For our day in the winelands we were blessed with fantastic weather. It was sunny, dry, and not too hot, but pleasantly warm. This was much appreciated after the mixed weather we had experienced thus far. It really was perfect. South Africa has a long history of wine making and produces a lot of really excellent wines. The area surrounding Franschhoek is one of the premier wine farming regions in the country and I was excited to spend a day exploring it. We had breakfast at our guesthouse and were picked up promptly at 10am for our private wine tour. I wanted to visit some wine farms, do some wine tasting, and learn about the area and the winemaking without having to drive ourselves or spend hours researching where to go. A private tour seemed the best and most flexible way to do this and I'm so glad we chose to do it that way. We could have gone with a group tour but a private tour allowed us to go at our own pace and accommodate only our own preferences. Aylmer from La Rochelle tours arrived in a small van and greeted us warmly. He lives in a nearby town called Paarl which is one of the three main centers of wine making in the region with Franschhoek and Stellenbosch being the other two. They form a sort of triangle about an hour inland from Cape Town. He was a personable young man who began by asking our interests and preferences. One of my requests was that we not go to the big wineries where the tour buses go. I wanted to go to smaller, lesser known wineries that were more of the hidden gem variety. We started out with a drive to the furthest winery we would visit, to be followed by others as we made our way back toward Franschhoek with a stop for lunch along the way.
As we drove past vineyards and mountains and beautiful scenery, Aylmer gave us some background and pointed out some geographical features to help orient ourselves. Our first stop was a winery called Warwick Estate. It had a lovely small lake and beautiful grounds. I could see why people would choose to come there for a picnic on a Sunday afternoon. They had a fairly large tasting room and shop, perhaps the biggest we saw that day. We were seated outside at a small café table on a terrace and a nice woman came to serve us the tastings. She would pour and give us a brief introduction and then Aylmer would really delve into it. We had a wonderful time learning new things about wine and wine tasting. Aylmer was very knowledgeable and really knew how to convey the concepts. I found myself learning new things which was quite refreshing as I have done a fair amount of wine tasting at wineries before and lived and worked in the wine country in California. He really knew his stuff and even Michael, who is less of a wine enthusiast than me, was enjoying himself. Warwick poured eight wines to taste which is rather a lot, but it was fun to try so many and discern the nuances of difference guided by Aylmer. After that we took a peek at the shop and then went back to the van to move on. I wanted to buy a few bottles of wine from the wineries that day but knew that I was severely limited as to quantity, so I chose to hold out.
Our next stop was not too far away. It was a winery called Kanonkop. The name refers to the cannons on a hill by Cape Town that were used to signal the people living in what is now the wine lands to bring their goods to market. When ships would arrive in port, the cannons would be fired in a prescribed sequence signaling the farmers in the interior that they needed to load up their produce and start heading to Cape Town to re-provision the ships. As expected, there was a canon at the winery. Kanonkop uses cement tanks for their fermentation– a process that us not very common anymore. They had some delicious Pinotage to try. Pinotage is a grape that is unique to South Africa. It was developed by crossing the Pinot Noir grape with Hermitage and has resulted in delicious red wine.
After Kanonkop we drove up into the hills to a small family run estate called Camberly Farms. Apparently the winemaking is actually a hobby for this family instead of their main income and they produce small quantities of high quality wine. We got to see the rooms where they do the fermentation and keep the barrels before going up to the tasting room.
They had some really good Cabernet blends and Cabernet Franc. Once again Aylmer did a masterful job of leading us through the tasting. That was certainly a place we never would have found on our own. It was small enough that while trying to find the restroom on the way out I took a wrong turn and found myself in the kitchen of the owners house! Fortunately I had enough sense to realize I probably wasn't supposed to just go down the hall and use the bathroom in the house. I tiptoed out and found the one by the barn where the wine is made. It was all connected so it was easy to take a wrong turn.
Our next destination was our lunch stop. Aylmer took us to The Kitchen at Maison for a late lunch. I wasn't quite clear if it was just a restaurant or also a winery, but in any case we sat outside in a lovely garden with a view of the vineyard and hills and enjoyed some very gourmet fare. Michael had abalone which he hadn't had for a long time. We snapped a few photos as well.
After lunch we had one more stop and made our way in leisurely fashion to Moreson, known for it's sparkling wines. In South Africa they make MCC or Méthode Cap Classique, which is their version of Méthode Champenoise, the traditional way of making Champagne style wines. Once again we got a terrific education on MCC wine making methods and tasting techniques. We wandered out into the vineyard so that Aylmer could illustrate to us how the experience changes when the wine warms up even a little from being in the sunshine.
That evening we had a table booked at The French Connection for dinner. It was pleasant and fun but I wouldn't say I was truly wowed. All in all however, it was a fantastic day.