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For the past few years, thousands of international music-lovers have descended upon the Cloof Wine Estate in Darling for the Rocking the Daisies Music festival.

While, due to the pandemic, the festival headliner, British rapper Stormzy, did not have the opportunity to travel to Darling in 2020, the Darling wine route boasts a myriad of reasons for him to discover Darling, post-pandemic.

Of South Africa’s 23 wine and brandy routes, the Darling Wine Route is one of South Africa’s most charming enclaves. Besides its exquisite West Coast location and famed music festival, Darling draws oenophiles to the route, due to a bevy of reasons.

The Seasalter Sauvignon Blanc from Groote Post is a wine that has been called ‘The West Coast in a Bottle’.

Charles Withington is the proprietor of Withington Wines and the Darling Wine Shop. In 2014, he was the runner-up for the West Coast Tourism personality of the year. In various roles in his illustrious career, Charles Withington held various roles at Rustenberg Estate, was the GM at Backsberg and worked with Neil Joubert as export manager since 1996. Few are better poised to relay the reasons that Darling delights.

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Charles Withington, owner of Withington Wines and the Darling Wine Shop.

1. Atlantic Ocean on its Doorstep

“The great advantage that Darling has in being situated so close to the chilly Atlantic Ocean is the temperature variance,” Charles Withington says.

Charles explains, “while we might have temperatures reaching 37°C in the day, come the hours after midnight – which is always the coolest time – the temperature might read 17°C! It is this ‘cool time’, during the night that give the vines a chance to revitalise and re-energise. In this way, vines are a bit like humans, we can cope with a very hot day, as long as we can cool down in the evening.”

Unlike these vines, Charles says that inland vineyards do not have the privilege of this ‘cool time’ and their temperature variance is often less than 10°C. This cool time also allows slower ripening. Charles says, “it’s a bit like the difference between cooking in a microwave and slow cooking! This allows all those delicate flavours to develop in the grapes and at the harvest time, which delivers the perfect fruit – as nature intended.

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(Image: The Little Hedonist)
The West Coast in a bottle.

2. Small Town Big Terroir

While Darling’s daytime summer temperatures might rise to the heights of 37°C, like those in the Swartland, Paarl, Wellington, Worcester – or even like regions in France or Spain, it has its own nuances.

Visitors to Darling, ‘the flower of the West Coast’ might be enthralled by the wildflowers in Spring or the historic !Khwa ttu San Culture and Education Village there are many reasons to stay. Peter-Dirk Uys’ prolific work is at home at Evita se Perron, a cabaret-theater restaurant.

While Darling is culturally rich, it is, likewise, the land is distinctive for viticulture.

Charles says, “it has often been said that the primary task of the Winemaker is to capture as much of the grape in the glass (as possible). Don’t try to be nature – rather be part of coaxing nature into showing you her best.”

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!Khwa ttu San Culture and Education Village.

3. All Year-Round Wine

Charles Whithington describes Whithington Wines Malbec as a summer wine – despite the characterisation of Malbec as a fuller-bodied wine.

Although Malbec originates from Cahors, in France, in recent years, over 70% of the world’s Malbec has been planted in Argentina.

Malbec is currently one of the United Kingdom’s favourite red wines. Nine years ago, Charles Withington shipped his first Malbec to the United Kingdom, where John Avery MW took it on board.

In 2015, Withington Wines decided to place the Nguni cow on its label as an homage to the beef cattle that have prominence and provenance in Darling. The 2019 vintage is buxom and velvety – a complement to steak or lamb, all-year-round.

4. Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude

“My father as well-educated, well-read and a gentle human being,” Charles says.

“Though they did not want, they did not waste. Food was to be appreciated and wine was an essential part of the daily meal. As one got older, one realised that, for his generation, even the most-simple meal was something to be grateful for and was an occasion. So, wine in a way, became part of life and that lead me into the world of wine,” Charles says.

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Chef Debbie McLaughlin from Groote Post in the vegetable garden.

5. Roan Ranger

Charles believes that Cinsault is a key component of Rhone-style blends. He says, “Cinsault goes back to the twenty or so years I spent at Rustenberg, working alongside Etienne Le Riche and recognising the great contribution Cinsault could make to a blend.”

The Roan Ranger blend, comprised of Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvedre is a sensational ode to the ROAN horse. The label represents Withington family equine associations, as well as the quest for a unique blend from Darling, that will take the best of the Darling Hills to the world.

This delectable blend with gentle tannins is an exquisite pairing to rich dishes like oxtail or Nguni beef burgers – but is supple and sensational on its own.

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Look out for the distinctive front label of the Roan Ranger Cinsault blend.

6.In Good Spirits

As part of Charles’ illustrious career history, he was retained by a leading distiller as a strategic advisor. Charles says, “I knew a little about the great brandies and Cognacs of the world and what world class brandy we produced in South Africa. Like wine, fine brandy showed me what a ‘civilised’ drink it could be. Sit quietly, reflectively and sip a great Cape Brandy – this ‘soul of the grape’ will speak to you in a very special way.”

The Voorkamer Cape Brandy is a fine potstill that was awarded Gold by the Michelangelo International Wine and Spirits Awards.

The innovative spirit extends to Darlington Gin, termed the ‘Spirit of Darling’. As the West Coast is home to rare species of flora, the Kukumakranka plant is one of the botanicals that has roots to Darling’s San heritage.

Charles expands, “gin has been the biggest trend in spirits over the last five years or so. Visually attractive – it can be such a social drink.”

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The vineyards at Ormonde Private Cellar in Darling.

We place this blog with thanks to Wines of South Africa, where the article first appeared.