The opening function, one of two, at Leopard’s Leap last night, was a welcome indication of how the gourmet bar in Franschhoek is about to be raised, with the addition of the Liam Tomlin Food Culinary Studio.  Not one of the 300 guests could have left not being impressed with the architecture and decor of the building, dominated by its beautiful new chandelier, with the generosity of the hosts, and with the excellent food, served with Leopard’s Leap wines.

I have been to Leopards Leap a number of times since it opened in November, and noticed the new chandelier immediately on arrival, after entering the building on a green carpet, being offered a choice of six welcome cocktails.  Flowers in massive vases lining the entrance were by creative florists Okasie in Stellenbosch.  The chandelier was designed by interior decorator Christo Barnard, and he is very chuffed with how well it was executed by Pierre Cronje.  The tasting room staff collected vineyard leaves, which Christo had dye cut out of stainless steel, replicating different leaf shapes, and then spray painted them in yellow, green, and red leaf colours, making a magnificent statement over the tasting counter, and bringing the vineyards into the tasting room, the vine design looking absolutely realistic.

Guests of honour were ex-President FW de Klerk, who had addressed a lunch of 40 members of the Beijing University alumni club yesterday afternoon (a lunch that made CEO Hein Koegelenberg beam, in that he signed up R1,5 million in business during the lunch, he shared with us), and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, who looks younger and more stylish than ever before, all due to her stylist Janine Schouw, she said.  Premier Zille came to say hello, and remembered us meeting at Artscape about five years ago, which makes her such a remarkable person, and such a respected and well-loved politician.  It was touching to see the Premier connect with Mr de Klerk, holding hands. The mutual respect was clear to see.

Leopard’s Leap CEO Hein Koegelenberg made a short speech to welcome the guests to the new Leopard’s Leap Vineyards, housing Leopards Leap Wines and Liam Tomlin Food.  He recounted that he had created the Leopard’s Leap brand twelve years ago, and he acknowledged the work of label designer Anthony Lane in developing it into an international brand, now sold in 41 countries. It had not had a consumer interface in the past, and the neighbouring farm to La Motte was ideal for a tasting room, not only due to its location on the R45 and its proximity to La Motte, but also because the grapes on it had been planted by Hein’s father, and he still looks after the garden team on the estate.  Hein said that Leopard’s Leap is the most diverse wine company in the world, focusing on diversity in sourcing grapes and producing the wines in different regions.

It was the ancient marriage between wine and food that led Hein to seek the ‘perfect pairing of wine and cuisine’ with chef Liam Tomlin, who moved from Sydney to Cape Town some years ago, consulting to La Motte when its restaurant opened, and opening his own Chef’s Warehouse and Cookery School in Cape Town. Now Liam Tomlin Food offers cooking demonstration classes, upping the standard of Franschhoek’s gourmet cuisine offering.  The venue was designed to blend Franschhoek’s ‘proud heritage of wine and cuisine’ with modernity and innovation, to create a world class experience for its visitors.  The building was designed by architects Mokena Design Lab, Christo Barnard did the interior design (having done that of Pierneef à La Motte too), with furnishing by Pierre Cronje.  The building houses offices for Leopard’s Leap Wines and Liam Tomlin Food, a state-of-the-art cooking school and demonstration area, a shop selling cooking equipment, ingredients, and utensils, a garden in which to enjoy picnics in future, and a reading lounge.  Reflected in the building too is the passion the family has for the conservation of the Cape mountain leopard, which is reflected in the magnificent 9 meter high steel sculpture by Marco Cianfanelli, outside the building.  Hein believes that the ‘statue will become a landmark in the Franschhoek Wine Valley’.

Chef Liam’s speech was short and sweet, and he won brownie points when he said that it was much better moving from Australia to South Africa, and not vice versa. He also said that South African wines are better than Australian ones.  He told us that initially he would concentrate on establishing the cooking courses, whereafter the Food Shop will be created, eagerly awaited by locals.  An organic vegetable garden has been planted, for use in his kitchen.

Different food stations were created throughout the kitchen to feed the 300 guests, a mix of food and wine writers, wine farm neighbours, and local winemakers, with trays of material serviettes and cutlery at each, and each dish labelled.  Chicken roasted in the brand new rotisserie was served with a sticky soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and ginger, and a cucumber salad, its Thai basil giving it a sharp edge.   There was sea bass served with delicate noodles. The pork belly served on a pancake with Hoisin sauce and spring onion probably was the most popular dish. A most interesting duck sausage was another hit, containing raisins, pistachio nuts, confit leg, and duck liver, served with a potato salad and duck jus. Chef Liam told us that they had ordered 150 ducks to make the duck sausage, and that their supplier had initially let them down badly, it costing them five days in time to get the sausage made as a result.  A sweetcorn and basil veloute was served in an espresso cup.  An interesting dish was a melted Raclette cheese served with steamed potato and bruschetta.  Desserts were a lemon posset, and a Bailey’s Irish cream parfait with cocoa crunch.  In tasting each of the delicacies, one could get a close look at the kitchen equipment, and Grande Provence owner Alex van Heeren spontaneously described the facilities as ‘world class’.

The clearing of plates and serving of drinks was organised by Aleit event company, and Aleit Swanepoel, the owner, and his team made each guest feel like a special VIP, bringing one drink after the other (a delicious berry Shiraz drink).

As if the hosts’ generosity had not been enough already, each guest received a magnificent presentation box with a thank you from Liam and Hein ‘for sharing this special celebration with us’, and containing a bottle of Leopard’s Leap Shiraz Mouvèdre Viognier 2008, as well as a pack of risotto rice, dried mushrooms, and a bottle of Black Truffle oil, with a recipe card for mushroom risotto.

La Motte and Leopard’s Leap are a new gourmet gateway to Franschhoek, and it would appear that further exciting developments are underway at both wine estates, from what was suggested to me last night.

Liam Tomlin Food, Leopard’s Leap Vineyards, R45, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 876-8822. www.liamtomlinfood.com www.leopards-leap.com Twitter: @LiamTomlinFood  @LeopardLeapWine

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage.