Besides the oak lined streets, what struck me the most was the old age feel of the town which is reflected in the many well preserved examples of classic Dutch, Georgian and Victorian architecture that dominate Stellenbosch. As we set off to one of Stellenbosch’s many award winning wine farms, the grey skies and clouds hovering over the imposing mountains add an eerie yet mysteriously beautiful twist to the surroundings. James, one of the guests in our tour bus, could hardly contain himself and excitedly shared with us some historical facts about the region while attempting to take a video of the prominent mountains which appear to act as a rugged protective barrier around the valley of long stretches of vineyards and greenery. As a sudden burst of sunshine peeps over the mountain peaks we learn from Michael, our tour guide, that the road we are driving on is called the Helshoogte Pass. Dating back to 1854, he explains, this is one of the oldest mountain passes in South Africa and that it connects Stellenbosch with Franschhoek, Paarl and Drakenstein Valley. To the left of the Helshoogte Pass summit are picture perfect rows of grapes on well manicured rolling slopes, we are informed these make up part of Tokara Wine Estate. Much to our satisfaction this is the first vineyard we were going to visit for a wine tasting before proceeding to another award winning wine farm, Anura Wine Estate. When Robert Mondavi, the famous Californian wine operator said, “If you go back to the Greeks and the Romans, they talk about all three – wine , food and art – as a way of enhancing life” he must have had Tokara in mind. Splendidly strange pieces of artwork greet us as we drive into the modern wine estate to park in an area which afforded us a clear view of the seemingly endless rolling row of grapes.
The fine art pieces in the hallways and the huge silver wine tanks at the entrance to the wine tasting room compliment the rustic, uber modern architecture. The sight of a well stoked fire place in the tasting room seems to put a glow on all our faces while the tall glass window walls offer a stunning panoramic view of the valley and on a clear day you can see Table Mountain all the way down the False Bay coastline.
After enjoying a tasting of six wines and a generous supply of calmatta olives we were led to the discovery of an absolutely unbelievable chardonnay and as a cherry on top the knowledgeable tasting assistant offered us a free brandy tasting as well.
The stage was now set for our next visit to another wine estate in Stellenbosch, Anura Wines. Open fields of lush vegetation marked the way to the foothills of Simonsberg Mountains where Anura is located. It’s location at the base of a mountain, Michael tells us, enables the grapes to be grown on a variety of soil types which allows for the growth of a variety of cultivars, some uncommon to South Africa.
As we enter the long driveway at the entrance of Anura our attention is caught by a large metallic frog sculpture which sort of heralds our entry into a magical world surrounded by that authentic farm feel, fynbos and breathtaking mountain vistas.
After positioning ourselves at the wine tasting table next to a roaring fire place, we learnt that the vineyard also produces cheese. We were presented with six wines accompanied by cheese, bread and jam. Noteworthy discoveries were the 2012 Pinotage, 2013 Chardonnay, and 2011 Malbec Limited Release not forgetting the amazing Brie and Camembert handcrafted cheeses. After purchasing several bottles of wine I was particularly sad to leave and drive away from this wonderful oasis in the winelands as tour guide made his way back to Cape Town.