Esona – The Very (Magnificent) One

Tugged away between green vineyards and majestic mountains, Esona Wine Boutique, situated on the R317 between Robertson and Bonnievale, catches your eye and you cannot help but be intrigued by this small piece of paradise as you drive by. This idyllic location, in the heart of the Robertson Wine Valley, is where my wine-thirsty feet led me, on Tuesday morning.

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The breathtaking views from the tasting room at Esona Wine Boutique.

Esona, the brainchild of husband and wife duo, Rowan and Caryl Beattie, started in 2003 when they purchased this gorgeous piece of farmland as a sustainable sanctuary of uncompromising landscape luxury, away from the busy city life. Nestled between rural tranquillity and unspoiled natural beauty, Esona Wine Boutique offers a vibrate escape to the wary urbanite. The upstairs tasting area gives new meaning to the phrase, room with a view.

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The scenic entrance at Esona.

In 2004, Rowan and Caryl had a vision to turn the 17 hectors of farmland into lushes, wine-producing vineyards. But it would take another six years before it yielded its first crop. In 2010, Esona released its very first bottle of wine under its newly-found label. Esona, a Xhosa word meaning ‘The Very One’, (or, my Afrikaans readers will appreciate this; ‘Die Ware Jakob’), capitalised on its staggering scenery and innately friendly staff to lure visitors to its front porch, and it worked beautifully!

It was, however, the well thought-through creativity in almost every small detail that caught my attention; from the small handprint on the torn bottle label, to the cork-inspired table decoration, to the RIEDEL glasses… Oh… the RIEDEL glasses! Let me tell you about this elegant piece of glassware. But let me start off by saying that I have a ‘thing’ for glasses. However, the RIEDEL glass is not just another glass, it’s the king of glasses, shaped and designed specifically to enhance the flavours and aromas of every sip of wine. The RIEDEL glass is grape-specific, ensuring that the taste, balance and finish of the wine is affected by the shape of the glass from which it is drank.

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Tasting Room Assistant, Daneen Pienaar showing off their selection of RIEDEL glassware.

I was welcomed to Esona Wine Boutique on Tuesday morning by Tasting Room Assistant, Daneen Pienaar who has been a part of the Esona family for just over a year now, she tells me. The rustic interior entrance is interwoven in the subtle, yet provocative design features throughout the property. The 75-year-old Oregon Pine wood staircase adds to the antiquity of the interior décor. Esona produces around 2500 to 3000 bottles per cultivar, per year, making every bottle of Esona wine special and unique, Daneen tells me.

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The rustic entrance at Esona adds character to the location.

Grapes are handpicked and much effort is added to ensure that just the very best grapes are used to make the prefect bottle of wine, says Daneen. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are so much more that makes this wine boutique so special, she adds. She boasts with the range of wine awards received by the farm, including the prestigious Neil Pendock award which the farm obtained in 2011 when its Esona Chardonnay took second place in the blind-tasting competition. But visitors often struggle to decide between its Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, making both wines some of its top-sellers, says Daneen.

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A selection of the various types of soil is displayed.

“The Beatties have been actively involved in various social responsibility initiatives on the farm,” Tasting Room Manager, Michelle Kotze tells me. “Rowen believes in education and development of all workers, including the tasting room staff.” Farm workers are encouraged to grow their own produce of which they keep 100% of profits earned, while tasting room staff are regularly send on courses. “We also open up new opportunities to those wanting to get their foot into the hospitality and tourism industry,” Michelle added.

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Well thought-through creativity in almost every small detail.

La degustation (The Tasting)

Armed with some of the most stylish glasses possibly south of the Equator, Daneen presented me with some of the most delicious wines that the Robertson Wine Valley has to offer.

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I was also offered a glass of their ‘Frankly My Dear’ Blanc de Noir, which is produced from their Pinot Noir grapes.

Esona Sauvignon Blanc

First up was the 2014 Esona Sauvignon Blanc. Refreshingly light, this Sauv hit all the right spots on the palate, perfectly. I loved the fruity and citrusy aromas that accompanied this delicious Sauv. Aftertastes of greenpepper and fig linger on the palate, followed by a smooth finish. It was the perfect thirst-quencher and starter to my wine-tasting experience.

Esona Chardonnay

The 2013 Esona Chardonnay was another hit. How anyone can claim to be an ABC (Anything but Chardonnay) is really beyond me. I loved this Chardonnay! Ten-months wood-matured in third-fill barrels, the Esona Chardonnay offered aromas of vanilla and caramel mixed with an almost coconut aftertaste. Daneen wanted to give my taste buds a kick and also offered the 2012 Chardonnay, and what a treat it was! The 2012 presented a fuller, more complex yet incredibly smooth taste. The Chardonnay’s will appeal to both the complex and simple wine palate.

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Esona offers a selection of yummy delicacies for a quiet picnic.

Esona Shiraz

The 2012 Esona Shiraz is another crowd pleaser. I love red wines and was delightfully surprised by this lovely Shiraz. Eleven months wood-matured, the Esona Shiraz embodies tastes of black pepper while soft tannins make the tasting such a pleasant experience. It is full-bodied yet soft and elegant to enjoy for just about any occasion.

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Tasting Room Manager, Michelle Kotze and I against the backdrop of the beautiful lushes vineyard at Esona.

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Daneen and I took a quick photo-break during our tasting.

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Michelle and Tourism intern, Dailyn Kleintjies.

Esona Wine Boutique also offers a range of tastings, including a Taste of Africa and a Taste the Difference experiences, involving the various RIEDEL glasses. You can also book an underground cellar tour or enjoy a delicious picnic with fresh, locally-sourced produce from their in-house restaurant, Caryl’s Deli.

I’d like to thank Manager, Michelle Kotze and her lovely team, especially Daneen Pienaar, for their hospitality and making me feel right at home. I loved Esona and will, as promised, be back for the ‘Taste the Difference’ experience. If you’d like more information on the delish selection of Esona wines, please visit their website. Please also join 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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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