Unwind at Viljoensdrift

As Murphy’s Law would have it, the banks of the Breede River were soaking wet on Tuesday morning, the day scheduled for my visit to Viljoensdrift Wines. This was not ideal as Public Relations Manager, Claudé Regester had planned a lovely tasting aboard their river cruise boat. As a result, she had to fit me in late on Wednesday, so that I could have my review signed, sealed and delivered as per the usual Thursday deadline. Sadly because I arrived so late on the farm, the cruises had already concluded for the day but I promised to visit again. Next time I’ll include a review of the boat cruise as well. I promise.

Viljoensdrift Wines has truly pulled out the red carpet for my arrival, literally. The brightest cherry red rose blossoms nestled perfectly between endless rows of lush green vineyards decorated my journey towards the tasting room. The entrance renders homage to the Langeberg’s adage; The Valley of Wine and Roses. I immediately pulled over. I simply had to get pictures of this glowing welcome. It made me smile.

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The breathtaking entrance to Viljoensdrift Wines.

A fifth generation wine farm, Viljoensdrift Wines boasts with the tranquil Breede River right on its doorstep, so to speak, contributing to the perfect country lifestyle. The lifeblood of the area, the Breede River adds to the serenity and natural beauty of this farm. Wine tasters have the option of either enjoying a lovely glass of wine and a picnic aboard the river cruise, or if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, you can opt to enjoy the scenic views from their expansive deck area which overlooks the peaceful river.

After the Huguenot’s fled France escaping the French Revolution in the late 1700’s, many of them settled in the Stellenbosch area of South Africa. It was only until 1863 that the Villion family moved to the Robertson area. By then the Dutch had taken control over a large part of South Africa and Villion, the French last name was changed to the Dutch dialect, Viljoen.

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A lot of detail has gone into the interior design inside the tasting room.

But it wasn’t until 1998 that brothers Manie and Fred Viljoen decided to produce their own wines. Prior to that, the grapes from the Viljoensdrift vineyards were sold to local co-ops. They still grow around 50 hectors of fruits, including apricots and peaches which they supply to the local canning factories.

Manie, the viticulturist manages the vines and ensures that only the very best grapes are harvested, while Fred dominates the wine production in the cellar. They’ve been expanding their international footprint, with the Netherlands being their biggest exporting market, but they hope to invest a little more locally over the coming years, Claudé explains.

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The Viljoensdrift Deli provides a welcoming space to a weary, hungry tourist. 

“The tourism industry in the South African landscape has changed a lot over the last decade or so,” says Claude, a French native who speaks fluent Afrikaans. “Tourists don’t want to visit cold, hard buildings to enjoy a glass of wine anymore. They want to be entertained and dined. Wine tasting has developed into a lifestyle experience,” she says.

The Viljoens have invested a lot into keeping up with recent trends. Their gorgeous tasting room is the perfect combination of elegance and sophistication with a touch of comfort. Beaming sunlight streams from all corners of the room giving it a warm, homey feeling. If, however, you’re like me and cannot get enough of the breathtaking landscapes, then the deck area, overlooking the serene Breede River will be your seating of choice. The Viljoensdrift Deli serves a variety of fresh pastries daily, cheeses and other delicacies which offer the perfect bite-size snack to nibble on.

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I loved the display cabinets at their Deli. It was filled with the yummiest delicacies.

The Viljoens are also actively involved in obtaining a WIETA accreditation for its farm and farm workers. This initiative includes a stringent audit of participating farms against a set of generic good practice standards. These standards are based upon legislative compliance, measuring working conditions, health and safety and housing requirements of farm workers.

“We take great pride in looking after our workers because they are the foundation of this business,” Cellarmaster, Fred Viljoen says. “We’ve always believed that an informed worker is a happy worker and that contributes towards a better company and ultimately towards a better end-product. Obtaining the WIETA accreditation was just the next step to ensuring a growing partnership between the farm and its workers.”

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The Viljoensdrift sign on the mountain was added earlier this year and has become a trademark of the farm. People come from all over the world to view it, said Claudé.

And off to the tasting we go.

Viljoensdrift Villion Méthode Cap Classique

Claudé started our tasting with one of their best sellers, the Villion Méthode Cap Classique which is a Blanc de Blanc and has an extended yeast contact. This lovely MCC is the recipient of the 2014 Michelangelo Gold Award and not surprisingly so. Refreshingly soft on the palate, this MCC is a mix of fruity honeysuckle and buttered toast flavours. Since it’s not wood-matured, this 100% Chardonnay is soft on the palate making it an easy drinkable wine. It is a perfect celebratory MCC.

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Viljoensdrift Chardonnay

The Chardonnay was another lovely treat. Six months wood matured, this wine offers a slightly woody taste on the palate. Full-bodied, a citrus and gooseberry taste explode on your palate from the very first sip. I loved that it offers a mix of sophistication and simplicity. This wine is perfect for a fish braai on a warm summers evening.

Viljoensdrift Anchor Drift Dry White

Claudé was very excited to introduce their Anchor Drift range of wines to me. The range, which she named, is their entry-level wine and tends to be more cost-effective than their other varietals. “This is a picnic wine,” Claudé says. “It’s the kind of wine you want to enjoy during your boat trip here in the summer.” A blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, the refreshing citrusy taste of this wine will hook you from the very first sip.

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Viljoensdrift Cape Blend

From their premier brand, the River Grandeur selection, the Cape Blend offers all the complexities of a rich red wine. A blend between the Pinotage and Shiraz, this red embodies a complex taste of plums and blackcurrant. Although soft on the palate, it has a long finish. This wine is to be enjoyed leisurely.

Viljoensdrift Pinotage

Another one from their River Grandeur selection, the Pinotage was my absolute favourite! This is also their flagship wine with only the very best of grapes selected to produce this wine, according to Claudé. Grapes are sorted and handpicked to ensure that only the very best are used to produce the Pinotage. Claudé also says that this wine is Cellarmaster, Fred Viljoen’s favourite since it always poses such a challenge to produce the perfect wine. But oh, what a delight it was to my palate. A full-bodied mix of ripe berries and plums, this Pinotage will entertain you with every sip. It was truly a delicious treat.

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Viljoensdrift Merlot

Claudé ended our tasting with a delish taste of the Viljoensdrift Merlot. A seasoned, spicy taste of berries and sweet fruit, this wine was slightly softer than its Pinotage counterpart. Twelve month wood matured in oak barrels, this lovely red offers a robust yet gentle flavour to the palate. I loved it because it was rich and complex yet simple enough to enjoy every sip.

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Cellarmaster Fred Viljoen enjoys a glass of wine with Public Relations Manager Claudé Regester.

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Claudé and I after tasting their delish range of wines.

I’d like to thank Claudé for being so accommodating and understanding. Thanks also for a lovely tasting, I had such a great time at Viljoensdrift. If you’d like more info on their wines, including their wine prices, please visit their website. Please 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

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