Life is in perfect balance at Waterkloof
Waterkloof: say the name out loud and anyone in the vicinity will immediately start talking about nouveau riche from Pretoria or that High School being in the news for all the wrong reasons…now there is a new Waterkloof on the block, on the slopes of the Schaapenberg, embraced by the Hottentots-Holland and Helderberg Mountains.
You won’t find any nouveau riche on this farm; it’s not one of those pretty lifestyle farms that so many foreign investors set up in SA. This is a proper farm, with chickens, sheep and of course, vineyards.
When the friendly folks at Waterkloof invited us around for a visit, we never thought it would be a 5 hour marathon…and we enjoyed every second of it! The enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable Farm Manager (Christiaan) took us on a tour of the farm; a “tour” is the wrong description; it was more of an eye-opening experience: Waterkloof is farmed according to biodynamic principles by people who care and know what they’re doing.
The fancy definition of Biodynamic Agriculture is: a method of organic farming that emphasizes the holistic development and interrelationships of the soil, plants and animals as a self-sustaining system. Biodynamic farming has much in common with other organic approaches, such as emphasizing the use of manures and composts and excluding of the use of artificial chemicals on soil and plants. Biodynamics was one of the first modern ecological farming systems and is considered to be one of the most sustainable.
All the scientific wording in the word does not prepare you for Waterkloof’s approach: we’re talking having chickens scratch around in the vineyards to ensure the soil is loose and aerated while their poop adds vital nitrogen to the soil. They’re using horses (yes, the four-legged working horse kind) to work in their vineyards to avoid the inevitable soil compaction caused by tractors and other heavy machinery. The aim is to have a tractor-free farm in the near future! Sheep roam freely in the vineyards, keeping the cover crop short and adding their vital nitrogen contribution to the soil. Speaking of cover crop: it’s planted to keep the insects (and possible pests) off the vines. We spotted a raptor perch for birds of prey who hunt burrowing rodents…and the list goes on.
Christiaan showed us his planned earthworm farm for the vegetable garden he is planning with Chef Gregori Czarnecki for the fabulous Waterkloof Restaurant. They’re taking the idea of sustainability one step further with the garden on the farm. The newly acquired calves will also be raised to provide milk while the sheep well, they will make a vital contribution to the restaurant menu.
Speaking of Chef Gregori: what a guy! What a Chef! Born and trained in France, he has worked all over the world in Michelin-Star restaurants as a chef and consultant. He was finally lured to SA by a woman in 2008 – we shall forever be thankful to her… Chef Gregori was involved in the Waterkloof project from inception; he designed the kitchen and decided from the beginning to use local produce where possible. Salmon trout is sourced from Lourensford just around the corner; while a very special matured cheddar cheese is made by James Healey, especially for the restaurant.
Chef Gregori sent us food that he believed showcased the restaurant and the wines; we were blown away by the beautiful presentation that was only exceeded by the incredible flavours on our plates. The Navigator said that it was the best “fine dining” food he’s had in South Africa! Flavours from all over the world were in perfect synergy on our plates – a feast for the eye and taste buds. We’re talking roasted cucumber, monk fish, ginger infused fresh apples…Go eat there, experience the food for yourself; you will be making the trek out to Somerset West again and again. Prices are reasonable for the excellent food: 2 courses R190 and 3 courses R230 or try the 6 course Degustation Menu at R490 including wine pairing.
Waterkloof makes wine too! With a philosophy that the wine must be a reflection of the farm, they have a few wine collections: The flagship Waterkloof Sauvignon Blanc (R155) made from a single situated at the highest point on the farm (300m above sea level); Circumstance (R85 – R155) also from higher elevation vineyards but generally with more fruit expression; Peacock Ridge (R70 – R90), mainly produced from the vineyards on the lower, more protected slopes. The Circle of Life Range (White and Red blends both R120) are remarkable as they tell the tale of the circle of production and plant life on the farm. I loved the Circle of Life White Blend and the Circumstance Sauvignon Blanc (R90); coming from a person not known for her love of Sauvignon Blanc, this is high praise indeed! The Navigator enjoyed the Circumstance 2008 Chardonnay (lightly wooded R90) and the Circumstance 2009 Chenin Blanc (saw a spot of new oak R90) and they both paired exceptionally well with the food of Chef Gregori. There is also a Peacock Ridge and False Bay range to complete the beautiful collection.
One thing that struck me about Waterkloof was that all the staff we spoke to, have been employed at Waterkloof since Paul Boutinot re-developed it in 2008. This is the real deal: a farming enterprise that doesn’t just give lip service and practices what they preach. What is good for the farm, is good for the restaurant, is good for the wine and it is good for the people…it will be good for you too.