Myrna Robins

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Victorian wine cellar at Mont Rochelle



Great to see winemaker Dustin Osborne back in the mountainside cellar of Mont Rochelle. Pretty sure I recognised one or two of the staff at the Country Kitchen as well; if they were there seven years ago, then I am probably right in thinking I met them when gathering information on this unique farm for my Franschhoek Food cookbook.

Champagne was its first name, given to this picturesque stretch by Abraham de Villiers in 1694. It changed to an equally positive Goedehoop more than a century later, finally was christened Mont Rochelle by a 20th century descendant, Graham de Villiers when he acquired it. Earlier this century then owners of hotel and vineyards, Erwin Schnitzler and Miko Rwayitare merged the two to create Mont Rochelle hotel and Mountain vineyards, and newly appointed winemaker Dustin Osborne started producing some memorable reds, one of which is the farm’s flagship red blend today.

Although Franschhoek is a sophisticated village growing increasingly used to foreigners buying bits and pieces, the acquisition of the estate by Virgin Limited Edition collection, and Richard Branson in particular, caused a buzz, which died down while renovations were undertaken at the hotel and gourmet restaurant, and at the rustic Country Kitchen and picturesque cellar.

The latter two venues have not changed much – the 150 year-old-cellar, a former fruit packshed, is as appealing as ever, although Dustin is happier with new flooring and updated machinery. The restaurant, open to terrace and lawns lining a big dam, is still relaxed, serving deli-type fare inside and out, along with picnics.

During a recent visit, a handful of wine writers started their tasting in the cellar, with a charming sauvignon blanc 2015, grapes from the farm’s 22 -year-old vineyards, the fresh wine with subtle fruit lent complexity by 10% semillon and 2and half % viognier. Well-balanced and a great buy at R85.


Osborne has long been a champion chardonnay maker, and his latest, Mont Rochelle’s 2015 chardonnay is as good as any I remember. It’s elegant, fresh, with tangible minerality, full-bodied, with a long finish. Limited edition from vines planted in ’94, just over half barrel-matured, this is equally delicious as an aperitif or complementing voguish salads and well-bred poultry. We paired

[Caption: Dustin Osborne, Enrico Jacobs and Jenny Prinsloo in picnic mode] Photograph: Shantelle Visser

it with an inspired cauliflower and vanilla risotto – memorable. The wine is also reasonably priced at R100 from farm.

More good news is the launch of an easy-drinking red, Little Rock Rouge 2014, a cab-based blend with merlot and splashes of mourvèdre and petit verdot adding aroma and flavour to a vibrant, enjoyable wine with smooth tannins. Along with its 2015 white counterpart, not yet released, these cost R72 each.

During Dustin’s first stint at the farm he created a fine syrah-based blend named Miko in honour of former owner the late Miko Rwayitare. This flaghip 2009 vintage wine, intense, complex, and well-balanced with dark fruit, spice and savoury undertones, is showing well and is an impressive introduction to the potential of the farm’s terroir.

Our little group had moved through cellar to lawns to tasting cellar to terrace, where we teamed this vinous star with tender venison on sweet potato. Dustin then produced a number of aged cabs which had been discovered under a floor in the adjoining manor house during renovations and an informal vertical tasting commenced, starting off with the ’96 vintage… A few of these may be added to the cellar stock for those seeking museum class reds.


We did not see the hotel or more formal Miko restaurant during our visit but heard that the hotel is just about full until Easter, with bookings for weddings increasing nicely. What impressed me at the winery and Country Kitchen was the informality, the friendly yet efficient service, and an atmosphere that is far from stiff or grand. One gets the impression that Branson, having appointed good staff, is content to leave his estate in capable hands. Global visitors can now move from his private game reserve, Ulusaba, in the north of South Africa to our incomparable winelands, for a holiday that can compete with the best on the planet.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_allee-blleue-red1.jpgWelcb2ap3_thumbnail_allee-blleue-red2.jpgome signs of autumn everywhere, not least of which are cool nights and early mornings. Evenings where full-bodied reds can again be contemplated with enthusiasm after a long, hot, white wine and rosé summer.

By now winemaker Van Zyl du Toit should be finished with his seventh harvest at Allee Bleue, that inviting Groot Drakenstein estate off the R45 on route to Franschhoek. He’s probably had little time to think about it, but his wines, which have escalated in quality year on year, form a major facet of the farm’s attractions.

Visitors can find herbs, fruit, picnics, stylish accommodation, delectable lunches, and a range of wines to suit all palates and purses at this farm, which is equally popular for weddings, both local and international.

The 2012 vintage of Du Toit’s flagship red L’Amour Toujours is now availabe, an elegant blend of cab franc, cab, merlot, finished with 5% petit verdot. At R185 its good value, especially when compared to similar wines from local competitors: the grapes were sourced in Banghoek, the wine matured in oak, 60% new and 40% second fill, and, although the alcohol levels sit at near 15%, this is not readily apparent. Fynbos and berry flavours give way to spicy chocolate, with smooth tannins and a satisfying mouthfeel.

Franschhoek grapes were augmented by those from a venerable 51-year-old vineyard in Piekenierskloof for the cellar’s 2014 pinotage which spent 16 months in barrel before blending and bottling. New, second and third -fill French oak and a little American oak were used, and results are pleasing, easy on the palate, plenty of upfront fruit, vanilla, and a little licorice offering a mouthful of flavours that most pinotage fans will recognise. Selling for R175 from the farm.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Rose--Ken-F-Petit-Ros.jpgINb2ap3_thumbnail_Saronsberg-rose.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_Muratie-Lady-Alice-Brut-Ros.jpg THE PINK AND LOVING IT


The focus has been on rosé recently,as these wines are promoted for Valentines day – or weekend as it is this year. I’ve been sampling enjoyable examples while putting together a story for the national lifestyle pages of the Independent group. And, doing it during a heatwave made me appreciate the charms of a well -chilled pink, particularly those with some backbone along with berry flavours.

I am sure that the first Rickety Bridge rosé fest on Saturday the 13th is going to be a sellout – the attractions are wide-ranging and the heatwave should be past its worst, according to predictions. It’s been a while since I tasted examples of their winemaker, Wynand Grobler’s craft, but I have long regarded him as one of the valley’s most talented – and his Foundation Stone rosé (shiraz/Grenache/mourvèdre) and his scintillating NV Cap Classique brut rosé confirm my opinion.

Meanwhile, up the Franschhoek pass to La Petite Ferme, that perennially popular destination for thousands of repeat visitors, now under new Swiss ownership. There’s a new winemaker too, but the 2015 rosé, a largely merlot affair with a dash of sauvignon blanc, is still a product of the Dendy-Youngs. This salmon-tinted summer charmer presents an aroma of rose petal, with berry and cinnamon flavours, with a little sauvignon zest. It finished dry on the palate.

Staying in the Franschhoek valley, Vrede en Lust's enjoyable dry rose, named  Jess, has become a firm favourite in the Vrede en Lust range. Named after the owner's eldest daughter, this crisp wine with its berry and melon notes is a blend of mostly pinotage, with some shiraz and a dash of grenache.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Glenrose-3rd-attempt.jpgThe L’Avenir team from Stellenbosch is not content to produce admirable conventional pinotage, but has added a fine pinotage rosé to the range, its patrician status emphasized by an unique bottle featuring a protea-shaped punt. Glenrosé is made in the Provencal style, its nose of rose petals and strawberry and citrus ahead of a crisp, dry but fruity flavours on the palate, along with a mineral presence. This top of the range example sells for R200. b2ap3_thumbnail_Glenrose-3rd-attempt.jpg



Turning to my adopted wine region, there are two rosés that I strongly recommend to visitors heading Robertson  way soon: Tanagra’s superb example produced from cab franc has just one fault, and that is there isn’t enough of it. The other is the 2015 rosé from Quando, Fanus Bruwer’s boutique cellar near Bonnievale. He use mourvèdre for this charmer.

I also enjoyed Saronsbergs all-shiraz rosé from their Provenance range. Cellarmaster Dewaldt Heyns specializes in shiraz, among other reds, and this offers a light-hearted aside, complete with sculptor Angus Taylor’s Earth Mother on the label. Tulbagh has acquired a major red wine player with the establishment of this art-filled estate.

One would hardly know where to start when contemplating pinks from the vast Stellenbosch region, but for good value for consistent quality, the dry, fruity and flavour-packed rosé in Ken Forrester’s Petit range is ready to complement many a late summer al fresco meal.

When it comes to rosé Cap Classique bruts, I always enjoy Allee Bleue’s, the NV from Graham Beck and have heard great reports about Webersburg’s NV pinot noir/pinotage brut. Finally, its been a long time since I tasted it, but if memory serves me well, the patrician Lady Alice all-pinot, MCC from Muratie, which comes complete with tales of memorable early 20th century parties, is a bubbly to consider.

A word of thanks to those marketing colleagues who obtained rosé samples for me at such short notice – Posy, Nicolette, Melissa, hugely appreciated.

Whatever fare you’re planning for the coming weekend it’s likely that a crisp pink will pair well. Picnics, salads, sushi, shellfish, salmon, berry finales, you name it, rosé will enhance it.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_La-Motte-2011_Hanneli-R.jpg HANNELI R 2011


This flagship shiraz-based blend from La Motte is an extraordinary wine that deserves to complement a momentous occasion or celebration, such as, in our case, the arrival of a new addition to the family. There can be few cellarmasters more dedicated, diligent and talented than Edmund Terblanche - and with this wine, only made when the vintage is regarded as exceptional -  he applies these qualilties to ensure inspired results, blending 80% of shiraz  with equal quantities of petit syrah and tempranillo. The shiraz for the 2011 vintages was sourced mostly from Elim and a litte from Bot river, the other components from Franschhoek.

 Maturation in oak for three years has contributed complexity and structure that is balanced by minerality but there's welcome freshness as well. Spiciness and berry flavours confirm syrah dominance, adding to a full-bodied, intense, elegant whole. All in all a worthy tribute to La Motte's Hanneli Rupert.





b2ap3_thumbnail_webersburg-5.jpgMany knowledgeable winemakers regard the Helderberg cab vineyards as offering the best berries in the entire Stellenbosch stretch with its various sub-regions. Difficult to argue when one comes across such a stylish expression of the grape as this one. Viticulturist-cum-winemaker Matthew van Heerden followed harvesting with berry sorting before vinification in open fermenters. He used a variety of French barrels for maturation and regards the result, with justification, as a true expression of exceptional terroir. Classic aromas precede finely balanced tannins and fruit on the palate alongside freshness and moderate alcohol levels.




 b2ap3_thumbnail_Zonnebloem-Elize.jpgCellarmaster Elize Coetzee

This historic Stellenbosch cellar has long been renowned for consistency - of quality and affordability - across the ranges of its many reds and a handful of whites. The Laureat is their flagship red blend, traditionally cab and merlot, although the 2012 contained small quantities of shiraz, mourvedre and petit verdot to the mix and the 2013, which we savoured, has shiraz and petit verdot to complete the cab/merlot components.  This in the stylish tradition of its predecessors, offering loads of fruit, smooth tannins, and accessibility which is a well -established trademark. Presented in a smart box, the Laureat is the first example of Zonnebloem's new generation look, with other wines to follow.






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Sauve and sophisticated or sprightly and stimulating, there are times when a sauvignon blanc fits the bill better than most other wines. One of these is when daytime temperatures hover well above the 40 degree mark and evenings don’t offer much relief. We had our fair share – more than, actually – of these sultry days earlier this month and well-chilled recently launched sauvignons were much appreciated.

Nitida’s sauvignons always guarantee pleasure, and the 2015 is no exception. In many respects a typical Durbanville example, presenting those green notes - lemongrass, green apple, green fig – but they don’t overwhelm, countered with an elegance, a richness often absent from others in this region. Three gold stickers indicate approval from other palates.


 From Franschhoek, La Motte presents classic, carefully made aristocrats, like their 2015 sauvignon blanc from the prestigious Pierneef Collection. This is one to keep or sip when the menu reflects gourmet items, whether seafood or salad. Like most wines in this range, there is restraint, although flavours of fig, apple, and gooseberry come through. Organically grown grapes from, I think, vineyards near Cape Agulhas, add to the appeal, along with a whiff of fynbos.


A pair of sauvignons from Groote Post, both 2015, the regular plus the superior Kapokberg, were both enjoyed, and voted the wines that helped to counter the heat best! They are made in similar refreshing style – loaded with green fruit, citrus and granadilla, but the Kapokberg wins with its complexity, notable mineral structure adding elegance. I do think a screwcap would not take away from its classiness, however. I detected a touch of that appealing and distinctive Darling dustiness in the regular sauvignon.

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