When your holiday starts the moment you board a flight, this is probably because of Edelweiss’s excellent inflight service, the friendly cabin crew and, of course, a delicious meal served with a wine that suits. A Sauvignon blanc or a Cabernet Franc are particularly well suited for passengers travelling to South Africa: both wines are cultivated and produced by Yves Musfeld from Switzerland whose vineyards are just a few miles from Cape Town.

The viewer’s gaze wanders down to the sea and to False Bay on the eastern side of the Cape Peninsula. The landscape on the other side is framed by The Hottentots Mountains. Nestling between them: vineyards as far as the eye can see. It is not hard to fall in love with Stellenbosch, South Africa’s famous winemaking region. Yves Musfeld knows this all too well. His father fell in love with the region when commissioned to do construction work on the Table Mountain cable car. The rest is history.

Today, Swiss-born Yves from Ennetbürgen is at the helm of the Stellenbosch-based vineyard purchased by his parents, Beat and Heidi, in 1997. 160 acres of forest and meadows with hundreds of vines in their midst – from Sauvignon blanc to Chardonnay. The first wine on the estate was pressed, in the newly built wine cellar, in 1999. It is amazing how quickly this was accomplished, especially as the Musfelds had no previous experience inviticulture. But their unwavering dedication and tireless work made up for it and led to the creation of the “Onderkloof” grape and dairy farm. A success story.

Photos: Yves Musfeld/www.onderkloof.com

How to become a winemaking expert

As for Yves, he trained and acquired technical expertise at the highest level. He discovered his passion for wine at a surprisingly young age. When his parents left for South Africa, Yves stayed in Switzerland and decided he wanted to become a professional winemaker. “For someone under twenty, it is a fairly unusual career choice. But I have always had a fascination with wine; I wanted to know more,” Yves explains. After earning a vocational baccalaureate, he went on to study oenology and viticulture in Germany, and then moved to South Africa to join his parents. Trained to the tee, Yves Musfeld took over the management of the farm on 1st September 2013.

What does studying wine entail? “You learn how to plant vines and cultivate them, and you acquire an in-depth understanding of processes like fermentation, clarification and blending.” When Yves talks about his profession, there is not the slightest doubt about the level of craftsmanship required to cultivate and process grapes successfully. And this is what still fascinates Yves today. “I wouldn’t call myself a typical farmer, even if I have to occasionally crawl around a field or repair a pipe. The truth is: I am a craftsmen, a farmer and an artist. I love the diversity of my profession.”

The best for the guests

When it comes to producing wines, the approach taken at Onderkloof is natural rather than high tech. In other words: a great deal of manual work in lieu of large machines and industrial processing – from picking the grapes right up to the finished wine. “Our employees pick the grapes by hand and deliver them to the wine cellar by tractor,” Yves explains. Whenever possible, the wine is left to flow using gravity only; the fermentation processes are not accelerated artificially. Yves smiles and calls it “masterly idleness”. He relies on the grapes’ own abilities and devices, and places full emphasis on quality. Indeed, his concept seems to work: Onderkloof wines are well-known in South Africa and far beyond. Among other places, they can be enjoyed on Edelweiss flights.

Living in the midst of wine

Since 2010, the production and unique flair of Onderkloof can be experienced first-hand. The Musfelds run three comfortable cottages for holiday guests. Visitors can enjoy all the amenities and privileges in the heart of South Africa’s wine-growing region, including spectacular nature and spacious golf courses. This rural bliss is only a fifty-minute drive from the exciting metropolis of Cape Town. The small town of Somerset West is less than four miles away. But the real highlight of a stay at Onderkloof is watching how wine is produced. Visitors often happen upon Yves Musfeld in the wine cellar, where he also likes to experiment. A case in point is when he spontaneously fermented a Chardonnay, i.e. without adding any specially cultivated wine yeasts. The result: the 100% Cabernet Franc rosé which turned out to be Musfeld’s personal highlight of his 2014 harvest. His suggestion on how to enjoy the wine: “On a picnic on Signal Hill in Cape Town where by far the best views are to be had!”

The thing about culture

Asked if he could imagine working as a winemaker in Switzerland, Yves is quick to negate. “Even after all these years, I still do not see myself as a South African. I am and always will be Swiss. But that does not mean I would ever want to swap.” And who can blame him. Even if the decisive factor is not so much the location, but the wine. “Even if you were to plant the same grapes: a wine from Stellenbosch has an entirely different taste compared to a Swiss wine. This is due to the terroir.” The proximity to the sea and the cool breezes enhance the quality. Provided, as Yves points out, it is not a Riesling or a Pinot Noir. “You can get these wines here,” he says with a telling undertone. “But I strongly advise against it!” Good to know that Switzerland can claim one advantage in the wine domain. However, there is more to be said…

…because no matter how much Yves Musfeld has come to love South Africa, when it comes to work, he occasionally misses his home country. Switzerland is all about reliability and punctuality. A different work ethic prevails in South Africa. “Fixed appointments and punctuality are not taken very seriously here. We have had to dismiss several employees. And we faced a real meltdown in 2013.” Musfeld is referring to a particular incident that, following a very smooth harvest, was the cause of considerable despair: when Yves was away attending an Afrikaans course in a neighbouring village, he hired a manager to distribute the work among his employees during his absence. The manager duly arrived in the mornings, distributed the work and then left again. As it turned out, the wrong approach. One sunny day, the field workers took a very questionable decision: why work for someone else if you are at the source and thus well-placed to sell the wine yourself? So, following an extensive drinking spree in the Onderkloof wine cellar, Musfeld’s employees loaded a tractor, swapped the heavily drunk and almost comatose driver for an untrained (and equally drunk) field worker and made their way to a village nearby! Fortunately, Yves got wind of their actions just in time. Needless to say, the workers were dismissed on the spot. Yves’ take on this incident is speckled with humour: “Something like that is inconceivable in Switzerland! But at least we never get bored here.”

Three South Africa wine tour tips

The Stellenbosch wine region is not the only place to taste exquisite wines. South Africa has many other exciting destinations on offer for wine lovers. Yves Musfeld tells us what not to miss on a wine tour through South Africa:

Constantia: “Situated vis-à-vis Stellenbosch, this Cape Town suburb is known for its exclusive residential area and for the Constantia Wine Route. The tour through the wine estates Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia, Buitenverwachting, Constantia Uitsig and Steenberg is lovely and interesting – definitely worth a visit!”

Robertson: “Robertson is located further inland and roughly a 1.5 hour drive from Stellenbosch. The area’s calcareous soil and the hot and dry climate provide ideal conditions for the cultivation of Chardonnay. Robertson has become increasingly popular, especially in recent years.”

Hermanus: “Situated in the Western Cape province right by the sea, Hermanus boasts breathtaking scenery and offers a good chance of spotting some whales from September to October. The wine-growing areas here are quite young and modern, and produce great wines.”

Text: Malin Mueller