Last week Anel Grobler of Spit of Swallow and I were ‘paired’ for a visit to Waterkloof wine estate in Somerset West, a change from the blogger group invitations normally extended. It meant that I could get to know her a little better, and that we received personal and dedicated attention. I was impressed by the biodynamic farming on the wine estate, and by Chef Gregory Czarnecki’s cuisine.
We savoured a glass of Sauvignon Blanc 2009 on arrival, chatting about Chef Gregory’s background before marrying a local lass, and how happy he is at Waterkloof, coming from the Michelin 3-star Lucas Carton restaurant in France. He is French, with Polish roots. We expressed our surprise about the Eat Out Top 20 list exclusion of the restaurant, and he said that they were disappointed, as they work hard to up their game, and treat every customer with passion, not only the Eat Out judge. Most important is that what they do is consistent. He is a perfectionist, and did not even allow himself time off for his honeymoon, to make sure he is in the kitchen every day. His kitchen is proudly local, and they do not import any products. Increasingly they are sourcing from the Waterkloof farm, and herb (including the scarce tarragon) and vegetable planting has started. Trout comes from Lourensford close by, fish from the West Coast, kabeljou specifically from a sustainable farm in Port Elizabeth, and the farm supplies eggs, chickens and lamb too. They want to become as self-sustainable as possible.
The farm drive in farm manager Christiaan Loots’ bakkie was impressive, and his passion for what he does, and for applying the principles of sustainability (an earthworm farm is being created, and he reuses everything on the farm, with little thrown away), shows. He is going in the opposite direction to most other wine farmers, looking to sell his mechanical equipment to be able to buy more horses, not only to do the work but also to use the dung for compost, which benefits his land and the vines. ‘Nature does the stuff for us’, he said. The farm is 120 hectares in size, of which just less than half is under vines. They apply organic farming principles, not spraying for weeds, just keeping them under control, as they add silicon and nitrogen to the soil. They don’t add fertiliser, only adding compost, their seven horses and more than 80 Dorper sheep assisting with this, and all kitchen scraps are composted as well. They have just bought the next door farm, so that they can grow feed for the horses, rather than buying it in, which means that the bottom section of the road will be tarred. The farm planted 20 hectare in 1995, but Christiaan started in 2005, and has more than doubled this. He is a trained viticulturist, and taught himself the principles of biodynamic farming, with the encouragement of owner Paul Boutinot. It takes three years to be certified Biodynamic, and this is what Christiaan is working on. Not using tractors anymore, the vines can be planted closer together, giving more yield. More than 30 hens run around in the vineyards, eating bugs, and laying eggs in a special egg truck. Only fynbos is planted in the garden, and they have 111 species on the farm. Christiaan has two cows, which he uses to make ‘cow dung tea’ to compost his vineyards.
I have seen Anel at many a function, and know her as a fun no-nonsense person, with a love for laughter and wines, and very successful at what she does with Spit or Swallow, together with her partner Jan. She told me a little more about herself – she is a Libra, typically undecided, says she is a hippy at heart, loves animals, was born in Kroonstad, lived in Grootfontein and Pretoria, until her parents moved to Betty’s Bay. She studied clothing production management at the Cape Technikon, and worked in clothing manufacture for ten years, before leaving because she felt that she was in a rut. She enjoyed drinking wines when she came to the Cape on holiday. She started Tweeting, and created Spit or Swallow and Wine Times too.
The backdrop to our table was majestic. Our meal started with Chef Gregory personally taking our order. An amuse bouche of biltong and miso soil, pomegranate and yoghurt mousse, beetroot smear and buchu meringue was served, with the Waterkloof Circle of Life White 2010. Paul Boutinot came to say hello, and told us that biodynamic farming is good for the environment, but even better for improving the quality of wine. It makes the vineyards more resistant to diseases, and takes farming back to its original roots of more than 70 years ago. He said that the Waterkloof wines reflect what is in the vineyards. He chose the farm as it is the site to make the ideal wine, where nature is in ‘perfect balance’. They have 113 days from flower to picking, the average being 80 days, he told us. Boutinot has an agency in the UK which distributes Italian, French and South African wines.
Anel and I chose different dishes, so that we could share the look and taste of each dish. Plating is a strength of Chef Gregory. I started with a Camembert Crème Brûlée, rich and creamy, with the most beautiful celery shavings, curried walnut, and Granny Smith and celery sorbet (R55). Anel enjoyed her Smoked farm egg and parma ham starter (R50). With the Magaliesburg duck breast was served puy lentils, a terrine of confit leg with foie gras and rhubarb, and carrot and tarragon puree (R150), and the dish was paired with Circumstance Syrah 2008. Anel chose Monkfish and crispy prawn (R155), a very attractive dish. Deconstructed orange parfait and citrus shortbread was served as a pre-dessert, my dessert choice being a strawberry and hibiscus comsommé, with fromage blanc and cucumber sorbet, while Anel ordered the cream of Ivoire white chocolate served with matcha tea and black sesame (all desserts cost R60).
A 6-course Degustation Menu is excellent value at R385, and if wines are added to each course the cost is R490.
I had been impressed with Chef Gregory’s plating of the dish he prepared earlier this year at the Grande Provence Big 5 Multiple Sclerosis charity lunch, and he demonstrated this strength again at our lunch. He and his team of ten create cuisine masterpieces, and the restaurant deserves to be on the Eat Out Top 10 list. Its increasing self-sustainability, the biodynamic farming methods, and organic wines make this a wine estate that is in perfect balance. Last week Waterkloof was recognised by the Great Wine Capitals Global Network as the top South African wine estate in the Architecture and Landscape category.
Waterkloof Restaurant, Sir Lowry Village Road, Somerset West. Tel (021) 858-1292. www.waterkloofwines.co.za Twitter:@WaterkloofWines Lunch Monday – Sunday, Dinner Monday – Saturday.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter @WhaleCottage