a visit to waverley hills organic wines

Submitted by sproutingforth on Mon, 2009-09-07 11:58

Waverley Hills is on the R46 between Tulbagh and Ceres and lies virtually at the foot of the Witzenberg Mountains.

But Waverley Hills benefits from lying right on a natural water shed area - you're made more than aware of this as you drive throught the gates, or perhaps because spring is imminent, because wild flowers and grasses were growing ramapantly on either side of the sand road that wound its way up to the prominent wine cellar and restaurant.

Waverley Hills has been on urban sprout's directory , as one of few organic wines in the country, for some time. We've even managed to sample their olive oil, for they have olive groves too, at a couple of Cape Town food exhibitions, but not the wine, for some inexplicable reason – perhaps we haven't tried hard enough?

But we recently spent a quiet week in Tulbagh, and Waverley Hills made it to the top of our 'organic must do's' list, even if we didn't get there until en route back to Cape Town. Tulbagh, for those of you who haven't been there yet, is an utterly gorgeous little town, not even two hours' from Cape Town, and obviously perfect for a weekend away...

It's not just chocablock full of gorgeous Victorian, Edwardian and Cape Dutch architecture (head down to Church Street, which runs parallel to Van der Stel Street, the main road through town) but there are more than a couple of venues for greenies, and some just for the sheer pleasure of it, such as Moniki Chocalatier, that give added meaning to time spent here.

But an actual visit to a place always uncovers so much more than a website can tell you, and this visit was no exception to the rule. Like many of the wine farms in the Cape, Waverley Hills vineyards and olive groves lie in a simply gorgeous setting. Provided the sun is shining, wine estates seldom fail to elicit an 'aah' moment and this setting holds particularly beautiful views.

We were met by Gayle who despite only now being in the process of writing (does one write or smell one's way through a test?) her wine tasting exam, knew an awful lot about these wines and wines in general. Waverley Hills is proud of their organic wines and one gets a sense that this is a genuine love of organic farming, rather than a strategic move because of market demands.

The estate is also part of the BWI (Biodiversity and Wine Initiative) and 16 hectares of the relatively small farm (20% of the total hectarage) are given over to biodiversity. In their wine tasting area is a photo album dedicated to local fynbos and wild flowers found on the farm, and one has the distinct impression that Johan van Biljon (who is responsible for the flora on the estate and intends starting his own indigenous nursery with the help of Cape Nature here in the very near future) has lovingly photographed and indexed each of these.

Interestingly Waverley Hills exports their wine under the label of Dixon's Peak (there is another organic European wine called Waverley, nothing sinister) and their vineyards are planted on the slopes of the Witzenberg Mountains and in the Breede shale renosterveld and shale fynbos. Both the Breede and Berg River originated from the natural water shed area on which the farm rests.

Owner of Waverley Hills Wines, Kobus du Toit, is also the only supplier in the country of tartaric acid, used to raise the ph level of white wines – the heat of our climate necessitates this, whilst colder climates use sugar. He is a firm believer in farming in harmony with nature, and not only farms organically but has also removed all alien plant species in the 16 hectares of conservation area and designed a couple of hikes through here, to give visitors to the estate a bird's eye view of the beauty on display here.

Grapes are particularly fussy crops, so growing organically takes that much more commitment and care. What was interesting for me was my misconception that all organic wines contain no sulphur. Whilst Waverley's organic wines contain less than half the sulphur of conventional wines, they do still contain sulphur (the more sulphur, the longer the shelf life), although Waverley Wines does produce one sulphur-free Cabernet Sauvignon that we sampled that I have to say was simply heavenly – a real spring wine, from this year's harvest - it was light, floral and almost like honey.

Before I continue waxing lyrical, it would be wise to point out that I'm anything but a wine fundi. In fact, I barely know my sauvignons from my merlots, so I will not continue to embarrass myself by pretending to talk about bouquet and flavours. But I do know a good wine when I smell/taste one and their Shiraz 2007 was particularly more(ish).

The restaurant on the estate tries to use organic produce 80% of the time, as many farm fresh products as they can, and there are organic coffees and teas available too (although no decaf!). The estate is in the process of building a conference/wedding venue area onto the cellar and they do not as yet provide accommodation, although they do refer visitors to Arum Lilly cottages on a fruit farm close to Wolseley.