Today was 100% about wine... and I was perfectly Ok with that. In fact, a day dedicated to wine is normally what makes me happy. I was quite looking forward to it.
What the day became though, only involved about 10% wine. When I say that, I don’t necessarily mean that the wine wasn’t flowing and delicious... I mean that other intrigues stepped forward throughout the day, and wine took back bench. There were moments that I was so fascinated or fixated on something else, I genuinely forgot to even drink the wine.. These other fascinations presented themselves in the form of cobwebs, beef bobotie, puppy dogs, zebras, springbok, wildebeests, honey butter, yummy bread, fabulous conversation with fellow travellers and so much more! The tour picked me up around 9am and I was immediately taken aback by how charismatic & friendly the tour guide, Tanya, was. Her character soared beyond welcoming and she was genuinely keen to share all her knowledge about her country & the wine district with us. On top of that, she was just as interested in learning everything about each of us, where we came from, where we were all going... etc etc. There was nothing fake about Tanya. She adored her job and it showed.
Now in saying that, I have to admit that she wasn’t necessarily the best story teller or public speaker. She often lost words or focus because she got so passionate about particular topics. Her enthusiastic nature made up for this and we all hung on her every word. There were 10 of us on the tour.
Swedish, Norwegian, British, South African, Italian... and me! Everyone had a fascinating story to accompany them. The Italian girl was on a romantic Christmas get-a-way with her South African boyfriend... and her father. You could tell that her Italian-only-speaking-father was cramping her style slightly. He kept complaining that he didn’t like wine... and while we were all doing our various tastings, he would disappear to explore the vineyards. This was all well and fine, until it came time for us to leave and he was impossible to find. He ordered the pasta dish for lunch and of course, it wasn’t as good as in Italy. Our last stop, we got to pair a 27 year old brandy with some dark chocolate. While the sommelier was teaching us how to hold the glass cupped in the palm and billow the bouquet towards our noses, he ate all the chocolate and then disappeared to wander the property!
The Swedish guy had just finished a stint working at the third largest hospital in the world - Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg. He filled us full of stories of bullet wounds and stabbings. The Norwegians were a gay couple who adore travelling so much that sometimes they will just take off to Bali for the weekend! Honestly... I couldn’t handle the pain of the flight for such a short stay. Then there was the British girl and her South African boyfriend. This couple was the most intriguing to speak with because they work on one of those 7 star luxury yachts that hosts the worlds most elite, most famous and most sickly rich. I didn’t even know that you could go higher than 5 star or 6 diamond. That probably won’t be my next vacation.... I think they said that 1-2 weeks aboard starts around $300,000....
Throughout the day, we all touched on subjects like the Mexican/US border wall, Trump, Boris, climate change, Greta, Brexit, Russian mafia, taxes in Scandinavian countries, similarities in different languages... and so much more.
Anyway... back to the beginning of the day. I jumped ahead slightly there.
We drove out of Capetown and in to the country. Took us about 45 minutes to get to Stellenbosch, which is the main wine district of the area. Very beautiful, although slightly foggy, drizzling with rain and a little bit on the chilly side. Once again, I’m guilty of planning for the vacation weather I would like to have, as opposed to the vacation weather I usually get.
Tanya had two rules for the van;
If you have had too much to drink and you suddenly feel the need to spark up an arguement with your significant other... don’t.
No vomiting in the van.
First stop... Muratie.
Muratie was, by far, my favourite location, situated right in amidst an enchanting little hillside garden. It was by far the most popular amongst all of us... due to the rustic uniqueness of the cellar. In the 1970’s, the winery was owned by a lady who had no heirs. There was no family for which to bequeath, so she sold it to one of the best wine makers in the area for well below market value. With this sale though, she did install a few conditions.
No changes were to be made to the property. No dusting was permitted in the cellar.
There were apparently a lot more, but these were the ones that really stood out over the years. The agreement stated that these rules had to be abided by for at least 3 generations. At present, they are only on 2nd generation, so they have one more to go. The entire cellar is full of 45 year old cobwebs and thick dust layers on old furniture and bottles. I doubt they would attempt to rid the place of all the cobwebs now, as it’s become such a staple of the winery- and adds so much to the charm of the place.
Second stop... Remhoogte. This is a smaller, family run, boutique winery that has adopted a minimalist approach in both the vineyard and the cellar. The idea is to minamilize the human influence on the final product. They are of firm belief that each one of their bottles should hold a memorable experience.
I didn’t care...
Someone told me that occasionally zebras wander the property and I immediately became obsessed with the idea of seeing one. I did spot some wildebeests and a few springbok WAY off in the distance... but no zebras. I did make a new friend though... and he insisted that I pet him almost the entire time we were at the winery
Third stop... Backsberg. This is where we stopped for lunch and while they were preparing our culinary masterpieces, we got the opportunity to wander through the cellar. Interesting... blah blah blah... but let’s get back to lunch. We got quite an extensive menu to choose from. I quickly scanned it for nachos... big disappointing no. Tanya brought our attention to the Cape Malay Beef Bobotie...and her description of it won most of us over and for the first time in a long time, I decided to be adventurous with my palate and try something new. It was almost liberating.
I’ll admit. I was a little afraid though. What if it arrived and was simply inedible? Nauseating to the stomach? What would I do then?
That didn’t happen.
In fact, it was one of the best meals I ever had.
Mince beef cooked with a variety of spices - including curry. Topped with an egg mixture and baked in the oven. Served in a cast iron skillet with a side of saffron rice and a variety of condiments on the side to dress it up however you wanted. Chutney, plum sauce, coconut flakes...
Of course, much to my dismay, covered with fresh cilantro... which I immediately picked off and tossed to the side.
What is the deal wth cilantro?
Up until about 4 years ago, I never saw it garnish one single dish. Now it’s become the award winning herb of the 2010s... and it won’t go away. What was wrong with the parsley era? Basil? Bring back the Arugula or even the finely chopped iceberg sprinkles. I also have to mention that I almost died dead when I tasted their homemade bread with homemade mulberry jam. This was the lead up to the meal and none of us were left disappointed. It was a heavier, yet not too dense, fruit based multigrain. It was the most delectable & savoury bread I have ever tasted. Someone suggested I ask the kitchen if they would give me the recipe.
Ok....ya. Good idea.
Fourth & final stop... the most famous... and I’ve seen their wines at home... Fairview.
They can be recognized for their Goat Series Wine - Goats Do Rome / The Goatfather. They are known for their goats. There are goats all over the property. Someone warned me NOT to touch them because goat smell doesn’t quickly go away.
Good to know.
We did a whole wine pairing with different types of goat’s cheese. Herb & garlic creamy cheese, goat feta, goat blue, peppered goat Brie...
Then something incredible happened. You know those moments in life when you think you’ve pretty much tried every conceivable concoction of cuisine... and if you haven’t already tried it, it’s probably something you won’t like anyway. I’m not necessarily saying this is true.. more like a mentality mind warp that convinces you there’s nothing new & palatable out there that is going to unquestionably blow your taste buds right out of the water.
Then someone puts a little bowl of chocolate expresso infused honey butter in front of you. I mistook it at first for minced garlic... which I found odd at a wine tasting. Then I thought it was some kind of flavoured oil & vinegar. It confused me to no end.
What do I do with it?
Dip your cheese in it...
Dip your bread in it...
Heaven. Pure heaven. It was a flavour sensation explosion of grand proportion.
This is how they describe it on their website.
Sweet and creamy honey butter infused with chocolate and coffee. It’s a delicious taste experience on just about anything.
Damn straight it is. One of the Norwegians asked me what my favourite part of the entire day was and I automatically pointed at the honey butter. This. I bought 3 jars. In doing so, I am fully aware that I will be travelling for the next 4 weeks with glass & sticky honey in my backpack. I will try to be careful. I feel like I’ve been trusted with bringing back the Holy Grail of condiments.
I got this.
Once again, someone suggested that I make my own honey butter because... and I love this reasoning... the ingredients are listed on the back! Sounds like a challenge that I might try to pawn off on our local bee community once home. So... yes, I spent the entire day in the Stellenbosch wine district and all I bought were 3 jars of honey butter. And that says nothing of the wine... it was as delicious as delicious can be. It just didn’t rise to the occasion like some other aspects of the trip did. One guy really put a valiant effort in to trying to convince me to buy their wine in bulk... because they did frequent exports to Germany. He thought I was from Germany. He said that I looked German.
Do I look German now?
I got back to my not-so posh hotel room. Yes, I had to move out of my elite suite this morning. When I decided to alter my intinerary, I went online to extend but there were no longer rooms available in my price range.
So now I’ve done a drastic downgrade and thoroughly disappointed not to have complimentary sherry in my room. My new digs is creepily called Daddy Long Legs... and they pride themselves as being an artsy fartsy hotel. My bed looks like it’s been buried in kryptonite. Like Superman’s bedroom... somethin somethin like that. I was supposed to go to the Waterfront tonight to wander around the food market and meet some of the people that were on the tour at a live music venue... but jet lag took over once again and I passed out. By the time I woke up, it was dark, the Market was closed and I was not feeling overly confident making my way down there by myself at night. My three day Safari along the garden route starts at 7:15AM tomorrow morning and I’m really looking forward to it. Probably best I stayed in tonight. I have been warned about Long Street, which is where my new hotel is. Not particularly safe. I have been told by the South African guys on the tour:
Do not walk around carrying your cell phone - someone will run by and grab it right out of your hand.
Do not carry anything in your pockets - they will take it. This area is known for its pick-pockets and petty crime.
Do not ever leave your drink unattended.
Do not ever let yourself be surrounded while you’re walking, because while one will try to distract you, the others will attack and rob you blind.
In saying this, I also have to mention that I have never seen so many Public Safety Officers as I have the last couple days on Long Street. There are about 4/5 to each block... and still the bad experiences continue. I was next door this evening, at the mini-mart... when a street lady entered the shop begging for me to buy her something to eat because she was so hungry. I am never opposed to buying food for anyone. It’s giving people money that doesn’t necessarily always sit well with me. So I grabbed a package of three cupcakes that was on display at the front till. Approximately $1.50. She didn’t seem particularly happy with the cupcake choice and asked repetitively if she could have milk instead. At first I ignored her request and was continuing to follow through with the generous purchase of cupcakes. She just kept insisting on having the milk, so once again, I gave in and put down more money to purchase the milk as well. Then all of a sudden, she desperately needed a jumbo pack of Corn Flakes. Apparently there were children involved and now they could all eat for a week. It exhausted all the cash I had on me. Then... she just walked away.