Tulbagh is a historical town that bursts with character and history, always ready to charm its visitors. In 1969 a sizeable earthquake devastated the area. Now, 50 years later, the campaign ‘Tulbagh Remembers’ pays tribute to what was lost, as well as what has been created since. I decided the best way to get a taste of the town was to stay at a heritage hotel and to visit three of the local wine farms.
As you drive on Nieuwekloof Pass, with its scenic twists and turns, Cape Town and the Swartland are left behind and the Boland welcomes you with open arms – or, rather, open vines. Lemberg is one of the first wine farms that greets you in the Tulbagh Valley. Henk and Suzette are the third-generation owners (since 2007), and Suzette talks modestly about the “privilege of being part of nature. You don’t own the land, it owns you. It’s a love affair with the soil”. Visit Lemberg online.
The fruit of this love affair is a range of truly impressive wines, all hand-crafted and beautiful expressions of both cultivar and terroir. Their pinot noir is a prominent and surprising contender for this warmer climate, with a delicate fruitiness, subtle earthiness and notes of dark cherry and cocoa. Spencer is their Pinotage and it bursts with juicy fruit and a soft spicy underpinning – the perfect balance on the palate. The showstopper is the Hárslevelu, a Hungarian varietal rare in South Africa. This rich and bold white wine is slightly perfumed with a herbaceous leaning.
Lemberg’s offering has earned Suzette the unofficial title of being the ‘Hárslevelu queen’ and not without merit: the 2014 vintage scored a 95 from Tim Atkins. The tasting room offers an intimate experience at this boutique winery and R50 will get you a tasting of the full range. Be sure to take home some wine, and when it’s time to restock you’ll be pleased to know that deliveries from the farm are free of charge. Visit Lemberg online (you can even join their mailing list to be kept up to date).
Now take a drive through the scenic Church Street and then a little further out of town, and tucked away in the in the Winterhoek Valley you’ll find Theuniskraal. This historical property is in fact South Africa’s very first white-wine estate. The internationally renowned farm is now third-generation family-run and continues to produce the fine wine it did in the 1940s when exporting began.
The pine oak avenue leading into the farm provides a rather scenic welcome to the estate – the last in the Tulbagh Valley before Winterhoek mountains converge, providing a dramatic backdrop. Theuniskraal produces quality and accessible wines and is most well-known for its Cape Riesling. It’s celebrating 71 years of riesling, its first vintage in 1948, which has notes of green apple and a gentle floral component. I equally loved the unusual but attractive semillon-and-chardonnay blend, with its touches of stone fruit and lovely length of flavour. The cabernet sauvignon is fruit-forward, with a gentle approach that doesn’t punch you in the palate. Light but certainly not lightweight.
Tastings cost a mere R10 and none of the wines cost more than R60, so if you’re needing to stock up on some easy drinking and unpretentious wines, look no further than Theuniskraal. In the tasting room you’ll also discover some of the other products made on the farm: tinned fruit, honey, olives and grape jam. Don’t leave without a tin or two of their trendy olive oils to adorn your kitchen – the designs are enthralling and make for great gifts. More information is available on the farm’s website.
Krone MCC has for decades been synonymous with South African celebrations. On the Twee Jonge Gezellen farm you’ll find beautiful white-washed buildings sprawled across the celebrated property.
The farm is the biggest producer of vintage MCC in South Africa – the decision to produce vintage wines is an intentional winemaking choice, allowing each vintage to be able to tell a story. Added to the distinctive terroir of the region is the fact that the grapes are mostly night-harvested to ensure highest quality of the juice. The farm produces one still wine, a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, and is a great summer wine – true to varietals used in their MCC. The orealis Cuvée brut is a sure crowd-pleaser – chardonnay driven, with citrus and mineral notes on the palate. The Night Nectars are increasingly popular semi-sweet MCCs, and also keep an eye out for the elusive Krone R.D – an MCC that spent an unbelievable 15 years on the lees.
Enjoy your meander through the minimalist buildings and eventually land up at the elevated tasting room. You can also purchase a bottle and enjoy it in the serene garden setting downstairs. When you’ve finished your tasting, amble up the property and absorb some of the art at the on-site gallery – collected as a partnership with WHATIFTHEWORLD in Cape Town – or simply take some time to admire the lush gardens. It’s a brand home as beautiful as the bubbly it produces, and I’ll undoubtedly be back. Visit Krone online.
Where to Stay
If you’re looking for a comfortable stay in Tulbagh, look no further than The Tulbagh Boutique Heritage Hotel established in 1859. Most rooms, including the restaurant and wine bar, are located in the main hotel building, but a few of the suites are located in heritage buildings on the famed Church Street itself. I was lucky to call the gorgeous honeymoon suite home: an expansive space set over several levels. Starting with a lounge that opens onto Church street and features a fireplace, moving up to the four-poster bed with a view and then the bathroom spaces – including a fireplace alongside the bath! The hotel’s Olive Terrace Restaurant is a bustling diner, offering superb meals at equally great prices. Find more online and be sure to look out for the winter specials.