To dine for: Spier winemaker’s dinners are a recipe for success
The popular wine estate is delivers on quality and experiences, with a range of attractions to keep guests coming back for more.
At face value, Hollard Insurance, the Mieliepap Pietá, Farmer Angus and the reclusive billionaire behind Nando’s flyaway success might appear to have little to do with each other, until you connect the dots.
When in doubt, Google is your friend – or simply ask around at Spier, because many of its staff have worked on the wine estate for decades.
Turns out, Hollard Insurance founder Dick Enthoven did not only play a key role in building Auto & General and Direct Axis, but also bankrolled Nando’s, which helped catapult Robbie Brozen and Fernando Duarte’s cheeky chicken outlet internationally (today, Nando’s has 1,200 branches in 30 countries).
Then, after acquiring Stellenbosch estate Spier in the early nineties, the Enthoven family transformed it into a centre of culture, nature, regenerative farming and hospitality, with international tourists arriving in droves to enjoy the legions of attractions.
For years, the apparent “busy-ness” of Spier was a turn-off for this writer, which is a pity because the farm has long been focused on excellence rather than mass tourism, Spier brand manager Xenia van der Meulen informed me in May at the annual Wine Tourism Conference held at Lanzerac, extending an invite to a Winemakers’ Dinner, which is a recent addition to Spier’s attractions.
Van der Meulen explained that the arrival of Enthoven’s daughter, Mariota, and her partner Angus McIntosh just less than two decades ago injected new energy and vision into the property, after they relocated from London in 2004.
Home is where the art is
For many, Spier starts with art. The Mieliepap Pietá is a mirror of Michelangelo’s Madonna della Pietà – the exceptional sculpture in Carrara marble from the Italian Renaissance, revealing Jesus and Mary at Mount Golgotha representing the “Sixth Sorrow” of the Blessed Virgin Mary, located inside St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City – but in Wim Botha’s interpretation, Mary, Christ, their drapery and their sadness are all a bit pap: mielie pap and resin, that is.
Mieliepap Pietá was on exhibit in the Museum for African Art’s “Personal Affects” at the Cathedral of St John the Divine (New York City) from September 2004 to January 2005, in Stevenson Gallery’s “Both, and” show from June to August 2018, and featured in Norval Foundation’s “Heliostat: Wim Botha” from September 2018 to January 2019, before settling in the recently revamped Manor House at Spier.
“Pap” Mary and Jesus form part of the Spier Art Collection, one of the country’s largest collections of contemporary South African art – including more than 1,000 artworks and 31 large-scale outdoor sculptures.
Spier has certainly ramped up its focus on quality – it sources fresh ingredients directly from its own pastures and gardens, which are used in (highly recommended and generously stocked) picnic baskets, Spier Farm Cafe, Vadas Smokehouse and Bakery, the hotel restaurant and the Manor House.
Kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and other fermented foods are prepared on site and nose-to-tail cooking not only helps reduce waste, but ensures a broad spectrum of flavours and textures.
“Farmer Angus” McIntosh, Enthoven’s son-in-law, is one of only two producers of grassfed, pasture-reared beef in the Western Cape, and also applies those regenerative agricultural practices in the raising of the farm’s pigs, broiler chickens and laying hens, as well as vegetables and wine – which are served in Spier’s restaurants and hotel, and sold from their farm store and selected retailers.
Today, Spier does feel a lot less “touristy” – there were some visitors, of course, but those who attended the Winemakers Dinner of 29 September were professionals and young connoisseurs from Hong Kong who wanted to experience the very best of the Cape Winelands, which is what they found that night, focused on Spier’s “Legacy By Vintage”.
Mieliepap Pietá might well be the centre of attention in Spier’s Grand Old Dame, but there are many others, including the spectacular 22-seater dining room table, where the estate’s engaging cellarmaster Johan Jordaan hosts generous winemakers’ dinners beside crackling fires, antique furniture, provocative art, to showcase the best of Spier hospitality.
Chef Hennie Nel is in charge of Spier’s kitchens (although not Vadas Smokehouse), and guests of the monthly Winemakers’ Dinner Series are in for a treat.
On arrival, a glass of Spier Cap Classique is served, followed by a four-course feast paired with Spier wines.
Averse to fussy cooking, Nel is a fan of honest, authentic and unpretentious food, made with the best quality ingredients, he tells us.
We don’t need much convincing (having done some research on his career): A Zevenwacht Culinary School graduate, Nel worked as commis chef at Winchester Mansions in Sea Point near his dad’s supermarket, at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze (for a while one of two flagship restaurants at One&Only) and under Eric Bullpit at The Roundhouse.
Nel has also had stints at Two Oceans Restaurant at Cape Point, Hotel Verde, before joining Spier in 2017 under PJ Vadas as head chef. The following year, he was appointed to head the new Spier Farm Café.
With quality ingredients from Farmer Angus, Nel gets to work with fantastic quality and organic pork, chicken, beef and eggs.
The Farm Café’s signature lunch dish is a 200g beef burger with pork-fat fried potato roasties, rotisserie chicken accompanied by potatoes and veggies, or a simple homemade tagliatelle with courgettes, olive oil, chilli, parsley and Parmesan.
The Winemaker’s Dinner gave Nel and his team the opportunity to do something special: it started with pea soup prepared with broad beans and mint, topped with a goat’s cheese espuma – which tastes freshly of spring in a bowl – paired with Spier Creative Block Farm House Chenin.
The second course was a braaied linefish of the day (harder, or Cape mullet) with roast cauliflower, cauliflower puree, pickled mussel and a lemon caper sauce, served with 2018 Frans K Smit white blend and a 21 Gables Chenin Blanc. The slender deboned fillets of harder were tender and delicious – freshly supplied by Abalobi, so it is fully traceable, local seafood harvested ethically by small-scale fishers.
The main course was magnificent — a generous farm-style “bord kos” with tender slices of roast leg of lamb, crispy potatoes, creamed spinach with kale and grilled leek, as well as perfect pampoen poffertjies, pickled beetroot salad and flavoursome beef bobotie (also sold in the farm store).
This was paired with 2017 FKS Red Blend (a Bordeaux blend) that seems made for Sunday roasts, to complement hearty dishes. And a multi-award-winner, the versatile, opulent 21 Gables Pinotage.
Some desserts one should not pass up: Nel’s melktert with rooibos ice cream is worth a regular trip from Cape Town to the ‘Bosch (available over weekends at the Farm Cafe). Any excuse, it’s that delicious.
Clearly, they pride themselves on this melktart and the rooibos grown on the farm.
Jordaan treated guests to a “sweet surprise” from the cellar – a honeyed special late harvest made from chenin grapes picked on their Helderberg farm near Somerset West.
“We planted it six years ago, and it’s quite vigorous. We pinched some of the berries on the bunches and broke the sap flow, so the berries started drying on the vines – they become raisins. There’s not much juice coming out of those bunches – it becomes very syrupy, very thick. We ferment in wooden barrels. The wine is about 80 grams of sugar per litre, which is not much – it’s doing very well because of the acidity of the wine.”
That it is — rich, rounded and not cloying.
Suggestion for out-of-towners: book into the hotel for the Winemaker’s Dinner. It’s always a treat and you don’t have to worry about overindulging,.
Hotel guests receive a glass of Spier wine on arrival, a full English breakfast served in the hotel restaurant, a bottle of Spier wine, a wine tasting voucher, access to the Kids Clubhouse and use of Qhubeka Bicycles to explore the farm.
Established in 1692, Spier is one of South Africa’s oldest and most celebrated family-owned working wine farms.
Spier is a WWF Conservation Champion and member of the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Associations. It is organically certified and vegan-friendly. The Hotel is Fair Trade Tourism accredited.
The Spier label has become a symbol for top terroir-driven wines, and the winery produces multiple ranges of award-winners. Spier has twice been named South African Producer of the Year by the International Wine & Spirit Competition.
At the most recent Veritas awards and this week’s Sauvignon Blanc Challenge, Spier walked away with a clutch of awards.
The Spier 21 Gables Chenin Blanc 2021, Creative Block 5 2020 and Seaward Chenin Blanc 2022 received the coveted Double Gold medal, while its Private Collection Chenin Blanc 2022 (a Woolworths exclusive); Woolworths Signature Series Merlot 2019, Creative Block 2 2022, and Seaward Cabernet Sauvignon 2021 received gold.
Spier was also named one of the 100 World’s Best Vineyards in 2021 and Editor’s Choice Winery of the Year 2022. DM