Author: Clifford Roberts; Photographer: Johan Viljoen (unless otherwise specified)
At first glance, there’s little remarkable about the Paardeberg. The low cluster of granite mounds just over half the height of Table Mountain seems out of place in a landscape dominated by sprawling wheat fields and patches of vineyard. But road trippers would be wrong to think of it as miss-able.
Paardeberg is home to some of South Africa’s most exciting wineries. Here lie champions of amongst others, Chenin Blanc; old vines; and, biodynamic farming. Many embrace the reputation of maverick, the spirit of the Swartland Revolution and Independent movements.
On the continuum of winery swankiness, the producers here generally embrace their occupation as being – first and foremost – farmers. There are no tree-lined driveways or ostentatious tasting rooms. In most cases, visitors need to make an appointment.
From the perspective of formal definition and orientation, wines of Paardeberg fall into two categories, as this mountain falls on the border with those within the district of Paarl. Looking only at Swartland, as per the Wine of Origin scheme, the Paardeberg occupies two wards: Paardeberg and Paardeberg South.
As the crow flies, the area lies 43km from the coast at Grotto Bay.
The story of the horses
Paardeberg, translated as “horse mountain”, derives its name from zebra once endemic to the Western Cape’s renosterveld. While vineyards line the foothills of the massif, the upper reaches is rich in fynbos. In fact, there are four species that are endemic as well as unique to the area: the Babiana noctiflora, Erica hippuris, Oscularia paardebergenis and Serruria roxberghii.
A number of conservation initiatives are active in the area, including the Paardeberg Sustainability Initiative (PSI) that has recorded over 900 species in over 70 families in the area. Among the animals, Cape Leopard includes the Paardeberg Mountain in its expansive range.
Lammershoek Farms & Winery is owned by Andreas Abold, originally from Germany and joint owner with Swiss businessman, Fedor Radmann. A restored farmhouse is its focal point, linked by an expansive indigenous garden to the cellar building. The farm’s name literally means “lambs’ corner”, and legend has it that ewes sought shelter for their offspring in the forest alongside the farm when they were threatened by the “Lammervanger” (lamb catcher) raptor. From this came the inspiration for its Innocent range of wines, among its ranges. The farm was established in 1718 and is currently some 180ha, with 60ha under vine. It also farms olives and produces a variety of products from these.
- AA Badenhorst Family Wines
In the Sieberitskloof lies Kalmoesfontein where AA Badenhorst Family Wines (and a few unusual distilled and infused beverages) are made. The property was acquired in 2008 by cousins Hein and Adi Badenhorst. About half the land – some 28ha – is dedicated to bushvines, which were mostly planted in the 1950s and 60s. These comprise Chenin Blanc, Cinsault and Grenache. The wines are bottled as the AA Badenhorst range and Secateurs. If you’re keen to visit, there’s accommodation on the farm, a wedding venue and visitors can book a spot at the staff lunch table during weekdays. As for those wine alternatives made here, Kalmoesfontein is also home to the Chenin Blanc-based vermouth, Caperitif.
- David & Nadia
Also located in the Sieberitskloof is the farm of Paardebosch, home of small producer David & Nadia Wines. Few wine romances could be so perfectly matched. Prior to the Sadie marriage in 2009, David and Nadia studied together, the former viticulture and oenology, the latter soil science and viticulture. Their first wine followed in 2010. Today, the winery produces a variety of ranges including David & Nadia, single vineyard and Sieberitskloof.
The enterprise of Jurgen Gouws, Intellego specializes in natural, organically farmed wines and particularly the varieties of Chenin Blanc and Syrah. He started the label in 2011, and recently set up base at Annex Kloof Farm. Amongst his wines with their distinctive labels, is a Single Vineyard Range made with fruit sourced from specific old vine vineyards.
Dragonridge on Fynbos Estate
The alluring name for this winery comes from the peak in whose foothills the vineyards lie. The winery is part of the larger Fynbos Estate owned by retired molecular biologist Johan Simons and his spouse, Diana, a psychotherapist. The farm produces between 20 and 40 tonnes of organic grapes each year, and from approximately 900 organically farmed olive trees, various products are made. In addition to the wines, attractions for visitors include the vast nature reserve open for walks and hiking. Fynbos Estate is pet-friendly and there’s farm accommodation too.
- Babylon’s Peak
Four generations have farmed at Babylon’s Peak. Current winemaker Stephan Basson, his wife Inalize and Stephan’s father continue this legacy today. There is a relation between the name of the winery and the vineyards in that the latter are among the highest in the Swartland region – around 700m above sea level. Included among the 350ha under vine are Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne, Shiraz, Mourvédre, Grenache, Carignan and Pinotage. It is also home to dryland bushvines aged 30 years and more. Substantial re-plantings have taken place in recent years while among the latest new releases include the Babylon’s Peak Cinsault.
- Wightman & Sons
Môrelig Farm on the Aprilskloof Road was purchased by Andrew Wightman and family in 2011. While vineyards on the farm date from 1965, the first vintage wines under the Wightman & Sons label came in 2015. The vineyards are non-irrigated bushvines grown, which thrive in the decomposed granite rock scattered around the base of the Paardeberg. There are six different cultivars covering 24ha.
- The Sadie Family Wines
Eben Sadie and The Sadie Family Wines are famous for their work as champions of old vines in South Africa. The winery produces around 65 000 bottles per year and farms some 45 vineyards located across the region. Among them are T’Voetpad, the oldest vineyard planted to a field blend. Two tiers make up its range. The old vine series comprises Skerpioen (from a vineyard near Dwarskersbos), Pofadder (Kasteelberg), Skrufberg (Chenin Blanc/Clanwilliam Mountains), Kokerboom (Semillon blanc and gris/Clanwilliam), Treinspoor (Tinta barocca), Mev Kirsten (the oldest Chenin Blanc vineyard in SA/Stellenbosch), T’Voetpad (near Piketberg) and Soldaat (Grenache Noir/Piekenierskloof). Then, there’s Eben’s signature series – Columella and Palladius, which showcase of regional identity, made from diverse grapes and diverse soil types.
- Leeuwenkuil Family Vineyards
Leeuwenkuil is the owner of substantial vineyards covering 1 250ha in all. To this was recently added a cellar, which took its first harvest in this year (2021). “We broke ground on site in August 2019 and have been on an exciting and challenging journey since…” seventh generation owners Willie and Emma Dreyer reported via social media. “We are so excited to finally see our long-awaited dream come to fruition. For the first time since the mid-1900s all our own grapes will be crushed and turned into wine on the Leeuwenkuil farm.” Its name, meaning lair of the lion, is inspired by the cats that once occurred in the region. Its historic buildings have been preserved and are among the oldest in the region. The Dreyer family took ownership in 1851.