It’s a hot day in the Paardeberg area in Malmesbury, and we’re standing out on the terrace of the restaurant at Fynbos Estate. Misting racks line the terrace roof, cooling us down and welcoming us in.
Dragonridge in Fynbos Estate takes its name from the surrounding mountains; the undulating hills give the appearance of a dragon’s back. The name works well with not just with the land, but also with the enchanting and relaxed feeling of the farm.
In the Western Cape we are spoilt for choice when it comes to wine farms. There are the most famous, the oldest, the most popular. Then there are many lesser-known ones, ones that someone you know happened to attend a wedding at or heard about through a friend. They are hidden gems, and as much as we would selfishly like them to stay that way, there is no way we can’t tell everyone we know about them.
Dragonridge winery is one of those gems. The vineyard itself is about 16ha and the rest of the estate is a nature reserve of over 200ha. The farm is owned by Diana and Johan Simons, a warm and down to earth couple – who escaped to the country in the late 1990s. Previously, Johan worked as a molecular biologist and Diana is a trained psychologist and still practices, but her focus is now on the retreats they host at Fynbos Estate.
The original plan was to grow some grapes and make a few bottles of wine for fun. But over several years, a few bottles turned into 10, 000 a year.
Behind the Scenes
Johan, who is now viticulturist, winemaker, cook and more, subscribes to an all-natural, organic wine-growing and making process, reminiscent of the methods used in the early 1900s. They are a member of the Swartland Independent Producers (SIP) which promotes the organic wine-making process.
The entire day on Fynbos Estate was a treat, after being welcomed and cooled, we were given a glass of the Supernova, the method ancestrale, a type of sparkling wine made the ancient way – a single fermentation that occurs in the bottle. As the process is all-natural, it’s virtually impossible to control – bottles often explode, but it’s a gamble that pays off.
We were taken to the modest cellar; with only one basket press, one destemmer/crusher and two pumps, but that’s all they need. Johan gave us the opportunity to try his 2016 vintages straight from the barrel, and even though they are many months from being released, all of them were flavourful, unique and rich.
Afterwards we sat down to a five-course meal, each course paired to a different wine. Most of the wines are named after constellations. First was the Cygnus, a wooded Chenin Blanc; then it was Capella, an unwooded Chenin Blanc. Both were full in flavour, crisp and fruity. The Capella was followed by the Shiraz, which tasted just like Christmas, spicy and festive. The Pinotage was next, Johan pronounces it “Pin-knot-tidge”, his reason being that it is a South African wine, so why pronounce it in a French way? However you decide to pronounce it, his Pinotage is the best I’ve ever tasted. The last red we had was the Dark Star, which takes its name from Johan’s favourite Grateful Dead song. Finally, with dessert – Johan’s incredible strawberry ice cream – we had the Rigel, Dragonridge’s sweet, straw wine. The sweetness and tartness matched perfectly.
While the wine may be the main event, Fynbos Estate has a lot more to offer. Among the many beautiful old buildings on the land, there is a farm house from the 1890s where Johan and Diana used to live when their children still lived at home. Now visitors can rent it for a weekend getaway with friends, it sleeps eight but can comfortably fit up to 16. Being photogenically close to the pool and the pavilion means that it’s also an ideal wedding venue.
There are wonderful walks and more energetic hikes on the estate, simply email ahead. Harvest season is also an open invitation; every year volunteers from across the globe come and get involved, many come back year after year. I’m not surprised – Fynbos Estate is the kind of place that demands repeat visits.
- Dragonridge Wines
- Fynbos Estate
- Johan and Diana Simons
022 487 1153
Words: Molly Fitz-Patrick