Travels in Wine / South Africa

Off the wine path

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Jo Locke Jo Locke

Illness forces me to miss much of the Cape Wine Show but every cloud has a silver lining and used this bonus time to visit some of the glorious local sights, something you rarely have the opportunity to do on these trips normally

My best-laid plans – to enjoy the full three days of the Cape's International Wine Show – were foiled when I retired hurt on day one, not to return. It's no fun being unwell when you are away from home but on this occasion it was incredibly frustrating to miss so much of what many commentators say is now the best trade wine show in the world. It is focused on the wines of the Cape (with only the odd interloper appearing for specific reasons), well laid out, busy… and fun!

The former Zoo Biscuits, now Zoo Cru, an informal group of like-minded individuals including New Wave luminaries such as Chris Alheit, John Seccombe and Duncan Savage, had a 1970s theme on their stand (including specially grown mullets, at least for the men) and sported a lot of animal print clothing (check social media around the event if you'd like to witness Duncan in some pretty wild leggings!).

The Zoo Crew enjoying the Cape Wine Show
The Zoo Cru enjoying the Cape Wine Show

The Swartland boys and girls showed their more mature side (were they scout uniforms?), and a new group of newer talent, calling themselves The Whole Bunch and including Lukas van Loggerenberg and Gavin Bruwer Slabbert of B-Vintners, were proudly sporting team t-shirts made especially for the event.

The great and the good of the South African wine industry were in attendance, with no sign of a suit, or the sunglasses and aftershave that is still par for the course at major shows in Europe! They were just there to pour great wine and to raise the profile of South Africa, a dynamic and vibrant wine producer that now well and truly vies with the best of them.

Downtime

There were two bonuses to the frustrations of having to take a few days off during this trip, and they were a visit to Cape Town's National Botanical Garden, Kirstenbosch, which I have always wanted to do, and a stroll around a cool but sunny Stellenbosch.

Kirstenbosch lies on the lower slopes of Table Mountain (indeed you can 'walk the mountain' from there, though guides are recommended). One of ten gardens run by the South African National Biodiversity Institute, it covers an incredible 528 hectares, much of it wild, and boasts thousands of indigenous species including many that are rare and endangered. The last private owner was Cecil John Rhodes who bought it in order to protect these eastern slopes from development and bestowed it to the nation when he died in 1902. The first director after it became a botanical garden in 1913 was Professor Harold Pearson, a Cambridge botany graduate and many of the species he collected and planted still survive today.

Not only is this a spectacular site but it was a wonderful, relaxed place to visit. No 'keep-off-the-grass' signs here – in fact there were people picnicking and playing games all over the park – it is thoughtfully laid out but not at all regimented. There are themed areas, from the Fynbos Garden to a Fragrance Garden and topical Water-wise Garden, but all simply, informally done. The beautiful bird life was an added bonus, and it proved easy to get to on the CitySightseeing Mini Peninsula Tour bus, one of several hop-on, hop-off routes around the city. Love plants? Then you should go. I shall certainly go back!

In Stellenbosch, where I have never ventured on foot beyond its buzzing centre, I stumbled across the student district, and envied the young people attending this, the oldest University in South Africa, dating back to the 17th century, with its all-inclusive message of 'Forward Together'. Striking old buildings, long boulevards, the fantastic backdrop of Stellenbosch Mountain, and, of course, surrounded by some of the Cape's finest vineyards and producers. What a wonderful place this must be to be a student.

Until that day and spotting signs around Stellenbosch, I was unaware of the Franschhoek Uncorked weekend, where wineries host all manner of events around the valley. If you are in the Cape in September, do keep it in mind for the (beautiful and culinary highlight) Franschhoek part of your itinerary.

And to finish…two days of Cape celebration

By the time you read this it will be too late for you to join in this year's celebrations, but please make a diary note for September next year!

Monday 24th September 2018 – Heritage Day & Braai Day – an early spring- (in the Cape, that is) raised glass of Cape wine in honour of the Cape's Heritage Day, and what better way to do so than with the ubiquitous braai (BBQ). Whatever your barbecue preferences, remember to pair it with a glass or two of South African wine!

Friday 20th September 2018 – International Grenache Day – was my last day in the Cape this year and what better way to round off a great trip with stars of Swartland, Stellenbosch and beyond. Adi Badenhorst, of AA Badenhorst wines, hosted, in glorious spring sunshine, a fabulously relaxed day with, by all accounts, the briefest of briefings about the grape, followed by great food and great wines enjoyed over the course of the day. Verticals from Neil Ellis and Vriesenhof, who have worked longer than most with grenache, were highlights, complemented by a host of South African examples and a handful from further afield, including Australia, Spain and the Rhône. After over two weeks for most of the producers hosting visitors from far and wide, this was an ideal way to relax and be thankful for the plentiful winter rains that have set up the vineyards for the 2019 harvest; and for we visitors, this was a fitting end to yet another mind-blowing visit.

More on which, in the form of new wines, new styles, new producers anon!

Where to go next?


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