Neethlingshof Estate is a 320 year old wine farm situated a short distance west of Stellenbosch, South Africa. Its kilometre long approach road is famous for the canopy of tall fir trees that line the road and lean over to join at the top providing shade.
We went for lunch in the winery’s Lord Neethlingshof restaurant named after a previous owner who put on such airs and graces he was nicknamed ‘Lord’. The restaurant is a historic manor house across from the winery building, where you can eat in one of the wood panelled rooms or outside on the shaded high veranda. What I like about the veranda is the view to the mountain range on the far side of the valley. Plus in harvest time (February-March), you may see hoppers laden with grapes passing below you to the winery opposite. It is a reminder that, no matter how attractive the gardens and hospitable the restaurant, you are on a working wine farm.
The menu is wide ranging from toasted sandwiches to rib-sticking meals to satisfy a hungry Afrikaner. I chose Wiener Schnitzel, served with salad and chips (French fries).
Halfway through our meal a barrier was lifted to allow in a 4x4 followed by the first of several tractors towing wagons laden with small green-yellow grapes. These were backed into a wide entrance opposite the restaurant and tipped into a destalking machine. The 4x4 was driven by chief winemaker DeWet Viljoen who leaped out to oversee the unloading.
I took the chance to talk with DeWet who told me the grapes were Chardonnay that he’d been forced to harvest during daytime because they were ripening too fast.
DeWet Viljoen, Cellarmaster at Neethlhingshof. The cellar entrace where grapes are delivered is behind him, and poor DeWet is in discomfort facing the fierce sun.
DeWet explained that the coffee and chocolate undertones in the delicious 2008 ‘Owl Post’ Pinotage I was drinking came from heavily toasted Hungarian oak barrels in which he’d aged the wine. The 2008 Pinotage is now only available in the restaurant as the entire vintage quickly sold out and he’d had to release the 2009 Pinotage earlier than he’d preferred.
The tasting room was remodelled in time for last years World Cup. “We had many parties of Brazilians,” said DeWet and were very busy throughout the tournament.
The tasting room is light an airy with a counter for those who prefer to stand and small tables for those who don’t. There is a separate table area where visitors can book a guided tasting which includes premium wines. I was interested to see a 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon open and listed for tasting. Few visitors get the chance to taste ten year old Cape wines and I wonder if this is a trend we’ll be seeing more of.
Neethlingshof Estate website: www.neethlingshof.co.za
Tasting room lampshades made from recycled plastic cut into vine leaf shapes
Disclosure: The writer visited Neethlingshof at his own expense and paid in full for all food and wine consumed there.
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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.