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

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Experience elegance at Arabella

Driving down the white-stoned gravel road en route to Arabella Wines’ tasting room, with stunning views of the muscular Arabian horses galloping on the side felt, for a split second, like a scene from the 1980’s television series, Dallas. The Arabella farmstead, situated on the spectacular Route 62, could easily be mistaken for the Ewing’s famous Southfork Ranch.

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The scenic entrance to Arabella Wines.

The farm, which is named after the famous endurance riding horses for which the De Wet family has an inherent passion for, has views to spoil you rotten. Endless mountains and skies to impress even the fussiest landscape snob, a sea of greens to calm the soul and a massive front porch that is both inviting and relaxing; the perfect resting place for a thirsty throat. Arabella Wines, right outside Ashton, is where my journey took me this week.

The tasting room with beautiful vernacular architecture was perfectly designed to capitalise on the exquisite landscape views. You immediately feel at home upon entering this very comfortable setting with large couches to help you feel right at home. I met with Winemaker, Marna Brink and Marketing Manager, Nelmarie Baard for a lovely afternoon of tasting and touring.

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The beautiful tasting room with vernacular architectural designs.

The Arabella brand has market itself successfully as a supermarket brand and supplies to most major supermarkets within the country. Their exports have also increased substantially over the last few years with around 60% of produce exported, mostly to the UK, and 40% distributed locally.

Arabella has a long harvesting season; around two and a half to three months, Winemaker, Marna explains. “This is mostly because we use a variety of grapes, for our wines. We use both the younger grape with higher acidity, but then we also use the sweeter grape that stays longer on the vine for our sweet wines and rosés. This is why our harvesting season tends to be slightly longer than other farms’.”

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Stephen de Wet inherited this beautiful Bible from his parents.

Although the farmland belonged to the De Wet family for generations, the Arabella farm was only established around eight years ago when brothers Stephen and Freddie de Wet divided the two farms, forming Excelsior (Freddie de Wet) and Arabella (Stephen de Wet), respectively. Stephen insisted on the latest technology and built a state-of-the-art wine cellar which has the capacity to produce and store around 3.6 million litres of wine at any given time. He also invested in the best bottling and labelling machinery to ensure a completed process under one roof, so to speak.

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The high-tech bottling and labelling machinery. 

“We focus a lot on producing easy drinkable wines for the greater public”, says Nelmarie. They launched their latest offerings, the Natural Sweet Rosé and the Natural Sweet White earlier this year during the Wacky Wine Festival, and were pleasantly surprised at the reception it received. “It was our most successful launch to date, it really exceeded our expectations”, she added. The reason, she reckons, is because a sweet wine or rosé usually attracts first-time wine drinkers and since the Wacky Wine Festival generally attracts a younger crowd, it was a total hit between festival goers.

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Arabella’s two new offerings; the Natural Sweet Rosé (left) and the Natural Sweet White.

Arabella Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Vintage

The Sauvignon Blanc was the first target in the tasting process. This is their most popular white wine, Nelmarie says and not surprisingly so. I love that it’s light enough to lure the gentle wine drinker yet it will also appeal to the more complex palate. A burst of summery, fruity flavours settle on your tongue from the very first sip. It’s a lovely soft wine to be enjoyed during warm summer evenings.

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I sipped leisurely on their Sauvignon Blanc (left) and their Merlot. #yum

Arabella Pink Panacea

Although a dry rosé, the Pink Panacea still offers that sweet, fruity taste that lingers on your palate. A little more complex than their sweeter varieties, this wine is a lovely alternative to a sweet rosé if that doesn’t tickle your fancy. Another one for the summer, this rosé makes for the perfect poolside wine.

Arabella Merlot

One of their most awarded wines, the Arabella Merlot proved why it is such a favourite amongst consumers. Rich flavours of plum and blackcurrant, this wine is soft on the palate yet has a long, slow finish. This was by far my favourite of all the varieties. I loved the complexities, yet it makes for a simple, easy companion.

Reserve range

Next we moved onto their premier brand, the Reserve Range.

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Their Reserve Range boasts an elegant black label.

Arabella In Unison Reserve

The In Unison Reserve was up first. An equal mix between Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, this red was truly a delight to savour. This is the wine you want to drink like an alcoholic; alone after a tough day at work. Nelmarie’s words, not mine. It is 12 months wood matured in oak barrels and offers that rich, seasoned taste. It truly is a ‘special-occasion’ wine to enjoy leisurely.

Arabella Shiraz Viognier

Recipient of the 2011 Michelangelo Silver Award, the Shiraz Viognier was another lovely treat. It contains all the complexities of a Shiraz yet is gentle on the palate. Full-bodied, this red exemplifies all the qualities of a dark, rich blend, offering a long finish. It has a blackcurrant and rich coffee aftertaste. It’s a wine to be appreciated and cherished.

I concluded my trip to Arabella with a tour of their ultramodern wine cellar, including the entire bottling and labelling operations. The tour is also open to the public pending prior arrangement, Nelmarie said. It is truly amazing to see how much work goes into what we perceive as just a ‘simple’ bottle of wine. It was incredible to view the process first-hand.

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The lovely ladies from Arabella Wines; Nelmarie Baard (left) and Winemaker, Marna Brink.

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Arabella’s state-of-the-art wine cellar can produce and store around 3.6 million litres of wine.

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2014 Merlot anyone? Marna has to check and approve all labelling (left).

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The Arabian horse dominate the discipline of endurance riding and is one of the oldest breeds in the world.

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Arabella offers picture perfect views.

Electric Vines, in association with Arabella Wines, will host a New Year’s Eve Music Festival, featuring a whole bunch of great local artists, including the likes of Just Jinjer, Prime Circle and Jesse Clegg. It will be a two-day event from 30 to 31 December and promises to be great fun. If you don’t have your tickets yet, please visit Electic Vines for more info.

I’d like to thank Marna and Nelmarie for the lovely visit at Arabella, I had an awesome time. If you’d like more info, including prices on their wines, please visit their website. Also follow them on twitter and facebook.

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… xoxo