Fryers Cove, a unique West Coast wine experience

2018-06-08 12:02 - Ethan Van Diemen
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Fryers Cove wine in a fryers cove winery glass on

West Coast hospitality and great wine makes Fryer's Cove a West Coast gem. (Photo: Ethan Van Diemen)

In a nondescript section of the West Coast, there is a Western Cape dorpie that is so obscure and tiny that you may drive right past it without knowing. This is the heart of ‘gone-fishing’ land, a place where time slows to a virtual crawl and instead of an app, the sea and sky tell you what the weather will be like.

Welcome to Doringbaai and welcome to Fryers Cove.

Formerly known as Thornbay, this small predominantly Afrikaans-speaking town with an economy dominated by abalone-farming, crayfish exporting and packaging has been frothing with an exciting addition to the local economy - wine-making.

Set on a pier with an old, still-functioning, lighthouse marking its location, Fryers Cove winery is a landmark in an otherwise scant touched environment in classic Weskus, South Africa.

To get a true sense of the sheer size, or lack thereof, of Doringbaai it is useful to know that this is a place that has something like one streetlight per street - if that. The ever-looming lighthouse on the pier seems to be guiding, and illuminating, both ocean and land traffic away from incident.

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 Fryer's Cove, operating out of an old seafood-packaging factory at the end of a pier is a winery like no other. (Photo: Ethan Van Diemen) 

The town of Doringbaai is our home base on this trip. Waking up in a cosy, double-storey bed and breakfast with themed rooms, the day lazily begins in this quaint seaside town. We head to Fryers Cove where we are presented with a filling breakfast.

The name Fryer’s Cove is derived from the first commercial farmer in the area, Richard Fryer, who entrenched a rich tradition of community investment and job creation in the area. Fryer’s Cove winery has continued this proud legacy as the staff who prepare the meals, and our breakfast, are locals from the surrounding areas trained and employed by Fryer’s Cove.

 The premises house an abalone farming operation and Fryer's Coves winery, restaurant and bar. (Photo: Ethan Van Diemen)

Having had our fill with a hearty breakfast and a hot cuppa, exploration of the surrounds and the vineyards was next on the agenda. With a small general goods store and a few bed-and-breakfast spots around, it would seem that there isn’t much to do for the urbane, cosmopolitan traveller. But if you take the time to look a little closer and listen a little harder you’ll find that there are a myriad of fun travels and adventures to be had in the area.

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From the otherworldly browns, muted greens, and soft sunbaked sand valleys of Papendorp a mere 8 kilometres away to the gentle, leisurely seaside small-town charm of Strandfontein 5 minutes away, you can enjoy the legendary Weskus hospitality here in buckets. Once one has had a chance to acquaint oneself with the sights in the area, the next stop surely must be the magnificent vineyards that supply Fryer’s Cove.

 The small fishing village of Papendorp is set infront of a wetland and salt pans. The wetlands attract a variety of bird species making this a great bird-watching location in addition to it being an idyillic escape from the bustle of city life. With earthy tones and soft, sun-baked sand, this dorpie literally feels as tranquil as it looks. (Photo: Ethan Van Diemen) 

 Waters abundant with mussels, crayfish and more make this small seaside dorpie a seafood-lover's paradise. Strandtfontein, on the West Coast, is today a firm favourite for holidaymakers from all over the country with it's excellent Southern Right whale viewing opportunites and leisurely, seaside charm. It is also only 5 minutes away from Fryer's Cove! (Photo: Ethan Van Diemen)

What really distinguishes Fryer’s Cove from any other wine-producer in South Africa (perhaps in the world) is its proximity to the icy Atlantic Ocean. The hillsides are replete with the vines of Fryer’s Cove, located a mere 820 metres from where the ocean throws its beakers against the rocky shore.

This maritime essence is a prevalent theme that continues throughout much of Fryer’s Cove’s wine-making process. From vine to wine, Fryer’s Cove truly is the quintessence of the West Coast - bottled.

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Winemakers have a specific French term to denote the variety of influences and environmental factors that shape the personality of a specific vineyard or wine-making region - terroir. The terroir of Fryer’s Cove is most certainly aflush with the unique features of the surrounding West Coast soul, topography and climate. 

 The vineyards of Fryer's Cove are unique in that they are located close to the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean. (Photo: Supplied, Fryer's Cove)

The ocean winds carry flakes of salt from ocean spray onto the vine leaves, the result of which is increased alkalinity, less mildew and a distinct minerality that carries over into the complexity of the wines.

The cove for which the vineyard is named provides natural cover against the vicious winds, reducing them to but a cooling breeze. This process helps produce a micro-climate which, in conjunction with an abundance of sunshine, allows the grapes to ripen slowly and over a longer period of time.

These processes are what improve aspects of the flavours associated with Fryer’s Cove wines. The terroir of Fryer’s Cove is so uncommon that Wine Magazine in 2005 gave Fryer’s Cove Sauvignon Blanc a 5-star rating, making it only the second Sauvignon Blanc to do so in 12 years.  

With a full morning spent exploring the small dorpies surrounding Doringbaai, it was time to head back and sample some of the wares. Winemaker Derrick Koegelenberg was on hand to guide our palates through what turned out to be a sensory treat. The location of the winery itself is quite unique and seems like the type of place hipsters would, or will soon, hang out.

 Fryer's Cove's catalogue is impressive in its diversity and complexities, with wines that are full-bodied, elegant and rounded to crisp and refreshingly dry wines. (Photo: Ethan Van Diemen) 

The winemaking process happens on the edge of the pier in what was at one point an old seafood-processing factory. This gives the space a distinctly rustic and pioneering feel. Walking by gleaming processing tanks we arrive to sample the catalogue of Fryer’s Cove wines.

Derrick guides us through the wine-tasting process where we sample wines like the 2016 Bamboes Bay Sauvignon Blanc, an elegant and round wine with youngberry and passion fruit flavours that tastes perfectly balanced between fruity and acidic. The 2017 Doringbay Sauvignon Blanc is crisp, alive and refreshingly dry without being acidic. It shows touches of passionfruit with a full rich middle palate and delicious depth with a lingering tropical fruit finish. These are just some of the wine experiences to be had at Fryer's Cove. 

Having had a delightful wine-tasting experience, it was time to head back and enjoy the musical entertainment and bask in the jovial atmosphere that Fryer's Cove cultivates. It truly is a unique West Coast wine experience like no other.  

 On Saturdays, Fryer's Cove fills up with patrons who are able to enjoy the selection of wines, good eats and - if they're lucky - a live musical performance like this one by the multi-instrumentalist Folk Rock duo - Bottomless Coffee. (Photo: Ethan Van Diemen)

 At the end of the day, Fryer's Cove is foremost about enjoying wine and West Coast hospitality with friends and family. (Photo: Ethan Van Diemen)

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