An established force in the South African wine industry, Spier has over the years created an almost impossibly large brand. The team at Spier has certainly garnered respect for their fearless innovation and for taking the concept of The Wine Farm far further than just the cellar door. Located on the edges of Stellenbosch proper, the estate is a sprawling complex of buildings and projects, bringing together forms of entertainment and leisure not before considered. Where else does one find traditional African cuisine, drama productions at an open air amphitheater, conference venues, picnics, conservation projects, festivals, markets, a 5 star hotel and spa and oh, then there’s some wine too. It’s almost overwhelming just to think about the vastness of this estate, so much so that when I was invited to visit, I realised that I owed Spier a deeper look.
The hotel accommodation is built in the village style, low buildings clustered together gives you the feeling of being far out in the country and yet there is a definite feeling of privacy, and yes, luxury. Staff members are spaced out at almost exact intervals, neither too close nor too far away at all times. The rooms are generous and although our room was cool and spotlessly clean there was a slightly aged feel, which may have been an intentional attempt at countryside quaintness. As you can imagine there are bottles of Spier wine dotted all over the room: I half expected to encounter one on the bathroom counter (no such luck!). I feel obliged to mention my comrades, the Housekeepers. It is very unusual, in my professional experience, to encounter a housekeeping service that is noticeable for its attention to detail and thoroughness.
The turndown service at Spier was reassuringly traditional and comforting, as if you were visiting the home of an old friend. Chocolates on the pillow included!
I have memories of visiting the Spier estate as a child, when deli shops and luxury picnics on the lawn were sheer innovation. It was a revelation to me, as a young girl, that there existed a shop that only caters for picnics, where your shopping basket is your picnic basket and where cheeses, breads and charcuterie are all snack sized. Today the tradition is very much alive, and families continue to visit Spier for their ‘build your own picnic’ adventures; parents can enjoy a chilled glass of wine and the kids can run free. Spier was one of the first to offer picnics, and nowadays a wine estate can barely call itself that without offering some kind of portable catering. Our visit began with a picnic hamper and bottle of wine on the lawn; a quiet and fairly subdued beginning to the weekend. The produce was the very finest that Cape farmers can offer featuring my favourite: Richard Bosman’s charcuterie.
Later in the afternoon we attended a Creative Block series wine tasting with Spier winemaker Frans K Smit, who talked us through the philosophy and blending process of the Creative Block range. More tasting notes to follow, in the next post, Spier Creative Block Wine.
Dinner was hosted in the Tasting Room. Proving my point once again that South Africa boasts the most striking and welcoming tasting rooms in the world, this high beamed room is both inviting and relaxing. Our meal was prepared for us by the talented chef team at Spier, featuring beautiful produce both from the Spier Estate and from the greater Cape region, all paired elegantly with the Creative Block wines.
Sunday morning’s great event (other than breakfast) was a guided Segway tour of the Estate. Segways are electric motorized ‘scooters’ that intuitively respond to your movements, keeping balance with you, accelerating when you lean forward and slowing down to a stop when you lean backwards. Luckily for me there a Segway training course where our guides taught us the basic principals of driving (or is it riding?) a Segway. The less you are taught the better as you subtly learn to control your steed, and fairly soon I was zipping around like a Jetson.
Techno gadgets aside, riding the Segway was a great way to effortlessly see the estate as a whole. We toured the water recycling plant that reuses all grey and black water from the Hotel (toilets, showers and sinks) into water suitable for irrigation. This project has helped Spier to reduce their fresh water consumption by up to 30 %, and to minimise the impact on the surrounding environment. There has been a shift towards Biodynamic farming practices at the estate (more on biodynamic principles here) , and on our tour we really began to understand what that means in a wine growing context. Cows and chickens are rotated throughout the fallow fields and vineyards to help incorporate fertiliser back into the soil, and the animals help keep the kitchens stocked with farm raised beef and eggs.
During my stay at Spier I learned that the picturesque monoculture of rolling vineyards is not the ideal that I once imagined it to be. I realised what I had been pondering for some time: that a modern wine estate actually represents a return to ancient farming methods – cows, chickens, horses and sustenance farming of vegetables are all a part of the bigger picture. Spier has also very elegantly incorporated an environmentally responsible approach to wine making and tourism, which is a trend that I admit is fashionable today and has such proven to be a lucrative avenue for most businesses to pursue. However, this doesn’t detract from the fact that biodynamic farming and good quality wine are not mutually exclusive concepts, and my experience at Spier proves it. It was refreshing, and inspiring, to witness an internationally relevant brand in Wine and Tourism taking steps to be not only socially responsible and involved in community projects, but also environmentally responsible too. Spier’s community projects and its patronage of young South African artists only cements their commitment to creating wine that is nurtured and created within this broader concept of terrior, not only the land but also within a cultural landscape that makes South African wine as vibrant as its people.
Plan your visit to Spier www.spier.co.za
Katy was invited to enjoy the Spier Experience as a guest. Some images courtesy of Spier Wine Estate.