FAMOUS South African winemakers and brandy distillers KWV*, who had invited me to the Western Cape to witness their oenological operations, booked me in for part of my journey at their exquisitely comfortable Laborie Guest House in Paarl.
With Dusty Miller
My room was in a large character-filled gabled and white-washed converted former stable, overlooking the main Manor House where we ate wonderful breakfasts at an enormously long, highly polished, antique refectory table.
Coffee, tea and milk at agreeably substantial English-style breakfasts were poured from Georgian silver jugs; fruit juices were in crystal.
Laborie is named after the district of La Bri in France and was granted to Huguenot refugee wine maker Jean Taillefert by the Dutch governor of the Cape of Good Hope, Simon van der Stel in 1691.
It stayed in private hands until 1972 when KWV bought the estate.
A date on the main gable of the Manor House reads 1800 (presumably the year of its construction) when it was owned by the Louw family.
In front of the Manor House (and my room) was a rolling, verdant, lush lawn; well-watered, a favourite landing ground for a myriad breeds of birds, especially squawking, comically waddling Egyptian geese.
The lawns are fringed and the grounds studded with stately English oaks.
North American grey squirrels, originally bought to the Western Cape by homesick British settlers, leap from tree to tree in search of acorns and gambol across the grass, unconcerned by humans or other predators.
Laborie measures 59 hectares of which 23 ha are under vines; much of the land runs up towards the foot of the spectacular Paarl Rock (or Mountain) one of the world’s largest solid granite boulders. It’s a mecca for competent rock climbers.
Paarl is Afrikaans for “pearl” and the bald granite dome glistening after a rainstorm is said to resemble a pearl from many kilometres away.
Laborie’s soils are disintegrated granite with some clay and the very upmarket vineyard focuses on grapes suitable for their award-winning Methode Cap Classique (“MCC”: what we used to call South African Champagne) wines; principally Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meuniere.
The harvest, however, is insufficient to cater for the thirst of world-wide fans of Laborie Wines — which also include a unique fortified Pinotage dessert wine — and Alambic Brandy. Some 40 000 cases are bottled yearly on the fairly compact estate.
Demand outstrips on-farm supply; grapes must be bought in from neighbouring specially selected vineyards.
After a sunny, hot day touring the spectacular Western Cape Winelands, I was returned to the guest house just in time to make the last wine-tasting of the day.
On a verandah overlooking vineyards I sampled three Laborie MCC labels: Blanc de Blanc, Brut and Brut Rose, a Sauvignon Blanc and Limited Edition Chardonnay.
The perfect end to a wine-filled day, before a long lay in an enormous suds-filled tub; an-hour’s zizz on a ginormous, comfortable bed the size of a snooker table while CNN droned on, then a short brisk walk to a splendid dinner at the estate’s in-house Harvest restaurant.
I had three large (tiger?) tempura prawns and avocado with harissa Japanese mayonnaise, ponzu and seaweed (R90) as a starter, followed by a generous helping of steamed West Coast mussels meuniere in a Laborie Chardonnay, cream and parsley sauce with a separate container of crisp French fries (served wrapped in greaseproof paper, upright in a flower pot!) R68 as a starter and R115 as my main.
With these I drank a 375ml bottle of lovely farm-bottled sparkling water (R18) and two delightfully chilled flutes of sophisticatedly dry “bubbly”: Laborie Methode Cap Classique Brut at R38 each (R130 a bottle.)
Pudding was a wonderful combo of the best of Italian and Afrikaner cooking: melktert panna cotta, on biscuit crumble, rooibos gel with caramelised hazelnut ice-cream (R40).
Bottom line including a tip reflecting faultless service in splendid surroundings was R350, which was around US$33. Next day, for lunch after touring KWV’s very impressive brandy distillery at Worcester (with 120 pot stills it’s the biggest of its kind in the world) we returned to Harvest, where Matthew Gordon is celebrity consulting chef.
I had spicy fishcakes with lemon and herb mayonnaise, fries and veg at R78, Stephan Rautenbach, regional business manager for East Africa (including Zim), who kindly drove me all over The Cape, attacked a man-sized char-grilled T-bone at R145 and several others, including the jovial Wilhelm Theunnisen (general manger Africa) got stuck into braised lamb shanks with hazelnut crust and sweet potato mash at R155.
If I recall rightly, I drank a lovely crisp KWV Cathedral Cellar Chardonnay and the meat eaters had KWV red wines by the glass.
We ate on a stoep overlooking vineyards. It had been too cool to do so at supper the night before. The indoor restaurant, like several I visited, is a bit of a barn, but, as they are usually full, I suppose they need to be.
A room at Laborie costs R708 per night, bed and superb breakfast per person, single; R585 per person sharing; children under-12 R292.
*Now privately owned, KWV was launched in 1918 as a wine-growers’ co-operative: Kooperative Wyjnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika.
They were initially barred from supplying South Africa, only allowed to export.
Now RSA is the main market; they also export extensively to Germany, Belgium, Japan, China and Scandinavia.
Cape Wine (Pvt) Ltd at 3, Borgward Road, Msasa, Harare are sole agents for KWV wines and spirits and Bols Brandy and liqueurs for Zimbabwe (Tel 04 446946/7, 487683-4)