It’s time for another wine trip. This week I am taking you out on the N2 over Sir Lowry’s Pass and down into the lush, green, pastoral valley of Botrivier. This region usually gets bunched in with Walker Bay and Elgin. But, I believe, it deserves it’s own column and trip.
My music choice for exploring Botrivier is The National. Perhaps not an obvious choice, but the brooding, bitter treacle voice of Matt Berninger worked perfectly with the almost English countryside. So pipe the National, get the car on the N2, and blow whatever popsicle stand you find yourself at.
When European settlers had consumed all the cattle and timber around the slopes of Table Mountain they went in search of more. Having heard stories of a Canaan-like land over the mountain range they’d named the Hottentots Holland, off they went.
It is a story of intrepid explorers, lost wagons, many dead oxen, swamps, cliffs, and struggle. But eventually the settlers made it over the mountains. They set up what is now the oldest inn of its type at Hoewhoek, and the Dutch India Company set up shop at Compagnies Drift in what is now Botrivier.
Today, there are a number of wine farms in the area, but it’s small enough for you to take it very easy and still visit all of them. It’s great being able to visit all the farms in one area, so no pillock can say, when you get back to town, “Oh but you really should have visited so and so, they really embody the area.”
Head out on the N2, summit Sir Lowry’s, carry on until you see the Botrivier turn off. Take the turn off and turn left onto Hoof Wy, drive on for a couple 100 metres and you will see Beaumont on the right hand side. Pull in.
This is where we were staying for the weekend. I highly recommend this as your accommodation when you visit the Botrivier valley. It was the original Compagnie Drift bought by the Dutch East India Company, and the self-catering cottages were built in the 1700’s. Thick walls, a big fire in the kitchen, port in the glass, pure country living.
I have been a fan of Beaumont Wines for a while now. It started when I first tasted their top Chenin, the Hope Marguerite, an elegantly wooded Chenin Blanc that always shows the promise of aging.
Botrivier Chenins are a delight, it feels as though they are born restrained. Already linear. More acidic. Closer to the moon than the sun. Where Stellenbosch Chenin sometimes falls into a tropical ubiquity, Botrivier Chenin manages to capture the ripe, swollen fruit of the tropics, but hedges it in with a hard shoulder. A stiff upper lip. Cellar master Sebastian Beaumont and winemaker Marelise Jansen van Rensburg nail their Chenins, vintage after vintage.
Wines to look out for at Beaumont: Hope Marguerite, Vitruvius, Pinotage.
Leave Beaumont, turn right and then right again onto a dirt road. Drive a little bit down the road and turn into Luddite Wines. You need an appointment with Niels Verburg to taste at Luddite. The Luddite’s were 19th-century English textile artisans who protested – often by destroying mechanised looms – against the changes produced by the Industrial Revolution. By naming his wine farm and wine after them, Niels makes his approach to farming quite clear. He is focused on quality grapes, and hand made wines. Currently there is only one wine produced, a shiraz. There are plans to produce a Chenin, which makes this writer very happy. The current release is the 2007, and it is ripe and plush, with typical Shirazzy spiciness. More black pepper here than white. Good freshness, and structure. No question this has far more time to spend in bottle, and will reward the patient.
Back on the dirt road carry on. You will see some wine farms on the right. I am not sure what goes on there. We couldn’t get hold of anyone, and the one cellar we poked our heads into looked rather deserted; on our way out we might have met with the proprietor. He seemed a little stoned, and very surprised to see us. We carried on.
The most enjoyable stop was at Goedvertrouw. This winery is currently run by Elreda Pillmann whose husband started the place, but sadly passed away in 2003. Elreda carries on making the wine, and though the Botriver website says she “lovingly hand crafts wines”, we found out this was not entirely true.
Sitting on Elreda’s stoep – the house was built in 1820 – she told us that she has a love hate relationship with wine. We sipped on wines, snacked on home made cheese snacks, and chatted for about an hour. She had warned us on the phone that she wouldn’t open all the wines, and when I chose one of the Pinot Noirs to taste, she said I should check it as she doesn’t touch the stuff. As bizarre as this sounds, I loved it. A winemaker who doesn’t drink wine.
We sipped on a rather delicious 2006 Chardonnay (only R60) and chatted about the youth of today, loud bikers, quiet bikers, origami birds, manners, discipline, real food, and her incredibly tasty cheese-sticks. Were the wines the best in the valley, perhaps not, but they offered excellent value, and were sold by a warm, interesting, humble lady making wine even though she doesn’t drink it. She is so far from all the typical wine nonsense I hear and read about, it was wonderful. Please go visit Elreda. Give her a call first so she knows you are coming.
Wines to Look Out for: 2006 Goedvertrouw Chardonnay.
Head back onto the dirt road and carry on driving. The next stops are Eerste Hoop, and Witklip, (we were not able to visit them on our weekend unfortunately. Give them a call and visit if you can).
Carry on up the dirt road and take the right toward the R43, and then right again toward the N2, once on the N2 (going toward Cape Town) you will see your next stop, Gabrielskloof. This a new winery to the Botrivier area with vines being planted in 2002, and the first vintage in 2009. If you are into Viognier, Gabrielskloof make an excellent one that avoids the trap of being fat and over-oaked. Not my thing, but a good version. Also, if you are not packing lunch, and you didn’t get a home-cooked meal on Elreda’s stoep, I’d recommend the Gabrielskloof restaurant.
Wine to Look out for: The Magdelena (Sauvignon Blanc Semillon blend).
Just down the road you can now visit Wilderkrans. While the farm and wines have been around for a while, it has been under new ownership since 2007. I have not had a vertical tasting of the wines so I am not sure how the new ownership is progressing, but if you are into big, oaked Chenins, they make a very good version.
Wine to look out for: Chenin Blanc Osiris Barrel Selection 2010.
Those are the wineries we were able to visit on our trip, some we missed because the proprietors were away. I have listed their details below as well if you are making the trip.
I left Botrivier with the feeling that there is more to come from the region. I think Beaumont is producing the best wines overall, and that as Gabrielskloof’s vines age they will catch up. Neils’ Shiraz is consistently good, and consistently sold out. Eldreda Pullman stole our hearts, and we want to have lunch with her on her stoep at least once a week.
I love Botrivier. I am not sure if it was the old cottage, games of rummy infront of the well stoked fire in the kitchen over a few bottles of Beaumont Pinotage. Wait. That’s exactly why. Neils form Luddite said to us as we left, “Enjoy Botrivier, it’s the centre of the universe” and that is exactly the feeling we left with. Rolling green hills, a meandering river, fine wine, and a fire in the kitchen. The rest of the world fades away quickly when in Botrivier.
Farms to visit in the Botrivier area
+27 28 284 9283
Beaumont Wines (and amazing accommodation)
+27 28 284 9194
+27 28 284 9865
+27 28 284 9769
+27 28 284 9308
+27 28 284 9902
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