Driving through the heavy, wooden gate and up the tree-lined drive at Haut Espoir, you’d be forgiven thinking you were entering an exclusive estate. With no indication of what lay ahead, we continued winding our way up the mountainside, through the thick trees to arrive at the top. An elderly Jack Russell terrier wobbled up to meet us, as well as a man I’d come to know as the Gentle Giant.
Rob Armstrong is tall — very tall — and as he ushered us inside the tasting room of Haut Espoir, his passion for the estate, its biodynamic practices and his concern for the section of land entrusted to him and his team began to reveal itself.
This winery is not as old as some of its counterparts in the surrounding valley of Franschhoek; in fact it was only established in 1999. The wines produced here are special, and not just because of their established quality, but also because they are produced in a way that is both respectful and conscious of the surrounding indigenous flora of the area.
Literally translated as “high hope,” Haut Espoir prides itself on creating distinctive, handcrafted wines in harmony with nature. This means an approach to nature unlike any I’ve seen before.
At the outset, it seemed like the vineyards of Haut Espoir were unkempt and messy. Long, golden grasses grew in between the vines, while rogue bushes had started to encroach on the neat rows. Proteas of all varieties lined the pathways, splaying out their proud colours as if competing with the autumn colours on the vines.
Rob explained that the farm is around 23 hectares in total, but only eight hectares of that are planted with vines (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot and cabernet franc). The rest of the land is dedicated to the restoration of fynbos, an indigenous and endangered species of plants only occurring in South Africa.
“We don’t use any fertilisers or pesticides here,” explained Rob. “We’ve been dedicated to biodynamic farming since 2011, and we have seen the environment thrive since then. Haut Espoir is about minimal impact to the environment.”
After a tour through the vineyards, admiring all the tiny plants and insects pointed out by Rob along the way, we headed inside the cool cellars of Haut Espoir for a tasting.
Our host and his wobbly Jack Russell led us into one of the biggest tasting rooms I’ve ever seen. A massive table sits to one side of the room, while on the other is a set of comfy couches, indicating that tasters have probably spent more than just a quick 30 minutes here. Through a door to our left lay the cellar, stacked with wine racks, boxes, and crates filled with gooey red grapes halfway through their journey to becoming a great wine.
The wines at Haut Espoir are mainly reds, and all offer a true reflection of the terroir of the valley and the biodynamic farming practices in place here. All of the wines are also exceptional for their price range, and well worth taking home if you can afford to ship them.
Towards the end of our tasting of two whites, some buchu (an herby, astringent plant), and three reds, the Gentle Giant produced his namesake: a red blend made up of five oak-aged varietals. A spicy, warm and more-ish wine that would work well on any table, it is smooth, rich, and alone worth the trip to Haut Espoir.
Haut Espoir encourages visitors to relax and taste its range of wines, and also tour the vineyards and cellars. The estate is just a few minutes drive from the centre of the town of Franschhoek, and guests are welcome Monday to Friday between 11h00 and 16h00, and on Saturdays between 11h00 and 13h00. If you’re looking for something special, then a private wine blending session can be arranged with Rob and the Haut Espoir winemaker, Marozanne Bieldt.
Heading into Franschhoek and the valley beyond is at least a day trip out of Cape Town. There are exceptional hotels and restaurants located within the town itself, or just beyond its outskirts. Be sure to stop off at one of the bountiful delis, cellars stocking a large selection of the local wines, or even for a treat at the Belgian chocolatier that is on the main road of Franschhoek.
Known to be a slice of French culture in South Africa’s Western Cape, Franschhoek was founded in 1688 by French Huguenots. The town itself is easy to navigate, and if you’re comfortable driving on the left-hand side of the road, it’s an easy hour’s drive from Cape Town.
Other attractions in and around Franschhoek include the Franschhoek Monument, countless wine farms, spa and wellness facilities, aerial tours over the area, and various artist’s studios and galleries.
Haut Espoir is located at 3 Excelsior Rd, Franschhoek, about 5km from the town center. Phone: +2721 876 4000