A Love Letter To Chardonnay

Date:

Weltevrede Estate is finally ready to open its doors and let the public experience their new tasting room, and I was lucky enough to be invited as one of the first people to get a sneak peek. Interestingly, the door they are opening is an oval egg-shape and Philip Jonker, fourth-generation owner and winemaker, told me the unique shape of the door is meant to challenge the nearly 200-year-old estate to be forward-thinking.   

“Although we have a huge history behind us, we don’t want to get stuck in that history. We want to continue birthing new ideas, to be challenging, to be modern, and fresh,” says Philip, who showed his father the new tasting room just a week before my visit. 

Upon discovering the old building that used to house underground tanks from as far back as the early 1900s, Philip started tearing down the walls to create a tasting room experience that would allow visitors to experience chardonnay like never before. The centuries-old wine tanks have been turned into a part gallery / part museum that tells the story of a family who is madly in love with chardonnay. 

Photo by Weltevrede Estate Wines by Welcome Mandla Lishivha

Terroir

After over a century of winemaking, the Jonkers came to the realisation that chardonnay is their thing. “We know which wines we make really well and it’s chardonnay. Because the terroir of the valley is best suited for this varietal, we have decided to zero in on it and make Weltevrede a chardonnay brand,” says Philip.  

Being surrounded by the Langeberg mountain range on the one side and the Riviersonderend range on the other, the ridges of the mountains create a funnel that guides the afternoon breeze into the valley. The breeze cools off the south-facing slopes of the chardonnay vineyards, ensuring cool evenings, and chardonnay loves that, Philip explains. He believes the terroir determines the character and flair of wine. 

By terroir, he refers to the climate, soil and overall ecology in which the grapes grow, and the wine is fermented. It is like the upbringing of a wine – where and how it is raised – and for Philip, the ‘whom’ makes up part of the terroir. “We are part of the terroir,” he says.

In addition to the funnel of wind that allows for cool evenings, the strong calcium found in limestone allows the Robertson Valley to grow not only strong bone-structured racehorses, but tasty chardonnay, too. 

The minerals found in the soil of the Robertson Valley gives their chardonnay a minerality, which Jonker insists makes them stand head and shoulders above other chardonnay makers.

Minerality, according to Jonker, is the tantalising sensation at the back of the tongue that invites you for more. It has also been described as “minimalist, limey, tight, vibrant and radiant”.

Taste, then create 

The estate’s new tasting room offers two tours: Captivated by Chardonnay and Captivated by Classique. First, we tasted three delicious wines in candlelit rooms between the arcade of wine art, storytelling and poetic statements written on the walls. We even had Philip read us a poem he wrote in honour of what is clearly his favourite wine in the collection:

“My prayer is that this wine will not leave you unmoved. As you spend time with it, you will know that your own story, no matter how fragmented or scarred, can be beautiful too. That when you open a bottle of Poet’s Prayer, it can’t help but evoke a pause.” 

Walking through the underground cellar in between the three tasting rooms, one is immersed in art testifying to the beauty of the Poet’s Prayer, and the history of an estate that has boldly declared its love and commitment to chardonnay.  

In the Captivated by Classique tour, we walked through an aisle filled with thousands of bubbly bottles before we reached the tasting room where we sat around a table to taste three of their Cap Classique chardonnays.

After pressing the grapes (and Philip insists a gentle press releases elegant wine), the base wine is fermented and sealed with the metal crown cap for the first fermentation. The bubbles develop and build pressure until the yeast, which would have served its purpose, settles at the bottom of the bottle cap before it is removed for the final bottling.  

After learning how Cap Classique is made, we ended off with the Create Cap Classique experience – bottling and packaging bottles of cap Classique Chardonnay to take home.  

Photo by Weltevrede Estate Wines by Weltevrede Estates Tasting Room Photo by:Welcome Mandla Lishivha

For the exciting bits of making the Cap Classique, we were given a bottle frozen around the bottle cap. When we opened it, the metal crown comes out with the frozen remnants of yeast that are no longer needed in the last phase of fermentation. We added the syrup and pressed the cork into the bottle with a machine before securing it again with a wire hood.

We washed the bottles in another one of the machines before packaging them with the supplied stickers. You may bring your own sticker if you like, although they may soon be offering the opportunity to print custom stickers for the special souvenirs. Now for the long wait – we’re advised to only open the bottles after at least three months. This is so that the bubbles settle while we go about finding a good reason to pop them. 

The underground cellar is adorned with bottles of bubbly from all over the world, and quotes from famous people about champagne, such as this contribution from Oscar Wilde: “Pleasure without champagne is purely artificial”. Not only do the Jonkers love chardonnay, but the Cap Classique chardonnay seems to give them the most pride and joy. 

Having tasted all their Chardonnay wines, I can attest to the mouthwatering minerality that has my mouth salivating every time I look back to memories of their new tasting room.  

For Philip, the nobility of the wine shines when the winemaker is able to sit back and let the grape give its full character to the wine without much interruption from the winemaker. He is so in love with chardonnay that every time I listen to him talk about it, I can’t help but feel sorry for his wife who has to compete for his affection for the revered queen of the vine.  

Weltevrede’s new tasting room is an exciting development that offers a unique and contemporary approach to wine tasting. It is worth the two-hour drive from Cape Town.  

 Photo by Weltevrede Estate Wines by Weltevrede Estates Tasting Room Photo by:Weltevrede Estates Chardonnay Cap ClassiqueWelcome Mandla Lishivha

The Essentials 

When to go 

Spring and Summer (September – February) 

Where to stay 

MO & ROSE at Soekershof  

moandrose.co.za  

Food 

Upon staying over at MO & ROSE, we drove to the nearest restaurant for home-cooked dinner at a Dutch-style restaurant called The Lab  

MO & ROSE offers breakfast, which is included in the stay, and if you arrange with the restaurant ahead of time, they can also arrange dinner for you.  

Costs 

From R1 300 per person sharing per night at MO & ROSE 

R250 for Captivated by Cap Classique 

R250 for Captivated by Chardonnay 

R200 for Create Cap Classique 

Good to know 

Take a day trip from Cape Town by driving to Robertson in the morning and returning in the evening or stay over and allow yourself to take in everything without a rush. The Cap Classique you make is an excellent idea for a birthday or bridal group because everyone gets to leave with a special bottle as a souvenir.  

Getting there 

SAA flies daily between Cape Town and Johannesburg. Robertson is just two hours away from Cape Town International Airport. 

Words & Images: Welcome Mandla Lishivha 

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