Want to know what it is like living on a wine estate? Not just any wine estate, but an award-winning KwaZulu-Natal, Midlands, Wine Estate.
I have always perceived visiting wine farms and estates as a rather snooty or aloof business. Me being the noisy person that I am, I wasn’t sure that I would quite fit in with my amatuer status with the serious trade of wine.
But my compatriots in the Cape seem to regularly visit the wine route and indulge in what seems to be a delightful pastime of wine tasting; so I thought I would be brave and see what the Midlands has to offer.
I found to my delight that Abingdon Wine Estate is friendly and welcoming as well as having a refreshing outlook to teaching visitors about wine in an ambient setting.
If you turn off the R103, you can wend your way along a dirt road with picturesque views of Lions river and the valley. In fact, this iconic Midlands stretch of road to Abingdon is worth stopping for, to capture on film.
Abingdon Wine Estate was established in 2000 when Ian and Jane Smorthwaite decided to pick up roots and move to KwaZulu-Natal after falling in love with a farm. It happened to be quite a leap of faith starting a wine farm and planting vines in 2004. Wine in KZN? Who would have thought?
Thankfully, Ian and Jane did and this Estate is now a registered South African Wine and Spirits (SAWAS) Estate, which means that only grapes grown on this farm are used in their wines.
This all started with Ian doing some serious information searching into viticulture and various aspects of winemaking. His enthusiasm must have passed on because daughter Laurie, who has studied wine in London after discovering she too has a passion and skill for wine.
The first vintage at Abingdon was ready in 2007 and the Estate now produces 8 – 10 different styles with three red and three white wines. Both their Signature Viognier and Nebbiolo wines received a 90 point rating from winemag.co.za which places them in the top 20 countrywide this year.
So they are truly beginning to fly high with their ideology of doing things properly and with authenticity. As Jane says, “Things need to be done properly to be taken seriously”.
I sit at the bar area to chat with Laurie and enjoy a wine tasting. I am usually not a fan of white wine, preferring reds. I am not entirely sure about how a tasting is meant to proceed. I mean, do you swirl the wine? Is it meant to go clockwise or anticlockwise? Do I swallow or just mouth the wine? Jane answers simply with “if you like the wine, drink it. If you don’t, pass it to the person next to you, and they will drink it.” I so appreciate this approach and candour, which completely puts me at ease.
I find the Abingdon Sauvignon Blanc 2017 easy on the palate and incredibly crisp. It doesn’t have the harsh edge that I am accustomed to experiencing with white wine and I ask Laurie why this is.
She relates this to the acidity and sugar balance in the grapes and how long it takes to develop. Sometimes the grapes are harvested sooner due to conditions and the acidity has not had time to develop and is substituted with synthesised acidity. This sometimes adds that ‘tang’.
Altitude also plays a part in the flavour of wine. The skins of grapes are thinner at a higher altitude which means there is less tannin and this translates to a softer flavour.
Next I sample the Abingdon Syrah, which has been known to sell out extremely fast. Due to weather conditions over the last few years, there has been a lower yield, meaning this tasty red has sold out quickly. Luckily for wine fans, the weather has improved and the yield should improve in coming years.
The Syrah is described as an ‘Old world expression of the grape made in a French Rhone style’. It is soft on the palate with a bit of a peppery spice. This would be the perfect Winter wine on the Midlands for sitting in front of a fireplace with friends.
Lastly, as I watch the weather closing in outside as the clouds begin to gather, I try the Abingdon Cabernet Sauvignon 2017. I love the sour cherry and earthy dustiness of this wine, once again with a natural acidity that doesn’t leave you puckering your mouth (like some wines do).
I ask Laurie about when harvesting happens with the different wines. She tells me that for the Bubbles, harvesting happens in February. The White wine happens in March and the Red wine is harvested in April / May. Harvesting happens in KwaZulu-Natal about 2 – 3 weeks later than the Cape.
Abingdon also hosts the KwaZulu-Natal School of Wine. They are the only other school outside of the Cape in South Africa that is WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) certified. WSET is in 73 different countries worldwide and is affiliated with the London official school and qualifications. These qualifications are used in Chef schools, sommeliers, wine tasting and private yachts.
There are fun courses to do which have exam free learning and courses with food pairing and different wines. These can be used to increase your knowledge as someone who enjoys wine and wants to learn more, or if you are looking to become more qualified in the hospitality industry.
I ask Laurie when their wine tasting is available to the public. I am told that they are open Thursday to Sunday. During the week the family is
One of the things that made an indelible impression on me about Abingdon Wine Estate is their hospitality. I walked in being a little unsure of myself. But I feel like I left as a friend and will definitely be back to visit again. This is due to the Smorthwaite’s welcoming attitude and high level of hospitality that I witnessed and experienced during my short visit.
You can find further details of what wine is available at Abingdon Website and you can follow them on social media as they continue to rake in the awards:
So come on up (or down) to the Midlands and make sure you check out the wine at Abingdon. It is an experience well worth having!