Abingdon Wine Estate

abing1 My only experience of wine supposedly originating from KZN was tasting some red plonk a few years ago that was associated with our local rugby team. It was vile and traumatised my palate enough that I believed, like the rest of the nation, that no good wine grapes can come from KZN soil. Well, the great news is that the awful wine I refer to was never even grown in KZN, and the false claims thereof led to the relevant “wine” estate shutting its doors for good. The bad news is that it was, very unfortunately, around long enough to cause long-term damage to the perception of wine from KZN. But thankfully, Abingdon is repairing that reputation, one glorious and irresistible bottle at a time.

IMG_7610 IMG_7604Abingdon was started in 2004 by Ian and Jane Smorthwaite. They bought the picturesque estate in 2000 with the intention of having a relaxed retirement. But with 1100 hectares at their disposal, and not a single good vineyard nearby, they looked into starting their own. The first vines were planted in 2004, and with their meticulous attention to detail, and with what I imagine was a lot of hard graft and research, their first wines were ready. Two years later, a comprehensive guide called Wines of the Southern Hemisphere, authored by world-renowned New York wine writers, Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, reviewed and listed Abingdon’s 2008 Cabernet amongst the long-established nexus of vineyards and vintages from the Cape. The Abingdon Cabernet was described as a ‘Ruby in the glass with the aroma of dark berries, cassis and a pleasant vegetal note.” – excellent going for a wine from a region that has been entirely dismissed by experts and the general wine-drinking global populace.

IMG_7586In 2009 a tasting room and restaurant was opened. This is where a person can enjoy the full complement of tastes that Abingdon has on offer, both on the plate and in the glass. At the bar you can enjoy a sampling of about 6 of their wines (it may be more, but after I had the 6, things got pleasantly fuzzy). Every glass is accompanied by the affable Ian Smorthwaite’s limitless knowledge, which imbues each sip with as much story as there is flavour.


And with a story behind each bottle in mind, the new wine labels  convey the fun personality of the owners of the estate. Illustrated by their daughter Laurie, they represent the local fauna that apparently try to eat their grapes.

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Notable to me was how welcoming and relaxed the bar and restaurant are. It’s rustic in a warm and homely manner, decorated with a patina of wooden textures, old bottles, corks, and occasionally dotted with mobile footrests, by way of various plump and friendly dogs. It pleasantly strips the tasting experience of any intimidating qualities. You can relax knowing that you will not be judged if all you can determine from your glass is that you either like it or you don’t. In fact, Ian’s approach is a simplified one, that each wine to the individual is either a tick or a cross.

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IMG_7583I am not an expert wine taster, although I consider myself an expert wine drinker, due to all the hours tirelessly invested in practising the sport, and I find that a very appealing approach. Identifying flavours and aromas is such a personal experience, there is no wrong answer, but there is sometimes the unspoken implication that if you  don’t recognise the same notes and aromas, and in the vocabulary of the supposed connoisseur, your experience of it is somehow less valid. If it truly were less valid, most vineyards would cease to exist as they would only have the experts to supply to. The less professional palate can still determine if wine tastes good or not which supports Ian’s ethos of it either being a tick or a cross.

One wine that stood out for us in the tasting is their new 2013 vioignier (if you are like me and can’t fathom how to say it without it sounding like you’ve pulled a muscle in your jaw, it’s pronounced vee-on-yay). I usually dislike viogniers as they  tend to taste like salad dressing to me, but this  is one of the best tasting white wines I’ve ever had. When you go there, demand a glass. Their other wines are great too – we didn’t have anything we didn’t enjoy finishing (which is why my photos are much blurrier than they should be), but this one was particularly impressive. It’s not one we often see on the wine rack because apparently its a high-risk varietal to grow, with a very short window to harvest. If the grapes are plucked just a day too early or too late, you end up with what I professionally describe as bleh. It should be called Goldilocks Wine because it needs to be juuuust right. And the Abingdon 2013 Voignier is juuuust right.

IMG_7589Another feather soon to be in KZN’s cap courtesy of Abindgon, is Jane and Ian’s talented daughter, Laurie. She is currently the assistant winemaker at Abingdon and studying to eventually become a Master of Wine. There are only 312 Masters of Wine in the world and only 3 of them are in Africa, with two in South Africa. The future of KZN’s wine looks to be in excellent hands.

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IMG_7644IMG_7676Once you are done with the tasting, do some tipsy trudging towards a table and have a seat. Jane runs the restaurant kitchen and makes sure that each plate that comes out of it is a hearty and satisfying meal. The boozy crème brulée is particularly good.

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Sit outside if it’s sunny. Take pleasure in the beautiful surroundings, with tables under pagodas that are enveloped by vines, enjoy the nuzzling hounds and the sound of twittering birds, along with the alarmed crowing of a rooster being chased by one of said hounds.

IMG_7600 IMG_7580 IMG_7650 IMG_7652If you want to impress people from out of town, or really impress locals from Durban, take them to KZN’s only wine estate, educate and surprise them with how amazing it is and boast gleefully as to how this Midlands wine-of-origin estate officially produces some of the best wine in the entire Southern Hemisphere.

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Blog Comments

Hi Shirley
I wrote a comment to your post on Durban restaurants [Abingdon] but the post disappeared before I could send it. My remarks were that I had a very similar enjoyable experience at Abingdon and still have a few bottles of their 2010 Syrah and Cab Sav/Syrah wines to enjoy. Your blog is so true of the super atmosphere at Abingdon. Will be calling in again this year to chill and re-stock.
I am of the view that sections of the restaurant group have become quite aggressive lately and wondered if that had been the reason for your post disappearing.

Hi Charles

Thanks for your comment! Not sure why my comment disappeared on that Facebook group, it’s probably either a human or digital gremlin.

I must try some of their older stuff and maybe go up there in cooler weather to try out eating by the fireplace. It is indeed a nice place to chill.

Such a lovely review on one of my favourite places! Jane and Ian and Laurie are just the loveliest people! 🙂
And yay for KZN wines 🙂

http://www.midlandsmusings.com

Thanks Keri! Easy to write a lovely review when it’s such a lovely place.

Thank you Shirley for a seriously lovely article! We are very touched by your comments… and what stunning photos! I’d love some copies!! Look forward to seeing you again soon at our little spot 🙂

Thanks so much, Jane, for taking the time to personally respond here. Had a great time but my only regret was that I couldn’t fit all the dogs in my car. 😉

Hi, I have some amazing friends who live on a farm in Nottingham road, they go by the names of Moira and Jeremy Gruenenburg.. Delicious people, nearly as good as the Abandon wines. When Abandon had just opened I read about it in a magazine, made a note of the place , and when I came to visit Moira and Jeremy, took Moira and some friends off for a Sunday lunch and wine tasting. Moira who lives in the area had not yet been there, they were blown away. Now whenever i pop into the Midlands , i make sure i visit Abandon and Jane.
We have had many a wonderful Sunday afternoons there with friends from Durban and Johannesburg.
It is a little piece of paradise, well done you guys on your hard work that has so paid off.
Look forward to seeing you soon.
Dinner at 9th Avenue Bistro with you was sublime. Your evening was well hosted.

Peta xxx

I plan to do the same. When we drove up I wasn’t really expecting much, to be honest, and was also completely blown away. KZN has these spectacular gems that I am uncovering one wonderful place at a time. I just can’t believe that I’d never really heard much about Abingdon before.

Hi , meant to say Abingdon wines, predictive text, far too early to blame the wine.
As the saying goes ” A meal without wine is called breakfast ”

Peta

Haha! I can edit it for you from my control panel if you like, but it’s amusing 😉

Abingdon Wine estate is my favorite spot to chill out on a Sunday afternoon…sadly the pace of my life and living in Durban limits me from spending more time on this magnificent wine estate. I come from a family of foodies where food and wine are central to happy memories…my sister was the owner of a Lebanese restaurant in Muizenberg and my mom loves entertaining, she serves 3 course meals for a casual Friday dinner! So somewhere in our genetic pool is the DNA that is linked to food experts. I might add that I am Jane’s cousin so it’s not by chance that she is one of the best chef’s I know… simply blame it on our family heritage!

Thanks for you interesting comment, Sharon! Your foodie memories sound right up my alley. You are so lucky to have that background.

certainly a great place. The viognier is outstanding. and so beautiful there, especially now with the return of the stunning daughter.

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