Ok, 7 winefarms in 7 hours. Up at 7am and out to Stellenbosch to meet the bus. Bleary eyed fellow wine tourers on board. Sat beside Harry Reginald Haddon – all curly locks and needing a good breakfast, which he’d missed.
Great Wine Capitals is a PR initiative (google it) and WOSA had organised us to preview some of the wineland estates involved with a view to getting the public more involved in the future. The Spit or Swallow folk, Jan Laubscher and Anel Grobler kindly asked me to come along. 7 bloggers, 7 vineyards, 7 hours. All to see what we thought.
9am. Stop 1. Simonsig.The rain was falling like stair rods. Simonsig was in under the Restaurants heading, so it was a nice chance to catch up with Chef Shanel Gildenhuys. People were there in hiking gear, slurping down the wine. At 9am!
10:15. Stop 2. Neethlingshof. Lots more rain. Is this driver a bit fast? OH GOD THE SPEEDBUMP, CRASH BOOIINNG! Omg, Harry Reginald grimly prises my fingers from his thigh. ”It’s ok now Clare. It’s over”, he reassures me.
Once inside I am impressed by the modernistic building. To the right, a bottle shop and a huge display of Neil Pendock’s The Good Value Guru 2010 diaries.
Entered under the category of Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices the girl at the tasting counter is asked a few questions. Basic ones like, “What do Neethlingshof do to promote sustainable wine tourism?”. Well you’d swear she’d been asked to explain Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. But back to the tastings. She turned the tables on us. She was asking the questions now.
“So do you know anything about wine? or must I explain things?”
A few of the group spluttered into their glasses in disbelief. ”Aw just tell us a bit about this wine” pleaded Harry, pointing at the bottle in question.
Tasting girl picks up the bottle, looks at the back label, and recites the wording verbatim. This was my first cellar wine tasting, as I was in the kitchen at Simonsig. Hmmm, I wonder. Is this the way it’s done?
11:15. Stop 3 Glenelly. Driver hits a few more speed bumps on the way. Harry’s leg gets grabbed a lot more. The Glenelly winefarm is magnificent. With a French owner ( Madame de Lencquesaing, owner of the fabled Chateau Picon Longueville) there is a French feel to the tasting rooms. And, and this is a big AND, the tastings are free. Ms. de Lencquesaing does not believe in charging for tastings. Not the done thing in France.
On this note, I believe winefarms should deduct the cost of their tastings off any purchases you make. The girl manning the tasting counter is excellent, and brings us on a tour of the entire winery.
12:15 Waterford.Driver is driving like a maniac. Rain still pouring. He almost fails to make a bend in the road, crossing into the oncoming lane. We get lost, ending up on a dirt track. Eventually we reach Waterford. Entered under the architecture category we all notice the Greek, Roman, Tuscan,Mexican, Mediterranean influences. But guess what? The tasting girl is like a whirlwind, and gets us in and out in record time. Waterford is the only winefarm we visit that has a sign up mentioning the Great Wine Capitals of the World Competition.
A firm word is had with the bus driver. He is told to slow down, don’t hit speed bumps at speed, not to take the corners fast, accelerate gently and to brake likewise. Basic stuff I suppose, but poor Harry Reginald’s leg wasn’t up to much more grabbing.
13:15 Guardian Peak. Lunch. The man from WOSA turns up to stiffen our morale. He has lunch with us. He leaves. The food is disappointing. Harry, not having had breakfast, attacks his food with abandon, and chips a tooth in the process. Or was that when his head hit the roof of the van?
14:45 Ernie Els.Wine tourism entrant. We ask the girls how’s Ernie handicap these days. They tell us in clipped tones that they are there to sell wine and not to talk golf. Tourism? big name because of golf? Shome misthake here shurely?
I hate the wines. All brawn and attacking flavours. Before I leave I give the bell a good yank in the tasting room. It gives a satisfiying clang. At least I dinged Ernies dong. Bus driver much calmer.
16:00 Waterkloof.Now this was the visit of the day for me. A hands down winner in the architecture category, it is like something from a James Bond movie. A dramatic concrete stone, steel and glass edifice overhangs the valley, with views out to False Bay. Soon to be qualified winemaker, Alex McFarlane, was our host.She was the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic wine ambassador we met all day. Harry Reginald was very pleased to be recognized. I think his bruised thighs began to heal rapidly.
Alex made an impact on us and it brought home to us the fact that well informed people need to work in the tasting rooms, it can make or break a visit.
We relax as this is our last visit of the day. A familiar figure walks across the lobby, it’s well known journalist Norman McFarlane. Turns out he’s Alex’s Dad. A nice coincidence. He’s heading back to Stellenbosch, where my car is parked, and a few of us cadge a lift. A very overcrowded car drops us all off in Stellenbosch. Better that than a bus driven like it was stolen.
An interesting day out, but I’ll never attempt to do 7 wineries in 7 hours again. I was surprised at the variation in quality of tasting experience between the different farms. They ranged from brilliant to abysmal. Harry Reginald suffered for his art, and Harry, I do hope the bruises on your thighs have healed up.