When rugby meets wine: This ex-professional player now heads up one of SA's acclaimed wine estates
At a glance, there are a number of jobs you could imagine Matt Stevens having. His build suggests a chef, perhaps – maybe fine dining, but more likely a place that involves burgers and a lot of deep frying. Possibly a plumber, trousers fighting a losing battle to stay up. But you could also imagine him as both a rugby player, and a farmer – and if those were your guesses, you’d be just about right.
Matt was born in South Africa then pursued a professional rugby career that saw him play for England and face SA in the 2007 Rugby World Cup final. The Springboks won that final – “John Smit messages me at least once a week to remind me,” Matt recalls ruefully – but the loss in the final doesn’t take away from a fine career in the front row, practising the dark arts of a prop forward. Now, though, Matt is the general manager at Franschhoek’s Boschendal Wine Estate.
The Werf, its outstanding restaurant is award-winning, earning the prestigious title of 2018 Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability Award winner. There, farm fare is given a deft culinary touch to present a menu that’s a step up from what one might expect of such a large and busy estate. That menu is complemented by a wine list that’s unsurprisingly headlined by Boschendal’s own range, but isn’t too precious to preclude additions from elsewhere. There’s also a deli (where breakfast is the prime attraction) and one of the finest butcheries in the Cape.
The Treehouse allows you to drop off kids for hours at a time for a fully supervised romp through an impossibly cool wooden playground, augmented by all manner of guided distraction. Sadly, they don’t allow adults to get stuck in, and so we make do with wine. The challenge of an estate the magnitude of Boschendal is in keeping quality while producing such quantity, and not losing a smaller, premium offering in the noise of the broader offering. But despite the treehouses, cottages, delis, mountain bikes and a dozen other adventures, Boschendal does a more than fair job of managing the balance. There’s plenty of wine at the lower end of the spectrum that’s pleasant, and ideal for whiling away a Winelands afternoon. There’s some very serious wine as well, however: the Grande Syrah is dark and elegant, with a wonderfully soft finish, while the Black Angus – a tribute to Boschendal’s own herd – again uses the estate’s exceptional Shiraz, this time as a base for a tribute to the original cellar blend, with results as big and strong as the resident rugby international, but just a touch more delicate.
As always, wine drunk on the estate has an added depth to it, the surrounds somehow bringing the best out of a bottle. Whether it’s lunch while the kids exhaust themselves at The Treehouse, a weekend in the quiet delight of the cottages, a recovery session after a mountain bike ride, or just the chance to get a selfie with a famous rugby player, Boschendal is overflowing with attraction. Just make sure you include some wine-tasting in your visit – and if you bump into the bearded prop forward running the place, don’t forget to ask Matt Stevens what happened in the 2007 Rugby World Cup final.
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What I’m drinking this week: Very little, as on Friday I start four days of agony riding a bicycle in Laos for charity – but I did squeeze in lunch earlier this week to try David Higgs’s Tour de France-themed menu at Marble, partnered by the Heritage Heroes range from Nederburg. The range celebrates some fascinating history, but also offers some excellent wine: cue The Anchorman, remembering Nederburg founder Philippus Wolvaart, who bought the farm in 1791, with a fresh, zesty wooded Chenin Blanc. Lunch was shared with comedian Jason Goliath, who is not a wine drinker – and he happily finished a couple of glasses.
Want to see what else Dan Nicholl has been drinking? Watch his latest episode of Dan Really Likes Wine!