Enveloped by towering mountains, Tulbagh is a valley that finds itself tucked about an hour North-East of Cape Town, about 80kms away from the Atlantic Coast. Surrounded almost completely by mountain ranges, Tulbagh is aptly names the Valley of Abundance and is celebrated for its immense beauty and historic significance. Wine farms can be seen spread on the valley floor and climbing the steep slopes of the mountains making use of the different micro climates, soils and irrigations. Summer sees the luscious green valley thrive in the Mediterranean climate, while winter plants snow caps on the looming mountains, while the town below shivers in the rainy Cape weather.
Tulbagh is essentially a bowl, surrounded by magnificent mountain ranges, with the Obiqua Mountains to the west, the Winterhoek Mountains in the north and the Witzenberg Mountains to the east. The southern side of the valley is open to cooling south-east winds during the hot summer months. Accordingly, Tulbagh enjoys some of the most diverse and attractive conditions for viticulture in the Cape. The differences in terroir available to wine makers allow for a wide diversity of distinctive wines of excellence, attributes which have attracted many new producers to the valley.
A mosey down the famous Church Street in town will allow you the unique chance to take in every style of Cape Dutch gabled house imaginable. This sets the town apart from any other in the country this cannot be found on any other street in South Africa. There are 32 National Monuments for each of the homes, most of which are private residences.
The region was partly discovered in 1658 when Jan Van Riebeeck sent an exploration party to survey the outlying areas of the new Cape settlement. Surveyor, Piet Potter came across the valley, and despite its true beauty, he advised van Riebeeck that the area was dry and infertile. 40 years later however, the area was “rediscovered” by Willem Adriaan van der Stel who saw the potential in the tough and remote valley. By 1720 there were eight freehold farms, equally split between the Dutch and Huguenot. The town acquired its name after the Governor who ruled the Cape between 1751 and 1771, Rijk Tulbagh and by 1820 it was officially recognized as a village. Tulbagh went on to become the first inland wine making region in the Cape..
Tulbagh was originally a relatively small, white wine producing region. It was regarded by many as the lesser cousin to the more established areas of Stellenbosch and Paarl.
All that changed on September 29th 1969 when an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale virtually leveled the entire town. Taking the lives of 11 people and drastically altering the face of the town, the earthquake was considered to be the point of radical change for the town. It was rebuilt in the faithful style you see today and with its “rebirth” came a new determination from the people of the town.
In more recent times, the wine industry has moved centre stage and visitors to the valley can now enjoy a wide range of wines from the various estates and private cellars. The various wines have received a string of national and international awards of late. Tulbagh has always been innovative in its approach to wine making, with Twee Jongen Gezellen being the first estate to introduce night harvesting in South Africa, a concept now employed by many producers throughout the Cape.
Wine Route and Farms
The wine route that one can take a slow meander on starts at the mouth of the valley and there are numerous farms to pop into as your push yourself to the back and into the mountain range. There are several farms to choose from, all with their own unique offerings and characteristics.
A small estate, filled with promise and growth. Its tasting room is still developing and its range still growing, this estate should definitely be on your radar for future stops.
A familiar name among South Africans, this farm has withstood numerous potential disasters including a storm and earthquake. With its authentic Cape Dutch architecture and offering a unique candle lit wine tasting, this estate is a definite stop to whisk yourself back into the 1800’s.
Starting as the smallest wine estate in the Western Cape, this farm as grown and developed into the boutique farm it is today with a tasting room and extended cellars. With their Premium and Lemberg ranges to try from as well as the highly awarded Lady 2013, the owners Henk Du Bruyn and Suzette van Rensburg, eagerly look forward to welcoming you to the farm.
Offering facilities for conferences, accommodation as well as weddings, this estate, based just outside Tulbach is perfectly designed for its hand-crafted range of wines. They include Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as its popular Thatch House Red.
Montpellier offers visitors accommodation, a wedding venue and event facility. Its traditional Cape Dutch buildings and rolling lawns allow for its traditional and quiet serenity and it is has been voted TripAdvisor’s most value for money establishment 2015 in Tulbach. Its estate wine range includes a mixtures of whites, reds ports and event bubbles. Private tastings can also be organized.
There are three ranges of wine offered by Rijks; Touch of Oak, Private Cellar and Reserve, each specializing in Chenin Blanc, Pinotage and Shiraz. With Rijk’s Country House situated on the property, this estate offers a picturesque setting for weddings and weekend getaways.
Unlike the other Cape Dutch Style farms in the region, Saronberg boasts of modernly designed structures , art installations and a captivating galleries. This estate not only offers a feast for the eyes, but also something for all palates too. With the Saronsberg and Provenace Ranges, each offering their unique wines, there is something for everyone. This farm also offers accommodation as well as conference facilities on its perfectly structured premises.
Known for the farm’s famous Riesling, this estate was South Africa’s very first white wine producer. It boasts carefully crafted specialized wines including the Cape Riesling, Semillon Chardonnay, Bouquet Blanc, Moscato Rose and their only red, the Prestige.
Tulbagh boasts an extensive range of wines which range from very easy drinking to the more robust, full bodied wines. The estate also offers other products to visitors including tapenade, olive oil and olives. It’s beautiful grounds allow for visitors to picnic and spend time lazing in the sun.
A firm favourite among sparkling wine lovers in Southern Africa, this farm uses the Méthode Cap Classique style of bottle fermentation which echoes the French méthode champenoise style. The idyllic farm is open to visitors for tastings and tours and all are encouraged to take their time with each bottle of vintage bubbles.
Proudly known for its 100% organic stamp, the estate offers visitors a conference and wedding facility. Taking a strong approach to sustainability, biodiversity and organic farming, the farm makes use of the unique fynbos flavours in the wine and also produces olives and a small amount of olive oil. With its breath taking views of the valleys, and in winter, the snow capped mountains, the tasting room offers a tasting in the middle of nature. The restaurant allows for picnics or cozy sit down meals, prepared freshly and surrounded by the arguably the best views in the regions. Its large variety of wines will meet all tastes and range from white and red to the Méthode Cap Classique.
The only access into the valley is from the south and this allows the prevailing south-eastern summer wind to generate airflow and cool down the valley. Cooler air generated by cold air flowing down the surrounding mountains at night also accumulates on the valley floor, effectively trapping the cold air.
Due to this positioning, Tulbagh is susceptible to extreme weather conditions. In summer, temperatures can reach upwards of 35 degrees Celsius, while in winter snow on the mountain caps is a common occurrence. These snow tipped ranges form a perfect ring around Tulbagh and in spring, the warmer weather melts the snow for crystal rivers, coming off the mountain.
The winter snows allow the vines to go into dormancy during freezing months, and once the hibernation is over, the late budding allows for even more budding to take place in spring.
While these conditions may be slightly challenging for the locals, they are perfect for the hardy vines that grow throughout the Tulbagh Wine Route. There are cool summer winds, and a variety in the terroir and micro-climates, which makes for the ideal conditions for an array of different varietal types to grow and flourish.
Terrior, Soils and Irrigation
Apart from smaller mountain streams and springs the main water supply of the valley is the modest Klein Berg River which serves a few of the farms in the region. However, most enjoy the pure spring water as they are located on a natural watershed area. Due to this there are also olive groves and fruit orchards to compliment the vineyards.
Terroir in the valley varies depending on elevation, aspect and slope variations of the mountains and valley floor. The extreme climate, together with the soil and varying terriors allow the production of complex wines with different aromas and its placement more inland, allows for sharp strong flavours to come through and tantalize the palate.
The soils vary depending on the positioning in the valley, and range from red and yellow clay loam soils with some fine gravel to boulder beds and sandy-loam alluvial soils. Toward the centre of the valley one can find mid valley shales. The area is renowned for its diverse fynbos (indigenous flora), giving our wines a unique herbaceous characteristic.
This historic and beautiful region is perfect for a weekend away or a day drive for the more adventurous. Keep the memories alive of the fantastic little trip, keep visiting Cybercellar for the taste of Tulbagh.