It was Tweets by Delaire Graff Chef Christiaan Campbell about Café Blanc de Noir at new Brenaissance wine estate that attracted attention to the new eatery in the Devon Valley in Stellenbosch, which opened just over a month ago, and it had been on my list of restaurants to visit when I received an invitation to visit last Thursday from Nicolette Waterford, the new Public Relations consultant for the wine and stud estate. Brenaissance is like no other wine estate. lt does not have any historical buildings, it is not owned by a known winemaker, it has no heritage nor history,and it does not follow the industry way of doing things, and therefore the owners say: ‘Expect the Unexpected’‘ at Brenaissance.
Owners Hayley and Tom Breytenbach have worked in the finance and property development fields, and initially met at a gym, their paths crossing a year later again. Tom moved down to the Cape, and wanted to realise his dream of owning a wine farm. Shown a property in a reasonably more affordable Devon Valley three years ago, the agent showed him a very run down 116 ha Highmead, which was a bulk producer of grapes sold to wine estates on 35 ha, with 14 varieties of plums produced on another 35 ha, and sold to Tesco. At that time its owner had been caught in a pyramid scheme, and was close to sequestration. Although originally interested in a property across the road, Tom was moved by the owner’s plight, and made him an offer to pay his creditors within 24 hours, then bought the property, and made the original owner his farm manager.
Tom and Hayley did their homework, tasting wines at the majority of wine estates in the broader Stellenbosch area, observing the inconsistency in the quality of the wines made on the wine estates, and noted that the passion a winemaker has for a varietal comes through in the quality of the wine. They also observed the speed at which many wine tastings are conducted, five wines offered for tasting in about ten minutes. They initially appointed a respected consultant viticulturist, but differing opinions led them to part ways, and Tom has done as much studying as he can, doing a Cape Wine Academy course, studying via You Tube, has been a garagiste, and asks questions of experts on the internet, being surprised at how generous winemakers from around the world have been in answering his questions, but found his local colleagues to be less sharing. Tom is a Pisces, and said proudly that he does not take ‘no’ for an answer from anyone! This led Tom to focus on growing the best quality grapes on his estate – he does not buy in any – and then finding the best available winemaker for each of his varietals, entrusting four different winemakers to make his wines at their respective wine estates. Another unusual aspect of the Brenaissance wines is that the varietal is not indicated on the front of the bottle, but is indicated at the back, the Breytenbachs wanting to build stand-alone sub brands, modelling their thinking on Boekenhoutskloof’s The Chocolate Block. The varietals grown on Brenaissance are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Adding the plums to the farming mix has allowed the staff to be employed full-time throughout the year. From 14h00 to 18h00 the temperature drops by 4 to 9° C on their farm, bringing structure to the fruit, Tom said. Most vines are 7 – 12 years old, but the Merlot vines are 22 years old already. Each wine price ends with an ‘8’, signalling luck for the Chinese. Brenaissance offers an open phone advisory service, whereby one can call Tom for a wine and food pairing suggestion. The customer club is called the ‘Blacklist’, and offers a discount on purchases, with free delivery throughout South Africa, and regular information. They will focus their marketing on connecting with wine clubs, to build on their members’ enthusiasm and infectious sharing of wine information and experiences.
Tom and Hayley love black and white and this has driven the interior design, the name of their restaurant, their own dress and that of the staff, the colours of their cars, and everything that they do, including the labels for their wines. In the range of seven Brenaissance wines, two are estate wines (Lady H and Lord T) with white labels, only available for purchase at Brenaissance, while the rest are wines that are to be distributed throughout the country, these bottles carrying the Brenaissance brand name, with the pay-off line ‘New Beginnings’, reflecting their reinvention of the wine estate that they bought. Hayley is a doodler when on the phone, and she has designed all the wine labels, and written all the clever back label copy. Tom is a planner and thinker, and does all his strategizing with spider diagrams. They wanted to create a different and interactive winetasting experience for their customers, and represented their seven wines in such a spidergram, which they encourage their customers to take home, and to share with others. Tom and Hayley are in the tasting room and restaurant most of the time, and help explain the wines to their customers. In a succinct way, they have summarised the key aspects of each of their wines, describing the taste of each, suggesting ideal food pairings, and highlighting the character and personality of each:
* Lady H is named in honour of Hayley, and is one of the two estate wines, with a white label. It is their Sauvignon Blanc 2011, made by Jasper Raats at Longridge. It is complex and fruity, appealing to all around a table. It is cost-effective for functions. Cost R68.
* Knight of White is the name selected for the ‘Liquid Gold’ Chadonnay 2010, this varietal doing well in the Devon Valley, being 90 meters above sea level, planted North – South on the wine estate, giving the vines consistent cooling in the afternoon. It is wooded, having spent ten months in oak, giving it balance, with some acidity and some minerality. It has notes of butterscotch, with a salty aftertaste. It pairs well with curry. It is also made by Longridge’s Jasper Raats. Cost is R 128.
* Lord T is a red blend non-vintage, but the exact ‘composition’ is a secret, containing four varietals and five vintages, Tom having done the final blend. Only 6700 bottles have been made, and only is sold at Brenaissance. The price is R78.
* Jack of Diamonds is the name of the Shiraz 2009, and this was offered with a small dish of biltong. It is deep, dark, and bold, with tannin structure, a good mouthfeel, and is smooth. Ladies like this wine in particular, Tom said. It costs R158. It is made by Suzaan Coetzee of nearby Clos Malverne. The back label describes the wine as ‘ Our medallion stallion’.
* Queen of Hearts is the name of the Merlot 2010, which is paired with Valrhona chocolate, which Tom referred to as ‘she‘. The wine costs R138. The back label refers to the wine as having had a ‘mid-vine crisis’, having been ‘nipped & tucked, nurtured & pampered to produce a re-born lady bursting with energy, style and wisdom…’.
* King of Clubs is the name of the Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, which Neil Pendock described as being head and shoulders above the rest of the industry, Tom shared. It costs R228, and is made by Nico Grobler of Eikendal. It has notes of eucalyptus and mint, and is big and bold, the ‘Deep Heat of wine’, Tom quipped. Only 2500 bottles produced.
* Full House is a Red Blend 2010, and is popular amongst the ‘Black Diamonds’ of Johannesburg, Tom said. It is a Bordeaux blend, with balance, offering notes of crushed figs, mint, chocolate, with a violet rose finish, and consists of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and a splash of Petit Verdot. It is their most complex wine, and costs R168. It won a silver at the Michelangelo awards. All the components of this wine have been assembled by Tom.
In just five months Tom and Hayley finished building Café Blanc de Noir, the wedding chapel, the wedding/events venue hosting up to 250 guests, with a boardroom added, a bridal suite as well as eight guest rooms, and a parking area. The couple was hands on, Hayley doing the architectural drawings, and both overseeing the contractors. They created three dams, with a filtration system, reeding up the river, and transformed from marshland. A water canal runs along the property, which one crosses via a bridge from the parking area to get to the restaurant and winetasting room, which is a long rectangular flat-roof building in black stained wood, with white umbrellas outside, and white light fittings inside. Outside one is greeted by a sculpture called ‘Renaissance’ (made by the same artist Toby Megaw that made the lady at the entrance to La Motte as well). Tom and Hayley are planning to build an art collection, and have already commissioned Greg Lourens to create a ‘Tribes’ series, to represent our country’s diversity. Hayley has used mirrors extensively, and the whole kitchen wall is mirrored, making the space look twice as big. Over the festive season they were contacted by a bride who had been let down in the last minute by her venue, and with two hours notice they took on her wedding with a party of 70. Hayley planted a ‘Feature Vineyard’ near the wedding venue, representing all the wine estate’s varietals. There is a bell hung in an arch, an innovative use of an umbrella stand.
Breakfasts were originally offered, but have been discontinued, as the demand for dinner is greater. Tom and Hayley decided to focus on pizzas, as they love eating them, and to move away from the fine dining offer of most restaurants on wine estates. They encourage their customers to eat the pizza with their left hand, leaving the right hand free to hold the wine glass. Pizzas are served in a square, cut into rectangles, (‘we don’t cut corners’, they say), on wooden branded Cafe Blanc de Noir boards. Herbs are still bought in daily, but they have started planting their own. Given Tom’s high finance background, it was a surprise when he prayed to bless our meal. All the pizza bases are thin, and are rosemary-infused, as they had discovered in a pizzeria in Florence. We shared three pizzas amongst five of us: biltong, sweet fig, Danish feta, avocado, and mixed greens, topped with a balsamic drizzle (my favourite); a cajun chicken with chorizo, red onion, mushrooms, mixed greens and chilli infused oil; and an aged Parma ham, garlic rosa tomatoes, avocado, mixed greens, Parmesan shavings, and pesto olive oil, all costing R75. There is also a caramelised onion, olive and feta option, a margherita, and a ‘hole some option’, with a centre removed and replaced with salad. We also shared a fresh oak smoked salmon trout salad (R70). For dessert there is a limited choice of carrot cake, meringue, and a delicious non-chocolate Florentine. The cappuccino was excellent, made as requested. The wines are sold at tasting room prices per bottle as well as by glass (except for the King of Clubs, which is available by bottle only), at R20 – R45 per glass. Stellenbrau craft beer made close by is sold as well, at R20 for 340ml, and R25 for 500ml.
Brenaissance has become an impressive ‘gateway’ to the Devon Valley, and no doubt will grow in stature as Tom and Hayley Breytenbach grow their offering, with new wine varieties added (there is talk of a Blanc de Noir, to be called the ‘Ace of Spades‘, and a sparkling wine), they grow their own herbs for the restaurant, and they become a sought after wedding and event destination. As if they do not have a big enough portfolio already, they have just brought in the first Kenyan Boran cattle, a small but hardy breed. Everything which Tom and Hayley do at Brenaissance they do with passion for their land and project, and not because they have to make money out of it!
Disclosure: The media pack included a bottle each of the Queen of Hearts, Jack of Diamonds, and Full House
Café Blanc de Noir, Brenaissance Wine and Stud Estate, Devon Valley, Stellenbosch. Tel 0828574289 www.brennaissance.co.za Twitter: @BrennaissanceSA Wednesday – Saturday 11h00 – 22h00, Sunday 11h00 – 17h00.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage