Excelsior’s excellence in a bottle

Excelsior, a Latin adjective meaning “higher” or “loftier“, used in English as an interjection with a poetic meaning to indicate ‘superior quality’, is the perfect depiction of this wine estate just outside of Ashton, in the Langeberg region. This fifth generation, family-owned farm presents all the bells and whistles for the perfect country hideaway, offering impeccable service and jaw-dropping views.

Nostalgia settled inside of me while driving down the gravel road towards Excelsior Wine Estate’s tasting room. Breathtaking views of green vineyards and white roses demanded attention and for a moment I stopped to fully embrace my surroundings. Completely in awe of this natural beauty, my eyes simply had to steal another glimpse before I continued on my journey.

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The breathtaking entrance to Excelsior Wine Estate’s tasting room.

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The quaint little restaurant on the farm, Graze@Excelsior offers a selection of delish meals.

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Excelsior Wine Estate, initially an ostrich, horse and subsequently, a wine farm, offers all the amenities for the tired traveller under one roof, so to speak. Besides for the tasting room which offers a wide selection of the farm’s premium wines to taste and purchase, the weary urbanite can also revel in the delish cuisine of Graze@Excelsior, the on-farm restaurant, before settling in for the night at their exquisite, four-star accommodation, the Manor Guesthouse.

But Excelsior Wine Estate provides more than just a resting place for your fatigued feet; it also offers quietude for your soul. Sentiments, nuances, thoughts, perceptions… In the mist of all that natural beauty, time seems to stand still and life offers you a breather. Amongst the overwhelming visual attractiveness of this beautiful place, while I was searching for my next tasting experience, instead I found a little piece of my soul.

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Truly jaw-dropping views… Excelsior’s tasting room is situated on top of the dam, overlooking endless landscaping beauty.

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The estate offers wonderful solitude for the fatigued traveller.

Dating back to the late 1800s, Excelsior Wine Estate turned its farming practices to ostrich plumes which where the essence of haute couture at the turn of the 20th century. Ostrich plums were purchased at ridiculous prices and as a result, ostrich breeders became wealthy almost overnight.  However, with the invention of the open-top motorcar, ostrich feathers were no longer practical and ostrich farmers suffered the consequences.

Kowie de Wet and his son, Oscar, Excelsior’s second and third generations respectively, quickly shifted their focus to breeding horses and cultivating vines on the farm. This quick thinking and good business sense saved Excelsior from bankruptcy. At the time, it was only a handful of farms that escaped insolvency. When current owners Freddie de Wet and his son, Peter took ownership of the farm, it was already a well-established wine farm producing several hectolitres of wine annually.

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Tasting room assistant, Patricia van der Westhuizen and yours truly.

My tasting companion, Tasting Room Assistant, Patricia van der Westhuizen greeted me to their unique tasting space with a friendly smile. Overlooking the tranquil waters, the cool breeze from the dam flows effortlessly into this lovely room adding to the notion of exclusivity. Calming views from just about any angle inside of the tasting area make you want to sip a little longer, linger a little longer.

Upon arrival at Excelsior, Patricia was quick to offer me a glass of their famous Sauvignon Blanc while explaining the farm’s rich history. In-between the storytelling, she quickly added that the Sauv, their best-selling white wine, boasts numerous awards, including the recently-acclaimed Michelangelo Double Gold Award.

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Views to die for…

She also tells me excitedly of the various social responsibility awareness programmes the De Wets have been involved with, including the establishment of a playschool on the farm for the farmworkers’ children between the ages of 18 months to five years of age. Excelsior also partly financed a computer room at the departmental preparatory school which is adjacent to the estate. Students are equipped with computer skills during afterschool tutoring.

A large consignment of their wines is exported to the USA, Tasting Room Manager, Tanya Swiegers tells me. That is one of the reasons they changed their logo two years ago. “The Americans were not too happy with our old logo and we had to change it,” she tells me. “We’ve still maintained the horse, our signature animal, on our logo, but we’ve changed it slightly to satisfy our American customers,” she adds.

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Tasting Room Manager, Tanya Swiegers and I.

“While many cellars concentrate on producing easy-drinking, entry-level wines, Excelsior has maintained its superiority, producing quality, sophisticated wines for our selected audience,” says Tanya. “Our brand is associated with premium wines and that is what we’ll continue to produce.”

I was also offered a tour to their wine cellar and viewed first-hand the cleaning of one of its massive wine containers. It’s quite heart-rending having to see litres and litres of wine washed down the drain, literally. Bottle and Labelling Manager, Bruce Geduld explained the entire wine-making process to me, starting from the time the grapes enter the cellar. Excelsior’s state-of-the-art cellar produces around 12,500 hectolitres of wine every year, Bruce said.

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Hundreds of litres of wine drained from the wine container. I had to resist the urge to get down on my knees and start licking some of that yumminess. Ha!

“We are a very family orientated farm,” says Bruce who has been with the estate for more than 20 years. “We look after the farm and the farm looks after us. The de Wets are really good people who invest in their farmworkers and that really lays the foundation for the relationship between employer and employee.”

When we returned to the tasting room, Patricia was ready to make my stay even sweeter when she presented their selection of award-wining white wines.

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Patricia and Bottle and Labelling Manager, Bruce Geduld inside the wine cellar.

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Some of the friendly ladies in the bottle storage department.

Excelsior Sauvignon Blanc

The Excelsior Sauvignon Blanc was a refreshing start to my tasting experience at this esteemed estate. Fruity and soft on the nose, yet robust and tasty on the palate, this lovely Sauv proved why it scooped up the 2014 Michelangelo Double Gold Award. A favourite amongst locals and foreigners alike, I loved that this wine embodied all the characteristics of a fruity white wine. Hints of figs, asparagus and green apple were prevailing in this lovely white wine. It’s a delicious treat on a hot summer’s day.

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Excelsior Chardonnay

Three-month wood matured, the Excelsior Chardonnay is slightly drier than its Sauv counterpart. Full-bodied and full of flavour, the Chardonnay contains deep tones of citrusy and orangy flavours. This white wine will appeal to both the simple and complex palate.

Excelsior Viognier

I must admit, I was mostly excited to try their Viognier, a single French cultivar, most often used in red wine blends and I was delightfully surprised! Winemaker Johan Stemmet truly pulled out all the stops with this refreshing white wine. Full-bodied and robust, this wine is soft and fruity on the palate and offers a refreshing long finish.

Excelsior Caitlyn Rosé

Named after farmowner Peter de Wet’s youngest daughter, I found the Caitlyn Rosé much sweeter on the nose than on the palate. I’m not a fan of sweet rosés and so this dry rosé presented a lovely alternative. It still offers all the flavours of a fully, fruity wine yet it’s not sweet and uncomfortable on the palate. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, this rosé was a real delight to taste.

Excelsior Wine Estate also offers a wonderful wine blending experience. Visitors are able to blend their own bottle of red wine right there in the tasting room. They can blend, cork and label the bottle in a matter of minutes. This makes for a great gift over the holiday season.

I’d like to thank my tasting partners, Patricia van der Westhuizen and Tanya Swiegers for their hospitality and assistance during my visit to Excelsior. It was truly an honour to visit this beautiful place. If you’d like more info on Excelsior’s premium selection of wines, including their wine prices, please visit their website. Please also follow them on facebook and twitter.

Did you like this review (of course you did!)? Then please subscribe to my blog (see top right hand side). Please also follow me on twitter and follow my blog on facebook. I’ll be posting a lot more reviews over the coming months.

Till next time, hugs and high5’s!

xoxo

Fall in love with Van Loveren

The drive en route towards Van Loveren Wines must certainly be one of the most scenic journeys I’ve ever embarked on. Red cannas, Van Loveren’s exclusive signature flower, embrace you long before you actually reach the entrance of the farm. It comes thus as no surprise when I’m told that the Retief’s have expanded their realm significantly and now includes at least 10 farms owned by the country’s most famous ‘four cousins’.

The farm, which is as rich in history as it is in fertile soil, dates back to the late 1930s. A third generation farm, Van Loveren was initially part of a larger farm called Goudmyn (Goldmine) before oupa Hennie Retief acquired it in 1937. It was sub-divided and renamed ‘Goudmyn F’ which irked his wife, ouma Jean, who thought the “F” signified ‘Fools and Failures’. Subsequently she persuaded her husband to change the name to Van Loveren, the surname of Christina van Loveren, an ancestor of hers who was the first Dutch relative to arrive in South Africa in 1692. Christina van Loveren’s trousseau chest remains on the farm to this very day.

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The red cannas are a welcoming spectacle.

The first wine, a red muscadel, was produced in 1939 at Van Loveren but it wasn’t until the 1980s that the first bottle of wine, the Premium Grand Cru was launched. Prior to that, wine was not bottled and only sold in bulk. Nico and Wynand Retief, the two sons of oupa Hennie, took ownership of the farm before the four cousins, brothers Neil and Philip and brothers Hennie and Bussel took over the reigns from the 1990s and turned it into a commercial powerhouse.

A household name, Van Loveren’s Four Cousins range exploded onto the wine scene in 2000 with a collection of easy-drinking wines. “Our wines are mostly entry-level, yet premium quality wines and that’s why the South African consumer has taken so generously to it,” Van Loveren Marketing Manager Bonita Malherbe explains to me. “And because we produce bulk quantities of wine, we are able to remain very cost-effective and competitive. And that is one of the reasons Van Loveren is South Africa’s biggest selling bottled brand.”

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Christina van Loveren’s trousseau chest remains at Van Loveren’s tasting room.

Van Loveren has invested significantly into eco-conscious farming over the past couple of years, creating a completely P. E. T. (Polyethylene terephthalate) bottled range, the Tangled Tree collection. It has significantly reduced its carbon footprint in the process and hopes to improve on it in future. Besides for caring for the environment, Van Loveren also cares for its farmworkers, investing in a BEE scheme in which farmworkers acquired 52% of one of its farms. The Five Reserve range is produced by grapes from the BEE farm and a portion of the proceeds are invested back into the farmworkers.

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The Van Loveren Tangled Tree collection is P. E. T bottled.

Arriving at Van Loveren’s state-of-the-art tasting room outside of Ashton on the renowned R317 wine route towards Bonnievale, I was welcomed by tasting room assistant, Nadine Pietersen who seemed as excited to present the tasting as I was to do the actual tasting. The massive glass doors at the entrance give way to a backdrop of white interior which allows for natural sunlight to fill all corners of the room. The perception of light and space has been perfected with this design.

The tasting room’s design, which was inspired by a wine barrel, offers lavish furnishings for a leisurely tasting. The contemporary design against the natural setting of the mountains is any architect’s dream project. Eloquently designed to take advantage of the lush gardens, a piece of art on its own, the tasting room capitalises perfectly on its use of spacious interiors. Architects Kuger Theron did a sterling job with this breathtaking design while Chrislene Retief takes credit for the beautiful interior.

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Beautiful, spacious interiors offered the perfect hideaway.

Nadine, the tasting room assistant, led me to a quiet table before presenting some of their best wines which, I may add, completely swept me off my feet!

Christina van Loveren Sauvignon Blanc

First up, from their premium selection, was the Christina Van Loveren Sauvignon Blanc. Classic and full-bodied, this Sauv is any white wine lover’s dream. Handpicked to ensure only the very best grapes are used to make this lovely Sauv. A mix of tropical flavours and grass explodes on your palate from the very first sip. I loved it because it’s a comfortable wine yet it offers a little complexity which allows you to savour every sip.

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Some of Van Loveren’s selection of white wines.

Neil’s Pick Colombar

Named after Cousin Neil Retief the viticulturist, this Colombar was made to entertain the wine enthusiast. A refreshing taste of lime and guava, the Colombar is a real crowd pleaser. It’s an easy-drinking wine and appeals to the simple palate. Guaranteed to hook you from the very first sip.

Christina van Loveren Method Cap Classique

I must admit that I was mostly excited to taste their promised MCC and was delightfully surprised. Well balanced and smooth, this MCC was made for celebration. Eighty six percent Chardonnay and 14% Pinot Noir, this MCC was an absolute pleasure to my palate. A burst of bubbles erupts on your palate with limey and citrusy flavours to fill all corners of your month. It truly is a lovely treat for any occasion.

Christina van Loveren Cabernet Sauvignon

Nadine ended our lovely tasting by offering me a sip of their award-winning Christina van Loveren Cabernet Sauvignon. Fourteen-months wood matured, this Cab Sauv is an absolute treat to the palate. Full-bodied, it has all the characteristics of a dark red wine. Although slightly heavier on the palate, this wine will appeal to both the simple and complex red wine lover. I truly enjoyed this wine.

Van Loveren also offers a selection food and wine pairings including cheese and wine, chocolate and wine, and nougat and nuts and wine. For the nature lover, it also offers a range of activities including a 7.5 kilometre hiking trail, bird watching and mountain biking. Christina’s Bistro restaurant, also on the premises offers a delectable menu for the hungry traveller.

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I fell in love with the large variety of delish delicacies they stock in their tasting room.

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Choices included olive oil and a variety of yummy jams.

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A display of massive bottles of Van Loveren Wines was intriguing.

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My tasting ‘partner-in-crime’, Nadine and I.

I’d like to thank Nadine for the lovely tasting, I had a wonderful time at Van Loveren. Thanks also to Bonita for running me through the farm’s history, it was very insightful. If you’d like more info on the wide selection of Van Loveren Wines, including their wine prices, please see their website. Please also follow them on facebook and twitter.

Did you like this review (of course you did!)? Then please subscribe to my blog (see top right hand side). Please also follow me on twitter and follow my blog on facebook. I’ll be posting a lot more reviews over the coming months.

Till next time, hugs and high5’s!

xoxo

Happy Freedom Day, my beloved country.

On 27 April 2014 we celebrated 20 years of freedom in South Africa and although I was home in my little town, I nevertheless made use of the opportunity (and the gorgeous, sunny day!) to go out and get some snaps in remembrance and gratitude of those who came before me. May we never take our freedom for granted.

Alrighty, now onto the fun stuff…

I didn’t have to travel far to get the following great snaps at a little wine boutique and restaurant in Ashton called Platform 62. Its gorgeous and offers an array of delish foods, dried fruits, wines and a variety of homemade jams and rusks from all over the area.

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The view from outside Platform 62.

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Another outside snap. How beautiful are the Langeberg mountains at the back? #lovit!

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Another angle with more of the mountains.

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Another outside pic. I simply couldn’t get enough of this gorgeous day.

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The cars were lining up very quickly.

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Local is lekka at Platform 62…

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A variety of homemade goodies to offer. #yum

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Big bottles of wine from Zandvliet on display.

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A lovely outside relaxing area at the back.

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Enough wine till Kingdom come…

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I loved this little message on the wall.

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Some homemade rusks from Ouma Annie.

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I loved this clock that was on sale.

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The old locomotive is a landmark in Ashton and situated right next to Platform 62. Of course I couldn’t miss the opportunity to get a snap of this beautiful beast.

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Next I drove through the Cogmanskloof mountains on route to Montagu and I simply couldn’t help myself. I had to stop to get a few pics of the lovely Cogmanskloof mountains. Isn’t it just breathtakingly beautiful?

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Love, love, looove this pic! At the very top, if you look very closely you’ll see the Old English Fort which is where the British soldiers hid during war time. It has little holes all around that was just big enough to fit through their guns as they were shooting at their enemies at the bottom.

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More mountain magic. How beautiful!

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This is the final pic, sadly. I was on my way back home and I simply had to take a picture of the gorgeous blue sky. And it worked beautifully! Wowie! Absolutely stunning!

I am so very fortunate to see these views at any given moment. So, so gorgeous.

Till next time…

Meriza xx