Summer in the Cape Winelands is something to celebrate and no better way to do so, says Sebastian Bartlett, than in the elegant picnic pergolas at Quoin Rock.
“Have you seen the owl?” asked our host Sharon as we settled in at our table in a leafy corner of the Quoin Rock estate. It was a bright, early summer’s day, the sky as blue as you could ask for and the first hint of December’s heat was rising from the grassy lawns of this family-owned estate.
Tearing our gaze from the views of vineyards scampering up the Simonsberg, which towers overhead to the east, we noticed a spotted eagle-owl quietly surveying the scene, a wild visitor to what is surely the most elegant picnic destination in the Winelands.
Yet, many visitors may be surprised to learn that Quoin Rock even offers summer picnics. Gåte Restaurant typically claims the culinary limelight on the estate and with good reason, as head chef Jack Coetzee leads diners on a sensory adventure with his multi-course fine-dining menu.
So you’d be forgiven for overlooking the stylish picnic pergolas that have sprouted along the banks of the Klippies River as it gurgles through the estate. Here, amid lush gardens beneath the shade of venerable oak trees, Quoin Rock is quietly giving the concept of summertime picnics a stylish new spin.
Across the expansive lawns that run from the restaurant and cellar, eight picnic pergolas – striking wrought-iron creations encircled by indigenous fynbos – lie well spaced on the river banks. They’re close enough to the restaurant for waiters to nip over with another bottle of chilled Chenin Blanc when you need it – a two-way radio is even provided so you can call for service – but far enough apart for a welcome sense of solitude. You may hear a snatch of conversation carried on the breeze, but otherwise the gazebos offer wonderful privacy for reconnecting with family and friends.
Some pergolas offer more shade than others, so if you’re worried about spending too many hours in the summer sun, request a table that’s well shaded by the oak trees lining the river.
If the outdoor tables and casual-chic pergolas aren’t enough of a hint that this is an elevated picnic experience, you’ll be sure of it once your picnic basket arrives. From the traditional wicker basket waiters unpack bowl after delicious bowl, a feast of summertime fare.
Any picnic worth the name should start with great bread and even better butter, and on this score you won’t be disappointed. A freshly baked baguette – pre-sliced, which is a nice touch – is served with a delectable butter infused with the estate’s Namysto sweet wine. It’s the perfect foil for the crisp crust of the baguette and a fine way to whet your appetite for what’s to come. Happily there’s plenty of bread to enjoy with the Biltong Pâté and Citrus Pesto, a double act of subtle umami richness balanced by the bright, fresh notes of the pesto.
Cheese and cured meats are equally a must-have in any picnic and here local charcutier Neil Jewell provides both Bresaola and Italian salami, served pre-sliced in chilled glass jars. The jars are a sustainable touch that is easy to overlook, yet deserves a mention. Far too many picnic experiences leave a trail of plastic and polystyrene in their wake, but at Quoin Rock there’s a firm focus on being earth-friendly.
My highlight of the day was the whimsical sealed tins that, when popped open, reveal a beautifully balanced Springbok Tartare, the savoury richness of the game meat neatly balanced by apricots, onion and an anchovy emulsion. It paired perfectly with the Salad Olivier, a dish traditional to Eastern Europe – where estate owners the Gaiduk family trace their roots – that sees pickles, red onion and mortadella reinventing the humble potato salad. The Curried Pasta Salad perfectly closes the loop, bringing the picnic menu back to the Cape with a Malay-inspired plate of fusilli, peppers and a piquant spiced dressing.
A family affair
While the picnic experience is indulgently elegant, there’s a welcome lack of formality or fussiness that makes this ideal for families. Children of all ages are welcome and at weekends a jumping castle – set a respectable distance from both the restaurant and the picnic pergolas – keeps youngsters well entertained.
The wide lawns and the shallow waters of the stream offer yet more diversions, ensuring that adults enjoy plenty of quality time while the children are off exploring. There’s also a dedicated kids’ menu, with succulent chicken strips and thick-cut chips. This menu comes packed with sweet treats and surprises, ensuring a memorable meal for young ones.
Pop the cork
Of course, a Winelands picnic wouldn’t be the same without a great bottle of wine and here visitors are spoilt for choice with an array of wonderful releases from the cellar of Quoin Rock winemaker Schalk Opperman. Alongside the selection of estate wines, picnic guests can enjoy a tempting range of craft beers, non-alcoholic cocktails and freshly squeezed juices. Unlimited still and sparkling water is included.
The wine list stretches across the three brands released by the cellar. The Namysto range is a collection of premium releases crafted for earlier enjoyment. The Knorhoek label is produced by Schalk Opperman on the neighbouring Knorhoek property, which was acquired by the Gaiduk family in 2019.
But the standout pairing is the flagship Quoin Rock range, including the acclaimed Chardonnay and Red Blend. Guests also have unique access to the remarkable collection of Méthode Cap Classiques, including the Quoin Rock Blanc de Blanc 2009. This is the maiden vintage of what has become a sought-after limited-edition wine produced only in exceptional vintages. It’s as fine a bubbly as you could ask for to toast the arrival of summer.
Picnics at Quoin Rock cost R400 per person and R180 per child. Bookings essential.