I spent a wonderful afternoon in the middle of nowhere yesterday at Oneiric Wines, 5 km off one of the Elgin roads, spoilt by Chef Bertus Basson of Overture, who set up a pop-up restaurant for 30 guests at the homestead of the owners overlooking the beautiful valley.
Shan Pascall did not tell me about the road I would be travelling to get to the homestead, which is beyond their tasting room, with steep inclines and declines, but she had ‘incentivised’ me by saying that not only would Chef Bertus be cooking, but that her friend David Bullard of former ‘Out to Lunch’ Sunday Times column fame would be there too. I was shaking a little on arrival, after the drive, so had to refuse the Sauvignon Blanc which was offered as a welcome drink.
David and I were introduced to each other where Chef Bertus was cooking, and we did a quick run through of our favourite restaurants in the Cape. David writes for Prestige magazine, and moved to Somerset West six months ago. I was surprised about the choice of the town, but he raved about the Croydon estate in which he lives, which is a producing vineyard with its own wine label, the wines being made by Beyers Truter of Beyerskloof. The 200 houses on the estate are separated by vineyards, so that one is hardly aware of one’s neighbours. The residents are very social, finding any opportunity to meet for some wine, lovely resident Claudine Wheeler told me, sitting next to her and her husband Francis. David’s restaurant favourites so far are The Long Table, Equus at Cavalli, Guardian Peak, Overture, Indochine, Avontuur, and Tokara. It was hard to photograph David in serious mode, as he isn’t, so we settled on a ‘silver spoon in mouth’ portrait!
Chef Bertus looked relaxed, and with three assistants conjured up a fantastic 4-course meal, most of it prepared on his green ceramic egg-shaped American ‘Weber’, which cooks on coals, but at a very much higher heat due to the ceramic shell. He will be shooting Season 3 of the Ultimate Braai Master from the end of this month, the reality TV show doing extremely well, and having been translated and aired in 19 countries via the Travel Channel. He shared that a Korean guest had recently arrived at the restaurant, having seen Chef Bertus in action on the show in his language, so it is good for Overture too. This year Chef Bertus is going more South African, for example offering soetkoekies with the coffee – as far as he is concerned macaroons are definitely out of fashion! He is getting married in April, and is excited about the new house they have bought in Jamestown in Stellenbosch. His partner Craig Cormack has named their catering company The Goose Roasters, they have added another Die Worsrol, and they have bought a braai trailer for catering at functions. We spoke about the Eat Out Awards, and how well his chef friends who did not make Top 10 and Top 20 took it. He was complimentary about how Eat Out had re-invented itself with the awards, and how good it was to receive the feedback from the judges directly after the awards ceremony. He is proud that he has done so well, not having finished matric nor having done any formal chef’s training.
‘Oneiric’ means what dreams are made of, and the name aptly describes the green surroundings in all directions. It is in the World Heritage Site Kogelberg Biosphere, and still has some apple trees, although they replaced many of them with vines, due to bacteria affecting the vines. One does not see another building in a 360° vista from the top of the hill. We sat on the terrace, at two long tables, and the food just kept coming. I met Sophia Hawkins from Vilafonte, who sat opposite me, and her sister, who regaled us with stories about Swiss spas! Oneiric has five wines in its portfolio, and each is inspired by Copper sulphides, Shan’s father working in the Zambian copper mines. The range consists of Sauvignon Blanc, represented in its label by Malachite; Chardonnay, the yellow label reflecting Chalcopyrite; Cousin Jack is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Shiraz, and was a name given to Cornish miners; the Cabernet Sauvignon label is represented by Chalcocite; and the Shiraz label by Azurite. The first vines were planted in 2005 by the previous farm owner. Shan moved to the farm from Johannesburg two years ago, and while she went through withdrawal symptoms in the first six months, she is now happily settled on the farm. She has no formal training in wine, but has learnt all the ins and outs. She chats to fellow Elgin vintners, and is amazed at their friendliness and collegiality in providing advice, when they are in essence competitors. There are 18 vintners in their region, and only half are open to the public for tasting. They are not allowed signage on the N2 for their wine route, a marketing challenge.
Chef Bertus served us an unusual and spicy Gazpacho, meaning soaked bread in Spanish, made from pureed emulsified tomatoes, covered with croutons, onions, yellow pepper strips, cucumber slices, micro herbs and topped with basil ice cream. It was paired with the Oneiric Sauvignon Blanc. The bread was served in thick chunks, and served to mop up the lovely sauce of the next course too. Thereafter the courses became sharing food, a new trend Chef Bertus said, served on platters and bigger plates for us to dish up from. The intermediate course was farmed cob from Paternoster, a delicious fish, served just as is and decorated with nasturtium leaves. It was served with the beautiful gold-labelled Chardonnay 2010.
The main course was a delicious smoked pork belly, served with celeriac and crackling, and accompanied by platters of a variation of beetroot as well as potato salad. More and more platters arrived, so everyone had seconds, there being an abundance of food. We were offered the choice of the Oneiric Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon for this course. The dessert was shared too, being sponge cake, red wine poached pears, and cinnamon ice cream. Some melba toast and Gorgonzola platters were passed around too, but I could not manage to eat anything more.
It was a fun afternoon with excellent Oneiric wines, superb food prepared by Chef Bertus, and lovely company. I left before the croquet, fearing the return journey, but it was not half as bad between the homestead and the tasting room as I remembered driving it, probably due to the Oneiric wines!
Oneiric Wines, 76 Highlands Road, Elgin. Tel 071 481 9560. www.oneiric.co.za Twitter: @OneiricWineFarm
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: WhaleCottage
Good to see that Bertus’ outdoor cooker of choice is a a Big Green Egg. A weber isn’t a patch on these babies.
I’m sure Bertus agrees with you.
It must be heavy to transport, but has a sturdy set of wheels.