Ambeloui is one of the best-kept secrets in the wine industry, says House & Garden‘s contributing travel writer Ivan Fallon. Hand-produced in Hout Bay, its reputation has grown among oenophiles who prize it as their favourite local bubbly.
On ‘sale day’, the first Saturday in November, wine-lovers queue down a suburban road in Hout Bay just to sample the new vintage Ambeloui Méthode Cap Classique, or MCC (South Africa’s equivalent of French Champagne). Carefully rationed, each case is much prized by locals who often prefer it to the real thing. One Cape Town resident, throwing a lavish 70th birthday party for his wife last summer, cancelled his Champagne order after he tasted his first bottle of Ambeloui.
The story of Ambeloui, which means ‘little vineyard’ in Greek, is one which is both strange and romantic. It starts with a second-generation Greek Cypriot called Nick Christodoulou, who grew up in Pretoria – where his father ran a radio shop – and qualified as an engineer, but made a decent living in the world of banking and finance. A keen sailor, he purchased half a hectare of land in the early 1990s next to the Disa River on the lower slopes of Table Mountain, a kilometre from the Atlantic coast and Hout Bay harbour. There he built a comfortable farmhouse with a cellar underneath, accessed via a spiral staircase in the corner of the spacious open-plan kitchen and guarded by a large Byzantine icon of St Nicholas. He and his wife Ann had gardened in Pretoria, but for their place in the south they decided they would plant a vineyard. And they would make Méthode Cap Classique.