It doesn’t matter how old you get: tractor rides are a whole lot of fun. The diesel-laced, farm-fresh air in your face, the roar of its three-cylinder engine, and lush summer vineyards so close you could almost reach out and caress their leaves as you fly by at 6 km/h. Ah…tractor rides are fun. And it was in a tractor-drawn trailer that we kicked off our day at Neethlingshof Wine Estate, one of the Cape’s earliest grape-growing and wine-producing farms.
The crowd of media folk had gathered at Neethlingshof to taste the Stellenbosch estate’s new brood of babies: the 2019 white wines and some newly released vintages of red wines. But nothing works up a wine appetite quite like an appreciation of its provenance and so we were hauled high up and deep into Neethlingshof’s vineyard-carpeted hills to survey its kingdom and the various terroirs that give rise to its delicious ranges of wines.
Terroir, terroir, terroir
The tractor wheezed to a stop atop a koppie where, at over 200 metres above sea level, we were afforded sweeping views of the estate’s jigsaw puzzle of vineyards, Eucalyptus stands, granite outcroppings, pastures, and Renosterveld reserves, as well as the greater Stellenbosch valley, which expands outwards from False Bay like a natural amphitheatre.
Here, Neethlingshof’s winemaker De Wet Viljoen regaled us with tales of the farm, its terroir, and the estate’s dedication to “giving back” to nature in the form of Renosterveld rehabilitation, erecting owl posts amongst the vineyards, and, rather than having them removed to make space for more vineyards, allowing pockets of nature to thrive in the Eucalyptus stands and granite outcroppings strewn about its grounds.
Of special note is the fact that Neethlingshof’s vineyards sprawls up a series of undulating slopes that vary from 190 to 260 metres above sea level. At this altitude, the vineyards are bathed in the cool maritime breezes that flood the valley from False Bay and so, while many people tend to think of Stellenbosch as a hot climate terroir, it is in fact far more complicated than that, particularly when you take into account the varying altitudes each vineyard block resides at, their particular aspect (angle towards the onshore breezes and sun), and soil types, of which the farm has two.
This complexity shows up in each sip of Neethlingshof’s wines, as well as in the diversity of wines produced by winemaker De Wet and assistant winemaker Jacobus van Zyl.
Wine cellar tasting
Back on the ranch, we made our way through the wynproesentrum into the vast cellars for a private wine tasting hosted by winemaker De Wet. A long, luscious table with all the usual tasting paraphernalia had been set for us and we wasted little time tucking in to the first three of Neethlingshof’s new vintage wines: the white wines.
First up was the crisp, fresh, and vibrant Neethlingshof Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2019, with a rich tropical fruit nose balanced nicely with herbaceous, almost green peppery aromas. Next up was the Short Story Collection Jackal’s Dance 2019, a clear, fresh, and crisp single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc with distinctive minerality and flirtatious notes of ripe figs and gooseberries. The final white wine was the Short Story Collection The Six Flowers 2019, a Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay-driven blend of six white wine varietals, including Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Weisser Riesling, and Gewürztraminer.
The wine delivered a beautifully perfumed, floral yet spicy nose (thanks to new French oak) with each of the six varietals being individually vinified before blended to achieve this delicious and devilishly moreish wooded white.
The Short Story Collection
The Short Story Collection is Neethlingshof’s signature wine range that consists of five different wines, two of which I have already covered. What is so wonderful about these wines is that each bottle tells a beguiling anecdote about the estate’s rich history.
The Jackal’s Dance, for example, originates from farmer Willem Barend Lubbe who, in 1692, made the honest mistake of confusing a pack of jackals for the wolves of his homeland. He then named the farm De Wolvendans (the wolf’s dance), which was only changed in the late 1820’s when Johannes Henoch Neethling bought the property. The Jackal’s Dance unfurls this early history – and honest taxonomical error by Mr Lubbe. It also draws attention to the fact that, to this day, Neethlingshof farm is home to a population of shy Cape foxes.
The Six Flowers is a tribute to the young widow Maria Magdalena Marais, who took over the building of Neethlingshof’s manor house after the death of her husband in 1813. She rather creatively crafted six flowers (five representing her children and one for herself), which she then had cast into the manor house’s gables. Today, the story behind those six flowers has been expanded to represent the estate’s environmental consciousness and its restoration of the area’s indigenous Renosterveld vegetation.
The red course
Back to the wine tasting, our second wave of tastings was the estate’s most recently released reds, starting with the astoundingly delicious and intoxicatingly fragrant Neethlingshof Estate Merlot 2017, which served up rich, red cherry fruits laced with hints of coffee and nougat. Then the Neethlingshof Short Story Collection The Caracal 2017, a dark and intense Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet France, and Malbec that offered up a distinctive cherry tobacco nose, big body, and firm, supple tannins. Finally, we tasted the delightful and delicious Short Story Collection The Owl Post Pinotage 2018, in which I instantly identified coffee-chocolate notes and plums without even having to read the tasting notes first (that’s how distinctive they were).
(Vegan) lunch at the manor house
Neethlingshof’s rather substantial innings is reflected in the Stellenbosch estate’s glorious clutch of thatched Cape Dutch buildings and towering oak trees that have become home to the farm’s rather effective mode of pest control: spotted eagle owls. Now, sitting down to a vegan lunch in a 200-year-old manor house may seem like a bit of a study in contradiction but Brendan Stein, Executive Chef at the Restaurant at Neethlingshof, is clearly not afraid of innovation and adaptation.
To showcase the season’s incredible flavours and satisfaction achievable without having to turn to animal products, Chef Brendan put together a truly delicious four-course vegan meal for our group. This began with an amuse-bouche of tofu and black bean chilli crumbed fritter with teriyaki and miso; followed by a starter of yuzu compressed watermelon, tomato consommé, cucumber and lemongrass gel, pickled radish, crisp shallot, and shiso; absolutely gorgeous mains of chermoula roast cauliflower, quinoa and dukkha, carrot purée, crispy kale, and herb oil; and finally poached nectarine, spiced syrup, peach sorbet, and almond chips. Each course was paired with a wine from Neethlingshof estate: respectively, the Ode to Nature Riesling 2018, Estate unwooded Chardonnay 2019, Estate Shiraz 2016, and the noble late harvest Short Story Collection Maria 2019.
Almost persuaded to turn vegan…almost
It was quite literally one of the guilt-freest multi-course dining experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting down to. Composed of fresh, colourful ingredients, every dish was a fragrant and flavourful expression of summer, enhanced greatly by the wines. And rather than rolling out the door like a distended blueberry, as I often do after such events, I hopped and skipped out the door feeling like I’d earned a slice of cheese cake.
“Vegan” may have been a dirty word to many of the people seated in the restaurant that day but after our four-course vegan meal by Chef Brendon (who is unapologetically carnivorous but doesn’t shy away from a challenge), we all walked away just a little persuaded by the merits of such a diet.
Seek out the stories of Neethlingshof
I greatly encourage you to go to Neethlingshof Estate, not only for the food, the views, the farm-fresh air, and the wine itself, but also to discover the stories behind the wines – particularly those in The Short Story range. While you’re at it, bath your teeth in the Neethlingshof Malbec, an elixir of the Gods if there ever were one.
Neethlingshof Wine Estate is open 09:00 to 17:00 Monday to Friday and 10:00 to 16:30 Saturday and Sunday. For bookings and enquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +27 (0) 21 883 8988.