Not a place for women

Steenberg, South Africa

 

We’d walked past the stand of South African wine three times at a wine fair by the time we got to taste the Sauvignon Blanc traditional method sparkling wine. Then we tasted it once more. And once more again. It’s a refreshingly vivacious drink. Later, we sought it out and learnt a few interesting things about the past of the estate that gave us one more reason to be enthusiastic about it.

On the estate at the foot of the Steenberg (i.e. stone hill), a hotel and a fine dining restaurant awaits visitors. And a lot of wild geese that fly around freely. The original name of the place was Swaaneweide, which was given by its founder, Catharina Ras, in 1682. Although the name (meaning ‘where the swans eat’) was incorrect, mistaking the spur-winged wild geese for black swans, the main point is that it’s one of the oldest farms in South Africa. 

 

 

Not just the estate is special but so is the story of its founder. The 22-year-old, widowed Catharina Ustings, of German origins, arrived in Cape Town dressed as a man. In 1682, this region was wild with laws to match. After two months, she married a local citizen, Hans Ras, who was knifed on their wedding day. He survived but later a lion killed him. According to legend, Catharina got on a horse immediately, and shot the lion on the very same day. Her second husband was killed by a raiding tribe, the third was trampled to death by an elephant. 

At the age of 36, Catharina was left with her five children. Driven by some inner force, she didn’t give up. With her children, she moved to the Tokai Valley, at the foot of the Steenberg Hill and started cultivating a piece of land together with a German farmer, Matthys Michelse, who became her fifth and last husband, who even outlived her. 

 

Catharina decided that she would get her own land, defying local customs. In 1682, she got a plot of land from the governor of Cape Town on which she founded the Steenberg estate. According to documents, they first made wine here in 1695. 

 

The winery is duly proud of the traditional method sparkling wine made by the Cap Classique method, the base of which is Sauvignon Blanc. It’s not a typical base for traditional method sparkling wine but that’s what makes it so exciting. Bottle ageing is short – only three months. Thus, the variety’s typical freshness and zest remain but the yeasty notes don’t appear in it too much. An elegant, harmonious, yet tropical fruit sparkler with lingering bubbles and refreshing citrus.