Durbanville Hills Winery proves its reputation is honestly earned and well deserved.
It’s one of the most recognizable brands in South Africa and a mainstay of supermarket/bottle store shelves and restaurant menus: Durbanville Hills Wine Estate. And it was for this very reason that I approached the day’s plans with just a touch of cynicism – I like boutique wine farms that have history, pokey cellar spaces with spider webs older than I, and knowing that the bottle of wine I’ve bought is one of only a few thousand.
Durbanville Hills, on the other hand, is an enormous operation and I was just a little concerned that perhaps their scale might have put them out of touch with the elements that make a visit to a Cape winery special. Well, I’m happy to say that my cynicism was completely unfounded and our visit proved to me that the brand’s reach and reputation has been established for darned good reason!
The grand tour
Durbanville Hills sits like a regal crown upon a hill right as one enters the Durbanville wine region (hence the name) from the west. From this lofty vantage point, the winery has the most spectacular view of the entirety of Cape Town, right from where the sun sinks on the western horizon in both summer and winter, all the way to Table Mountain herself. I made a mental note to return here on a clear winter evening to have a glass of wine and watch the sun set from the restaurant.
In spite of its location right next to acres of vineyards, Durbanville Hills Wines doesn’t maintain its own; instead, it purchases the fruits produced by a number of farms scattered throughout the Durbanville wine route – and strictly only Durbanville. These grapes are received, processed, and transformed into wines at its winery, which, like I said, is an enormous operation and cellar that has been furnished with hundreds of 60,000 and 100,000 litre vats, where the wine (nee grape juice) is chilled and stored to ferment and mature.
We saw all of this on our tour of the winery’s grand, state-of-the-art operations, which was hosted by Roscoe, one of the winery’s managers (because when you run such a large operation, more than one is necessary). Durbanville itself is a cool climate region, similar to Constantia and Elgin – two other prominent wine regions in the Cape. It’s owing to the frequent bathing of the vineyards in the cool maritime air that flows in off the Atlantic Ocean that the grapes ripen slowly. This is also a reason why the Durbanville valley is so compatible with growing Sauvignon Blanc; in fact, this very valley holds great repute as Sauvignon Blanc country.
Roscoe also explained that Durbanville Hills has a cellar master (Martin Moore, who has been with them since 1998) and not one but two winemakers! Wilhelm Coetzee crafts the estate’s red wines (Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, and Merlot) and Kobus Gerber, the white wines (Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Sémillon). Both are highly experienced winemakers whose mettle has been tested both locally and on international shores.
Two privileged previews of yet-to-be-released wines
With our tour complete, we repaired to the winery’s guest receiving area – a masterful and grand space that accommodates the crowds that are invariably attracted here by Durbanville Hill’s far-reaching reputation. We, however, weren’t here to taste the estate’s established ranges, but rather to have a privileged sneak peak at the soon-to-be-released 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, which hasn’t even been filtered or bottled yet. I was very impressed – typically not a fan of very young Sauvignon Blancs, this vintage has beautiful structure and presents a rich bouquet of citrus and litchi. We then migrated to the red wine cellar, which was everything I love about cellar spaces: romantically lit, filled with great casks of wine, and fragranced with oak and fermentation.
Here, we were treated to yet another privileged tasting; this time, the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Collector’s Reserve Range: a rich, sultry red with an almost inky black colour, enormous blackberry flavour, and well-established yet gentle tannin structure. I can only imagine how fabulous this already beautiful wine will be in another few years.
Durbanville Hills’ award-winning restaurant
Dare I say, an equal reason to visit Durbanville Hills is its restaurant, and it was here that we were guided for the final leg of our visit: a three-course lunch with wine pairing. The first thing you notice as you enter is the view. With floor to (high) ceiling glass, the restaurant is illuminated with natural light and, to the southwest, affords guests spectacular views over Cape Town and, to the northeast, rolling hills carpeted by vineyards. Next is the décor and ambiance, which is elegant yet comfortable and simplistic.
Of special note is the service: most of the waitrons have been working here for several years and are exceptionally knowledgeable on the food and wines and their pairings. Our server, the charismatic and charming Marlin, did an absolutely outstanding job of looking after us, guiding us through each course with his insights, good humour, and smiles.
The food was exceptional. Each course was generous in size and beautifully put together in both appearance and flavour. It then came as little surprise to learn that Durbanville Hills has won best restaurant in the winelands for three years in a row and, last year, best restaurant in South Africa! It just goes to show that South Africans respond best to honest food, rather than overly manipulated food. Actually, it can’t be better said than in the words of restaurant manager Dirk Steyn:
“A lot of locals eat here, and when they order a steak they don’t want n’ stukkie vleis the size of a five-rand coin with a bit of foam on it; they want a real steak.”
This sums up the restaurant’s ethos pretty spectacularly: honest and approachable food that is passionately crafted and exceptionally delicious!
Paired with Durbanville Hills’ absolutely gorgeous Rhinofields Chardonnay 2016 and Caapmans Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2011, you’ve got a meal that will leave your palate ruined for anything lesser for days to come.
I now understand why people flock to Durbanville Hills in their droves. With unparalleled views, truly exceptional food, several ranges of quality wine, and a winery that is both comfortable to spend several leisurely hours in and beautiful to behold, a day at Durbanville Hills is a perfect day out in the Cape winelands.