As we take a breather from the last devastating alcohol ban, I want to tell you about a trip I made to Ernie Els Wines towards the end of last year. With so much more on offer than just wine, it should be right at the top of your to-do list for this weekend.
When I’m invited to visit a wine estate that I’ve not been to, or know little of, it invokes a childish excitement in my soul. Relishing in the anticipation of wines to be tasted, of vineyards to be explored and food to be enjoyed is one of my greatest little guilty pleasures.
I couldn’t wait to visit Ernie Els Wines with The Tall Hedonist towards the end of last year. Not familiar with any of the Ernie Els wines, it was a deliciously blank canvas waiting for me to colour with my very own wine-mories.
From the world-renowned Helderberg region of Stellenbosch comes an award-winning range of wines named after South African golf legend, Ernie Els, and skillfully crafted by winemaking legend, Louis Strydom.
The winery was officially opened in 2005, and since then, the focus has been on producing a range of wines, with a particular focus on Cabernet Sauvignon. Recent renovations have transformed the winery into an iconic symbol of the Helderberg region (https://ernieelswines.com/estate/).
As we wound down a bendy, narrow one-track road, enveloped in the breathtaking embrace of the Helderberg mountains, my excitement grew at the prospect of a thankful day out in the winelands.
I tried to stay away from social media so that I could fully submerse myself in the Ernie Els Wines experience, and soak up all the gorgeous first-impression details.
As we took our first steps through the massive granite boulders that welcome you to the tasting room, my breath caught in the back of my throat for a few seconds. Perfectly framed by the stunning farm-chic decor of the estate, I could see all across the Helderberg – layers upon layers of vines, fynbos, farms, hills and flora. And, right in the middle of the landscape, a putting green. I mean, it’s Ernie Els Wines, after all!
After indulging in an icy glass of Chenin Blanc on arrival, we were greeted and shown around by Jeanine, one of the Hospitality Managers at the estate. She took us on an informal guided tour of the cellars, vinothèque, wine library, restaurant and various tasting and dining areas. Their new premises are humbly impressive and timeless, but without the stiffness one would expect of such a first class wine estate. It felt relaxed and spacious, welcoming in all its architectural beauty. Jeanine was the perfect host, and was very generous with her time and knowledge!
The wine tasting
We took a leisurely seat on the expansive wrap-around patio, where we could watch over the mountains with uninterrupted viewing pleasure. Absolute prime positioning, with the home of Ernie Els Wines meticulously and thoughtfully laid out to maximise the landscape. A space which invites the outside in, and for you to linger just that little bit longer.
The putting green was a great attraction, luring groups of friends from their tables to try their hand at a few swings into the surrounding natural greens. A steady bustle and chatter always in the background, it didn’t feel busy or crowded; in fact, when we left, it felt as if time had stood still for a few hours.
They offer two wine tastings:
Player’s Tasting – R60 per person
Ernie Els Big Easy Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2020, Ernie Els Big Easy Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Ernie Els Big Easy Red Blend 2017, Ernie Els Proprietor’s Syrah 2015
Major Tasting – R100 per person
Ernie Els Major Series Merlot 2017, Ernie Els Major Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Ernie Els Proprietor’s Blend 2016, Ernie Els Signature 2014
Keen not to miss out on anything, The Tall Hedonist and I ordered one of each type of tasting to share. Our waitress/sommelier was so charming and informative, ready to answer any and all questions we might have had. She definitely contributed to our first visit to be a memorable one with lovely chats, and again, I was enchanted by the laid-back atmosphere in such a beautiful space. I guess they’re all living the “Big Easy” life down there at Ernie Els Wines! Alas, I’m getting side-tracked…
The wines are poured tableside, and once briefly presented and explained, you are left to enjoy your tasting at your own pace.
Firm favourites included the Big Easy Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2020 (out of this world!), the Proprietor’s Syrah 2015, the Major Series Merlot 2017 and of course, the Ernie Els Signature 2014.
Even though their focus is on red wines and red blends, the Big Easy Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2020 deserves all the honourable mentions, as well as their Chenin Blanc, too! We enjoyed an icy glass of Chenin as a welcome drink on arrival, and it was a delightful way to kick off our visit.
Surprisingly well priced, the Big Easy range is a stunning showcase of the Ernie Els portfolio, with the slightly heavier Major Series and Proprietor’s ranges still affordable for keen wine afficionado’s who would like to add a bit of bottled legacy to their collection.
Nibbling and sipping goes hand-in-hand. Not in the mood for a full meal with your tasting? Do yourself a favour and order one of the platters with your tastings. We opted for the charcuterie platter, laden with three different cheeses, a selection of cold cuts and cured meats, and generous accompaniments like fruit, hummus, olives and bread. Generously sufficient for two people, we soaked up the sun, the wine and the abundant harvest of our beautiful surroundings. The Tall Hedonist even tried his hand at swinging the golf club – rather impressively with a glass of wine in hand!
But there’s so much more…
After our wine tasting, we had a leisurely stroll through the cellars, vinothèque and the Ernie Els room again. The Ernie Els room is just that; a living tribute to the accomplishments of Ernie Els’ fruitful golfing career, with trophies, photos and other golf paraphernalia on display. We spent quite a bit of time browsing the elegant collection of items that tells the story of The Big Easy, and all of his passions.
The vinothèque should not be missed. An ultra-modern space housing an array of older vintages and the current wine portfolio available for purchase. Again, I love the story told by the wine vintages – see the change in labels and bottles as you walk through the years.
The cellars are also worth a look-see. I adored the clean lines and neat presentation of the barrels, although I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t look like that now during harvest! Another awesome thing to see is the concrete and terracotta tanks that they use for some of their wines, so if you’d like to peek into the cellars, just ask one of the staff to assist you.
Ernie Els Wines offers a legacy, more than a history. A welcome fresh breeze in the arms of Stellenbosch, the Ernie Els Wine Estate brings a certain character and sophistication to the area that will appeal to locals and visitors alike. Whether you’re after good food, excellent wines or the best views on offer, this is your chance to have a part in the legacy of The Big Easy. With the perfect recipe for exceptional wines and unparallelled service in their back pocket, Ernie Els Wines is where you (and your palate!) come to be spoilt like only they know how to!
Thank you so much, Ernie Els Wines, for hosting us so generously, and for giving us a tiny, safe reprieve from reality during the difficult months of 2020 – I’m looking forward to visiting again soon!
Disclaimer: I was invited to this establishment as part of a trade exchange for my honest and truthful opinion and review thereof. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are solely those of The Little Hedonist, given in good faith and in no way influenced by the company or its affiliates. All images, unless otherwise stated / credited, are also my own.
The Little Hedonist endorses responsible drinking.
Don’t drink and drive. Not for persons under 18.
*Documented with all current national COVID protocols and safety measures strictly adhered to.