By Jenna Higgins.
Taking long drives out to wine regions outside of Stellenbosch happens to be one of my favourite pass-time activities, so when my dad called me up saying he’d like to take a drive out to Tulbagh, I couldn’t resist. Needless to say, I was in control of the music as we set off on our little adventure. It’s amazing to see how green the farms are looking again, and how the dams are slowly but surely starting to look less like sink holes and ponds, and more like actual dams!
I had previously been in contact with a young winemaker in the region, Dirk Swanepoel, who has recently taken to starting up his own label under his family name, Swanepoel Wines. The farm itself boasts a rustic feel, with original farm buildings dating back to 1848. The cellar, which had once been a cattle shed, closely resembles that of an age-old Tuscan style, with the original stone and clay built walls still visible. Large trusses paint the perfect backdrop to what is soon to be a wine bar, while the original farm dwelling now houses an assortment of barrels while the wine ages to perfection.
My father and I were lead through the cellar as Dirk explained his winemaking process, it was very heartening to see a young winemaker combine both new world and old world winemaking techniques to create his wines. In the barrel room, we tasted a crisp, dry rosé as well as a fruity Pinotage with the most divine floral (violet) notes. The family owned farm houses an assortment of cultivars such as Mourvedre, Grenache noir, Pinotage, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, making it the perfect farm for Rhône style wines. The vineyards are nestled at the foot of a fynbos-covered mountain range, where guests are greeted by an old vineyard roaming thoroughbred named Reapy (Reap the Wind). Dirk’s father, Jerry Swanepoel, has also dabbled in winemaking, using the farm’s robust cultivars to shape full-bodied, hearty red wines; my dad and I were privileged to be allowed to taste some of these older vintages too.
Leading up past one of the blocks, is a recently constructed hiking trail that sends explorers on an adventure into the mountain, which forms a part of the Saronsberg Mountain Range. The farm strives to preserve the natural fynbos growth, which includes renosterbos (Renosterveld), king proteas, buchu and many other species. As my dad and I eagerly started off on the trail, we quickly came to realise how unfit we were, however the trail was actually incredibly hiker-friendly and very easy to complete. After 45 minutes of walking, we came across an old kraal (pen) built by the Cape Khoisan many years ago. Dirk explained that they used to build these small pens for the buck/game they captured on the mountain.
After an additional 15 minutes of hiking, we eagerly took a breath and rested at the end point of the hike – a massive yellow wood tree. It must have been ancient, and immediately reminded me of the kind of tree you would see in a Lord of the Rings movie. The tree towers over a small, flat plain in the mountain, painting the perfect backdrop for a picnic and a glass of rosé! Along the way up, my dad and I also noticed the abundance of birdlife on the farm, beautifully coloured sugar birds hovered around the blooming proteas as we walked by. We also noticed how fragrant the fynbos on the farm was, as we passed buchu plants that were in flower and immediately recognised the familiar smell.
On the way back to the cellar we were awestruck by the breath-taking views of the Tulbagh region. The view seemed like a painting, with vineyards rolling out on foothills for what seemed like kilometres upon kilometres, a gentle blanket of cloud cover folding over the tips of the surrounding mountains with rays of sunlight highlighting the greenness of the neighbouring farmland. I have to admit, the descent was easy with wine as my motivation – we did the wine tasting after the hike, thinking it would serve as a well-deserved reward to the thirsty father-daughter hiking crew. Back at the farm, we were told stories of the farm’s rich history – from being an old trading post for the Dutch East India Company (1699) to old church bell towers and windows that now form a part of the cellar. The farm’s name, Oude Compagnies Post, got its name through its historical background, and although it is not the easiest name to pronounce for us English-speaking tourists, with a history like that it’s well worth the struggle to pronounce!
It was incredibly refreshing and somewhat inspiring to make the acquaintance of another young winemaker in the industry. Being a final year winemaking student myself, it gives me hope and excites me to see the younger generation take the industry head on, while still staying true to the art of winemaking. This experience highlighted something incredibly important to me, without passion and drive, your dreams won’t materialize. To see someone only a few years older than me start up their own wine label, with the help of his dad who he shares vineyard duties with, and achieve such a great feat while remaining so humble was also very enlightening. It was necessary for me to realise that no matter what your dreams are or how fast you achieve them, it’s important to stay humble. Each day is a new learning experience, especially in the wine industry, you can never know too much about wine!