Breaking away from the humid drone of the city into the cool, fresh air of the Stellenbosch wine region is something we recommend you do as often as time and tide allow. And just so that you don’t waste any thinking about where to go on just such a city getaway, we’ve uncovered a gem for you. Ever been to Overgaauw? It’s a vineyard well worth the trip.
We popped in for a day of wine drinking and story telling. Every visit to a farm, one with a farm house no less, should start with plaas koffie in a rustic, well-worn kitchen. With Stella and Porto, their Hungarian Vizlas, lying at our feet, master winemaker David van Velden fills us in on the details of the initial rich historic appearance of Overgaauw wine farm.
We talk about the building of cellars in 1909, a distinguishing move from many other vineyards at the time, and how it enabled bottling on the premises instead of bulk supplying to other bigger cellars. And of course, the farm’s namesake, great great grannie Elizabeth Overgaauw comes up, whose face is still a mystery to this day. After a chit chat, it’s time for a walk about.
Barreling ahead of the times
Who knew Hungarian Vizlas could keep up with a 4×4? After an extensive tour of the vineyards, where we take an in depth journey from vine to wine, David takes us down into the cellars. Enter ghost stories and dark, cobwebbed chambers. But we find none such things in the Overgaauw cellars.
Instead, we find rows and rows of underground barrels, filling the low ceilinged rooms with a woody plum aroma. With an immediate sense of how much of a pioneering wine farm Overgaauw really was, David dives into another great story.
In 1969 on a holiday abroad in the Châteaux Lafite and Mouton Rothschild regions of France, Abraham van Velden asked the winemaker what they were doing with these small oak barrels, to which he replied that they’ve been maturing wine in them for 100’s of years (seems like an obvious answer now, but to a South African winemaker, it resulted in the same reaction as tasting a really dry Merlot, wide eyed and gobsmacked). They negotiated importing a few, making Simonstadt and Overgaauw the first wine estates to mature red wine in small oak barrels. True story.
The larger barrels, we’re talking higher than a tall man, were already imported between 1905–1912, and these weren’t even for maturing wines but rather used as ‘containers’.
Now they stand more as stewards or relics of a great wine making tradition.
When you do visit this wine farm, do yourself a favour and enjoy a cellar tour. If you’re lucky, David will let you listen to the fermenting wines in their barrels and use his trusty wine thief to give you a sneak taste of the magic happening inside.
From Port-ugal Cape Vintage is born
It’s not only the oak wine vats that that make Overgaauw a pioneering wine farm with many ‘firsts’. Their varied sprawl of traditional Portuguese varietals like the Tinta Barocca lead to the creation of a truly fine port style wine known fondly as the Cape Vintage. Overgaauw wine farm, being the first to produce such a wine style, were also the first to drop the contentious ‘port’ description from their labels, cleverly using the Portuguese bottle labelling style to identify their port wine, which David says has done wonders for their sales.
There is so much more unique heritage to learn about Overgaauw wine farm. And it’s true what they say: getting to know the story behind the wine really does add to the depth of appreciation. But we suggest you take a trip out that way to absorb the rest of Overgaauw’s rich history. Possibly over a glass of Cape Vintage at the large oak tables in the tasting room, surrounded by black and white photos of the farm’s forefathers and all the lovely brides in the van Velden family.
In the mean time try a glass of Overgaauw wine and absorb a little of this rich family heritage on the comfort of your couch. We’re convinced you can taste it. But maybe that’s just because the farm has cast its spell on us and being entranced with a good wine, well that’s a happy place to be.
Special thanks to David and Rina van Velden for taking the time to share the Overgaauw story with us