A winery is a hive of activity during harvest time: monstrous clanking machinery crushes great vat-loads of freshly-picked grapes, water sluices from altitudinous metal networks of walkways as tanks the size of elephants are cleaned in preparation, and workers tramp about in heavy boots with looks of fierce focus on their sun-beaten faces. This is harvest time within the cool enormity of a large winery and there is little else that enhances the appreciation of the resultant glass of wine than a tour through this awe-inspiring operation!
Perhaps this is why La Motte Wine Estate has opened their cellar doors to visitors for a most educational tour of how grapes are transformed into bottles of wine. They call it their “Harvest Experience”, which, at a steal of a price of R100 per person, is a whirlwind of the very best kind!
La Motte is a breath-taking wine estate located on the R45, the main drag leading into Franschhoek. Driving into the estate is a treat in itself – vineyards bursting with exuberant greenery and ripe bunches of grapes flank the road. Cultivated gardens add vibrant colour, while a misty backdrop of undulating mountains provides scale. This is an enormous estate that dates back to 1695, and it’s this history that seeps from the walls of the Cape Dutch style buildings and rotund oak trees in the central gardens.
The Harvest Experience kicks off in the richly appointed tasting room, which serves as the meeting point. From here, our handsome tour guide and wine tasting ambassador David lead us to La Motte’s grand reception entrance, where several rows of vineyards are planted. Small information boards have been placed at the head of every row informing guests of the cultivar of grape and its various characteristics. And so the tour officially began with an introduction to the grape varieties grown on La Motte. Being harvest time, we were able to scrutinize the differences between, for example, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, etc. and conclude each study with a sweet, ripe grape plucked straight off the vines.
Next stop on the tour was the winery, where we got a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how La Motte’s wine is made. From the grape receiving area and sorting to the crushing and juicing, we explored the monstrous, metallic innards of the winery, dodging puddles and grape skin flotillas as we went along. David led us down stairs to view the crushing mechanisms and up stairs to peer into the great, steel tanks, where grape juice would be / is being stored during fermentation. We even got to taste chilled, sweet Chardonnay juice straight out of the vat.
With renewed appreciation for just how much work goes into the wines we so effortlessly quaff around the dinner table, it was time to taste the fruits of La Motte’s labour. Back at our starting point, we were treated to a tasting of five wines from the La Motte Collection, as well as the two from the estate’s renowned Pierneef Collection. However, instead of the usual order of light whites to heavy reds, the team at La Motte staged a two-by-two white and red wine paired tasting, which we found to enhance the qualities of each wine:
From the Classic Range, the crisp and refreshing Sauvignon Blanc 2018 was paired with the aromatic Millennium 2017, a red wine blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. The richer, more “intensely gooseberry” Pierneef Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2018 was paired with the Classic Range Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, a real beaut of a wine with a delicious, bright fruity nose and blackcurrant, violet, mint, and plummy flavours.
The classic style (but not fully wooded) La Motte Collection Chardonnay 2017 was paired with the Syrah 2016 (of the same range) and both just happened to be my absolute favourites. La Motte’s Syrah boast a bouquet of rich plum and mulberry flavours with a hint of pepper spice, well-integrated wood, and a creamy texture. It is a truly beautiful, elegant wine that I would go on to order with my lunch (and many lunches like it in the future).
The final wine of the tasting was the Pierneef Collection Syrah Viognier 2016, a seductive, richly floral blend with a velvety fruity style. Or, at least, it would have been the final wine of the tasting had we not coerced the lovely David to allow us to try the Hanneli R 2013, La Motte’s flagship wine that is matured in new wood for FORTY months and only released at least four years after harvesting. A tasting of this esteemed and exceptional Syrah, Petit Syrah, and Grenache blend costs R80 and a bottle of the 2013 vintage, R1,200.
Harvest plate under the oaks
With the Harvest Experience concluded – and appetites whet to a razor edge – we high-tailed it to Pierneef à La Motte Restaurant for Chef Eric Bulpitt’s special “Harvest Plate”, a culinary ode to this special time of the year. The platter (R140 per person) includes delicious, moist mosbolletjies (a traditional Cape Dutch sweet-bun made from must – sweet, fermenting grape juice), a bunch of sweet, ripe red grapes, two venison meat balls wrapped in grape leaves and served with creamed potatoes and a divine gravy, and a tot of cold grape must.
A must-do Cape Winelands experience
Harvest is a time of great excitement, vibrant buzz, and expectation. It is the prom night of viticulture and the Oscars of oenology. It’s when a year’s worth of tireless work in the vineyards translates into product. Within a space of one, two, or sometimes three weeks, the team gets to see the fruition of it labours in the quality and quantity of grapes received at the winery. Going on a tour of the behind-the-scenes operations at La Motte is a privileged reminder of the backbreaking toil and precision-edge chemistry that goes into each and every bottle of wine we enjoy, and we found it to be amongst the top Cape Winelands experiences we’ve ever had!
The Harvest Experience at R100 per person includes the vineyard and cellar tour, as well as wine tasting. It takes about 90 minutes and is available hourly from Tuesdays to Fridays, between 10:00 and 15:00, until the end of harvest (mid-April). Reservations can be made with the La Motte Tasting Room at +27 (0)21 876 8820 or firstname.lastname@example.org