Darling: Tortoise Town

My friend Luke Krone, the élegance grise behind the Summer Elegance jol in Tulbagh on December 8, pushed the skilpaadjie to the side of his steamer at dim.sum.vin’s CROK party last month as he thought it contained tortoise. Alas, reptile repasts are long off the menu, as I reported in the Sunday Times Travel Weekly yesterday.

Groote Post winery in Tortoise Town

Back Label: Afrikaans is hard to beat when it comes to jokes. In the combi up to Darling for the Voorkamerfest, Planeetwyn blogger Johan Crafford (author of planet wine, a bilingual blog) announced that the previous evening he’d been to a tortoise braai – not much meat but plenty of dop (dop being slang for booze and a shell in tortoisespeak). Quite fitting for a trip to Darling, home to the geometric tortoise, now undergoing a revival in numbers as Karoo lamb replaces tortoise as preferred protein in waterblommetjiebredie (water lily stew).

In fact Darling seems to have embraced the scaly reptile, as they appear on the label for Darling Slow, a local craft beer, along with the motto “inspired by the geometric tortoise.” The recipe was purchased from Sneeuberg Brewery in Nieu-Bethesda in the Karoo, more famous for trash owls sculpted from rubbish by Helen Martins. But unlike most craft beers, this one travelled well as Martin Tucker of Keg King reports Slow came top among 103 lagers at his Festival of Beer last year. Good news as it’s so popular, Slow is now brewed in Paardeneiland, according to one barfly.

In addition to craft beer, the geometric tortoise is also a suitable symbol for Darling wine. For although the appellation is only an hour north of Cape Town, news of the quality of its wines has been pretty slow in getting through. The reason for this is that many growers sell their grapes to producers from more fashionable regions. One Sauvignon Blanc Top Ten Challenge in Wine magazine (before it folded, from lack of interest) reputedly contained seven wines made from grapes grown in Theo Basson’s Alexanderfontein vineyards; wines with wildly different retail prices (and tasting notes).

History: While Durbanville (previously known as Pampoenkraal) was the company vegetable patch, Darling was the larder for the VOC, the world’s first limited liability company, which set up a refuelling stop at the Cape in the middle of the seventeenth century. The ironically nicknamed “Honourable Company” would run great herds of cattle and flocks of sheep on the grassy southern slopes of the Darling Hills. Which attracted the attention of passing Hottentots and so necessitated the building of forts, to protect company property.

Groote Post was the largest of these outposts and was sympathetically converted into a modern 500 ton winery in 1998 by the Pentz family, who now own the 4000ha farm. Lukas Wentzel has been winemaker for the past decade and he lives in a renovated 18th century Cape Dutch house with a slave bell and an indigenous garden the envy of Kirstenbosch.

Terroir Identikit: The vineyards of Groote Post are a scant five kilometres from the cold and crashing Atlantic Ocean. Double the distance from the sea and vines ripen three weeks earlier. Plant any closer and you have to wash the salt crust off the leaves, as they do up north at Bamboesbaai.

The result is whites of bracingly fresh acidity and piercingly pure flavours. Like the Groote Post Unwooded Chardonnay 2011: crushed sea shells on the nose, citrus and limes on the palate that cry out for satisfaction from spicy Asian noodles or shellfish.

Best Wine: Pinot Noir is the next wine wave heading for a supermarket shelf near you. Walker Bay – now being fashionably rebranded as the Hemel en Aarde appellation – is in the vanguard. Which is strange really, as the best Pinot in the world hails from Burgundy in the middle of France – a long way indeed from the seaside.

Robertson will probably emerge as the Promised Land for the heartbreak grape (already Rietvallei already make a stonker at under R100 a bottle) but while maritime Pinots sing their siren songs of strawberries and bright cherries, the wines of La Vierge are for purists. If you prefer a touch of Amy Winehouse-style earthiness, try the 2009 Reserve from Groote Post, their best to date and ♥♥♥♥♥ in my upcoming Neil Pendock’s Winelands Guide 2013, if the truck driver’s strike does not derail publication.

Restaurant: Hildagonda Duckitt, the Jamie Oliver of her Victorian era, was born on Groote Post and her instructions for despatching a tortoise (tickle its shell and when it sticks a curious head out, chop if off) is still in use today. Although tortoise is no longer on the menu, adventurous culinary fare is still whipped up by Debbie McLaughlin at Hilda’s Kitchen. Her oxtail pie is a legend in its own lunchtime – Wednesdays to Sunday only. Contact 022 492 3430.

Other Attractions: Horse riding makes the farm look like the set for a Marlboro Man advertisement on weekends. At the end of winter, a profusion of wild flowers carpets the rolling hills in a sea of outrageous floral abundance.

At 10am, Monday-Sunday, R100 buys you a game drive through a 2000ha game camp, full of Africa’s indigenous antelope: Eland, Kudu, Gemsbok, Bontebok, Springbok, Red Hartebeest, Fallow Deer as well as Ostrich, Black Wildebeest and Quagga. Budding botanists can luxuriate in the endangered Swartland Granite Renosterveld, Swartland Shale Renosterveld and Atlantis Sand Fynbos. Groote Post comprises 5% of South Africa’s Renosterveld.

Open: Monday – Friday: 09h00 – 17h00; Saturday and Sunday: 10h00 – 16h00.

Tasting Charge: free

Directions: From Cape Town take the R27 to Langebaan. Turn right onto the Darling Hills Road opposite the Grotto Bay turnoff. After 10 km, turn right to the Groote Post cellar.
From Darling, take the R307 to Cape Town and turn off at the Darling Hills Road. After 7km; turn left to the Groote Post Cellar.

GPS Coordinates: 18° 24′ 38”E; 33° 28′ 58”S