Once in a while I come across a winery that is so unique, so different and so memorable that it reminds me why I love my job so much. Springfontein Estate, which we visited on the recent Criterion Wine tour to South Africa, is one such winery I will never forget. Why? Vision, passion, integrity, sense of place, commitment, and, of course, extraordinary wines.
Springfontein is 5 kilometres from the provincial town of Stanford, in the far east of the Walker Bay region, way off the well-worn tourist route of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. It was founded in 1995 by Dr. Johst Weber, a mining engineer from Germany, only a few years after the end of apartheid. Not only was South Africa still finding its way in the wine-world at that time, but Stanford was an outpost way off the main wine routes. To say that Springfontein were wine pioneers is a huge understatement.
Scroll forward a few years to 2005 when the first wines were produced. The next significant milestone was the appointment of Tariro Masayiti, who hailed from Zimbabwe, as winemaker and Hildegard Witbooi as Horticulturist and Vineyard Manager. Then all the elements to produce extraordinary wines were in place.
Hemel-en-Aarde, Stanford’s better-known near neighbour, excels in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. But the climate and soil structure in Stanford is very different so that the main varieties grown here are South Africa’s two signature grapes, Chenin Blanc and Pinotage. And that’s Springfontein’s main focus – various incarnations of single varietals and blends majoring on these two grapes. Their top range goes under the name Limestone Rocks, a bit of a clue about the soil type here!
After a warm welcome and a glass of chenin blanc we piled into 4-wheel drives and rode up to the vineyard, high above the winery. And what a gorgeous panoramic vista – vineyards laden with foliage and bunches of grapes sweeping down to the valley floor, with a backdrop of the majestic mountain range behind.
Back at the winery we enjoyed a wonderful tasting extending through the ranges. Wines with complexity, purity, depth and balance. Not just that, but something ethereal, almost impossible to describe – they tasted ‘just right’. Great labels too, and it’s obvious that with names like Whole Lotta Love, Dark Side of the Moon and Child in Time there is a serious 1970s rock fan at work!
The on-site restaurant Eats is run by husband and wife team Jurgen and Susanne Schneider, who treated us to a stunning 4 course, Michelin Star quality, food and wine matching lunch, the culinary highlight of the whole tour.
This was a very special and truly memorable visit, one of the best anywhere in the world, and Springfontein will be sure to feature in the next Criterion Wine Tour to South Africa.
To illustrate the warm welcome we received and what a special visit this was here is the personalised bottle Johst gave me (which was delicious!). We brought several other bottles back to the UK, but you can buy some of the wines from their importer Private Cellar.W