine tasting ever, a wish fulfilled
We set our satnav for the De Meye estate, the current (at the time) home of Blackwater Wines. I'm not sure Francois would approve of his Blackwater brand being described as "boutique" but he has his fingers in a growing mound of many pies and this was the current pinnacle.
This was serious business. We started with Hanneke's Ph Palomino and then Francois just kept the bottles coming. He had to collect his daughter from school and Shan and I grabbed a bite before returning for more. Shelley-ann took this picture just before interval. The T-shirt is on my back, and had been obtained from BinTwo in Padstow. I tried to convince Mike Boyne, BinTwo's proprietor, that by wearing it I should become his emissary. "Nice try, Mark," was his response.
We must've tasted for nigh on four hours. Normally Shan would have got a bit antsy by that stage. Wandered around conversing with the birds and squirrels. But, no, conversation with Mnr. Haasbroek covered a lot of ground from rugby to politics, physics to chemistry, elitism to people's wine and much else before returning to wine. The only things Francois seemed elitist about were wine glasses.
Did you know that, however imperceptible, most glasses have a lip around the edge that causes the nectar being transferred to your mouth to leap over the sweet receptors on the tip of your tongue and hit the bitter receptors at the back. The rims needed to be milled. Actually, bugger all that, they just needed to be Zalto. And, if you wanted to drink wine at Francois' table, you'd better sip it from these pieces of art whose stems seemed as if they'd snap if you glanced at them.
I know what my favourite wine was from the 12 we tasted. It was the 2019 Syrah, not yet officially bottled. There was no label on the bottle. More than a month later Christmas was fast approaching and I asked Francois if I could get some unlabelled bottles to drink before disappearing back to Blighty. He agreed to this and Shan and I created a label from the picture above and had it printed in Hermanus.
A member or two of the local wine royalty were concerned that the label cheapened the wine to which Francois retorted that he liked it, adding something to the effect of: "We've put Mark on a retainer for label design."
The Syrah was my favourite but there wasn't one wine that disappointed. The Pinot Noir and a reasonably obscure blend of Chenin, Clairette Blanche and Palomino (named "Chaos Theory") were other favourites. Sadly Francois wasn't intending making any more Pinot because the price of the grapes had gone ballistic and he would have to charge more per bottle than he thought was reasonable.
All good things come to an end and our experience that day ended with a whimsical mutual ambition to make artisan wines somewhere in the Langhe4.
As we were leaving Francois asked us to hold on for a few minutes while he disappeared. He reappeared with a box containing the 11 of his wines we'd tasted. Most of the bottles were all but full. All protestations on our part were ignored.
"I'd just have to pour them away," he dismissed our protests. I tell you what, like similarly excellent wines, none of those bottles had deteriorated much after a week of sharing and enjoying them with an appreciative family. We did manage to buy new stocks through Gary at Wine & Co in Hermanus. Gary and I shared a bottle of the 2019 "own label" Syrah appreciatively in the "snug" in his shop but the rest of those puppies have come back to the UK with me.
And back to Fauvist art
Two of the remaining pictures in the previous blog were from roughly the same area and I promised to reveal all but I am holding the last one back because there's a bit more of an anecdote around it that I'll come back to soon.
(Above): First two - Dasklip Pass into the Winterhoek Mountains north of Porterville; Last two - view from Kershaw homestead near Grabouw.
Cape Town, old friends, restaurants and surprises (including arm to arm combat with the Department of the Interior.