Durbanville Estate Secrets

By Carrie Hampton                         Photography by C&D Heierli

With only 12 wine estates in the Durbanville Wine Valley, I thought it would be easy to narrow down where to go for a day out in the Cape countryside. How wrong I was! My foray could take a week, as every wine estate deserves a lengthy stopover for all the delicious food, wine, as well as views and personal toucheswhich make them all the more special. 

Out of many possible groupings, and without leaving any estates out, I’ve chosen four day trips that visit three Durbanville wine estates in one day, each with a specific theme:

  1. Wine and Food with a View: De Grendel, Durbanville Hills and Bloemendal
  2. The Personal Touch: Klein Roosboom, Phizante Kraal and Altydgedacht
  3. Kids in Tow: Signal Gun, Nitida and D’Aria
  4. I Never Knew That:  Diemersdal, Meerendal and Hillcrest

Wine and Food with a View

To my surprise, many Durbanville estates have commanding views over vast tracts of the Cape countryside, with Table Mountain often taking up much of the view. Admire it over lunch at De Grendel Wine Estate and Restaurant, where Welshman and Michelin Star Chef Jonathan Davies offers you heritage bias with hand-churned butter, pasture-raised meat and local ingredients. What makes it different? This restaurant was nominated for the inaugural World Luxury Restaurant Awards 2016.

Competing for favour, as well as views, is Durbanville Hills Restaurant, so close to Cape Town you could even pop there for a business lunch. Modern and voluminous interiors lead to equally vast views from massive windows. It’s my choice for family lunches with a menu and prices to suit everyone.

My next choice for food with views is Bloemendal’s Bon Amis Restaurant. They say their bistro classics of pan-seared Thai-style fishcakes and West Coast oysters, are “in love with their Sauvignon Blanc”. The Durbanville terroir certainly favours this grape as every estate vies with each other to perfect this varietal. Bloemendal’s south-facing vineyards, 350m above sea level and cooled by Atlantic breezes, provide ideal conditions for growth. So, too, thought the judges of 2015 Novare South African Terroir Wine Awards when they awarded the Bloemendal Suider Terras Sauvignon Blanc as the Top Sauvignon Blanc. 

Destination Durbanville - A short film on the Durbanville wine valley.

The Personal Touch

It’s the stories you hear that make a day trip come alive. And there’s more opportunity in Durbanville Wine Valley to meet the owners and makers than at most large estates. I was tickled to learn how Karin de Villiers of Klein Roosboom Boutique Winery made her very first bubbly. We were sipping her Marné Brut MCC when she revealed her first attempt came about when a nearby cellar offered her space to fulfil her dream of making bubbly. She had the grapes and the cellar space, but no idea how to make wine. A weekend course set her on the right track and she made her first bubbly and two reds in 2007. “I’m a phone-a-friend kind of winemaker,” she says with a big grin. And the result? Just two years later her 2009 Merlot was the National Winner in the Novare Terroir Awards.

Phizante Kraal is another family owned farm, run by fifth generation Andre Brink. Unlike other estates in Durbanville, the wine is a very small part of this estate: mostly they farm cattle, sheep and grain. They say their winemaking is “almost like a hobby,” but what hobby gets their 2015 Sauvignon Blanc a Gold at the Veritas Awards? However, the honours need to be shared; while the grapes are grown at Phizante Kraal, the wine is made at Diemersdal by top winemaker Thys Louw.

Dating back to 1698 is Altydgedacht, home to the Parker family since 1852 and farmed by fifth generation brothers. In 1815 it was said the area was “at the very extremity of the civilised world”. It still feels deep in the country, even though it’s only about five minutes from Durbanville town centre. They haven’t lasted this long without taking a few chances and making a success of it. They’re still marching to the beat of their own drum, making Italian varietal Barbera (rarely made in the Cape) and a bone-dry Gewürztraminer. 

Kids in Tow

The whole family will enjoy the game drive up to the cannon on Signal Gun’s highest hill, passing zebra, wildebeest, prancing bokkies and unusually friendly ostriches along the way. On the very top you’ll not only enjoy views stretching from Table Mountain to Piketberg, but also come upon their highest vineyards where their rather exceptional Sea Smoke Sauvignon Blanc is grown. Sixth generation Signal Gun winemaker MJ De Wit is also passionate about making craft beer. And, he’s also come up with innovative pairings for their beverages, like beer and biltong, wine and chocolate, and wine and Turkish delight. For fun, try and be there for the cannon firing at noon every first Sunday of the month.

The smallest and possibly the cutest wine estate in the Durbanville Wine Valley is family-friendly Nitida Cellars. One wonders: how does a small Durbanville property with a flock of 50 sheep, two cows and a sheepdog become one of South Africa's most successful small wine cellars? Best go and taste their wine to find out. And, be sure to make a stop at Cassia or Tables at Nitida, where seasonal ingredients are aplenty and kids can play catch-me-if-you-can on the lawns. 

D’Aria Winery has several ways to keep kids happy, from a swimming pool at Poplars Restaurant to a jungle gym at the Tasting Room and decks overlooking the dam. It’s a popular wedding venue too, but also hosts music events, which surely pleases guitar-strumming winemakers.

I Never Knew That

Choosing places you’ve never been to before is a great way to approach a visit to Durbanville Wine Valley and will inevitably lead you to discover things you never knew before.

Visiting Diemersdal Estate, I found out that six generations of Louws have practised their art at this Cape Dutch estate since 1885. And since that time, the family have maintained the tradition of naming the firstborn son Matthys Michael. There are currently three generations of Matthys Michaels on the farm and to distinguish them, Matthys Senior is nicknamed Tinnie, his son, the cellarmaster, is Thys and his son is Tinnie Junior, and thus the nicknames alternate each generation. Diemersdal Estate pride themselves on the fact that their wines represent “the perfect expression of the Durbanville terroir” and they offer no less than seven different Sauvignon Blancs—easily paired with the interesting tapas menu in the converted stables Farm Eatery. Deep-fried tempura waterblommetjie was my unlikely favourite. Take note: The farm’s Thursday steak nights are booked out six weeks in advance.  

Another estate with stories is Meerendal, marrying grace and history with everything the modern visitor wants. Their current little secret is Project X, where they’ve done strange things with Pinotage grapes–-hanging them to dry for 30 days before crushing and putting them in traditional open concrete fermenters. But it’s their sporting amenities that attract a special kind of visitor, mostly with clean shaven legs and twitching, toned calf muscles. The estate has an extensive network of trails for hiking, trail running and mountain biking. The world’s toughest mountain bike race, the Absa Cape Epic, started and finished at Meerendal this year, with Team Meerendal participating in the gruelling 654 kilometres.

It’s altogether a much more sedate affair at Hillcrest Estate, which you may know for its wine and weddings, music concerts and Galileo open-air cinema events at the Quarry. But did you know Hillcrest make a rather tasty and affordable olive oil? I loved the peppery, grassy olive oil and the gentler tasting Green Mission olives and tapenade, rather than the stronger Black Mission and Kalamata, so I bought a selection. Our host Melinda then directed me to sample a strangely pungent olive jam. I got hints of silage cattle fodder on the nose and palate, and my New Zealander friend proclaimed it would never sell in rural New Zealand as it tasted too much like a farmyard.

It’s true that Durbanville Wine Valley is very rural, yet it’s only 20 minutes from Cape Town. I admit to having neglected this area for spontaneous outings to the winelands in favour of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. But no longer. I’m now a Durbanville Wine Valley convert and already planning my next trip.

Durbanville Wine Valley Festivals

  • 24-25 October 2016: Season of Sauvignon-featuring the Valley’s excellence in Sauvignon Blanc, with lots of extra things to do for the whole family. Be sure to taste the Durbanville 12 Sauvignon Blanc 2015, made with a ton of grapes from each of the 12 farms. 
  • February 2017: Feast of the Grape–tasting, stomping, music, kids zone and harvest celebrations.
  • June 2017: Soup, Sip and Bread–every Durbanville winery puts its own spin on winter soups accompanied by bread and wine.