The valley that time forgot?

Tulbagh winery
Tulbagh winery
Tobie, Megan & Liesel

The two and a half hour drive north from Cape Town passes through wild scrubland, the Cape fynbos. We see a few zebra's and ostriches and plenty of roadworks before the road rises into the mountains and slowly reveals the perfect bowl of the Tulbagh Valley. We feel a calm remoteness driving along Tulbagh town’s one road high street, largely fronted by classic Cape Huguenot architecture with fine Huguenot farm houses scattered across the valley.

We are here with Liesel to visit the oldest co-operative in South Africa, the Tulbagh Winery, founded in 1906 and predates the KWV. More recently, the co-operative merged with the Porterville Cellars to the north beyond the valley to combine resources. Today 300ha of vineyards are farmed by 20 growers with resources extending to Swartland and the western coast beyond the valley. A range tasting confirms that Merlot, Pinotage and Shiraz are the key varietals of the valley. This is consistent with our Shiraz notes from Tulbagh’s other prominent wineries; Saronsberg (Full Circle 2016 gets 96/100 Tim Atkin), Rijk’s Private Collection Shiraz 2013 was superb and Lemberg Syrah pretty impressive (they also make a varietal Hárslevelü) .

At the admin end of Richard’s shipping orders is Ena, she has prepared our orders at Tulbagh for many years. Ena talks in amazement about wines from her remote valley being poured in the white tablecloth restaurants of the west end that she longs to visit. As the working week draws to a close, we join Ena and the Tulbagh 5 o’clock club for a Friday evening glass of Chenin on the way home. We are invited to Lisel’s home where her partner already has the braai glowing on the terrace. We are joined by Tobie Basson (ceo) and his wife. As another seasoned vine trunk fuels the flaming braai, Tobie informs us of the local flesh-eating Sac spiders that hide in curtains and the notorious puff adders with venom that can kill within half an hour. The nearest hospital is in Ceres, a 30 minute drive away... 

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Braai for dinner

At 10am on a Saturday morning the Tulbagh Hotel is buzzing with excitement, beers are flowing the as the Boks take a half time lead against the All Blacks. We leave before the joyous mayhem at the final whistle, Tobie has prized himself away from the TV to host a tour of the Tulbagh winery. The winery building sits at the end of an avenue of white lilies, it is a speck below a backdrop of the Obiqua, Witzenberg and Winterhoek mountains, the peaks remain dusted with snow as a warm spring sun climbs above the morning mist. The historic winery conceals a mass of steel and concrete vats holding up to 12m litres of wine, 90% is sold as bulk, much to Germany (including a Cabernet Sauvignon with a tooth tingling 85g/ltr residual sugar!). In September most of the varietal tanks have been blended or sold and much bulk has been despatched. There is growing anticipation for the 2019 vintage and the rejuvenation it promises. Neighbouring Swartland, Darling and Breedekloof regions are all being viewed as resources for old vine varietals, often dry farmed, by a new generation of ambitious young Cape winemakers. There is also great potential for Tulbagh to tap into this movement. Next February we have an opportunity to look at newly fermented samples of; Mourvedre, Cinsault, Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Franc and Semillon and a fortified Jerepigo Muscat blend could become 100% Red Muscadel next vintage. From 2019 vintage all Tulbagh wines will be vegan friendly as they switch to a vegetable protein fining agent... Exciting times in deed!

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Matthew Cooper, Head Wine Buyer

Read about the rest of the trip here, here and here...