Green Secrets of Winter

Hex River Valley from the N1

Hex River Valley from the N1

February is always too scorching whilst June is always too wet and frigid: Capetonians can be a fickle lot. We live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet, blessed with weather that most people find utterly temperate; with neither the stifling humidity of Miami, nor the thermo-fan oven that is Dubai, nor the blast-chiller that is Toronto nor the chilly, gloom that is London. Yet, we often confine ourselves to the office, shop and home when the “mild winter chill” sets in from June to September.

Yet, this is when the Cape really goes to town; this is when she dresses

Fonteintjiesberg above Worcester from Nuy

Fonteintjiesberg above Worcester from Nuy

in her winter best, when hardly any tourists even sneak a peek. Taking a break into the country is truly awe-inspiring when the Cape adorns her green garb of the Secret Season. At no other time of the year are the colours more vivid, the atmosphere more crisp and clear and the pursuit of great cuisine and fine reds, more fulfilling.

Take the N1 east from Cape Town. As you travel through the rolling hills of Joostenbergvlakte between Bellville and Paarl, an emerald-green landscape greets you in a genteel fashion reminiscent of Ireland. The N1 then turns slightly northward as it enters the beautiful Berg River Valley of Paarl, with the mountains looming larger now – if lucky enough to make the trek after a winter storm, snow will greet you on the Klein Drakenstein Ranges. Paarl has numerous hidden tourist gems like the language monument and a plethora of excellent restaurants, serving all manner of tasty fare.

Venture over the mountains. On a clear day, opt for the R101 DuToitskloof Pass in lieu of the N1 Huguenot Tunnel. The waterfalls, green fynbos-clad mountainsides and high-altitude vistas are unparalleled. Here, the mountain snow becomes more evident, with the 1995m high DuToit’s Peak often poking into the clouds as a frosted, jagged spire.

Late-autumn colours at Du Toitskloof producers

Late-autumn colours at Du Toitskloof producers

The Breede River Valley opens up on the other side, with a patchwork of stark, dormant vines, with the deep green of winter grass covering each patch of open earth. The mountains are higher, their snow-capped summits, more beautiful. Turning off at R101 Rawsonville, you begin to take in the Breedekloof Wine Route. Here is where you’ll find DuToitskloof Cellar. Take in a scrumptious deli lunch and dabble in some of our value-for-money wines, our multi-award-winning Dimension red and our lauded fortified wines, like Hanepoot Jerepigo, Red Muscadel and Cape Ruby (Port). Do not turn your nose up to the sweeter wines. Given a cold snap, a fire place and appropriate hors d’oeuvre or dessert, there is no better option to warm the heart and enhance the ambience.

Venturing through the surrounding wine route is rewarding, most visitors being dumbfounded by the quality of wines at prices that are at a fraction of other regions. The vistas are truly unique, often looking more like one is touring in the southern Alps, than the Cape Winelands. Do yourself a favour and track the winter storms. If snow has fallen, make your way to the interior Winelands soonest, for the ultimate picturesque experience and bring your camera!

Heavy snowfall at Klondyke atop Swaarmoed Pass, Ceres

Heavy snowfall at Klondyke atop Swaarmoed Pass, Ceres

If time allows, continue up the R43 towards Wolseley, taking in the breathtaking Mitchell’s Pass on the R46 en route to the queen-of-the-snows, Ceres. The Warmbokkeveld Valley opens op rapidly, above the summit of the pass; after storms, snow creeps down to the base of the mountains. The valley is an assault of white and green on the eyes, with a European-like briskness to the air. This region should be a pilgrimage every Capetonian should make once per winter. Through Ceres, venture up Gydo, Theronsberg or Swaarmoed Passes, to take in your slice of a South African winter wonderland.

Make the Cape Winelands interior part of your winter breakaway plans. You can’t beat the winter; so embrace it, revel in it, wine-and-dine it and photographically document it. There’s no more gorgeous a place, where the South African winter comes in its full splendor, than the Breede River, Hex River and Ceres Valley’s.

Winelands Toll Trap

The proposed tolling of the N1 and N2 in the Winelands has raised the ire of most residents and local government entities in the province. The City of Cape Town and SANRAL (South African National Roads Agency) seem set for another court showdown. The demand for clarity on toll-costs and socio-economic implications is not only fair; all citizens in this province should demand this information, as this project could have significant impacts on the economy and thus, the prosperity of affected areas in the Western Cape, particularly the eastern Winelands and Overberg.

The N1 (proposed to be tolled) in the Rawsonville district

The N1 (proposed to be tolled) in the Rawsonville district

PROJECT SCOPE: SANRAL has declared the N1 as a toll-road from Old Oak Interchange to Sandhills in the Hex River Valley and the N2 from the R300 Interchange to Bot River. Three tolls along each route are proposed. On the N1, these proposed toll plazas are at Joostenbergvlakte, the existing Huguenot Toll Plaza (where fees are proposed to be significantly raised) and Glen Heatlie between Worcester and De Doorns. On the N2, one plaza is proposed near Khayelitsha, one at Sir Lowry’s Pass and the other, at Bot River. Don’t think you’ll be able to get around the tolls, where viable alternative routes exists, like the R101 Du Toitskloof Pass, SANRAL will construct ramp-toll plazas on these exits.

They are planning some significant upgrades to the roads, so why is the Western Cape populace vexed? The anger in Gauteng over the controversial eTolls is still boiling over, yet SANRAL sees fit to set another pot to high-heat in our province. The Auditor General reports on countless billions being misspent per annum, yet SANRAL, a government parastatal, pleads poverty. Furthermore, the stark contrast in this province, where most roads are (Provincial Government – Western Cape) PGWC maintained, from the fiscus. Our infrastructure is generally well maintained, unlike numerous other provinces. The N1 and N2 westwards form the aforementioned points, where SANRAL jurisdiction ends, is in a better condition. In recent years these PGWC sections have seen resurfacing, highway lighting and the significant upgrading of numerous interchanges take place. Thus the resident logically asks, “Why can the PGWC maintain and upgrade our roads with our tax-money whilst SANRAL is unable to do so?”

Admittedly, there are bottlenecks in our infrastructure in these proposed tolled-areas: one being the N1 at the Huguenot Tunnel and two, the N2 through Somerset West and Strand. I am not against greenfields tolling. Thus, the Helderberg Bypass could be constructed without entrapping the Elgin Valley. The opening of the second Huguenot Tunnel (already bored – requires lining and equipping) is not up for debate. This sector is already user-pays and has been so since 1989; road improvements go without saying.

The economic impacts could be serious indeed. SANRAL commissions studies that investigate the economic impact of the “do nothing” or “if they toll” scenarios. This creates a bias in the analysis. No roads agency or governmental entity is entitled to “do nothing” to the infrastructure, as population, road-usage and by inference, revenue increases. Even under this potentially biased analysis, undertaken by UCT Graduate Business School, it is admitted that communities north-east of Paarl would see little cost-benefit in the short to medium-term, as traffic volumes are too light. Even under their analysis, agriculture could experience hardship, the lifeblood of these communities. Even under their analysis, the Hex River and Elgin Valleys would become entrapped to tolls, cut off from their service centre towns, major markets and neighbouring engines of economic growth. Even with this information, SANRAL has to date, made no attempt to move toll plazas to locations that would not hold these communities hostage. They have admittedly, offered Hex River Valley residents the option of toll discounts.

Furthermore, rural tolling is an even crueler pursuit, as public-transit or non-motorised transit options simply don’t exist and probably never will. This seriously disadvantages rural communities and the workforce, such as those under FairTrade’s umbrella. It restricts their freedom of movement and access to economic and service centres in the province, as mobility is made unaffordable.

Grabouw and De Doorns, communities plagued by recent civil upheaval, will be the worst affected. Whatever the reason for the recent unrest, the obvious catalysts remain lack of employment and poor local economic conditions. With spiraling fuel and transport costs, additional tolling has only one outcome for these communities on an economic and social knife-edge. Communities like Rawsonville, where we are located, have had a perennial struggle to attract tourist numbers. The toll tunnel has acted as a psychological barrier for years. Additional toll gates and fees on these routes will only exacerbate the issue. Tourists and Capetonian wine-drinkers will not only think twice before venturing out along the N1 and N2, they’ll think thrice.

Where possible, tourists and residents alike will look to the free-to-use provincial roads to escape the toll; this will severely burden these secondary routes and the provincial transport department. For areas such as the Breede River Valley, no viable alternative exists and businesses and communities will be kept entrapped and tourists, out. For a wine company constantly aiming for value-for-money, this could seriously impact on our business model of bringing products to the consumer at affordable prices.

SANRAL’s public participation process has lacked reach and transparency, where the bare legal minimum is done in consulting with communities. There’s a universal awareness of the intense public opposition to the inequitable user-pays policy. We already pay through hefty fuel-levies which rise annually, along with the spiraling cost of fuel in South Africa. Ring-fence the levy, make them provincially imposed according to local need. It’s the cheapest and most equitable form of roads funding there is, with the least risk of graft or corruption.

My suggestion if SANRAL is unable to fund their infrastructure: cede control of the roads west of Bloukrans River and Three Sisters to the Provincial Government of the Western Cape. Allow the national treasury to grant them that equitable share of SANRAL’s allocated budget for these road-sectors. It is clear our provincial administration is able to maintain the infrastructure under their jurisdiction.

By: Andres de Wet (DuToitskloof Online Content Manager)

Can Newer Wine Regions Make Waves?

Breedekloof Wine Route, surrounding the village of Rawsonville, can learn a tremendous amount from newer wine regions. Although the art of growing vines and making wine is an old, intrinsic art in the valley, the wine route as a marketing entity, is relatively new. Thus, the area faces numerous challenges in making a name for itself.

Hermanus-vs-Rawsonville

I picked up the new Essential Guide to South African Wines: Terroir & Travel (authors: Elmari Swart, Izak Smit); I was excited by its fresh look, reminding me of the graphics-rich DK Travel Guides. I was left disappointed, albeit not all that surprised, when I realised the Breede River Valley appeared glaringly absent, despite it being the largest, by-volume, contributor to Cape Winelands’ production.  There it finally was, Breedekloof and Worcester, given a concise, text-based description, alongside Plettenberg Bay and Orange River towards the end of the book.

Where I picked up this book was more significant though. I was in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, one of South Africa’s southernmost regions, just to the north of picturesque, whale-famous, Hermanus. It too, is a newer wine route, with Walker Bay only afforded full wine region status in May 2004. It has its shortcomings and strengths, as does our region, the Breedekloof. What we lack, they have and conversely: They have a tourist hub town, we do not; they have no major tarred through route, we do. This will soon change, as the R320 is being sealed from the Hemel-en-Aarde valley to the N2 in Caledon.

Their uniqueness as a region is glaringly obvious. Somehow the cellars are doing something out-of-the-ordinary here, that sets this region apart, even from juggernauts like Stellenbosch and Frasnchhoek. It’s quirky, fresh, accommodating and amenity-rich, without being commercial cheese. Could this be why this dead-end road with no sealed outlet (yet), appears to be thriving? Is it the power of Hermanus over the Camphill Ridge? Or is it that one cellar struts her stuff in Parisian burlesque garb, whilst another does so in traditional Cape-Dutch attire? One cellar oozes über-contemporary chic and the other, gothic revivalist grace? Is it that some are glaringly nouveau-riche and others, historic-conservationist and traditional? The diversity in a distance of barely 10km, was so much to take in: I was happy, in awe, but exhausted.

One may say we have an uphill battle, as the village of Rawsonville could never compete with the town, that is Hermanus. This is probably true for the foreseeable future; they just have the tourism critical mass already. They have the sea and the whales and we don’t. However, we do have greater wine volumes, offer better value-for-money, taller mountains and easier access to all parts of the Cape and the rest of South Africa for that matter. All our roads are already tarred, so why the lack of attention?

Could it lie in our ability to be quirky, to redefine ourselves and create that in our cellars: setting us apart, making ourselves unique? I’m still debating how this can be enacted, but one thing is for sure, Hemel-en-Aarde is one unique little area with some weird and wonderful cellars. If our wine route’s value-for-money, wine quality and statuesque beauty is anything to go by, our region could do the same. We just need to find that thing that defines us. We need to do that, which the regional juggernauts cannot do, and do it well. If a “dead-end valley” can do it, so can we.

Fun Beyond the Boerewors Curtain

Revelry and great wine on DuToitskloof Wines’ front lawns.

Residents of Cape Town’s northern suburbs have had to contend with the moniker of living beyond the Boerewors Curtain for years. For a length of time, I’ve wondered exactly where this curtain is drawn spatially. I’ve hypothetically placed this metaphorical curtain at the N7, but geographic debates aside. Those who live beyond this curtain have one glaring positive; they’re so much closer to the bulk of the Cape Winelands.

If Durbanville residents are beyond the Boerewors Curtain, then surely when one goes through the tunnel near Paarl, you’re in the Offal Section? If the Cape is a giant butchery, are we the liver and kidneys and the Cape Town CBD the fillet mignon? If this is so, offal has never been this good…

Rawsonville and its associated Breedekloof Wine Route are about to pull out all the stops. The second weekend of October is time for any Cape resident or visitor to get out of their comfort zones and explore this ‘exotic side of the butchery.’ If there is any weekend when this lesser-known region shines and dons a cloak of excitement, entertainment and excellence, it is now. The Breedekloof Outdoor and Wine Festival is not to be missed, if finding quality and hidden-gems is your thing.

You may think venturing beyond the tunnel leaves you starved for amenities and options. This simply is not true, especially on this weekend. Many a visitor has commented on how this region’s scenery is awe-inspiring, out-competing most wine regions in shear mountainous beauty. Many also remark how wine quality and price-point leaves them dumbfounded. The genuineness of the valley’s residents, quaint eateries and personable accommodation and wineries leave our guests with lingering memories.

If you haven’t experienced the fun to be had, sipping some of the country’s best Sauvignon Blanc under towering mountains, embarking on outdoor activities next to crystal clear streams, rocking to live music amongst the vines or just traversing an excellent wine route with close friends, this is your weekend. Only R60 opens up the entire region’s wines to you, with festival passes valid from Friday to Sunday; however, if you want to experience the real fun, Saturday’s your day!

Wake up at a respectable hour this Saturday, put on your comfortable shoes, get your car keys and have your R60 at the ready. It’s only an hour’s drive from Cape Town CBD, or a quick-and-easy 45 minutes for those lucky enough to live beyond the Boerewors Curtain and come visit our section. I promise you, the wines, entertainment and hospitality will not disappoint. You’ll wonder why you never chose to day-trip to Rawsonville before!