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Five years on, Cavalli Estate hits its stride

5 August 2019  -  Cavalli Wines

FIVE years after opening to the public, Cavalli Estate in the Stellenbosch winelands has evolved into a versatile lifestyle destinationdeftly combining food, wine and art. ‘Cavalli’may be the Italian word for‘horses’, but this stylish winelands estate offers so much more than the world-class equestrian facilities that grace the long driveway leading into the 100-hectare estate.

“The design of Cavalli was all about capitalising on the beauty of the site,” explains Lauren Smith, Managing Director of Cavalli Estate and a qualified architect who was part of the team that designed the striking property. “From the vineyards to the landscaping to the public spaces, the ethos of the estate revolves entirely around sustainability,” explains Smith. “Geothermal systems regulate heating and cooling of the restaurant, photovoltaic panels harvest solar energy, and wastewater is recycled back into the extensive fynbos gardens designed by Keith Kirsten.”

The result? Soon after opening Cavalli Estate was recognised as the first Green Star-rated restaurant and exhibition space in South Africa. And the centrepiece of the farm remains the Cavalli Restaurant, which takes full advantage of the remarkable setting. It’s a space bathed in natural light, with floor-to-ceiling glass doors opening out to a spacious terrace. Beyond the tables the views spill out across the farm dam, vineyards and paddocks; a scene framed by views of the distant Helderberg Mountains.

Contemporary yet familiar, stylish without intimidating, the design cues are subtle yet striking: palm swivel chairs by Arper, lighting by Italian designers Marset and Foscarini, crockery by local ceramicist Diana Ferreira. No surprise then that Cavalli Restaurant is a past winner of the ‘Style Award’ at the prestigious Mercedes Benz Eat Out Restaurant Awards. Since 2017 Head Chef Michael Deg has held the reins of the Cavalli kitchen, cementing the restaurant’s reputation for seasonal, produce-led cuisine. It’s refined food without the frills, Deg’s elegant presentation never resorting to smoke and mirrors. His is a considered style of cooking, borne of years working in high-end restaurants both at home and abroad.

After graduating from the Christina Martin School of Food & Wine in 2004 Deg moved to Dublin, where he honed his skills under Chef Padraic Hayden at his Michelin-starred eatery The Camden Kitchen. In late-2013 Deg returned to South Africa, as right-hand-man to Chef Christiaan Campbell at Delaire Graff. With Campbell’s departure the following year Deg took on the role of Head Chef, before moving to Cavalli Restaurant in 2017.

Yet despite his enviable CV, Deg is quick to let the seasons and the soils dictate his menu. More than 80 percent of the kitchen’s fresh produce is drawn from Cavalli Estate’s own vegetable gardens, which stretch across more than an acre of land. “The garden is the inspiration for every plate,” says Deg. “Whether it’s beautiful bok choi or fresh celeriac we use this incredible fresh produce as the starting point for each dish on the menu, focusing on seasonal ingredients."

In the gardens an array of sun-ripened tomato varietals provide plenty of inspiration for summer plates, as do the bundles of fresh herbs and salad leaves. Mature fig and pomegranate trees deliver late-summer fruits, while heirloom carrots and beetroot are plentiful in winter and spring. The food miles involved in accessing this fresh bounty? Just a few hundred metres from farm to fork. Embracing seasonality and local producers “simply has to be the future,” says Deg. “The days of importing vegetables from overseas, out of season, have to be behind us. As chefs we should be focusing on what’s available, local and in season. And when those vegetables do come into season you appreciate them that much more!”

Along with seasonality, Deg is a passionate believer in sustainability: across the menu the beef is exclusively grass-fed, the pork happily free-ranging, the fish line-caught from healthy stocks. While the menu evolves with the ever-changing produce, there’s one dish you’ll always find on offer. “I just love having Saldanha Bay oysters on the menu,” laughs Deg. “They’re one of my favourite things to eat, and I think they are just a lovely way to start a meal.”

While diners are welcome to enjoy them unadorned - shucked with a squeeze of lemon from the gardens - Deg loves to contribute his own culinary twist, with the likes of confit new potatoes, caviar and squid ink aioli adding a fresh take on a classic dish. From oysters to onions, fresh seasonal bounty finds an easy home on Deg’s compact menu: a choice of six plates for starters, mains and dessert. Thanks to the garden there’s no shortage of vegetarian options, while one dish in each section is entirely vegan.

“We purposefully keep the menu small, as it allows us to focus on whatever is fresh and at its best, at that particular time” says Deg. “I love cooking vegetarian food, and we're seeing huge interest in our vegan and vegetarian dishes at the moment. It comes down to sustainability, but as a chef it also makes you push your boundaries of creativity.” Deg also embraces a root-to-tip zero-wastage philosophy in the kitchen, whether it’s pickling excess produce or finding creative ways to use the off-cuts other chefs would simply discard.

“It’s about using the whole plant, but also getting as much flavour as possible out of each and every ingredient,” says Deg, who also offers a dinner-onlytasting menu; a 10-course degustation paired with wines from the estate. Those pairings fall to the ever-charming Farai Magwada, Front of House Manager and Sommelier for Cavalli Restaurant. “It’s wonderful pairing wines with Michael’s dishes,” says Magwada. “His food is so elegant, the flavours so balanced, that matching that in the wine experience is always a pleasure.”

Qualified through the Cape Wine Academy, and with wine service experience at the five-star Mount Nelson Hotel under his belt, Magwada says that keeping guests happy is, simply, the starting point for any wine pairing. “More important than any book that I’ve read or wine that I’ve tasted is to understand what the guest is looking for in a wine,” explains Magwada. “It’s easy to recommend what I think is a great wine to pair with the dish. What’s more difficult is listening to the guest, and reading what they are interested in. Whether they are more conservative, or looking to experiment with their choice of wine.” While Farai draws his wine pairings from Cavalli Restaurant’s carefully curated wine list of leading local cellars, his first port of call is always the wines from the estate.

“Our Cavalli wines offer fantastic quality,” comments Magwada, who says the ‘Filly’ Chenin Blanc is the ideal all-rounder.“It’s incredibly elegant, and it balances freshness and a richer flavour profile. It’s a wine that caters to a diversity of palates.” While this talented chefand sommelier have elevated Cavalli Restaurant to one of the finest in the winelands, winemaker Craig Barnard is doing the same for the focused range of estate wines. Barnard has headed up the winemaking at Cavalli Estate since 2014, establishing the estate as one of the most dynamic young producers in the acclaimed ‘Golden Triangle’ of the Stellenbosch winelands.

“You simply couldn’t ask for better terroir for producing premium wines,” says Barnard. “Our soils are superb, which really helps our root systems and our vines in producing exceptional quality fruit. And because we’re situated close to the ocean, we have a strong maritime influence from False Bay which ensures even ripening during the lead-up to harvest.” With his fifthharvest safely in the cellar, Barnard’s focus is firmly on Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. “These are the two cultivars that truly excel on the estate,” says Barnard, who also oversees viticulture for Cavalli’s 27-hectares of vineyard. The Flagship range is where that interplay of terroir and winemaker really strut their stuff. The Cremello a striking blend led by Chenin Blanc, with smaller portions of Chardonnay and Verdelho - has garnered both awards and critics’ praise, while the ‘Warlord’ is a richly elegant Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot.

Thatfocus is equally evident in the upmarket Premium Range, with the single-varietal Chenin Blanc ‘Filly’, and the ‘Colt’ Cabernet Sauvignon. A perfect partner to the Premium pair is the trio of wines in the ‘Passions’ portfolio that is crafted for everyday enjoyment. While Chenin Blanc is the star of the ‘White Knight’, the ‘Black Beauty’ is a 100% Syrah redolent with white pepper, liquorice and dark cherry on a foundation of well-integrated oak. The ‘Pink Pony’ rosé with scents of summer berries, subtle spice and earthy undertones is crafted from Grenache grapes. Barnard has a few more tricks up his sleeve though, and a trio of memorable wines are available exclusively for visitors to the estate’s tasting room.

Underthe limited-release range known as ‘The Foal’, Barnard has crafted a remarkable 100% Verdelho, a portion fermented in concrete eggs to retain freshness and aromatics. Alongside it is a remarkable Chardonnay, barrel-fermented for complexity and richness, and aged on the lees for 18 months. Bold yet structured, The Foal Chardonnay is bottled unfiltered and unfined for improved maturation up to a decade after vintage. Rounding out the trio is the ‘Capriole’ Méthode Cap Classique, a stunning blanc de blanc from Chardonnay. Across the portfolio, a common thread of fruit-primacy, minerality and freshness are hallmarks of Barnard’s winemaking style: “I like to pick with good acidity, to give the wine a bit of backbone, and I’m very selective with our oaking regime. I want the quality of the fruit to shine through, so that the oak simply complements the character and quality of the fruit.”

The quality of the current releases is made all the more impressive by the fact that these wines are largely crafted from young vines, many just seven years old. “We’re proud of the range, but it’s also about laying the groundwork for the future, ensuring we can produce world-class wines for the next 20, 30 years,” says Barnard. “The focus is on increasing our current production, while maintaining the quality and consistency of Cavalli. As our brand grows, and as we grow into our own space, there will be more scope to play around with different winemaking techniques.” The food, wine and art offerings are undoubtedly the centrepiece of Cavalli Estate, but the estate’s world-class equestrian facilities are the subtle thread binding them together. And far from being only for equine enthusiasts, all visitors to Cavalli are invited to join the informative, complimentary stable tours offered three times per week. “It’s always been something that we’ve offered for passionate horse-riders, but we’re now expanding it to make it more accessible for those interested in the architecture and facilities of our stables and equestrian centre,” says Smith.

By appointment, experienced riders are also able to saddle up for wine tasting on horseback, while unforgettable carriage tours of the estate are offered for guests of all ages. Feeling hunger pangs after your ride? Alongside the restaurant, The Conservatory is the setting for Cavalli Estate’s sought-after High Tea. Served between 12h00 and 15h00 (Wed-Sun), Deg’s pastry team show their prowess with a three-tiered stand brimming with classic treats; from finger sandwiches and friandises to freshly baked buttermilk scones. Vegetarian and vegan guests are generously catered for, but advance notice is required and a minimum of 10 guests are required. Come evening, The Conservatory transforms into an exclusive-use private-dining venue forup to 20 guests. It’s the perfect foil for the adjoining function facilities - the main venue can host up to 350 guests - that have made Cavalli Estate one of the leading winelands event destinations.

One floor below the restaurant and events space is one of the estate’s more hidden attractions: the Cavalli Gallery. The first gallery displays an impressive collection of treasured sporting memorabilia, while the main exhibition space is home to a rotating collection of contemporary artworks. To one side, the Cavalli Estate Private Collection celebrates iconic South African artists, and while the works rotate regularly expect to admire the likes of Pierneef, Stern and Tretchikoff. Spring 2019 will see yet another chapter of the Cavalli story unfold, with the opening of a new outdoor space dedicated to younger visitors. Occupying an open paddock near the main restaurant, the new play area will be securely fenced, safe, and set discreetlyaway from the restaurant’s terrace tables.

“Alongside the new play area, we’ll be developing a separate menu of dishes more suited to younger guests, which we feel will really round out the diversity of offerings at Cavalli Estate,” comments Smith.

Cavalli Estate is situated at R44 Highway (Strand Road), Somerset West. For more information call +27.218553218, send an email to, visit or make contact via @CavalliEstate #CavalliEstate

Cavalli Restaurant is open fromWednesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner, as well as Sundays for lunch only.For bookings email the reservation team on

Wine tastingis offered from Wednesday to Sunday, 10h00 - 18h00. Tasting fee of R60 for five premium wines, R40 for 'Passions' wines. For bookings or further information send a mail to

High Tea is offered in The Conservatory from Wednesday to Sunday, 12h00 - 15h00. R220 per person, with a minimum of 10 guests. Stable toursare offered on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, from 11h00 - 12h00. Carriage rides (one hour) across the estate are available on request, and can carry up to four passengers. R2000 per carriage, including a bottle of Cavalli Estate wine. For bookings send a mail to or call +27.218553218.

The Cavalli Private Collection of South African Masters is frequently rotated in the portico situated within the main gallery and two memorabilia rooms allocated in close proximity showcase a remarkable collection of rugby and sporting memorabilia.

The gallery at Cavalli is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 10h00 - 18h00.​ For all enquiries or a catalogue of available artwork, please contact or call +27.218553218.