Thursday, February 13, 2014

Cape Town Part 4- Cape Winelands

Fairview Wine & Cheese – Solms-Delta Winery – Haute Cabriere – Lanzerac Wine Estate

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“I want you to take a picture of everything I drink today,” Mark said. Really? “Yes. I want to document it. Just the first sip. Starting with my morning tea.” Thus, at the hour of 0700, I began to document our odyssey of drinks.


One could spend months, even years, exploring South Africa’s winelands, which are spread out in a boomerang shape and concentrated on the Cape. We had one day. The weather was a bit overcast – we were glad that we’d already been to the top of Table Mountain the day before. To me, a rainy day is the perfect setting to run from winery to winery, ducking inside to sip wine while brushing off raindrops.

We were picked up by tour guide Olga at 0830, joined by two other couples, and headed east out of City Center to the winelands while Olga gave us an overview of the day’s itinerary with a short explanation of why she had chosen each particular winery. Unlike the Cape Point Tour with its itinerary dictated by geography, the Cape Winelands Tour is influenced by the tour guides’ personal tastes and experience, which I really liked. We were going to some of Olga’s favorite places.

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We began in the Paarl region. Olga likes Paarl because it’s more low-key than the popular Stellenbosch and Franschhoek regions we would visit later, and she pointed out the Afrikaans language monument, which we could see overlooking the valley from its nearby mountain perch.

It looked like just a single, slender stone obelisk soaring into the sky, but if we had gotten closer we would have found a grouping of oversized concrete structures that symbolize the multicultural nature of the language. Afrikaans was developed during the 18th century as a combination of languages consisting of mostly Dutch (over 90%,) with African Bantu and Khoisan (the clicking language, which Olga demonstrated,) Portuguese, and Malay. It was considered a Dutch dialect – derogatorily called “kitchen Dutch” – until the early 20th century, when it was officially recognized as a distinct language.

Africa (654)Our day began with a tasting at the historic Fairview Wine & Cheese.
Fairview began wine production in 1699, and grape cultivation has continued to today. In 1937, the farm was purchased by a Lithuanian named Back, and has been run by the family ever since. The visionary son who inherited the property in 1978 replanted grapes, including new varietals.

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He also purchased a herd of milking goats in 1980, was the first goat cheese producer in South Africa, and remains the leading producer of artisanal cheeses. I remember the wineries of Napa and Sonoma, California, in the 1970’s and 80’s. Wine and cheese pairings were not on the radar yet, but you can book them now. It’s so fun to think about what was happening in South Africa, so far away, and yet on a parallel course. I’m working on organizing a Sonoma/Napa wine country reunion and tour with our Abu Dhabi friends. This South Africa experience has set the bar high!

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Mark especially likes goats, and Fairview’s Goat Tower, only the second such tower ever built, is famous around the world. Although we didn’t get to see the goat climb the stairs, it was a special sight. The iconic Goat Tower, built in 1981, is integral to the Fairview brand.

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If I had known what we were in for, I would have skipped the More Quarters breakfast, good as it was. Fairview’s sommelier presented us with a sumptuous pairing of eight wines with eight artisan cheeses, along with bits of bread and three olive oils. At 10:09, I recorded Mark’s (and my) first sip of wine. What a way to start the day! “Pace yourself” became my mantra.

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On to Stellenbosch. Olga took us next to the Franschhoek Wine Valley and Solms-Delta Winery, another historic venue, this one with a dynamic, community-focused mission in addition to preserving an historic winery and making great wine.  As we sat down, we realized that we were in a museum.

Africa (679)Museum van de Caab (translated “from the Cape”) is a museum of the people who once lived, and now live, on the land. Indigenous Black people were displaced when European settlers came in, seized the land, and established farms. The new landowners then imported Colored slaves from Indonesia and Malaysia. The local Drakenstein people are their descendents. Like so much of what we’ve discovered on our travels, it’s a conflicted story, beautiful and painful, elegant and violent.

When celebrated neuroscientist Mark Solms began his winemaking venture there in 2002, he recognized that the property came with people who had been living on and farming the land for generations. In addition to planting Rhone varietals – his family were vintners in the Mainz region of Germany, where Mark and I have traveled – he established two trusts to benefit the local people. The  Wijn de Caab Trust works to break the historic cycle of poverty of the tenants and employees on the estate by providing improved housing, medical care, and opportunity for advanced education.

A second trust, the Delta Trust, “aims to contribute to nation-building on a local scale, focusing first on the Franschhoek Valley, and more broadly, the Cape Winelands. Its mission is to contribute to greater social cohesion and inclusiveness in South African communities (which for obvious historical reasons were unhealthily divided) through careful, patient and creative local cultural work.” 

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This includes arts, music, history, and food.The Museum van de Caab is a cultural center where the local people can research their colorful heritage. The musical heritage of the ordinary local people, and Cape Winelands cuisine, are celebrated each year during the Franschhoek Oesfees harvest festival.

These two videos tell the story and give the flavor of this amazing community.

This video will make you want to dance. It is reminiscent of New Orleans, I think. I haven’t been there yet.

This video tells the story of what the winery programs mean, from the workers’ point of view.

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But hey, let’s get to the wines.

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Upon leaving Solms-Delta the dark skies made good on their threat, and scrambling into the minivan we dodged a drenching rain shower.

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After lunch in Franschhoek (more about this town in the motorcycle blog,) Olga took us to Haute Cabriere, where we tasted Pierre Jourdan sparkling wine and brought away a bottle of honey-flavored Ratafia, a chardonnay fortified with Pierre Jourdan brandy. We do like our nightcaps, from time to time.

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 Despite the weather, or maybe because of it, the scenery was stunning. Silver clouds, backlit by the sun, illuminated the patchwork valley and mountains in the background, while the foreground was a delicate riot of flowers in red, white and green, the colors vibrant against the contrasting sky. The next day, on our motorcycle ride, it was even more spectacular. Look for the Harley ride story.

Our final stop was the most decadent. The 300-year-old Lanzerac Wine Estate is a hotel and spa, as well as a spectacular venue for weddings. But the true decadence was the tasting – we had the Chocolate & Wine Pairing with Premium Wines.

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Sauvignon Blanc paired with a white fresh citrus and apple chocolate
Chardonnay paired with a white lemon verbena chocolate
Merlot paired with a dark malted cherry chocolate
Pinotage paired with a chocolate dipped cherry
Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a Cape Malay Spice chocolate

 I am not a chocoholic; far from it. I love the idea of chocolate, but for me a little bit goes a long, long way. These were amazing, huge wands of the stuff. And I don’t really understand white chocolate although these two were very interesting, and delicious. However, I do love a bite of dark chocolate with a sip of red wine, so my favorite was the Pinotage/ malted cherry chocolate combo. And now, all that said, this was something I would like to do with my friends at home in the USA.

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By this time, as we left Lanzerac, our little group was literally staggering, as much from the food as the wines. Any one of the four tastings could have made the trip and in combination, it was an unforgettable day.

What was our favorite wine? Well, we don’t really remember … but we fell in love, generally, with Pinotage, South Africa’s signature grape variety that’s a cross between Pinot Noir and Hermitage, now called Cinsault. It’s got a deep, strong, smoky, earthy flavor, and is also good when blended with Merlot.

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We also loved Olga. She was so sweet, comfortable to be around, and you could tell that she would be fun to go wine tasting with. But she was the driver, so all she could do was watch.

Mark’s glass-by-glass record.

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