It only takes a few seconds once you’ve turned into Tulbagh’s Van der Stel street to fall in love with this small town. Surrounded by three mountain ranges to the North (Winterhoek), East (Witsenberg) and West (Obiqua), this truly is the Valley of Abundance, as it’s affectionately called. And at only 120km from Cape Town, it’s hardly a mission to get to from the Mother City.
Tulbagh’s history is relatively quiet one – apart from a freak earthquake in 1969 – and perhaps that’s why there’s such a sense of magic calm about the place. Both Dutch and Hugenots settled in the town in around 1699 and started a farming community that is still alive and strong today. Olives, olive oil, fruit and wine are grown widely around this stunning valley – and what special wineries they are too.
Krone at Twee Jonge Gezellen
Tulbagh’s famous bubbly (Methode Cap Classique to be precise) Krone is made at the Twee Jonge Gezellen estate. Looking more like a military fort from the outside – albeit an unimposing one at that – the beautiful Cape Dutch building has the unpretentious feel of a farmstead. Wine tasting here is simple – one still white wine made from the champagne varietals (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) and three bubblies: a white, a rose and a semi-sweet. The tasting room’s ceiling is adorned with old vines and the prices are very reasonable.
The small tasting room at Lemberg is home to an eclectic and beautiful collection of art owned by the estate owners, including three paintings in homage to their bulldogs. The three bulldogs also have wines named after them: Lady, Spencer and Nelson. It’s not often you go into a winery and adore every wine you end up tasting. Wine maker Niel explains that Tulbagh’s alluvial sand soils lend for more minerality in the wines than you might find in areas like Stellenbosch and the warm days and cool evenings allowing for ripe flavours in the wine. Lemberg also produces South Africa’s only Hungarian Harslevelu wine – unfortunately sold out until next season. As if I needed an excuse to go back!
It’s easy to spot Montpellier by the small, white chapel that sits isolated and elevated beside the road. After driving down a tree-lined track road, you get to the Cape Dutch farmhouse and the beautiful gardens that surround it. Tastings are done inside the house where it’s hard not to feel at home among the splendour of the old furnishings and paintings. The white wines that are elegant and crisp and well balanced red wines. They also offer accommodation in the homestead.
Saronsberg is slightly reminiscent of Stellenbosch’s Tokara, with its wrought iron sculptures gracing its lawns and impressive art collection adorning its spacious modern tasting room. New vineyards were planted in 2002 following a fire that destroyed the previous vines; the first vintage from these newly planted vines was in 2004. The winery is known for its bold style of wines – that includes an entry level Artscape range. Finishing a bottle of the Artscape Shiraz Mouvedre is no challenge at all. Self-catering cottages are available on the farm.
And after you’ve finished visiting the wineries…
For such a tiny town, there’s a lot going on. The Saronsberg Teater is an attractive, welcoming and vibey theatre-cum-bar that keeps going well into the night and the Olive Terrace restaurant at the Tulbagh Hotel over the road serves some of the best food in town. Unlike many holiday towns, Tulbagh doesn’t suffer low-season blues. The town keeps busy with its Christmas in Winter festival and the Spring Arts festival (which is coming up next weekend).
Wine explorers take note: Tulbagh’s wineries close at 2pm on Saturdays and some are closed on Sundays. Check opening times before visiting to avoid disappointment.