We arrived at Clanwilliam at around 18:00. Our home for the night would be Saint du Barrys. Owners Joan and Wally were fantastic hosts and we felt welcome from the start.
We had an old school Lion lager at the local pub and then had a braai – tjops and toasties, accompanied by a bottle of Sauvignon blanc from Diemersdal and followed by the Old Bush vine Cinsaut of Darling Cellars, had an Australian couple join us for a glass of wine and went to bed – tomorrow waits.
We woke up early, had a nice breakfast, went to the Rooibos factory (we had to support the local farmers (“,) ) and then met up with Deborah of Anthonij Rupert Wines, who would show us around for the day. I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t know the geography of the region very well, have no knowledge of the soils and know nothing of the rooibos farmed in the region.
First stop, oom Basie van Lill.
We were met by oom Basie – laughing, warm and inviting, yet you can sense that farming at Arbeidseind is not for the faint-hearted. Oom Basie’s wife tells of tough times merely a decade ago, when the price of tea was weak and that of grapes even weaker. The story continues and takes a sudden turn, a positive one. She says: “Rosa Kruger changed our lives. When she came here and started working with our old vineyards everything changed.” And just like that, the previous day at oom Jan in the Breedekloof made so much more sense. This Old Vine Project suddenly took on a whole new form for me and André. This project is not only about saving the old vineyards and heritage of South Africa, this project is about changing lives. The responsibility suddenly became huge – something André and myself takes very seriously.
A tour of the vineyards on the back of the bakkie followed and gives you a clear view of the farm and its surroundings, with the Atlantic ocean in view to the West and the mountains to the East – this truly is a magnificent place. Red sandy soils sweeps the landscape with vines planted at low densities – a testament of the low rainfall this region receives. Oom Basie tells that they hardly had 200mm of rain this year…
We stop at a Chenin blanc block. Oom Basie bends over and starts fiddling in the vine. Deborah kneels down and they have a quick discussion on the suckering for this season. Looking at the vines, this has been done meticulously for years.
With time not on our side, we had to quickly drive through the farm to see all the other vineyards – Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon blanc, Merlot, Grenache noir, Chenin blanc and Hanepoot (Muscat d’Alexandrie).
Next stop – Joshua Visser.
This was a quick stop. Had only had a look at one block of Chenin blanc. One thing that stood out in this vineyard – despite the obvious fact the this was a totally different soil, was the colour of the grape bunch stems. I’ve noticed in older vineyards – especially Chenin blanc – that almost every vine looks different. In this case, almost all the vines have bunches with green stems, and every now and again you find ones with red stems. Could this merely be a clonal difference, or could it be that these vines had changed in some way over the years, molded by their surroundings and climate?
With this unanswered question ringing in my head we had to go. Our next stop would be at Henk Laing and it is quite a way to his farm – through numerous farm gates, hills and rocky sections. This would be our last stop in the Skurfberg. Would we find what we came looking for? Would we find those famed vineyards we all just hear about?