Nestled deep in the hills of Bottelary lies Hartenberg Wine Estate – home to leafy lawns, fine Shiraz and Riesling, and the annual Riesling and Rarities Rock festival. In its sixth year, the festival is a breath of fresh air (or sip of cool wine) for anyone tired of tasting the run-of-the-mill Chardonnays, Chenins and Sauvignons that dominate our bottle stores and wine lists. Showcasing only Riesling and other less common white varietals, the event is also a wine geek’s paradise – although don’t for a minute think that means stuffiness and technicality.
Leafy lawns, good music, amazing food – and we haven’t even got to the wine yet
Walking down the stairs past Hartenberg’s traditional homestead buildings – well sign-posted this year – visitors were guided towards the picnic lawn to blankets, tables and the tasting station, where 13 wine producers from the Cederberg to Elgin were flaunting their delights. A few paces to the right, a thatched pavilion housed a small but well-chosen array of food to line the tummies of eager wine tasters. Turns out a wrap stuffed with the Lebanese delights of hummus, falafel, baba ganoush and tabouleh is the perfect fuel for wine tasting.
The right balance between wine variety and sensory overload
Moving onto the important stuff – the wine. While you might expect a few more than 12 producers at a wine festival – especially given the scale of some of the foodie events around the city and surrounds – it turns out that a dozen producers (some of them offering up to five wines) is the ideal balance between variety and sensory overload. Factor in time chatting to passionate winemakers and other wine geeks – not to mention pausing to take in the sounds of the awesome No Counterfeit – and you’ve got more than enough to keep you going throughout the afternoon.
So who were the rock stars of the day? My personal top few:
Simonsig Verdelho – I fell in love with Verdelho after tasting David Cope’s Dirty Julie at Publik wine bar. Simonsig have made a wooded version of the same grape that’s sublime, although a quick survey of those in my vicinity confirmed that I was probably its biggest fan. The wine doesn’t appear on Simonsig’s website, as this is an experimental wine: they used the festival to gauge whether or not they should go ahead and produce it at full scale. Fingers crossed that they do.
Meinert Rielsing 2014 – Playfully named “the German job” to vouch for its identity as a genuine Weisser Riesling (as opposed to the imposter Cape Rieslings), this wine is Riesling royalty. It also has the lowest levels of sugar out of all the other Rieslings at the event (it’s common for winemakers to leave a bit of residual sugar in aromatic wines, even the dry ones) – good news if you usually enjoy bone dry wines. Though the farm is based in Stellenbosch, the grapes for this wine were grown in Elgin – where the majority of the other Rielsing wines at the festival came from.
Nitida Semillon – one of my favourite farms on the Durbanville Wine Route, Nitida’s love of creating unique wines extends to this delightful Semillon. It’s a wooded wine, which gives it a gorgeous body balanced with a nice blend of floral, citrus and green flavours. It was the last wine I tasted, so forgive the short description.
Cederberg Bukketraube – a rare varietal also hailing from Riesling’s spiritual homeland of Germany. Perfectly balanced and off-dry – don’t let the fact it has 24g of residual sugar put you off, as the acidity balances it out nicely. It’s an ideal breakfast companion for birthdays; an aperitif or accompaniment to spiced dishes on any other day.
If 2017 is too long to wait until another Riesling extravaganza, check out these producers of wine Riesling in the mean time: Jordon, Lothian Vineyards, Paul Cluver (their Rieslings have beaten German Rieslings in international competitions), Groote Poste, Vrede en Lust, Thelema/Sutherland, Anthonij Rupert, Hartenberg.
Photography courtesy Caroline Knight