Wines with a Sense of Place, and Food for Thought: Cathedral Cellar contemplates Marthinus Versfeld

Cathedral Cellar is ending the year on a contemplative note. Giving expression to this mood are the inspiring words by Marthinus Versfeld, one of South Africa’s greatest philosophers. Highly regarded for his profound insight into food and wine, and how they shape our values, he was invited to contribute to Wyn en Wysheid (Wine and Wisdom), an anthology published in 1978 to commemorate KWV’s 60th anniversary.  

Today, 44 years later, Versfeld’s contribution to KWV’s celebratory book continues to inspire. “His chapter reveals a remarkable understanding of the essence of wine, with views that resonate with our ethos,” Cathedral Cellar brand manager Tanya Blokdyk says.  

Wines with a sense of place

With its dramatic barrel-vaulted roof and stained-glass windows reminiscent of a grand cathedral, Cathedral Cellar, built in the 1930s, is an architectural showpiece. Earlier this year, Cathedral Cellar reopened for private bookings.

Enjoying Cathedral Wines in their brand home makes Versfeld’s philosophy of “place” more tangible, Tanya says. For him, the essence of wine was essentially an expression of place. “Time and place shape the essence of wine, just as it shapes humans,” he wrote. “A biography expands on the time and place of man’s birth and death. Similarly, every wine is a piece of history. It is an occasion, a confluence of time and place, and that is why we drink it on weddings and birthdays. A wine contains the earth in which the vine was rooted, the sea breeze across the dunes, the aroma of trees and shrubs on the dam wall. The quality of a wine is in the reflection of these circumstances. Their bouquet a plea for place – not space.”

“A wine captures the expansiveness of a place or terroir, and reflects this in its hue, aroma and taste,” KWV chief winemaker Justin Corrans says. With Cathedral Cellar wines, this sense of place is reflected in their substance, vibrant colours, layered aromas and engaging palates. “In a single sip you can travel to the best vineyards in the Cape Winelands and experience their incredible beauty.”

Food for thought

Versfeld’s views on wine complement his opinion on food. “I’m really moved by Versfeld’s philosophy of food as an expression of self, and how your food affects guests at your table,” Cathedral Cellar ambassador chef Mynhardt Joubert says. For Versfeld, to eat was to assimilate the world. “When we eat, we create an objective world, we create an object for love,” he wrote. “You cannot cook without love. There must be something creative in you, a feeling of the possibilities of your matter, a feeling for the people you are serving.”

“For Versfeld, inviting someone over for a meal was a serious business, as a meal reveals your views of the world,” Mynhardt says. “He said that you don’t really know someone until you’ve eaten at their table. Recipes not only tell you how to prepare food, but how to be human. This really resonates with me.”

Simplicity, love, nostalgia, and historical and spiritual references are all themes Versfeld explores in Klip en Klei (Stone and Clay), his book on the philosophy of food. These are themes Mynhardt has adapted into a memorable paired menu for this year’s festive tables.  


For instance, Versfeld’s take on the preparation of fish finds expression in Mynhardt’s Seafood Platter paired with Cathedral Cellar Chardonnay, while his Grilled Baby Chicken paired with Cathedral Cellar Sauvignon Blanc is inspired by the philosopher’s simple preparation of pheasant. Versfeld’s story about wild ducks in Dordrecht is relived in Mynhardt’s Five Spice Duck Roulade paired with Cathedral Cellar Shiraz. The value of nostalgia is explored with a Charcoal Brioche Burger paired with Cathedral Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon. The spiritual connotation of fire is evident in Mynhardt’s Summer Roasted Leg of Lamb Chops paired with Cathedral Cellar Triptych, while expression of place is once again explored in the menu’s grand finale: a Dark Chocolate Tart with Candied Ginger and Cheese paired with Cathedral Cellar Pinotage, in memory of a “magical dinner under the full moon in the Karoo”.

“It’s our wish that Cathedral Cellar will create memorable times, when moments become memories and provide an anchor of belonging and a sense of place,” Tanya says.