There is so much to see and do at Spier Wine Farm that I don’t know if I can keep this post to a reasonable length. But you can jump to the sections that are relevant to you if you don’t have time to read the whole thing.
Over the past few months, Spier has undergone some big changes. While some things have remained the same, such as Moyo restaurant and the farm’s commitment to sustainability, much has changed. For many people the biggest change is that the cheetah rehabilitation project has moved. They needed more space and have moved to Somerset West. You can find more information at the Cheetah Outreach website. But Eagle Encounters, the raptor rehabilitation centre is still based at Spier and is well worth a visit (read more about that below). Many people are not aware that the Spier train does not run anymore.
Spier has long been a tourist Mecca, offering a gamut of activities as well as an historical and scenic setting in which to enjoy them. However, having spent 2 days enjoying what the farm has to offer, I highly recommend that locals take some time to enjoy the offering if they get a chance. Below I review the things I did, but that is not the entire offering. For instance, I did not attend a show at the amphitheater, although I have in the past and highly recommend it. I did not utilise the Eight To Go deli and picnic on the lawn, but have done so before and recommend it for locals and visitors alike. I did not spend time at the craft market, nor did I eat at Moyo. I also did not experience the Camelot Spa. There is only so much you can do in 2 days!
This is one of the biggest changes at Spier. The new wine tasting experience takes wine tasting to a whole new level. The facility is an expansion of what used to be the deli and incorporates not only the tasting, but a large wine shop, a lounge and an outdoor seated area where you can order snacks. The visitor’s centre is also located in this building and is a good place to start your visit as they can provide you with information on all of the activities available. You’ll want a map of the farm as it will come in useful.
Wine tasting is a personal experience with well trained staff presenting the pairing at your own table. The Spier tasting costs R35 and will give you a choice of 5 wines across the Spier range. The Frans K. Smit tasting costs R90 and allows you to taste the 6 top wines in the Spier stable. We opted for the Heritage tasting at R60, which pairs both the 21 Gables chenin blanc and pinotage with a bite of food. The combinations (pickled fish with the chenin and dark chocolate truffle & guava jam with the pinotage) were interesting and appropriately influenced by South African culinary heritage. I can recommend the Heritage tasting for something different.
If you’re feeling peckish, opt for one of the olive, cheese, or cured meat boards to snack on while you do the tasting. Kids will be entertained with their grape juice tasting, and colouring in page. Alternatively, if they are feeling energetic they can run around on the lawns out front. When you’re done tasting, make sure you’ve left enough time to browse the wine shop. Even if you’re not planning to buy anything, it’s well worth a browse.
More photos of the wine tasting available here.
More info on the wines and wine tasting available at the Spier website.
Historic Walk & Segway Tour
There are 3 walks available, for the fitter ones among us there is the 1.5 hour Heritage walk which covers several aspects of the farm. The Protea walk through the protea garden is 30mins, both this walk and the Heritage walk are free.
Being a techno geek, I opted for the Gables audio tour (R70). They give you an MP3 player and you move to each chapter as you reach the markers shown on the map. The audio guide is in the format of a story told by the ghost of a fictional slave woman who lived on the farm about 200 years ago. It does take about an hour so it’s not a quick thing, but it takes you around various parts of the farm and the story is quite interesting.
The Segway tour was a highlight for me. I’ve always wanted to ride a Segway and that alone makes it worth the price, which is about R200 for the 1 hour tour or R380 for the 2 hour tour which includes the vineyards and a wine tasting. We had great fun, the Segways are actually really easy to ride and with a 5 min lesson you will be happily on your way.
We cruised slowly along the paths through the protea garden. It wasn’t the right season so the flowers were mostly dead, but I can imagine if you are there it the right time they must look glorious. Once we had finished that we were really feeling confident and sped our way along the farm roads to see the waste water treatment plant and the vineyards where we stopped to pick some grapes and taste the difference between the various varieties. After that we headed over to the bio-dynamic farm where the vegetables are grown for Eight restaurant. Spier is a big farm and cruising around on Segways is a great way to see it.
More photos from the walk and Segway tour available here.
On my previous visits to Spier I always made a point of going to see the cheetahs, but for some reason I always ignored the raptor rehabilitation centre. Eagle Encounters is actually an amazing experience and you learn a lot. If you love owls, you will be in heaven as they have a ton and some of them are ridiculously cute. The visit starts with a show where they introduce you to some of the (smaller) birds. You can even touch them. Then they do a tour of the birds they have in rehab, from huge eagles to vultures and more. We watched the vultures being fed and we took a million photographs of cute owls. It really is very interesting and good for kids too.
More photos from the Eagle Encounters available here.
More info on the Eagle Encounters available here.
Eight Restaurant & Eight To Go
Picnics at Spier have been an attraction for many years. The original deli has become the new wine tasting area and the new deli is called Eight To Go, obviously associated with Eight restaurant. We didn’t picnic but we did take some time to browse the deli and see the offering. I don’t want to go into too much detail because the deli is currently closed while it undergoes some changes, so it will be quite different from what we experienced. From their website:
Eight To Go will reopen its doors on Wednesday the 17th July with a refreshed look and some exciting new goodies. Expect freshly home-baked cookies and pastries, homemade jams, fruit preserves and chutneys straight from our kitchen.
If you don’t want the hassle (I’d call it fun) of choosing the ingredients for your own picnic, you can pre-order a picnic and collect it on arrival. You can choose between the Gourmet, Relaxed, Vegetarian or Children’s picnics and just specify how many people it is for. See www.spierpicnics.co.za for details.
Eight restaurant has changed somewhat since I first reviewed it in March 2010. The philosophy remains the same, to provide fresh local ingredients with a focus on provenance. Vegetables come from Spier’s own organic vegetable garden, beef is pasture reared on Spier land by Farmer Angus, etc. The restaurant is open for brunch and lunch. Brunch features free range eggs from Farmer Angus, while the lunch offering varies depending on which season it is. In Summer you can help yourself to the tasty options on the harvest table, plates charged by weight and there is an option to order a serving of meat prepared on the braai. In Winter, wholesome farm style dishes are served to the table, accompanied by fresh farm vegetable platters. Save space for dessert because there is bound to be something that catches your fancy in the selection.
More photos from the restaurant and deli available here.
I have not stayed at the Spier hotel before so I can’t tell you what has changed, but I can tell you that it looks fabulous. From the check in foyer you walk through to the large open plan lounge and bar area which is filled with cool, funky African art. Art is actually a big part of Spier’s story. Apart from boasting one of the most extensive contemporary art collections in the country, Spier is very involved in supporting the arts in various ways. You can read more about these initiatives here.
There’s a large terrace area to enjoy breakfast or a coffee in good weather. Beyond the lounge is the hotel restaurant, decorated in sophisticated white tones to contrast the psychedelic lounge area.
The hotel rooms are not in one building but are clustered, village style, around 6 private courtyards, each with its own swimming pool. Garden terrace rooms are on the ground floor and have direct access to the pool and garden, while standard rooms are situated upstairs. River facing rooms are situated on the Eerste River and have views of the Helderberg mountains. For those seeking additional luxury, there are several themed suites available.
Spier’s commitment to positive social and environmental impact is evident throughout the hotel. Read more about this in the Eco Initiatives section below.
More photos of the hotel available here.
More info on the hotel available here.
Being an eco aware person myself, I’ve always been impressed with Spier’s environmental and social initiatives. It is reflected in every aspect of the farm. Some of the wines are currently organic and Fairtrade, and I know that they are busy converting the rest of the vineyards as well.
Staying at the hotel, we could offset our carbon footprint at a small price and many of the elements within the rooms either support local social projects or are aimed at reducing the environmental impact of the hotel. Spier also supports entrepreneurs by helping them to create micro-enterprises linked to Spier.
Spier processes its own waste water and uses the grey water for irrigation. The restaurants focus on local, organic produce. There are recycling bins around the farm for visitors to use.
I could write a whole separate article as long as this one on the social and environmental initiatives at Spier, but it’s probably easier if you just read more about it at the Spier website.
So there you have it, much as changed at Spier and it’s all for the better. The offering is substantial and worthwhile for tourists and locals alike.
PS. The 21 Gables chenin blanc is awesome, make sure you try it while you’re there.