Elgin: The home to SA’s elegant cool-climate wines

Over the past year I’ve been tasting my way through the various wine regions of the Western Cape, and left a small but by no means insignificant wine region until last. Elgin is the country’s coldest wine-growing region and a mere one-hour drive from Cape Town. From our home base at Wildekrans Country House, a few friends and I visited three of the farms that are home to some seriously cool climate wines.

1. Iona Wine Farm

Iona’s wines have been a favourite choice on restaurant menus for many years and so it was time for a visit to this exceptionally beautiful farm located high in the hills of Elgin. The drive up to the farm is breathtaking, and before you even taste it in the wines, you’ll notice that Iona’s distinctiveness lies in its location. Cool maritime breezes sweep up to the farm from the Atlantic Ocean only three kilometres below and collide with the warm valley winds. The result is an extraordinary microclimate, perfect for growing cool climate wines.

Brad Gold, the farm’s GM, is a raconteur and exceptionally wine-savvy - it was no surprise when we discovered that he had qualified as South Africa's youngest Cape Wine Master at the age of 25. As he poured our glasses for a tasting, he also poured out his expert knowledge of the industry and, more importantly, his wine.

Their award-winning sauvignon blanc offers remarkably pleasant pear on the nose, finishing with a beautifully balanced flavour. Pinot noir fans are bound to love their perfectly perfumed offering with tantalising fruit notes. The chardonnay had me bowing, but that’s not surprising - a few years back, a Decanter Top 10 South African Chardonnay list had seven of its featured contenders from Elgin.

At Iona there is a deep honour for the land; a reverence for the terroir that I’ve seldom seen. The various blocks are carefully monitored and, with the help of technology, given all the individual attention needed, proving the adage that winemaking happens in the vineyard and not the cellar. It is these conditions, combined with minimal cellar intervention, that result in their well-respected wines.

Brad and owners Andrew and Rozi have every reason to be proud, and this won’t be the last time I visit this mythically beautiful farm. Tastings are available from Mondays to Fridays, 9am to 4pm.

Elgin: The home to South Africa’s elegant cool-cli

2. Charles Fox MCC

In selected boutique wine stores and exclusive restaurant menus, the name Charles Fox comes up with a sense of awe. Having heard of the farm, but never visited nor tasted the wine, my anticipation was bubbling over, and with good reason - a bouquet of MCCs were awaiting an introduction.

Desirous of exchanging their Johannesburg lifestyle for something calmer, Charles and Zelda Fox began the search for the right location for their fledgling wine farm. Seven trips to Elgin later, they found a fixer-upper farm, which would soon be the brand home of their renowned MCC. Their decision was to choose something to specialise in, hence solely producing MCCs.

Together with a consultant from the region of Champagne itself, they produce a range of six MCCs from their nine hectares under vine. The sophisticated label follows through to the elegant wines themselves, produced from the three official Champagne varietals: pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier.

The Vintage Rose is the closest I’ve had to Wimbledon in a glass - summer strawberries and cream fill the palate. You’ll do yourself an injustice if you leave without meeting ‘The Cipher’, the flagship MCC that spends a glorious five years on the lees. Savour the creamy biscuit notes that, if you plan your visit well, is best paired with an Overberg sunset from the farm.

The tasting room offers spacious views over the valley, as well as tastings that start from R55. The farm is open seven days a week. If you’re lucky enough, you may be given a glimpse of the underground cellar, where all the magic happens. If you can’t find their bubbly in-store, order online from their website. After a glass or two, I soon realised why Charles Fox deserves the cult following that it has grown, and it’s a story that I’ll gladly toast to.

Elgin: The home to South Africa’s elegant cool-cli

3. South Hill Vineyards

Kevin King has a celebrated history in South Africa’s hospitality industry. In particular, it was his six-month tutelage under the sommelier at Café Royale, a leading London wine cellar and function, where the wine love-affair began. It’s not surprising that he later opened SA’s first wine bar. Fast forward a few decades, and he’s now at the helm of a very special wine farm in Elgin.

On visiting South Hill for the first time, I was captivated by the farm’s gorgeous location, classy wines and beautiful tasting room. Even after a few minutes with Kevin, we couldn’t help getting caught up in the excitement of a farm that’s bursting with new energy. The brand new cellar is part of heralding a new season of life, but also some new guest experiences.

The farm is best known for its sauvignon blanc, with fruity notes of melon and pineapple as opposed to the greener notes usually associated with a warm climate counterpart. They waited ten years to enter a competition and when they finally did, the wine claimed a spot in the FNB Sauvignon Blanc Top 10 in 2016. Some things are certainly worth the wait. 

The KK range is only available at the farm, primarily to increase the tasting experience for visitors, offering some serious foodie wine. The King of the Hill was for me the showstopper - having spent 14 months on the lees, and with only one barrel made in 2017, it’s the elixir of the gods - or, in this case, the Kings. The juicy and jammy BBK Malbec was also a firm favourite.

The farm sports the only vineyard maze in the southern hemisphere (currently one of only two in the world) and I loved meandering through it, eventually finding my way to the centre. When the hunger sets in, South Hill is foodie paradise with five platters on offer, a generous selection of tapas, and regular specials. The coffee-art alone makes it worth ordering a hot drink. The farm also makes for a stunning wedding venue and accommodates guests in the six-suite Guest House or charming Pump House.

Elgin: The home to South Africa’s elegant cool-cli

Wildekrans Country House: Elgin’s Secret Garden

I feel like I'm letting the cat out of the bag, but some secrets really are worth sharing. Tucked away opposite The Houw Hoek Farm Stall in Elgin is the very special Wildekrans Country House. This four-star lodging offers guests the chance to stay in one of their three suites in the heritage home, or a delightful cottage in the garden. Be prepared for warm country hospitality in a truly remarkable setting.

You’ll not only be charmed by the spacious gardens that reach out towards the mountains, but also the extensive artwork nestled in the gardens and house itself. An almost one-kilometre circuit takes you through the garden, with plaques giving background to each of the artworks, sculptures and installations.

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