Underneath the bush hat, bobbing around in the vineyards is a small girl with a sweet, round face. But don’t let that fool you.
Winemaker Kiara Scott is managing a team of 50 farm workers as they methodically handpick the plump, purple syrah grapes on the new Brookdale Estate, which sits beneath the dramatically jagged Drakenstein mountains near Paarl in South Africa.
“The team have been warming to me,” says Kiara. “The women were fine from the start, but the men…” she pauses and smiles: “The men took a little bit more warming up. But I believe that, as a woman, if you put the energy out there you get the energy back.”
Like this syrah harvest, Kiara ticks a lot of firsts. She is not only a woman working as a senior winemaker in South Africa (unusual in itself) but at 27 is one of the youngest. She is also of mixed race which, in the almost exclusively white and old moneyed Cape wine industry, makes her even more extraordinary.
Although Kiara talks about being “blessed” and “so fortunate” to have found herself leading the winemaking at Brookdale, this has less to do with luck and more to do with sheer talent, heel-digging determination and preternatural charm. She is a graduate of the Cape Wine Maker’s Guild protégé programme, an intensive three-year course for the very best and brightest young winemakers and viticulturists from all backgrounds, created to bring new ideas and energy into the rather snooty South African wine scene.
For Kiara it was a life-transforming opportunity which lifted her out of Mitchells Plain, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town, to study in the most prestigious winemaking regions in the world, including the Rhône Valley, Sancerre and Sonoma, California.
But getting there wasn’t easy. “You could say my decision to become a winemaker didn’t go down very well at home,” says Kiara, laughing at her own epic understatement. “Even though I have a very supportive family, they are very conservative, very Christian and they thought any alcohol including wine was a very bad thing.”
“You see, there was a lot of alcoholism in our community. I know people who are 40 and still living with their parents and not working and doing drugs. And I thought, I don’t want that, I don’t want that life. I am not going to live that life. But I had to convince my family that making wine was an amazing opportunity for me and that wine was something to savour, to enjoy – not something you drank until you passed out.”
Kiara graduated from the programme bursting with passion and energy – exactly the sort of energy Tim Rudd, the English owner of Brookdale, needed to create a game-changing name in the Cape’s boutique organic wine scene.
“I was determined to do something different here,” Tim explains, as we sit on a terrace overlooking the patchwork of new vineyards sprawled out beneath us. “There are lovely places to taste wine around here and lovely hotels to stay at in Cape Town. But here you can do both and not have to share the experience with anyone else.”
For Brookdale isn’t just a 200-acre working wine farm. It’s a 200-acre working wine farm that looks as though it belongs in World of Interiors. At its heart is an extraordinarily beautiful Cape Dutch-style manor house that Tim has opened as a private retreat. It is filled with contemporary interpretations of Cape furniture and bold, wildly colourful paintings from established South African artists.
The five en-suite bedrooms (plus a sixth in the grounds) are huge and airy and look out across vineyards and the granite mountains beyond, which are so surreal they too look like paintings mounted in the window frames. The fact that the lawn at the front of the house doubles as a helipad gives you an idea of the level of exclusivity.
But it’s the stillness and total seclusion of Brookdale that makes it so intoxicating. As soon as you drive through the electric gates and down the long, agapanthus-fringed driveway that winds through the vineyards and native gardens, you are swallowed by the folds of the valley. With the Cape Town Film Studios less than an hour away, it is exactly the sort of place a visiting Hollywood movie star could decamp with his family to rest, swim, sunbathe, walk, eat and drink an edit of the Cape’s best boutique wines in total privacy. In fact I suspect this may well have happened already, but no one is saying. Discretion, and all that.
A dedicated staff of six are on hand to help plan your day, serve drinks by the pool and magically appear at the doorway with a tray of cold towels after a hot walk. Although we did venture out – a visit to the Ashia cheetah sanctuary and the neighbouring biodynamic winery, Avondale – it was hard to tear ourselves away from the Brookdale bubble. A lot of that had to do with private chef Sue-Ann Allen, a former MasterChef contestant, who fed us like greedy emperors.
One morning after a hot and dusty walk around the estate spotting buzzards and lynx, we turned a corner and found a table waiting for us in the shade of spider gum trees. It was piled with fruit, cheese muffins still warm from the oven, croissants stuffed with smoked salmon and eggs benedict dripping with hollandaise sauce and sprinkled with handfuls of herbs from the estate’s kitchen garden.
Tim says the plan is to make the estate as sustainable as possible, incorporating more produce from the farm into the menus and bath products. He has cleared the estate of alien plants and alongside the vineyards he rewilded the land with 3,600 indigenous trees and fields of fynbos to create what he calls an “indigenous biosphere”.
His next mission is to power the property with solar energy and irrigate the vineyards with grey water. The swimming pool in the garden (with a pool house the size of most London flats) is lined with black concrete so it absorbs warmth naturally during the day. “We understand you’re going to burn a lot of fuel to get here,” says Tim, “but your touch will be light.”
Sue-Ann also uses vegetables and herbs from the estate, supplemented with produce from inner-city Garden Projects in Cape Town, which cultivates unused land to create an income stream for the homeless people who work there. The “Brookdale Gin Cocktail” she created was laced with fynbos honey from the estate’s own beehives and sprigs of home-grown rosemary. The mini chocolate ice creams she served us after supper one night came from a one-woman start-up called The Sorbetiere. This is luxury with a social conscience.
As for Kiara, she is fizzing with excitement about creating her first Brookdale blend. Even her conservative, finger-wagging grandmother, who is now so proud of her “she can’t stop hugging me”, says she will have a sip. Or two.
“But only because I made it,” beams Kiara.
Brookdale Estate (brookdale-estate.com) must be taken exclusively and costs ZAR 90,000 (£4,202) per night, sleeping 12. The price is year-round and includes accommodation, all meals and beverages (soft and local alcoholic drinks), all activities offered on the estate, private wine tasting, private chef and butler, accommodation for executive staff or nanny, complimentary Wi-Fi and daily housekeeping. A minimum stay of seven nights applies during peak periods.