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At first glance, Grabouw is an inconspicuous nest. At second glance, too. The small town centre has only a few pubs and supermarkets, and even in high summer foreigners strolling around are a rarity. The hustle and bustle and noise familiar from Stellenbosch or Franschhoek, all the thatched cottages and upmarket souvenir shops admired there, are completely absent. And if you go shopping in Grabouw on a Saturday afternoon, perhaps for a bit of meat for the traditional barbecue, you really are where you often don't think you are in the more sophisticated areas of the country: in the middle of Africa!

Breathtaking landscapes

Small wine capital, big plans

It's hard to believe that Grabouw, idyllically situated on the edge of a huge nature reserve, is also the most important town in the Elgin wine-growing region. From Cape Town airport, it takes little more than 45 minutes, first up to the Hottentots-Holland Mountains and then downhill again a bit. From Sir Lowry's Pass, at the very top, a ravishing view opens up over False Bay - but there are no vines to be seen at first. No wonder that most tourists cross the so-called Ward Elgin as quickly as possible, which legally no longer belongs to the Coastal Region, but to the Overberg wine-growing district. At most, they buy a few muffins and some biltong in one of the farm stalls, as the farm shops along the highway are called, before they speed on to Hermanus or, on the Garden Route, to Port Elisabeth. Those in a hurry miss out on exciting wines, that's for sure.

The extensive vineyards

From apple to wine

The progress the winegrowers have made in recent years can be seen a few streets away from the centre of Grabouw. Sascha Sulliman-Exner, together with his wife Sabine, has settled in a pretty villa. They lovingly designed rooms and garden suites, which earned the guesthouse "Villa Exner" the highest rating of five stars immediately after opening. In the evening, regional products are used in the cooking, and an excellently sorted wine list lists Elgin's best wines. But even Sauvignon and Chardonnay fans should at least try the freshly pressed apple juice, perhaps as an aperitif on the veranda. After all, Elgin is currently best known for its apples - they find perfect climatic conditions. "After all, it's always a few degrees cooler here than in Stellenbosch," Exner knows. A few clever winemakers from Stellenbosch recognised this as an advantage years ago in terms of grapes as well - they buy the harvest in Elgin, which is about 450 metres above sea level, and drive it over the mountains for processing. "I have no doubt that Elgin will one day be the best wine-growing region in South Africa," laughs Andrew Gunn. The patron of the Iona winery is one of the few producers still making wine on site - but he has big goals and by no means limits them to white grapes. "We have also planted Syrah, Mourvèdre and Petit Verdot," Gunn smiles. "The climate in Elgin is very varied, there are different distances from the sea, orientations to the sun - you just have to choose the right site carefully."

Paul Clover% Pioneer of the Elgin wine region

Helping people to help themselves

Paul Cluver, the pioneer of the Elgin wine region, also chose. Back in the 1980s, the fruit farmer decided not only to sell apples, pears and plums, but also to plant vines. Today, he has more than 100 hectares planted with Sauvignon blanc, Gewürztraminer or Cabernet Sauvignon. The greatest praise, however, goes to the Rieslings: the dry variety, which is rather harmless to German palates, as well as the more or less sweet Special and Noble Late Harvests.

But the magazines report even more frequently about the Thandi community project initiated by Paul Cluver. Right next to the motorway, from 1995 onwards, an agricultural enterprise emerged that set standards. At that time, the export markets for apples had collapsed, jobs were lost. Cluver not only looked outside his own box, but also recognised the possibilities of the new South Africa. He created, in cooperation with the state and the municipality, an alternative also for workers without education. More than 200 people are now working on Thandi, growing fruit, flowers and vegetables, stocking the farm shop with homemade souvenirs and serving hearty meals in the small farm restaurant. The employees are almost bursting with pride in the enterprise that has long since become their own. And not without reason, the wines produced here are impressive: The Shiraz-Cabernet cuvée is almost elegant, while the Pinot noir is fresh, fruity and just a little bit rustic. Both go well with the delicious bratwurst with green peas from their own harvest and a mountain of mashed potatoes. You are wonderfully satiated after just a few bites and don't for a moment think of missing the suddenly seemingly quite kitschy hustle and bustle of Stellenbosch or Franschhoek!

Click here for the first part: "A Bruwer seldom comes alone".

Click here forthe third part: "The Far East".

Wineries and Restaurants

Iona Vineyards
PO Box 527
Grabouw 7160
Tel. 0027/28-2849678

Paul Cluver
N 2
Grabouw 7160
Tel. 0027/21-8440605

Thandi Farm Kitchen
N 2
Grabouw 7160
Tel. 0027/21-8440343

Villa Exner
11 Essenhout Avenue,
Grabouw 7160
Tel. 0027/21-8593596

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