‘Wine stirs the spring, happiness bursts through the earth like a plant, walls crumble, and rocky cliffs, chasms close as song is born. A jug of wine, and thou beside me in the wilderness, sang the ancient poet. Let the wine pitcher add to the kiss of love its own.’ – Pablo Neruda –
What an occasion it was – an inspired gourmet weekend, deep in the wilderness, hosted by Bouchard Finlayson’s winemaker Chris Albrecht with menus curated by Bushmans Kloof Executive Chef, Wilhelm Maree. An irresistible lure for dedicated gastronomes, oenophiles and adventurists, and it did not disappoint.
BUSHMANS KLOOF is one of the South Africa’s most celebrated lodges, an oasis in the Cederberg that is ringed by russet crags and an environment possessed of a haunting, brittle beauty. Owned by the Tollman family and managed by the Red Carnation Hotel group, the property delivers an exhilarating experience in a place anchored by ancient landscapes, heritage rock art and prehistoric boulder formations. With a sensitive commitment to conservation, community upliftment and sustainability, Bushmans Kloof is where luxury travel meets gracious hospitality and inspirational South African cuisine. It’s an enviable sanctuary embedded deep within an evocative, remote location, a predator-free haven flush with indigenous fauna and flora.
BOUCHARD FINLAYSON is one of the most celebrated boutique wineries in South Africa that was established in 1989 in South Africa’s Hemel-en-Aarde valley above Hermanus.
The union between acclaimed winemaker Paul Bouchard from Burgundy and a trailblazing South African counterpart, Peter Finlayson, was welcomed with delight in the industry. With a shared passion for Pinot Noir, the duo transformed virgin soil into vineyard and laid the foundations for the Bouchard Finlayson cellar that is now dedicated to making the latter as well as, among others, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. In 2000, the Tollman family purchased the estate, thus realising a long-held dream to own a vineyard in Africa and they have without a doubt taken both global boutique brands to new heights.
Chris Albrecht (pictured) has been the winemaker ‘in chief’ since 2017. He joined the multi award winning Bouchard Finlayson fold in 2011 as assistant to Peter Finlayson and today he steers a stellar team whose approach to their craft is dynamic and particular.
Contrary to the usual November heat, the forecast for that weekend was gloomy with bulletins cautioning about unprecedented storms and a torrential deluge all the way into the region. The lodge got off lightly though, with the gentler back-end of the tempest- chilly, wet weather and perpetual grey skies. Winter’s last hurrah was a fail and instead we basked in two atmospheric days complete with fireside conversations, lingering feasts and long walks in the soft rain. Buoyed by the next level hospitality at every turn, the weekend was a restorative reward and a salve for the soul.
With this utopia front of mind, let me expand on the course of events that took place at the annual food and wine weekend. It took place, as usual, in November 2021 and while that was almost two months ago, I find my mind continuously drifting back to that soothing sojourn.
The KADORO long table on our first night -Friday –was exceptional. A twenty-minute nature drive through the veld got us there at a particularly beautiful time of day that netted us a few zebra sightings en route.
We spied the rustic cabin, a repurposed shepherd’s dwelling, from far off, the flickering lanterns and glow from within like a welcome beacon in the middle nowhere, quite literally.
WINING & DINING
The first vertical tasting at Kadoro showcased three Missionvale vintages – the2017, 2018 and 2019- and was on point. In curating his offering Chef Will, in tribute to Mr. and Mrs. Tollman, set down four bowls of juicy prawns done four ways: Mrs. Tollman’s famous black peppercorn prawns, the shrimp stroganoff, prawns done in lemon butter and finally, prawns peri peri.
The Missionvale is Bouchard Finlayson’s flagship Chardonnay, a stand out wine rated by the Global Masters in 2014 as being among the World’s top Chardonnays. The wines before us, all fermented and matured in both oak barrels and terracotta amphorae, were produced exclusively from grapes grown and harvested on the estate, and they perfectly harnessed the valley’s terroir and cool maritime climate.
“The Missionvale is our expression of the Hemel-en-Aarde valley,” said Chris. “We focus very much on the Burgundian varietals- Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with our Sauvignon Blanc being another large label. What makes great wine is purity, balance and sense of place, or typicality, the degree to which a wine reflects its varietal origins.” He continued – “ ’17 and ’19 were similar and where those years were cooler and drier, ’18 was warmer and drier. We’ve been on a good run with these vintages. The 2018 in particular showed very well in barrel- it was approachable and accessible at young age and tasted like it had already been in bottle for some months, coming into its drinking window a little earlier. That’s just the way the warmer vintages tend to express themselves- more accessible and quite showy.”
The second tasting at The Homestead profiled the Hannibal 2005, 2014 and 2019. Combining Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Nebbiolo, Mouvédre and Barbera, these blends deliciously matched a Cederberg beef ribeye aged for 18, 22 and 28 days respectively. Innovative sides included rooster koek with bone marrow butter, aspatat (ash cooked potato) with a dollop of chive sour cream, fire roasted wall garden vegetables (from the Homestead garden), Kokerboom Velddrif Veta, whole cumin baked cauliflower, hummus, raspberries & toasted almonds and the staple everyone loves, corn on the cob (braai mielie).
Needless to say, we rolled out of there, satisfied beyond measure.
SATURDAY evening we dined in The Homestead, the heart of Bushmans Kloof, replete with an intimate bar area (the wine cellar holds close to 3000 bottles from 700 producers in South Africa and abroad), a library, and a Heritage Centre dedicated to the prolific San rock art that is spread across the 7500 hectare reserve and that has landed the lodge prestigious Grade 1 South African Heritage Site status.
Mine was the six course vegetarian menu, a culinary conglomeration of small plates and mains paired to perfection. The mushroom arancini drizzled in truffle oil, was matched with the Blanc de Mer 2019, an unusual and off-dry blend, driven by Riesling and refreshingly bolstered by hints of pineapple, apricot and a ‘lemony persistence’ as Chris put it. The spekboom, done with granny Smith apple, green grapes, celery and walnuts, worked well with the sophistication of the Sauvignon Blanc 2019, complimented by layers of fig, grapefruit, passionfruit, a touch of lemon curd. The textured Crocodiles Lair Chardonnay 2019, an intertwining of spice and citrus blossom aromas, shone alongside the cumin cauliflower, roast asparagus, saffron beurre blanc and fermented garlic aioli. Next to the Asian style aubergine done with Emmenthaler and potato gratin and heirloom carrots, the polished, classic Galpin Peak Pinot Noir 2019 showed its complex cherry and dark berry tones. And then, bringing the mains menu to a fitting close was the Hannibal 2018, so appealing with bursts of dried cherry, blackberry and savoury meat, underpinned by a tobacco and green olive core. Chef twinned ‘Bea’s cheesecake and fresh strawberries’ with the Aurum Straw Wine, the latest addition to the Bouchard Finlayson portfolio. A vibrant and balanced dessert wine, it provided a voluptuous finale to a memorable night.
To borrow from Victoria Tollman, it was a delight to be able enjoy two of the greatest pleasures in life: the restorative healing powers of the wilderness and the joy of discovering well-crafted wines and fine cuisine, all within the beautiful Cederberg mountains.
LOOK OUT FOR THE 2022 FOOD & WINE EVENT
Summer is on steroids, the cool pools at Bushmans Kloof beckon, and not only has harvesting has begun at Bouchard Finlayson but five new vintages were released last week. Perhaps allow this editorial to serve as a prompt to boost your cellar collection with a few cases of the finest wines and as a reminder to diarise the next iteration of an outstanding gourmand occasion.
Bravo Bushmans Kloof and Bouchard Finlayson. 💫
For more about the comprehensive Bushmans Kloof offering please visit www.bushmanskloof.co.za | Bouchard Finlayson has several dynamic Experiences of offer such as the wine tasting and grazing platters, exclusive vintage tasting, cellar tours and fynbos hikes, click on https://bouchardfinlayson.co.za/experiences.