David Bristow: Time in the Cederberg – then and now
By David Bristow, 8 May 2015
In the early 1980s I was a mad-keen mountaineer and one winter saw me huddled in a tent below the Tafelberg with snow falling. I was an upcountry boytjie back then and totally ill-prepared to endure the climatological illogicalities of the Cape Folded Mountains in September – where I came from it was springtime with warm days and cool nights.
Lucky for me and my climbing companion our tent was pitched only a short walk – by our standards then, like half a day each way – up from the Cederberg farm where Nieuwoudt pêre, Oom Pollie, would happily load us up with a few bottles of whatever we could afford, to fortify our fearless attempts to conquer the Cape.
The first Nieuwoudt arrived in the Cederberg mountain vastness during the tenure of Governor Ryk Tulbagh back in the late 1770s. This was no voluntary move, however, because the ancestor in question was banished there after being found guilty of killing a circuit judge in the Clanwilliam district. We assume there were extenuating circumstances for him to be sentenced to banishment rather than death.
Some decades on and I no longer have the wherewithal to hang askance on cliffs, but with age comes other benefits and, if you have been prudent, a bit more cash to enjoy the fruits of life and labour than when you were fearless and penniless, especially those of other people’s labours.
I refer specifically to the labours of David Nieuwoudt, incumbent winemaker and fifth generation custodian of this chunk of mountain wonderfulness. Back when the wines from this agricultural outpost were starting to gain a modicum of notice in tippling circles, David was sent to study wine making at Stellenbosch and next thing you know they are winning medals and plakking gold stickers all over their bottles. (Call me a connoisseur before my time and, quite rightly, before the wine’s time as well).
In reality it took a good deal of time and labour to turn this former fruit and tobacco farm into one of the Cape’s most celebrated wineries and I have savoured the journey all the way. Today the list of awards and accolades for Cederberg wines is long and illustrious. Just check it out here.
While Cederberg wines might not be considered first growth just yet, the produce of this émigré producer has the pundits in Stellenbosch taking notes. The Teen Die Hoog Shiraz in particular is attaining international esteem and not far behind is the Five Generations Cab Sauv (scores of 90 or more from Robert Parker), with the Five Generations Chenin holding its own in that rarified topography.
If you have an urge to immerse yourself and your family in the mountains that surround us, but don’t know where to start, you could hardly do better than a weekend at Sanddrif either camping or staying in one of the self-catering cottages. Generations of Capies have considered this to be a virtually obligatory rite of passage for families.
You are surrounded by fynbos and mountains with the delightful Dwarsrivier and its liberating natural pools to explore. It’s true, many people these days prefer to ride mountain bikes than hike, but I don’t think that lessens the experience.
Directly above the campsite and across the river from the cottages loom the Wolfberg Cracks, not without good reason one of the most legendary of do-able mountain adventures, but don’t take the outing lightly because a rocky labyrinth awaits you. Beyond them lies the Wolfberg Arch on the plateau known as Die Trap; a round trip there will take several hours so take a picnic and a camera. And lots of water because there is none to be found up on Die Trap.
Also in reach are the Maltese Cross and even the Sneeuberg, highest peak in the Cederberg range, its summit home to the snow protea that flowers there, and only there, in winter. Its name is a clue as to what you should wear.
There are many other walks in the Cederberg Conservancy, of which this farm is the focal point, abutting the Cederberg Wilderness Area. The farm is actually named Dwarsrivier but these days everyone knows it simply as Cederberg, after the winery, which for adults is a virtual chocolate factory: tastings are conducted in the very industrial-like wine warehouse “round the back” of the farmhouse.
With the legend of the Cederberg – both the mountain resort and the wines – now firmly established in the collective consciousness of the Cape, you will need to plan ahead, especially over holidays.
Many Cape families regard Sanddrif as an annual pilgrimage and while I sometimes miss the time when you could have the campsite, the mountains and the then-makeshift winery all to yourself, this has been more than compensated for by wines that are truly world class.
To book accommodation at Sanddrift cottages, click here.
- David Bristow has written multiple books and magazine features on travel, nature and African culture.