The strange legacy of Klaas Voogds

Tuesday, 27 January, 2004
Graham Howe
New Wines of Origin from valley's DIY cellars
By Graham Howe

A cluster of new DIY wine cellars is emerging out of Klaas Voogds valley on the outskirts of Ashton. One of South Africa's smallest wine wards is producing some of the Robertson Wine Valley's biggest reds, with new producers like Fraai Uitzicht, Kranskop and Rusticus reviving a tradition of winemaking on old grape farms that have grown top-quality Merlot, Shiraz and Chardonnay for the region's larger producers for years.

Kranskop wines bear the legend Wine of Origin: Klaas Voogds. Stumbling across the new cellar on the dirt track that leads into the Langeberge yields a delightful sense of discovery. Winemaker Nakkie Smit released his maiden vintage in 2001 after digging his own cellar by hand out of the hillside beneath Kranskop. A viticulturalist who supplies Ashton Winery and Graham Beck with highly-prized grapes, he holds back 45 of 450 tons to vinify a range of wines from 150 barrels of the best on an old basket-press.

A third-generation farmer who planted his first vines when he was six years old, Nakkie Smit is a son of the soil. Over a tasting of the 2002 vintage of his Merlot Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend, Shiraz 2002 and Chardonnay 2002, he comments, ‘I decided to go on my own. It's a one-man show. There are no shortcuts to making good wine. I can barely speak English and showed my wines at WineX! That's the tough part.’ He recalls that his grandfather died when he fell in a cellar and broke his neck - and that his father made the barrel seats for Kranskop's new cellar at the ripe old age of 76.

A walk through vineyards high on the slopes of Kranskop reveals the single site that produces the stunning Merlot Reserve - and some of the Merlot that goes into his first Cabernet blend produced with the assistance of consultant Newald Marais (ex-head winemaker at Nederburg). The views of vines and orchards are spectacular. At the end of Klaas Voogds West lies Rusticus, a new wine cellar built by Pat Busch on a farm adjoining his nature reserve that offers game drives into the Langeberge. Over on Klaas Voogds East lies Fraai Uitzicht, a specialist Merlot cellar that revived an old winemaking tradition with 50-year-old kuipe and a basket press. Awarded 4-stars for their Merlot 2001 in John Platter's SA Wine Guide 2004, the restaurant also won a place in Wine's Top 100 Restaurants in SA 2004, helping to put Klaas Voogds on the map.

‘Klaas Voogds Valley is a magical place. It attracts all kinds of objects - as well as people from all over the world and a mad Dutchman like me.’ Herman van Bon, a Hollander who settled in the valley in 2000 has built one of the largest hedge-mazes in the world at Soekershof (seek your way), a new tourist attraction that drew 3 000 visitors last year. Surveying his 13 870 square metre series of mazes and the largest open-air cactus garden in Southern Africa with 1 800 species, he declares, ‘We are busy creating the landscape of 4000 AD - planting baobabs that will mature in 2000 years.’

After finding our way out of the maze, only one puzzle remained unsolved. Who was the elusive Klaas Voogds whose legacy lives on in this secluded valley of wine cellars, vineyards and orchards, guest-houses, game farms and nature walks? Van Bon relishes telling the tale of the soldier of the Dutch East India Company who roamed the frontier in the early eighteenth century - ‘the eyes, ears and nose of Van der Stel who spied on the free burghers, the Khoi and the company itself’. Klaas Voogds met a tragic end - killed by a rogue elephant in the valley that celebrates his name on its new WO labels today.

‘We've seen a huge growth in wine tourism over the last few years. Take all the new tourist attractions in Klaas Voogds Valley’ says Bonita Malherbe of Robertson Wine Valley. ‘The wine farmers have come to realize the valuable link between wine and tourism, and are promoting the area generically through the heart of Route 62 initiative linking all five towns - Ashton, Bonnievale, Montagu, Robertson and McGregor.’

· For a guide to the tourist attractions of Klaas Voogds valley, obtain a copy of The Heart of Route 62 from the Robertson Wine Valley at +27 (0) 23 626-3167, email: info@robertsonwinevalley.co.za or see www.robertsonwinevalley.co.za

· To contact Kranskop wines, tel/fax +27 (0) 23 626-3200, email: kranskop@myisp.co.za, or see www.kranskopwines.co.za - Kranskop wines are distributed by Siris Vintners.

· To contact Fraai Uitzicht winery, restaurant and guest farm, tel: +27 (0) 23 626-6156, email: info@fraaiuitzicht.com, see www.fraaiuitzicht.com 

· Soekershof gardens and mazes are open daily by appointment. Tel/fax: +27 (0) 23 626-4134, email: soekershof@lando.co.za, see www.soekershof.com


Graham Howe

Graham Howe is a well-known gourmet travel writer based in Cape Town. One of South Africa's most experienced lifestyle journalists, he has contributed hundreds of food, wine and travel features to South African and British publications over the last 25 years.

He is wine and food contributor for Eat Out and WINE.CO.ZA, which is possibly the longest continuous wine column in the world, having published over 400 articles on this extensive South African Wine Portal.

When not exploring the Cape winelands, this adventurous globetrotter reports on exotic destinations around the world as a travel correspondent for the Intrepid Explorer and www.blog.getaway.co.za - and for the weekly travel show on SAFM radio.

Over the last decade, he has visited over fifty countries on travel assignments from the Aran Islands and the Arctic to Borneo and Tristan da Cunha - and entertained readers with his adventures through the winelands of the world from the Mosel to the Yarra ."