Soothing on palate and nerves

In the past decade wine routes of the western Cape have undergone a quiet transformation: from being primarily watering- holes or sightseeing stopovers to holiday destinations.

Time was when the wine routes represented a booze run for frazzled university students seeking a reprieve from hectic studies - or better still, an educational expedition for wine buffs searching for deeper knowledge on the nectar.

First, wine tasting and on-farm sales were expanded to include delicatessens and gourmet restaurants not only serving meals on the estates, but also exposing a day-visitor to a holistic wine-and-gastronomic experience.

Ten years ago, Capetonian couple Kobus and Mariette Basson bought one of the least known farms in Stellenbosch - Kleine Zalze. Their vision was to turn the farm into a wine tourism destination offering award-winning wines.

Today their vision has surpassed even their own expectations, becoming not only a top wine estate, but also encompassing an award-winning restaurant, Terroir, a four-star lodge, golf course and an exclusive residential estate.

"It is humbling to see what we planned and set out to do has worked out as it has, and how the different entities - the wine business, the restaurant, the lodge and the golf course and estate - work in synergy," said Basson during a function to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the project.

A mere 30 minutes' drive from the airport, Klein Zalze nestles in the lush and picturesque terrain on the outskirts of Stellenbosch.

The countryside charm and hospitality is unmistakable as one checks into the estate's opulent lodge. Each room would easily pass as a penthouse in a city with its self-catering, open plan kitchen and private bedroom. A fireplace is a welcome addition to keep the Cape's maverick weather at bay.

A glass of wine by the fire can easily sway one from venturing out to the on-site Terroir Restaurant. But this is a choice difficult to make, given that the eatery's reputation precedes it.

The Basson family is proud to mention that Terroir was named Restaurant of the Year last year during the EatOut Johnnie Walker restaurant awards.

Not many estates can claim prowess in both the winemaking and culinary categories as the Bassons have been able to do in the past decade.

Of the 12 gold medals awarded to South African wines at this year's International Wine Challenge (IWC) in London, two of them were won by Kleine Zalze for the estate's 2005 Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc and 2005 Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

While on the farm, look out for the recently released Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 and the Family Reserve Shiraz 2005 - two wines showing finesse and awesome character.

The estate also produces some of the most spectacular Chenin Blancs in the area.

Sitting on Terroir's patio, sipping some of the delicious wines, the rolling fairways beckon for an afternoon of golf. But, being an eternal spectator of the game, I find the wines to be good sport. What with the picturesque landscape, filled with vineyards, offering a sedate reprieve from the humdrum of Johannesburg.

"If I am talking about a great wine, I want a good solid structure with nice flavours. But the flavours, alcohol, acidity and tannins should be in the balance," says Kobus Basson.

It's a philosophy that runs like a thread throughout the estate's wine styles.

Kleine Zalze is part of the Stellenbosch wine route, which has a star-studded array of wineries to visit. In parts, the mind dissipates into a haze against the backdrop of the sedate countryside scenery and the Helderberg Mountains yonder.

l The writer visited the estate at the invitation of the Basson family.