Stellenbosch and forever
A day out wine tasting…expectations were relatively low as when is winery anything more than a winery. Having been to a few, I know how it works. I taste wine… I like wine… I buy wine… then wonder why I spent quite so much which I could have got cheaper in the local supermarket.
My first trip to Cape Town afforded me this opportunity to explore. On the approach, the town reveals itself slowly. Green and leafy on a glorious clear day, it feels like a classic French landscape until white houses appear. The consistent white architecture reveals the colonial origins of the settlers who built the town. Dismissing a casual thought for the local history become less easy when parking in the street. A local black man approaches asking if he can mind the car.
Looking around the empty surburban street for a reason my hire car might need minding, troubles me. This kind of cynical protection scheme is more akin to an inner city night club than what seems a peaceful empty street in 30 degree sunshine. I could be in the middle of an English Country park, it didn’t feel like the territory for car crime. But then this is South Africa and I don’t really know the risks. Deciding a confrontation and damaged car were not what I was looking for, plus the guy minding my car probably didn’t have much else in the way of income, I hand over a few rand.
Walking into the central area, I approach a village green with market stalls. The atmosphere is lively as stalls sell clothes and various local trinkets. Again the contrast of black and white is prevalent as the stalls are 100% black. I challenge myself for seeing colour like a label but it is wholly apparent even in a wealthy small town like this that people are in groups. Beyond that, the clothes, the style the charisma of the individuals is contrasting. The stalls are bursting with music and chatter. Without this activity the place would be soulless as most other locals are in cars.
I check out a few stalls to see what’s on sale but I’m not looking for the tourist stuff today so move on to the heart of the town. The white buildings are still prevalent but more akin to a typical town centre. The clean pavements and shady verandas, dotted with a few shoppers like myself give it a relaxed feel. Maybe lunch time in the hot sun is not the busiest time, but seems a bit quiet for some of the elaborate tourist shops to survive.
I purchase a map with a coffee and work out which wines places to go to. It’s a bit like a lucky dip but I decide on two to focus. The first is Beyerskloof as I recognise it from the harbour restaurants. I figure this as good value for money if everyone is buying it. The second is Hidden Valley as the name seems to lend it some intrigue.
Returning to the car, the minder is nowhere to be seen. Maybe he’s taken enough from the likes of me today.
The drive to Beyerskloof reveals the Stellenbosch region for what it is. A stunning natural landscape, with open green pastures lined with wineries, framed all around by steep craggy mountains. It is picturesque beyond imagination. Leaving behind the quirky oddities of the town centre, the landscape writes its own story.
Beyerskloof is an appetiser, soon quenched. As a wine, it is not outstanding but the blends are fuller bodied and rich in flavour. The place is busy so I don’t linger. I then drive the 20km or so to Hidden Valley, very quickly living up to its name as the road rises. Along the road, I pass wineries owned by famous South African golfers, none I felt necessary to visit. I remember once going to winery in Portugal owned by Cliff Richard which was memorable for two things. One for the officious Home Counties woman trying to flog the wine at rip off prices and second was the disappointing quality of the wine. Portuguese wine, a tenth of the price was far better. For that reason I was happy to ignore the celebrity endorsement, heading further up the narrowing road.
At a junction the road heads down steeply and the winery reveals itself. Getting out of the car, on one side is a small lake. A terrace is alongside with some food tables and a café. The winery is on the opposite side slightly higher on the hill. I decide to get some food before going for the wine so wonder onto the deck area. At this point I am a little overwhelmed. The lake itself is postcard perfect, especially with the clear blue sky, the still water and the green landscape. The steep rocky mountain ridges provide a stark backdrop as a perfect contrast to the lush vineyards. But then dragging my eyes from one vista, I look down the valley, realising that I can see all the way down to sea at Cape Town miles away. It is a magical spot and whatever the wine is going to taste like, it is easy to see why this place was chosen to make wine. After a bite to eat, struggling to take my eye off the view, I walk up to the winery. Outside the entrance is a bronze sculpture, half leopard, half log. It’s striking in its look and lends an elegance to the place. This is a step up in class. The winery is quieter than those down in the valley but still has a fair trade. It has its own terrace and I’m happy to sit and take in the view once more from a higher position whilst various wines are offered.
I don’t want to leave. There are many places I’ve been to where for various reasons of occasion and people that I’ve felt ultimately content. This is one of the best of them. Truly unforgettable. I order a few bottles because the wine is good. The red, Hidden Secret, has the body of a full French wine, but the rich fruit depth feels unique to the wine. It’s expensive but it feels special enough to buy and buy again.
Even after long leaving the place, I still place an order despite the price. Others will may struggle to match the price to the quality but that misses the point. For me, with each mouthful and each bottle I return to that very special place.
Stellenbosch finds its historical cont