We do live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, and it is easy to become insular, parochial in our views of what we consider worth the effort of getting into the car and driving any kind of distance to enjoy different views, people, places and experiences.
As varied as the offering is in the Boland, if one is willing to travel over more than just the nearest pass, there are a plethora of experiences waiting to entertain the mildly adventurous in search of something new, different and beguiling.
The petrol price being what it is, one does not want to venture too far, so a recent invitation to visit Bonnievale provided the motivation to test this assertion.
The primary reason for the trip was for Eppie and I to attend the launch of Bonneivale Cellars’ new range of wines – The River Collection – on the Friday night, but that was preceded by the joyful road trip to Bonnievale, with a breakfast stop at Peregrine Farm Stall.
Now the thing about a road trip, is that it is not something to tackle solo.
The reasonably priced breakfast of Eggs Benedict – handily served on a potato rosti for the gluten intolerant – followed by a finely made double shot cappuccino at Peregrine Farm Stall, was just that much more enjoyable as a shared experience.
The endless vistas of bright yellow canola on the gently undulating hills of the Overberg were somehow brighter, richer shared, and there was a joy in spotting and pointing out each new view, as the macadam ribbon unfurled under the speeding wheels of our car.
Even the stop/go near Houwhoek, location of the oldest hospitality establishment in the Western Cape – if not the country – did not deter our enjoyment and in no time at all it seemed, we arrived at the Stormsvlei turnoff, and headed up the pass to Bonnievale and our first port of call – Weltevrede Estate.
We did have a minor wobbly at this point, when in following the GPS slavishly, we were routed south of the Breede River to a gravel road, presumably with a pont or bridge over the river, but unfortunately it was closed, with a luminous vest-wearing guard who made it clear passage was prohibited.
After a bit more stop-go driving – Bonnievale’s Main Road is being upgraded – we arrived at Weltevrede Estate where after a lovely al fresco lunch, we spent a half hour with cellar master Philip Jonker, literally in the bowels of the earth.
Below the modern cellar is a network of concrete fermentation tanks and storage vessels of varying sizes, solely accessible from above, built when the first cellar was constructed, and which lay hidden for decades before they were rediscovered.
It was Philip who supervised the systematic breaking through of walls – the map of the tanks was lost in the mists of time – and ended up creating a labyrinth of nooks and crannies, now used for storing wine, and hosting remarkable tastings.
As we tasted through his range of MCCs, Philip, a raconteur of note, spoke of his very first bubbly vintage, a bottle of which he sabraged open at his wedding reception under a tree in the bushveld, and how the farm had evolved over the decades.
The multimedia presentation which followed featured magnificent and evocative photographs, shot by? You guessed it. Philip. Winemaker, raconteur, photographer.
The piece de resistance of the visit to Weltevrede Estate, was the opportunity to disgorge, cork, capsule and label a bottle of Philip’s non-vintage Brut MCC, which we got to take home, with the admonition to lay it down for at least a month before drinking it. We’re stoically attempting to abide by that dictum.
Our accommodation for the night was at A Place in Thyme B&B, just down the road from the Groot Kerk in Voortrekker Road. Our hostess, Elana Coetzee, met us at the door and ushered us to our cozy suite, beautifully appointed, with en-suite bathroom and DStv laid on. It felt like home. The room tariff is a steal – R450 single, R425 sharing, which includes a sumptuous breakfast in the delightful dining room.
The Bonnievale wine launch that night, was a “ware geleentheid”, entirely catered by the good women of Bonnievale, ably assisted by a plethora of sons and daughters home for the holidays.
What made it so memorable, in comparison with the typical wine launch closer to Cape Town, was the sense of family, the warm hospitality, and the feeling that we were welcomed with open arms.
Bonnievale Cellars makes a great deal of wine. It has 100 participating producers in the area, and its latest initiative aims to carve out a space in the lower end of the premium market.
That night, we tasted four delightful wines – a cinsaut rosé, a chenin blanc, a chardonnay, a sauvignon blanc – each of which is made from grapes only from carefully selected vineyards.
Each wine is also under the stewardship of a single winemaker, who takes responsibility for the wine from vineyards to cellar and into bottle. Red wines will be added to the River Collection when the 2017 vintage is ready for release later this year.
Speaking at the launch, Bonnievale CEO, John Barnardt, put the new initiative in perspective: “The river is the reason for our existence. It’s the core and heartbeat of our wines. As such, The River Collection is the heart of our offering – a premium selection that is our primary focus.”
The tough part about the launch event, was actually leaving, because we all felt so at home, and the temptation to tarry was only overcome with great difficulty, when yawns began to emerge, the glasses were empty and the coffee cups cold.
Back to our lovely accommodation for a sound sleep, and after a sumptuous, lazy breakfast the next morning, we drove away with “Come again soon” ringing in our ears, as we journeyed back through the beautifully green Overberg, with an obligatory stop at Dassiesfontein Farm Stall, down the pass, and back home to the real world, refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to take life head-on once more.
Don’t delay. Take that road trip you’ve been putting off.