De Wetshof: The House of Chardonnay

The picturesque entrance towards De Wetshof Wine Estate’s tasting room tugs at my heartstrings and it’s official: I have fallen in love. The journey towards the tasting room represents old world charm with a hint of modern chic. A misty, foggy morning added to the mystery of this beautiful place and I couldn’t take my eyes off this scenic journey. Completely overwhelmed by the serenity and minimalist views, I continued down the gravel road on to what turned out to be one of my greatest tasting adventures.

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The fairy-tale entrance to De Wetshof Wines.

Tall, muscular Jacaranda trees with lavender-coloured flowers give way to the most spectacular white double-story building, the tasting room of this esteemed estate. Manicured gardens and a sparkling water fountain adds to the well-groomed appearance. The building, a replica of the Koopmans/De Wet House in Strand Street, Cape Town, was designed by French-born South African architect, Louis-Michel Thibault. Thibault was known for his neo-classicism architecture and this large white building with it’s big, square windows fitted perfectly into the ambiance of this charming place.

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Views to spoil even the fussiest landscape snob.

De Wetshof Wines, or the House of Chardonnay as it is known in local circles, is a third generation family farm dating back to the 1970s. However, winemaking as a profession has been practiced by the De Wet family since 1694 when the first De Wets arrived at the Cape. The first Chardonnay in South Africa was produced on this very farm with some of the oldest Chardonnay vineyards still present here.

The stairs that flow into the centre of the tasting room give it an almost royal feel, and I swear it is with this very majestic air that Johann de Wet, co-owner and son of De Wetshof walked down to meet with me. It is also with this poise and confidence that he shares his wealth of winemaking knowledge with me.

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The royal-like staircase that flows into the tasting room (left) and the majestic antique door entrance.

Johann, eldest son of the legendary Chardonnay pioneer, Danie de Wet, oversees the estate’s marketing operations, while brother, Peter manages the winemaking process. Danie de Wet, the founding father of South African Chardonnay, took to the noble white varieties when he studied winemaking at the famous German Wine Institute in Geisenheim, Germany. As a result, Chardonnay wine has become synonymous with the De Wetshof brand.

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The De Wetshof building was designed by French-born South African architect, Louis-Michel Thibault.

“While most farms have opted for the lifestyle feel with their wine-tasting areas, we wanted to give visitors a slightly different experience when they visited De Wetshof,” says Johann. “The tourists who come to our door are people who want to know more about the winemaking process and so we choose to inform and educate them. Our entire tasting experience is thus also a learning session. We tell them about our wine varieties, and about our soils, and of course about our wines. And we do this in a comfortable environment that allows for the tasters to relax while they are learning.”

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De Wetshof co-owner and son, Johann de Wet.

“We don’t follow trends,” says Johann. “We’ve been making wine for a very long time and that’s why we don’t hunt the latest winemaking trends to stay fashionable. Trends come and go. We like to stick to the traditional way of winemaking, particularly focusing on the Chardonnay variety, which is our area of specialisation. We’ve found in the past that many other cellars have tried to copy our Chardonnay recipe but failed. That’s a sign that we are doing something right,” says Johann with a slight grin.

De Wetshof currently produces seven different types of Chardonnays, all from the various types of soil on the Estate. “Each Chardonnay we produce is site specific,” explains Johann. “That means that the grapes from each Chardonnay come from a specific vineyard. Each vineyard on the Estate has a different soil composition which adds to the unique expression in each of the wines.”

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Johann with his innocent-looking Weimaraner, Wotan. Don’t be fooled by those puppy-eyes, he’s quite the active one.

“The latest technology has mechanised the winemaking process so much that it’s easier to make wines today than it was a decade ago,” says Johann. “The Langeberg area’s moderate climate also ensures that we are able to produce a good harvest almost every year which ultimately leads to a better quality end product.”

Johann is very excited for the future of the wine industry both locally and abroad. “Wine drinking has moved away from the exclusivity that it previously enjoyed. We’ve entered into a period where wine is now enjoyed almost daily with just about any meal. People used to save it for special occasions but times have changed. This is great news for wine producers and we believe the wine industry will continue flourish.”

Johann pulled out all the stops to present their best selection of premium Chardonnay wines and I was an all-too-willing participant.

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De Wetshof’s Bateleur, The Site and the Finesse Chardonnays.

De Wetshof Bon Vallon Chardonnay

The Bon Vallon 2008 was a lovely start to my tasting experience. Soft and gentle on the palate, this white wine has a hint of sweet and presented a very comfortable drink. I especially enjoyed it because of the limey and citrus flavours that exploded in my mouth from the very first sip. It is a lovely comfortable wine to enjoy on just about any occasion.

De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay

The Limestone Hill Chardonnay was the wine that completely exceeded their expectations when they first produced it in the late 90’s, says Johann. “Of course, as a wine producer you hope that the general public will like the wines you make, but we didn’t think that this wine would be so well received. It has since become one of our best-selling wines and we couldn’t be happier.”

Un-wooded and soft on the palate, this Chardonnay proved why it is such a favourite amongst locals and foreigners alike. I was delightfully surprised by the rich complexity that embodies this Chardonnay. It was a real treat.

De Wetshof Finesse Chardonnay

Ten months wood-matured in second and third-fill barrels, I found the Finesse Chardonnay softer on the nose yet more robust on the palate. A hint of zesty, citrus fruit with a long nutty finish, this white wine added another dimension to the tasting experience. I loved that it was full-bodied but yet gentle enough to appeal to both the simple and complex palate.

De Wetshof ‘The Site’ Chardonnay

Named after the site were this vineyard is planted which overlooks the most beautiful views against the mountain tops, ‘The Site’ Chardonnay was possibly my absolute favourite of the entire selection. I loved the complexities that accompanied this wonderful Chardonnay. Twelve-months wood matured in first fill barrels, this wine was exclusive and you can taste it with every sip. Elegant and sophisticated, this lovely Chardonnay had me head over hills. I also loved the hint of lime that plays softly on your palate.

De Wetshof Bateleur Chardonnay

Their most premium Chardonnay, the Bateleur derived its name from the Bateleur eagle, and like its namesake, this white wine literally glides onto your palate. The wine embodies all the characteristics of the hunting bird; it is elegant, sophisticated but complex, aggressive and robust. Twelve-months wood matured this Chardonnay is a true delicacy and should be shared between kings and queens. It is a special occasion wine to be appreciated leisurely.

I’d like to thank Johann de Wet for taking time out of his busy schedule to sit down with me. Thanks also to Marketing Manager Bennie Stipp who assisted in setting up the interview. I had such an amazing experience at De Wetshof Wine Estate. If you’d like more info on their wide selection of wines, 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

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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