Archive for the ‘wines’ Category




Vineyards below mountain

Day Trip out of Sapporo to a Winery

Hakkenzan Winery, Hokkaido, Japan

On one of the days we were in Hokkaido on our last visit, our hosts Satoshi and Max took us on a really interesting day trip: to a winery. Rod had read that Hokkaido was producing some wine, so we were very interested to see how and where that was taking place. Besides being a new crop/product in Hokkaido, the vines and winery are in a lovely setting below a famous mountain. Satoshi and Max explained that Hak=8, Ken=peak, and Zan=mountain.




Inside the winery

So, the meaning is 8-peak mountain and the winery sits below a mountain that does indeed look like that; some even say it looks like the back of a Stegosaurus. We also went through a tunnel of the same name to get there.

Hakkenzan Winery is an interesting place, unlike any other winery we’ve been to in various countries (and we’ve been to many!). The location under the peaks is very pretty, and the notion of producing wine in Japan’s northernmost island is new and fairly revolutionary.

Trial viticulture started in 2006, and the building was constructed in 2011, the same year the first vintage was produced. It’s apparently a co-op with around 120 shareholders.

It’s not a traditional-looking wine place, but then it’s not in a traditional wine growing area! The building and surrounds are a bit ramshackle and the rooms set out a bit haphazardly, and not well signed or organized inside. If we weren’t with Satoshi and Max we wouldn’t really know what was going on, but then if we weren’t with them we wouldn’t have even known about such a place.


Us in front of winery building


Vines labeled in Japanese and English

seibelbottleTasting is offered but isn’t well set out—just some open bottles on a table with small plastic glasses, sip-size.

But, that being said, the guy was very friendly when approached in his office to the side of the tasting area and this whole idea of wine here in Hokkaido is a relatively new venture. So, they are still in the process of learning how to do it. The terroir is totally different to, say, France or South Africa; the cultivars are different; and therefore the resulting wines are too.

The soil of the vineyard is clayey with a lot of gravel. He said that in the test field they are cultivating about 25 varieties of grapes, including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.



Kerner grapes


Riesling vines

The rows of vines outside are neatly labeled and it was fun to see those in such an awesome setting and all with English and Japanese names. We noticed some German cultivars (such as Kerner, Seibel, and Riesling) and some hybrids, so it’s still an experiment really. The owners are searching for new cultivars that work here and therefore produce a good local wine that reflects the terroir. In the vineyard there are not many vines though and some are yielding rather meager bunches. As I said, a whole new venture. It’s a small operation, but you don’t need many vines to make some wine.



Sauvignon blanc grapes

meagreWe tried a couple of wines: they weren’t great (not unexpected, given the climate and soil) but the Portland white had a good flavor. This is a white cultivar that grows well in the US Great Lakes region too. They working on improving things and appear to be making some profit.

When Satoshi asked, the owner did have a pamphlet in English. We discovered that one of their wines is called Kanonz. The name comes from the name of the mountain, as another name for Hakkenzan is Kannon-iwayama. Kannon is the name of one of the Japanese Bosatsu (Buddhist deities). The wine is a blend of Seibel, Merlot and Riesling.

They also sell jams, sauces, sparkling water and a few curios.redgrapesEntrance and tasting are free.

It’s about 20km SW of Sapporo city and easily drivable.


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How’s that for a view!

Rustenberg—Gardens, a Labyrinth, and Wines

A Stunning Combo

Tranquil, beautiful, lush, green, pastoral are words that sprung to mind as we drove up, past pastures with cattle, small estate houses, and vineyards.

Rustenberg is a lovely wine estate in a really gorgeous setting up on a hill, overlooking vineyards, in the valley of the Simonsberg Mountains. It’s literally at the end of the road on one of the wine-route roads north out of Stellenbosch, but is well worth the drive.


Gorgeous Cape-Dutch architecture


Schoongezicht, the old Cape-Dutch homestead


Part of the gardens

What do we find?—lots of pretty, white gabled Cape-Dutch buildings; an impressive, modern tasting room; and lovely gardens ringed with huge oak trees. The gardens have small ponds, a gazebo, flower beds, and the jewel—a labyrinth.

Founded in 1682, the estate has a long history and heritage. The Barlow family has owned it since 1941, and various generations have been very involved in all aspects of wine making there. (The Barlow family had made a fortune with an engineering supplies company established in the early 1900s, also buying and selling woolen goods and Caterpillar machinery, among other things. The company expanded into neighboring southern African countries too. The family had also owned Vergelegen Estate in Somerset West from 1941-1987, so were very involved with wine estates).


pergola2The public Schoongezicht Garden, open every day, is next to the Cape Dutch homestead, Schoongezicht, which dates back to 1814. In 2001, Rozanne Barlow, wife of the current owner of Rustenberg Estate, decided to regenerate and restore the garden. She had walls constructed, and converted the 25-meter-long swimming pool into a lily pond, now home to many fish. The charming pergola, originally built by John X Merriman, is covered in climbing roses, clematis and other fragrant climbers. John X Merriman was a former owner of Rustenberg. He bought it in 1892 and helped to revitalize the estate and to promote tourism in this valley. One range of Rustenberg wines is called John X Merriman, in his honor.

The garden is essentially laid out in a formal style with four different areas linked by pathways, and because it’s so harmoniously done one doesn’t really realize that the garden is quite sizable—about a hectare. The garden is a plant-lover’s dream, best described as “English”, with roses, foxgloves, salvias, agapanthus, sedum, anemones, day lilies and many more. There is always something to catch the eye, no matter the season.


A labyrinth is now part of the gardens

The surrounding landscape of vineyards, green pastures and the majestic Simonsberg labyrinthclosermountain backdrop all help to make this garden a magical place.

The garden is open to the public during the week from 09h30 – 16h30 and on Saturdays and Sundays until 15h00.

There’s also a private garden, the Rustenberg Garden, which is open once a year to the public on Rustenberg Day.

Making these gardens even more magical is the labyrinth.




Outside the Tasting Room

As part of the garden make-over, Rozanne Barlow transformed the site where the old tennis court stood into an eleven-circuit Chartres-style labyrinth, laid out in half brick and river stone. Information boards explain the origin and symbolism of the French Chartres labyrinth. We walked a part of it and it is a contemplative experience. If we had more time (and no demanding kids!) it would be nice to try walking the whole thing.

After that it was fun to wander up to the tasting center to do wine tasting, which was great. The Tasting Room is in the old horse stables, which have been beautifully converted architecturally. We all thought it was a great wine-tasting experience. Our hostess lady was friendly and knowledgeable and we enjoyed chatting to her. The wines are world-class, from an excellent terroir—red clay-rich granite soils on a variety of slopes and elevations. No food is available here though.


Tasting great Rustenberg wines



An excellent rose wine

Wine tasting is R40 per person (waived if you buy some bottles). We did buy a bottle of Petit Verdot Rose (R75) to take back for dinner that night, and it was excellent. We also ordered some wines to be shipped back to USA, and you can also order them to be shipped to UK, I believe.

Wine Tasting and Sales open Mon-Fri 9-4:30, Sat 10-4 and Sunday 10-3. Every day, except Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Good Friday.

Where is it?

Lelie Road, Idas Valley, just north-east of Stellenbosch


An unusual Rousanne wine



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A great shot taken by Rod Mackie through the window to us inside

A great shot taken by Rod Mackie through the window to us inside

A Lovely Wine Bar
4069 Shaw Boulevard, St Louis (corner of Thurman)
Not far from the entrance to the Missouri Botanical Gardens.
Open Mon-Sat 11am-1am, Sunday 10am-12am

A delicious plate

A delicious plate



Rod M outside on the patio

Rod M outside on the patio

Our daughter lives in St Louis and we have visited Sasha’s many times, at different times of the year—in the warmer weather we sat outside on the patio but in the cooler weather people can still sit outside, as two outdoor fireplaces have lovely fires. Inside, in winter, there’s also a cozy fire with big stuffed chairs and couches around it. We sat there December 2013, to celebrate our daughter’s graduation from nursing school.
It’s a lovely place to go for a small celebration, or just to hang out with family or friends. Buy a bottle of wine—or two—and a cheese or meat platter for a relaxed couple of hours.
The last time we were there in October we were happy to use their new menu on individual tablets (some iPads), which was easy to navigate. The wine selection is pretty extensive (whites, roses and reds), plus there are a number of local beers too.


Sonya D and Nathalie M. Happy graduation

Sonya D and Nathalie M. Happy graduation

We’ve always been happy with the service there and love the ambience—informal, but bustling. The wine racks stacked at odd angles up to the ceiling are different to most others we’ve seen and the toilet doors are covered in wine corks—very innovative, as all wine lovers realize that corks collect up very quickly and then…what to do with them?

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Postcard Café at Stark-Condé Winery (South Africa)


From the other side of the lake we see Postcard Cafe, and the tasting room on the small island

From the other side of the lake we see Postcard Cafe, and the tasting room on the small island

The view from the cafe verandah

The view from the cafe verandah

Living in a Postcard.

Imagine yourself in a dramatically beautiful valley (Jonkershoek Valley)…Add mountains on either side…Fill in the foreground with a small lake…

This is the gorgeous setting for the aptly-named Postcard Café in the Stark-Condé Winery, Stellenbosch. The view is exactly what people strive for on postcards.

Postcard Café does boast this idyllic location, overlooking the lake and the Stellenbosch Berg (Mountain) beyond, with the winery’s tasting room on an island in the small lake.

The sweeping view leads the eye over the lawns down to the small lake, which has a path all around it. We walked it, even though the weather was grey and drizzly the day we were there. But, it was still stunning in spite of the weather and must be spectacular in the sun. This valley is part of the Franschhoek Nature Reserve, so supposedly you can sometimes spot some wild animals up there, some say maybe even a leopard (which I really doubt).

Cafe verandah

Cafe verandah

signWe only had coffee that day, but the food looked good and the café is also a venue for events (birthdays, weddings etc).

3 coffees R60, plus R5 tip.

Stark-Condé is a family-run winery, run by winemaker José Condé. Grapes are harvested from some of the highest altitude vineyards in Stellenbosch, leading to many award-winning wines. We’ve tried some of their wines before, and they are excellent.

Postcard Café, open Tues-Sun 9:30am-4pm. Closed Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Good Friday

Wine Tasting and Sales, Mon-Sun 10am-4pm. Also closed Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Good Friday


Definitely a postcard view!!

Definitely a postcard view!!



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That sure is a beautiful view

That sure is a beautiful view


Mooiberge means “pretty mountains” and the view out here certainly is that, as it’s right below the Helderberg Mountains.

On the R44 road between Somerset West and Stellenbosch, this landmark farm stall is hard to miss, as much of the property is “fenced” with a line of colorful art creatures/’sculptures’ (can we call them sculptures?).

It started off as a regular farm stall and

Outside entrance to the kids' play area

Outside entrance to the kids’ play area

blossomed/mushroomed out into what we see today—a colorful, sprawling complex. It’s a great place to take kids in the strawberry season (November-January or February), as the strawberry picking is very popular, there’s a wonderful play area called the Thirsty Scarecrow, and a vast array of colorful ‘scarecrows’ and other creatures and transportation creations delight the eye.

Some might say it’s a kitschy produce market-cum-wine shop-cum-market for bottled goods (jams, sauces, olive oils for example), cakes, nuts, biltong, local crafts etc. But, it’s undoubtedly a lot of fun. We bought a bottle of wine for R25—one of their advertised specials. They seem to have many of the specials for various airlines.

Tasty bottled Cape gooseberries

Tasty bottled Cape gooseberries

restarantsignIn March it was too late for strawberry picking, but we ate there one lunch time by default, and it was great. The restaurant is called The Farmers Kitchen. It has a fun atmosphere because of the setting and the colorful statues and very good food—a tasty meal, with very generous servings, of fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. The deck where we sat looks out over the kids play area and across the pepper/strawberry fields to the mountains, the whole view enlivened by the bright, quirky, animals (mostly) sculptures—which in general you’d say don’t fit into this (wine) environment, and yet they’ve become a local fixture and a tourist feature and attraction.

Some of the more "respectable" animals!

Some of the more “respectable” animals!

Granny Peggy, Viv, Caroline, Anthea enjoy the wine

Granny Peggy, Viv, Caroline, Anthea enjoy the wine

Five of us shared a carafe of Du Toitskloof sauvignon blanc. One of our party had a huge lamb burger with Greek-style cucumber-yoghurt sauce, and salad; one had chicken wrap; another had a bacon, brie and walnut pizza, served with salad; and two of us had parma ham and fresh fig salad; followed by 2 espressos and a coffee. Total (without tip) was R452. At the exchange rate at the time that’s about US$43, which is amazingly good value!

The Farmer’s Kitchen re-opened in September 2011 after new owner Kelly Zetler revamped it, to “French colonial meets rustic countryside comfort”. Its hours are 8:30am-5pm, and they specialize in breakfast, snack meals and lunch, with many dishes featuring strawberries in season.

Also in the Mooiberge complex is the Thirsty Scarecrow Bistro-Pub, open Mon-Sun 11am-11:30pm.

Mooiberge the Farm Stall is open Mon-Sun 8:30am-6pm

Ham and fresh fig salad

Ham and fresh fig salad

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A typical wine route sign

A typical wine route sign

Uva Mira

Uva Mira tasting room with Helderberg mountain behind

Uva Mira tasting room with Helderberg mountain behind—the winter season

Their catch phrase “A Celebration of Elevation”

The first time we went here, we’d never heard of this winery but it’s one of Anthea’s favorites and we can see why. In the Stellenbosch wine growing district, it’s in a gorgeous setting with stunning views of vineyards and mountains.

This boutique winery is situated at the end of the road, up on the slopes behind the Helderberg mountains. Unlike Blaauwklippen and some other wine estates, which have many activities besides wine tasting, you go there for the magnificent view—up to the mountains and down to the sea and the beaches. You go there to experience the highest wine estate and the highest vineyards in South Africa (although Delheim also claims to have the highest vineyards). You go there to experience the servers with their practiced humorous patter. And of course for the wonderful wines. They tend to be rather more expensive than some others, but the total experience is worth it. Their chardonnay is reputedly the best in the world!

Rod and Kev in the summer season

Rod and Kev in the summer season

It’s a very pleasant tasting room next to a cellar with huge oak barrels. The tasting room is all in wood, with an outside deck too and an enclosed sunroom with window ‘walls’. It’s decorated with huge vases of proteas, which they also grow (and sell) on the estate. The entrance steps are decorated with bird tiles, many roosters, a whimsical touch.

The altitude of the vineyards ranges from 420-620m (1,335-2,015 ft) above sea level, providing a cooler climate that helps to produce great wine in South Africa.

The tasting room manager is a South African Colored lady—Audrey Olckers— who is a real character with a story. She was a vineyard laborer and rose up the ranks to manager, due to her personality and ability to grasp and explain things, and after she was recommended by some German tourists when she stepped in to help the tasting room one day. Her story adds something extra to the whole tasting experience, as she explains all the wines and their characteristics to the visitors.

Relax, with a view

Relax, with a view

Audrey explains the wines at our recent tasting

Audrey explains the wines at our recent tasting











tasting the great wines

tasting the great wines

"What do you think of that one?"

“What do you think of that one?”










bottlesThere are no real gardens for visitors to walk in and no café per se, although you can order a cheese plate or a meat platter.

We bought the sauvignon blanc 2012 for R75 (about $8.80 at the exchange rate then) and found it excellent; and Joanna bought the Uva Mira special blended red. It was R200 ($23.50) on the estate but she really liked it at the tasting and decided to buy it. It was good, I must admit, but way over our usual price range.

R40 pp to taste (about $4.70).

Located off Annandale Road, off R44 between Somerset West and Stellenbosch. It’s at the end of the road, past a number of other wineries, such as Ernie Els and Guardian Peak.

Open Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat-Sun 10am-4pm


Beautiful any time of year

Beautiful any time of year

What a view---of vines on a steep slope with the Helderberg behind

What a view—of vines on a steep slope with the Helderberg behind

Whimsical tiles on the entrance steps

Whimsical tiles on the entrance steps


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Typical Shona-type sculpture with a combination of rough and polished stone

Typical Shona-type sculpture with a combination of rough and polished stone


Hard to imagine this is one piece of stone!

Hard to imagine this is one piece of stone!












From the very first time I saw one of these stone sculptures in Zimbabwe I was fascinated and hooked, and wanted to know more. I knew I could never afford to buy one of them, so made a determined effort to visit the original Chapungu in Harare, Zimbabwe, and to attend any special exhibitions that toured anywhere close to us.

Over the years I’ve written about these sculptures and exhibitions a number of times (see here for a collection of articles, http://www.viviennemackie.com/Chapungu/Chapungu.html ).

Some statues dotted outside the wine tasting room at Blaauwklippen

Some statues dotted outside the wine tasting room at Blaauwklippen


So I was delighted to see some of these eye-catching sculptures at Blaauwklippen wine estate during our visit to the Cape area in South Africa recently.

Art Creations Africa has a Sculpture Garden and Gallery in Somerset West (43 Almond Drive, Helderberg Estate, www.artcreationsafrica.com ), and is one of southern Africa’s largest exhibitors and exporters of the famous Zimbabwe stone work. Blaauwklippen is currently “hosting” a number of these wonderful stone sculptures. They are dotted around the estate, especially near the Wine Tasting Room. All are for sale, so I wonder how many are bought?

An abstract sculpture below one of the huge fig trees

An abstract sculpture below one of the huge fig trees


It’s really nice to see them displayed in this lovely setting, with expansive green lawns and enormous old fig trees, but also sad in a way because they are not in their “real” or “rightful” setting any more due to the political and economic turmoil in Zimbabwe. They are great wherever they are displayed because they are inherently great and beautiful, but also seem a little out of place here to me, having seen them displayed at Chapungu in Harare, Zimbabwe, in a beautiful garden setting. I wonder how many people who see them here, and I’m sure admire them, really know what they are, what the history and background of this movement is? I guess in the end it doesn’t really matter, so long as they are admired and perhaps inspire some discussion, so the legacy of this stone work can continue.

Another eye-catching elongated figure from a single chunk of stone

Another eye-catching elongated figure from a single chunk of stone

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