By Mary James
South Africa — Art and architecture, vineyards and gardens, wine-making and fine cuisine – all are equals in the stellar blend that is Tokara Wine Estate, the first of the area’s wineries we visited. A half-hour Uber drive from Franschhoek (only 3 miles if you’re coming from Stellenbosch), this stunning, world renowned winery enjoys one of Winelands’ most spectacular settings in the foothills of Simonsberg Mountain. Views stretch across beautiful native fynbos, undulating vineyards and olive groves to the waters of False Bay and, on a clear day, the Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain.
Grapes have been tended in this area for centuries, but Tokara owners GT Ferreria, a banking magnate, and his wife Anne-Marie sought only a quiet home to raise their family when they purchased a small farm there in 1994. Five years later, they ventured into wine-making, naming the new venture after their children Tom and Kara. The first vintages in 2003, that combined the talents of viticulturist Aidan Morton and winemaker Stuart Botha, were greeted with acclaim – as have releases ever since.
Traditional varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, and classic Bordeaux blends dominate Tokara’s wines, but the wine estate itself is refreshingly contemporary. Operations, including the tasting room, restaurant and family friendly deli, are housed in a glass, steel, stone and concrete structure that embraces the majestic landscape while hosting all the necessities of a modern wine enterprise.
Plus, the design by Van Bijon and Visser Architects is an ideal showcase, inside and out, for the Ferrerias’ dynamic, often provocative, collection of South African art. At the winery entrance, Marco Cianfanelli’s laser-cut stainless steel grape vines – their cordons sprouting oenology terms – sets the stage for art displayed inside. Prints, fiber art, sculptures, handwoven baskets, paintings and more catch the eye throughout the building, even down the hallway to the loo.
General manager Karl Lambour guesstimates more than 500 artworks are on site, including dozens around the estate that he pointed out as we drove to viewpoints above the steep vineyards. One unforgettable work sits in a grassy circle outside the Ferrerias’ tree-sheltered home. Created on site of granite and stainless steel is Angus Taylor’s massive sculpture of “Dionysus.” The Greek god couldn’t be more at home on this land that pays great homage to his realms of wine and good times.
Before shepherding us to lunch in Tokara restaurant, Karl shared a tasting in the boardroom that began with bubbly before moving on to single vineyard reds and whites and the estate’s rightfully acclaimed Director’s Reserve Bordeaux blends. He also wrestled open the antique iron door, pried from a shipwreck, that guards the entrance to the winery’s two-story library of all Tokara vintages, including magnums and more.
Our table in Tokara’s dining room perfectly captured panoramas through floor-to-ceiling windows as well as walls draped with rare “Porter Series” tapestries – 5 in total – by world renowned Johannesburg-born artist William Kentridge. Our farm-to-table multi-course lunch paired with Tokara wines drew from dishes by Carolize Coetzee, who already has earned accolades as South Africa’s most promising new chef since joining Tokara in 2018. Service was unhurried and friendly; we especially enjoyed Sommelier Jaap Henk Koelewijn’s humorous patter and the artful cooking and plating by sous chef Sean-Lloyd van Buisbergen and the rest of the kitchen staff.
Writing this, I can almost taste some of my menu favorites – fragrant fennel topped beet root carpaccio, savory cured ocean trout with watermelon and – oh yes, the venison-like springbok loin with its delicious jus rendered with estate-grown herbs and fruit. Of course we saved room for dessert – a refreshing fruit crumble and pineapple gelato matched with Tokara’s honey-gold Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.
Before piling back into an Uber for the drive home – and a nap (!) We purchased some Tokara wines to take on our cruise, including their very quaffable rose, our warm-weather favorite. As you might expect, none made it on board.