Monday, October 29, 2012

Cape Point Winery & Chapman’s Peak, South Africa

Thursday, Sept. 27 – I awoke to sunshine, which was nice because we were driving to Cape Point that morning. The winding mountain road from downtown Capetown to the ocean road passing along the large rock buttresses of the 12 Apostles was breathtaking. As we passed Clifton beaches number 4 and 5, our leader explained that these are the most famous as more celebreties can be found at these two white sand areas than the other three.

Chapman’s Peak – Famous View of Capetown

After driving about 30 minutes along the winding ocean view road, the van stopped at Chapman’s Peak Lookout (see photo above). This is a world-famous view of the surging waves, cliffs, unique mountain formations and Capetown with its beaches in the distance. After a group photo, we continued down the narrow cliff road – which reminded me very much of Highway 1 along Big Sur in California – until we came to the town of Noordhoek, which is known for its long white beach known for surfing.

Cape Point Vineyards

In addition to surfing, Noordhoek is also known as the home of Cape Point Winery, the southern most winery in the Cape area. It should be noted that Cape Point is not really the most southern tip of Africa, as many people believe. That point is about a 3 hour drive south from Capetown and is where the cold Atlantic and warm Indian oceans meet.

Cape Point Winery is situated in the foothills above Noordhoek with a sweeping view of the ocean and beach below. Their motto is “surf and wine,” and their hillside vineyards are a good example of extreme viticulture because the vines are battered by “southeasterners” – rough wind and salt-laden rain. This causes the skins to toughen up, creating more flavor and character in the wine. They only grow sauvignon blanc, semillion and chardonnay. Duncan, the winemaker said they planted pinot noir, but it did not fair well in the rough environment.

Production is 30,000 cases, but this includes a negotiant brand called “Splattered Toad” – rather clever name. ( I accidently called it “Squished Frog.”) They source the grapes from other places around the Cape. The wine is named after the leopard frogs that congregate in the evenings outside the front gate of the winery. It is a sauvignon blanc and is fresh, approachable with an herbal nose, lime on the palate and a semi-sweet finish.

We tasted through 8 wines, and I was most impressed by the 2010 and 2011 sauvignon/semillon blends. Earlier vintages had a lot of the green herbal charactertistics that are popular in South Africa, but the later vintages were perfumed with floral, grapefruit and even some pineapple notes. My favorite was the 2010 Cape Point Reserve which was a 90% sauvignon blanc and 10% semillion blend aged in 600 liter neutral barrel for 14 months. It has a ripe pineapple/grapefruit nose with lemon the palate and a crisp acid with very long finish. Other favorites were the 2010 Cape Point Isliedh Vineyard and the 2011 Cape Point Sauvignon Blanc.

The “Dribble Test” for Wine Acid Levels

While there, one British MW showed us the “dribble test” which he uses to determine the acid level of a wine. You taste the wine, spit it out, then lean over and see how much “dribble” come out of your mouth. The more dribble, the higher the acid. An interesting party trick.

Use of Amphora at Cape Point Vineyards

Duncan primarily ferments his wines in stainless steel and 600 liter barrels, but recently he has added amphora made of South African clay. It is necessary to place the amphora in a refrigerated crates to maintain cooler temperatures. In general, he inoculates with commercial yeast, and will use battonage if the acids are very high and the wine needs more texture.

The Hillside Vineyards of Cape Point
After the tasting, we drove to the vineyard blocks to learn about farming practices. The soil is a mixture of sandstone and clay. Average temperature in summer is only 21 (70 F), so it is quite a cool climate. They have 20 hectares of vineyards that were planted in 2000 on 8 x 4 spacing. They use a short VSP trellis, which is spur pruned with double cordon and a kicker cane on the sauvignon blanc to help deflect vigor. De-leafing is performed to insure the clusters get enough sun and heat to prevent green notes in the wine. Tonnage averages 4.5 per hectare.

Sustainable farming is used with some Round-up applied to combat weeds. Rocks are also placed under the vines to help keep them warm. Fava beans and mustard are planted as cover crops, and there were plenty of spring flowers to be seen. They do not have baboons in the vineyard here, but a leopard was recently sighted in a neighboring vineyard. The main pests are beetles and mealy. Birds are not a threat so they don’t need to net the vines.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

One-Day Safari to Inverdoorn in the Great Karoo Desert of South Africa and Dance Party at the Bungalow

Sept. 2012 - I set my alarm for 6am so I had time to dress quickly, wolf down a fast breakfast at the buffet that opened at 6:30am (I was the first one there), and board a van at 6:40 to drive the 2.5 hours to Inverdoorn Game Park in the Great Karoo Desert of South Africa. The day dawned grey and cloudy, and as we drove it started to rain, but 74- year old Stanley, the van driver, told us not to worry, because as soon as we left Capetown and crossed the mountains into the desert, the sun would shine.

My only other companion on the van was a woman from Japan who was taking a two-week vacation from her job as a schoolteacher in Australia. We got to know each other quite well by the end of the trip, and I was very glad to have such a positive and adventurous companion. She actually travels all over the world by herself and hopes to retire in South America.

As we drove through the vineyards of Paarl, Stanley kept us regaled with stories of South Africa. He described how the region of Paarl received its name from two large rock formations in the valley that look like pearls when it rains. Stanley was a native South African but of Malay decent, and an extremely extroverted driver who talked constantly and near went off the road several times. He seemed to have a fetish for baboons, and continually reminded us that the baboons were watching us from the rocks. He pointed at the signs warning people not to feed baboons, and said they often surround picnickers scavenging for food.

South Africa in the Spring Time

Eventually we passed through the mountains and burst forth into a wide valley where the sun shone down between the clouds like rays streaming from heaven. As we continued to drive the land became flatter and we passed pear orchards in full bloom, vineyards with pale green leaves, and many chicken farms. In the distance we saw snow on the mountains, and passed a field with of grazing cows filled with purple flowers, and three magnificent South African blue cranes.

We stopped in the small town of Ceres for a 10-minute coffee break, and then continued until the pavement ended, and we drove the last 22 kilometers on a bumpy dirt road where we had to swerve to miss the many turtles crossing the red dirt. The landscape all around us reminded me of Arizona in the springtime, with bushes that looked like sagebrush and small flowers dotting the landscape.

Arriving at Inverdoon Safari Resort

We arrived at Inverdoon around 10:15, entering through its impressive white stucco gates to the main complex with lodging, restaurants, and small gift shop. The day was now bright blue and sunny with the temperature reaching 80 F by early afternoon. We were greeted and offered coffee and a quick break before our guide – a young college student studying nature conservancy and using the job as his university practical – motioned for us to climb aboard the open-topped Range Rover.

Animals Sighted on Our One-Day Safari at Inverdoon

Our guide reminded us that all of the animals were wild with the exception of the cheetahs that they raise there for conservation. He carried a gun with him and warned us not to make loud noises or lean out of the vehicle. As we entered the reserve we saw a large sign warning poachers that the rhinos had poisoned horns. This was done to protect them because poachers do not receive money for rhino horns that are treated this way. Our guide told us that since January of this year, poachers have already killed more than 350 rhinos. Very sad.

We immediately saw a group of springbok by a pond, and then a family of ostriches running along the road with 3 foot tall babies that had only been born 2 weeks ago. Next we saw oryx and other types of deer, before stealthily seeking out the lions. We could only see them from a distance, but there were a large male and two female lions. They were so magnificent and large in the wild – quite different from seeing them in a zoo back home. Next we encountered the three rhinos on the preserve resting together. Apparently the mother and daughter will stay together for life. The male was only 10 years old, and our guide said they didn’t mate until they were 15, and that most lived 50 to 60 years.

Right near the rhinos was a herd of zebras and two had babies. They were adorable trying to get milk from their mothers. Ostriches intermingled with the zebras, and it was an interesting site to see.

As we drove further into the preserve, we came across a group of giraffe. Since there were not other predators around, our guide told us we could climb down off the Range Rover and try to walk closer to the giraffes. We did, and it was pretty amazing to track them, watch them run away, and then eventually let us get close enough to take some photos (see video: Back in the truck, we saw African antelope, wildebeest, and a jackal slinking across the desert.

The Most Dangerous Animal in Africa – The Hippopotamus

As we approached a very large pond, we saw a fish eagle soaring by, and then stopped to wait for the hippopotamus. Unfortunately they never did surface from the pond, so we didn’t get to see them. Our guide said that more people are killed each year in Africa by hippos than by any other animal. This is because people wash their clothes in the rivers or ponds and don’t see the hippos that either bite them or step on them.

I had an MW tell me a horrible story at a bar one evening about a hippo encounter. He said his cleaning lady was originally from Zimbabwe, and that she and two of her female friends swam across the river at night to escape the war in Zimbabwe and to flee into South Africa. Half way across the river, a crocodile bit one of her friends. She and the other lady helped their friend to shore, and then she went to get help. When she returned the next morning, one lady had bled to death from the crocodile bite and the other had been stomped to death by a hippopotamus, because they had accidently slept in the hippo’s track to the river.

What Are The Big 5?

I had heard the term “Big 5” several times since I arrived in South Africa, but I didn’t know what it meant, so I asked our guide. He said the Big 5 were named because they were the most 5 most dangerous animals when settlers first came to South Africa. The Big 5 are: lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and cape buffalo. All five will hunt man to kill. Apparently the lion will roar first, the leopard hisses and scratches its front paws on ground, the rhino turns back it ears, and the elephant will trumpet before attacking. But the cape buffalo will hide in the bush all day and never make a sound before charging to the kill. Therefore the cape buffalo is considered to be the most dangerous of the Big 5.

So we ended up only seeing two of the Big 5 -- the lion and rhino. Our guide explained that the leopards stay in mountains, the cape buffalos were hiding in the bush, and the elephants would not be on the reserve until October. All five of these animals are native to South Africa, but some were pushed out, and were now being reintroduced.

Lunch with the Cheetahs and the Long Drive Home

On the way back, we stopped at the Cheetah Conservation Center and we able to see these animals up close. They are being bred to be released into the wild. At lunch, we were allowed to pet a cheetah that was on a leash with its trainer.

The food was very good with many native African dishes including ground beef with vegetables, chicken with potatoes, fried aubergine, vegetables, and a flan-like pudding for dessert.

After lunch I wandered over to the pool and sat in the sun for a short time. It was difficult to leave the warm sun of the desert and drive back to rainy Capetown. We took a short nap in the back of the van, and woke up as Stanley was zigzagging through towering grey mountains shrouded in fog with nightmarish drops to a yellow river hundreds of feet below down a sheer cliff. A Brazilian couple that had stayed overnight at the preserve came back with us, and they were sitting in front cautioning Stanley to drive carefully. It was a hair-raising road, and Stanley continually pointed and chuckled at the many baboons we passed sitting on rocks and starring at us, or running along the roadside with their babies.

Chenin Blanc Tasting and Dancing at the Bungalow

Eventually we made it back to Capetown around 4:30, descending back into the rain and clouds. I asked them to drop me at the Convention Center and went in for another hour to taste some wines. At 5:30, I went back to the hotel to clean up a bit, and then attended an excellent Chenin Blanc tasting. All of the wines were excellent in my opinion. South Africa has a jewel in its Chenin blancs. There were a variety of styles – bone dry and refreshing, semi-sweet, wooded with creamy malolactic and similar to chardonnay, as well as rich sweet dessert chenins. That evening the wines I enjoyed the most were produced by: Jean Daniel, Mulderbosh, Simonsig, Ken Forrester, Debos, and Cederberg.

Afterwards we went to the DGB Born in Africa Bash at the Bungalow on the ocean. This was a very fun party where everyone had to change into rubber boots for dancing. The food was plentiful and tasty including fresh oysters with sparkling wine, shrimp, sausages with pinotage, and many other appetizers and deserts. A face-painter circulated through the crowds painting dots of flowers and other designs on people’s faces, including mine.

In the corner, a foot-stomping African band was playing complete with multiple drums and even a saxophone. Very talented dancers performed (see photo), and they encouraged all of us to dance with our rubber boots (see videos: and

I had a wonderful time at this party, and couldn’t understand where I got all of my energy considered I had been on safari all day. However, when someone suggested we go to a second party, I said yes, and we headed to the Cape Grace Hotel for the Grape Minds After Party, where there was even better wine and more dancing. I finally got back to my hotel room around 1am, but heard that many others didn’t return until around 3 in the morning. This was my favorite day in South Africa.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Capewine Conference and Reception at Clifton Villa, South Africa

Sept. 25 & 26 – Tuesday morning was nice because I finally had a little time to sleep in before walking across the street from the Cullinan Hotel to the Capetown Conference Center. Capewine, held once every two years, was scheduled here for the next three days. Our schedules were flexible, and many MW’s had pre-arranged meetings with trade people to taste and negotiate wine purchases. Those of us in wine education and journalism, however, were free to wander through the exhibit hall and attend the many wine seminars.

Overview of South African Wine Stats

I attended the welcome seminar where statistics on the South African wine industry were provided, including the fact that South Africa is currently the 8th largest wine producer in world. The first harvest and crush took place in 1659, seven years after the Dutch arrived in the area in 1652. Today there are more than 650 wineries and over 3500 vineyards, and South Africa exports 53% of wine. Signature grape varietals include chenin blanc and pinotage.

South Africa is considered by some to be a fifth BRIC country – countries like Brazil, Russia, India, and China with huge work forces and the opportunity to achieve large economic gains in the next 50 years. Therefore some have added an “S” to “BRICS” to designate South Africa in this grouping. Indeed one speaker compared South Africa to a sleeping giant, and in a similar position to China in the 1970s before they took the world by storm with their manufacturing expertise.

I was interested to learn that South Africa is ranked 3rd in the world when it comes to financial competence, and was one of the few countries unmarred by the global recession. Apparently its banks are very conservative. In terms of wine, however, they believe they have a way to go, and need to create a wine drinking culture within their own country, which traditionally has drank brandy and spirits.

Other speakers described investment opportunities within the wine industry, including the former owner of Screaming Eagle who has purchased Mulderbash and Fable Wineries, and the CEO of Acccolade Wines (formerly Constellation International) who now owns the Flagstone brand in South Africa with plans to launch in the US market. For further information on South African wine and statistics, see

Great Seminar on Premium Wines of South Africa

I also attended a seminar where we tasted the six top premium wines in South Africa – all which have won numerous awards and competitions. Following is the list illustrating retail price points.

• The Stork 2008 Syrah, Stellenbosch ($70)
• Caldera 2010 Rhone Blend Swartland ($17)
• Ernie Els 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ($36)
• 2009 Spier 5 Creative Block Bordeaux Blend ($18)
• 2004 Simosing Cape Blend ($25)
• 2010 Flagstone Pinotage Reserve ($110)

Spier Winery, Established 1692

My favorite from the above list was the 2009 Spier 5 Creative Block Bordeaux Blend ($18). I was so impressed by this wine and the amazing price point that I went in search of the winemaker to learn how the wine was made. He told me the grapes were all handpicked and sorted by varietal and lot, then went through a 3-day cold soak. Natural and commercial yeast fermentation in a combination of stainless and one ton vats. Delestage on tanks and hand punch down on vats. Fermentation temperature at 24 – 26 C for 12-14 days, then three-week extended maceration. Aged in 60 – 70% new French oak for 16 – 18 months. Blended 2 to 3 months before bottling and put back in barrel for flavor marriage. A lot of work for a wine that sells for only $18!

It turns out that Spier is one of the oldest wineries in South Africa, established in 1692. They also have multiple product lines ranging from everyday drinking wines of less than $10 and a cult wine that sells for over $100. For my money, I will seek out the $18 Creative Block – a seamless and beautifully complex wine.

Sunset Reception at Clifton Villa Overlooking Ocean

Later we dressed for the evening and boarded the van to drive about twenty minutes to the suburb of Clifton situated on cliffs overlooking the ocean. The drive itself was spectacular as the day had been sunny with clear blue skies, and the sun was starting to set as we passed by Table Mountain and wound our way down the hill towards the indigo ocean with frothy white waves.

It was a very elegant reception hosted by four high-end wineries. In addition to our MW crowd, a group of international sommeliers was also invited. As we entered we were each handed a glass of South African bubbly and then invited to watch the sunset over the infinity swimming pool that appeared to melt into the ocean. A violin and guitar duet played in the corner, and circulating waiters served small appetizers.

All the wines were excellent, but my favorite was the Ernie Fels Auction wine – a big complex red blend with a very long finish. Later in the evening we had a tour of the private art collection at the villa before heading back to the hotel.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Chardonnay Lunch at Jordan Winery in Stellenbosch, South Africa and Green Tie Wine Bash

Sept. 24, 2014 – We left Bot River amidst partially sunny skies and drove approximately one hour to Jordan Winery in Stellenbosch. The scenery along the way was stunning as we passed through the mountains again, saw the ocean in the distance, and then arrived in Stellenbosch with its green vineyards and tall, granite mountains. Stellenbosch is one of the oldest and most famous wine regions in South Africa, and I would compare it to Napa Valley in terms of the fancy wine estates, beautiful landscape, and famous wine names.

Jordan Winery’s Pond with Abundant Bird Life

We arrived at Jordan Winery about a half hour early and I was glad because we had time to walk around the beautiful grounds. This included a large pond were we saw Egyptian Geese, the South African Ibis, a Fish Eagle, and the most amazing weaver bird nests hanging from a weeping willow tree. I was so impressed, I filmed a short video, as well as photos. See:

The other unique aspect to Jordan Winery are all of the chameleons that hide in the tall grasses near the ponds. They even have chameleon crossing signs (see photo). Later, after lunch and too much chardonnay, we had a good time hunting for chameleons in the bushes.

I should mention that the Jordans, who own the winery, are good friends with the Jordans of Sonoma County, and have worked out a marketing agreement so that both wineries can promote their wines under their respective Jordan labels, as long as they are clear about appellations.

Seminar on Chardonnays of South Africa

I was already a fan of South African chardonnays, but I discovered after the excellent seminar provided by the Chardonnay Forum, that there are specific regions within South Africa that produce even more stellar chards. We had the opportunity to taste (spitting, of course) 20 chardonnays in five flights, sorted by region.

My favorites ended up being chardonnays from Cape South Coast and Stellenbosch, with specific highest scoring wines being: Iona Chardonnay 2010 (like a Chablis, crisp and steely), Haskell Anvil Chardonnay 2010, Radford Dale Chardonnay 2010, Bouchard Finyalson Kaaimansgat 2009, and Jordan Nine Yards Chardonnay 2010. All twenty of the wines were lovely, but these five were strong stand-outs for beautifully balanced wines with classic flavors of apple, lemon custard, spice, and well integrated oak. They all had high acid and a long finish.

I was most fascinated by the winemaking techniques that several winemakers professed to be using. This included 100% barrel fermentation using natural yeast, keeping the wine on the gross lees, and not racking or topping. Instead of battonage, they roll the barrel back and forth. Others admitted they don’t even roll the barrel, but let it sit for 9 months with no activity. Obviously a very non-interventionist practice, but one that seems to result in some spectacular wines with high levels of complexity.

Chardonnay Lunch on Terrace With Amazing View of Mountains and Pond.

We were treated to a most extraordinary lunch on the terrace of Jordan Winery overlooking the pond and chiseled mountains. The day was still partially sunny so there were some blue patches of sky and interesting cloud formations circulating around the mountain peaks.

The Chardonnay forum winemakers were also circulating in a table-hopping dance between each of the courses. I have only seen the Napa Valley Vintners do this before, and was impressed that this group of primarily thirty-something winemakers, seem to have adopted this successful technique. As a guest it was delightful, because at the change of each of the 4 courses, 3 new winemakers would join our table and bring with them 3 new chardonnays. Yes, it was a 100% chardonnay paired lunch, and probably one of the best meals I had in South Africa. The menu consisted of:

• 1st Course - Seared Water Buffalo Liver, Miso poached turnip, fresh apple and wood sorrel
• 2nd Course - News Season’s White Asparagus, Parsley, fried caper and smoked garlic
• 3rd Course - Barrel Smoked Kingskip with first broad beans of the season and young beets (this is a native fish found off the shores of South Africa. It was delicious and reminded me of a cross between halibut and sea bass.)
• 4th Course - Chardonnay Poached Pear with Cheese Mousse

Green Tie Event Celebration Bash in Capetown

After the three hour lunch and searching for chameleons in the tall grass, the mood on the van back to the hotel was obviously sleepy. When I was told that we had 30 minutes to rest and change for the next event – the Green Tie Celebration Bash at the Waterfront – I protested and said I would be late. Therefore, when I reached my room at the Cullinan Hotel, I fell asleep for an hour, then took a long hot shower. This caused me to arrive at the party 1.5 hours late, but it didn’t seem to matter, as it was in full swing with hundreds of people, music, dancers, abundant food, and of course, many bottles of wine.

The Green Tie Event (where everyone wears a green tie to celebrate sustainable efforts and the environment) was held in a very large tent on the edge of the ocean at the Lookout point along the Waterfront in Capetown. When I left the Cullinan Hotel, I thought I would have to hail a taxi, but was instead greeted by 8 people in green t-shirts who offered me a ride in one of the many vans catered for the event.

When I arrived I was handed a glass of sparkling South African wine, and then had a nice time wandering around talking to people and tasting some of the amazing dishes – all served as hardy tapas by wandering waiters. The dishes included: fresh mussels, fresh fish, sausage, ostrich burgers, yellow corn & coconut soup, mushroom raviolis, chicken satay, brownies with ice cream, fruit granola cups, and assorted cheeses.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the evening was when I bumped into Essie – an MW from Finland and recognized as one of the world’s great authorities on Champagne and sparkling wine – and Mark Devere, sorting through over fifty bottles of South African sparkling wine outside near the ocean. We had a good time trying several of them, until Essie settled upon a bottle and announced it was the best of the lot. We then proceeded to enjoy the bubbles along with all of the food and music.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dinner at Beaumont Winery (Best Pinotage) and South Africa Blue Cranes at Wildekrans Estate

Sept. 23 – 24, 2012 - We returned from our trip to the ocean to check into the large plantation estate and winery of Wildekrans. This is a very impressive property where the owners are trying to bring back the original fynbos vegetation and also have a wild bird refuge. It was here that I got my first glimpse of the tall and elegant South African blue cranes (see photo below), as well as many other colorful species of smaller birds in bright yellow and red.

Dinner at Beaumont Winery in Bot River

After twenty minutes to freshen up, we boarded the van again and drove 5 minutes into the small village of Bot River to Beaumont Winery. This is a charming old wine estate from the 1700’s that was rescued by Jane Beaumont and her husband in the 1970’s. Now Jane’s son, Sebastian, runs the property with his wife. It is located on the river with old vines and a small inn, and is the home of the best pinotage I tasted during my travels in South Africa. So, if you get the chance, try the 2009 Beaumont Estate Pinotage, which is fresh, fruity, spicy and very enjoyable.

We started the evening with a small informal tasting from several Bot River/Elgin area wineries. The winemakers poured their wines, and my favorites from this tasting were: Beaumont Chenin Blanc and Pinotage, Gabrielskof Rose, Shiraz and Bordeaux Blend, Luddite 2006 and 2007 Shiraz (aged 2 years in oak and 2 in bottle), the Wildekrans Chenin Blanc (fermented and aged in 100% new French oak), and the Barton Chenin Blanc (bone dry) and Merlot again. I should mention that I was very impressed with Barton’s support of the South African Blue Crane. They give a portion of all of their wine sales to help support these endangered birds.

Dinner was served at a long elegant table in the barrel room with chandeliers overhead and white table clothes (see photo above). Since we were still full from our 3- hour lunch at Gabrielskof Winery, Sebastian’s wife made everyone happy by serving home-made feasts of spinach and broccoli soup, chicken pate with oven-fresh breads, and a big green salad. We enjoyed this excellent repast with the wines from the tasting. I ended up drinking primarily the Beaumont chenin blanc and pinotage because they were so tasty. Dessert included brownies and lemon squares served with Beaumont’s Sauternes style botrytised semillion and sauvignon blanc sticky.

When we left the winery, the stars were out and we had a good time trying to find the Southern Cross constellation in the sky. Then we climbed in the van and drove back to our Wilderkrans cabin where I stumbled into bed and was asleep by 10pm.

Wildekrans Estate – Great for Birders, Hikers and Wine Lovers

In the morning, I awoke in my comfortable bed at Wildekrans Estate and could hear the birds calling outside the window. The cabins all have a full kitchen/living room area, two bedrooms, a bath, and a large front porch. Breakfast was delivered in a basket and Mary (my bunkmate) and I enjoyed fresh muffins, pasteries, yogurt, cheese and meats with instant coffee we made.

Wildekrans is a great choice for anyone who wants to be in the country, and enjoys hiking, birding, and wine-tasting. It is also located only 20 minutes from the ocean and town of Hermanus, so you can go whale-watching as well.

The minute I opened the front door of our cabin that morning, I heard the trumpeting call of the South African Blue Cranes. When I scanned the hillside I saw them standing tall and beautiful with grey-blue feathers and elegant feathered heads in the green grass near a herd of sheep. It was a male and female (they mate for life), and I assumed, since it was spring, they were getting ready to nest and lay eggs. The male started to dance in front of the female, jumping off the ground and spreading his huge wings. I watched them for about 15 minutes, calling Mary to take a look at them. After a while we saw them flying across the small marsh and vineyards into the distant hills.

After breakfast and a quick shower (the water is colored slightly yellow, due to the high iron content in the soil, but clean), I took a stroll around the property and was amazed at all of the birds I sighted in the marsh. Other people were hiking along the trails through the vineyards, and I stopped by the tasting room, which wasn’t open yet, but looked charming. On my way back to the room, I bumped into the owner with her new puppy who was so adorable, I couldn’t stop myself from hugging him, even though he jumped on my pants and covered me with mud. Wildekrans, though slightly rustic, is a great place to stay if you enjoy the outdoors and want to see the wild beauty of South Africa.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Visiting the Cape South Coast Wine Region and Gabrielskloof Winery, South Africa

Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012 – My alarm did not go off, so I barely managed to throw on some clothes, pack my suitcase, and wolf down some eggs before we boarded the bus at 9am to drive to Elgin. This is about an hour outside of Capetown to the southeast and is part of the Cape South Coast Wine area. In addition to Elgin, it encompasses Bot River and all of the sub-pockets of Walker Bay, and is considered to be the coolest wine growing region in South Africa. It’s wine are known for the freshness and high acids.

Baboons the in Mountains

On the drive we passed over some high mountains filled with large grey rocks and protea bushes with red and yellow blooms. It was a cloudy day with light sprinkles, but the mountains and view were still very dramatic and beautiful. The bus passed several baboons along the road, including a family with babies. They apparently enjoy living in rocky areas, and will beg food from tourists who stop to picnic. There are many warnings about not feeding the baboons because they can become violent and then have to be shot. Apparently they are also pests in the vineyard where they eat the sweet grapes around harvest time.

Tasting and Lunch at Gabrielskloof Winery

We arrived at Gabrielskloof Winery for a tasting of wines produced in the Cape South Coast area. The winery has modern architecture set within the vineyards. It has a large courtyard where you can play boche ball, and a fireplace inside where I warmed myself for awhile. The producers were set up in one room around large wine barrels and cheerly poured us around 35 different wines.

I enjoyed all of the chardonnays and Chenin blancs from the region, as well as one Riesling from Spioenkop 2011, but the pinot noirs were truly exceptional. My favorites, in addition to the Hamilton-Russell 2010 again were Bouchard Finlayson 2011, La Vierge 2010, and Domaine des Dieux 2010. In terms of more tannic reds, I enjoyed the Gabrielskof Shiraz and Bordeaux Blend, as well as the Barton 2009 Merlot

Lunch was served outside on long tables with beautiful protea flower arrangements – the national flower of South Africa (see photos). It was served family style and included lamb, vegetables, potatos, and excellent breads. Dessert was vanilla ice cream and strawberries. In terms of wine, I focused on drinking the very good pinot noirs. The day was cool with some sprinkles of rain, so after lunch I sat by the fire and enjoyed the warmth.

The Beach at Hermanus – Whales & Seals

Later in the afternoon, we drove to the ocean in the charming seaside town of Hermanus. We stopped at a wonderful look-out point and climbed on the rocks to see one large whale and several seals playing in the surf. The whales of this region are called Southern Right Whales (see photo). Later we drove to the beach and walked on the white sand. I put my finger in the water so that I could claim to have touched the southern ocean. It was very cold and windy – the CapeDoctor wind, they call it around here. The winegrowers appreciate the wind because they say it prevents mildew by drying the grapes and toughens up the skins to produce more color and flavor.

Friday, October 5, 2012

South African Wine Dinner at the Cullinan Hotel

(Sept. 22) – The evening I arrived in Capetown we were invited to a wine tasting hosted by the Cape Wine Masters. Conveniently it was held in the Cullinan Hotel, so our group of around twenty MW’s just had to take the elevator to the mezzanine level where the tasting of 62 wines from across South Africa was set up. The regions included: Paarl, Elim, Klein Karoo, Robertson, Hemel & Aarde, Durbanville, and Swartland. My favorite wines of the evening included:

- South African sparkling wines, especially the Monroe 2007 Cap Classique and Simonsig 2007 Blanc de Blanc
- All of the pinot noirs from Hemel & Aarde (which means Heaven and Earth and is part of the Walker Bay Area). My favorite was the Hamilton Russel 2010 Pinot Noir
- Most of the Chenin blancs – especially the bone dry ones. A favorite was 2011 Boland Kelder Reserve No. 1 Chenin Blanc from the Paarl area
- A few of the syrahs – I have a tendency to like the dark, brooding syrahs with a hint of tar and earth. A good one was the 2010 Mullineux Family Syrah from Swartland
- Ports and Brandies – South Africa is known for this category, and in fact has won best brandy in the world for the past 5 years. My favorite here was the 1995 Bopplaas Family Vineyards Cape Tawny

Unique Style of South African Sauvignon Blanc – Grass & Jalapeno

The biggest surprise of the tasting for me were the sauvignon blancs, which were very green and herbal. When I asked about this, I was told it was the preferred style in South Africa. The wines are extremely lean, acidic and taste like jalapeno or roasted green chili mixed with green grass. To achieve this they grown them in very cold areas – even cooler than their chardonnays. Sauvignon blanc is one of my favorite whites, but this is a style that is an acquired taste. There was none of the nice kiwi and gooseberry you find in New Zealand, or the grapefruit and pineapple I love in California and Bordeaux savvys. Instead I was told that these flavors were frowned upon in South Africa.

Excellent South African Wine Dinner – With Stewed Water Lilies and Cape Gooseberries

The food was incredible and beautifully served by the hotel staff, with the wine pairings overseen by the very charming, Miguel Chan, Certified Sommelier with the Sun Tsogo Hotel Chain. The first course was a Butternut and Parmesan Cheese Soup with Oxtail Ravioli. It was rich, creamy, fattening and incredibly delicious paired with a Walker Bay pinot noir. Next was a Franschhoek Salmon Trout Gravadlax with Waldorf and Dill Salad with Beetroot Dressing. I had this with some of the excellent South African sparkling wine.

The main course was Braised Lamb Shoulder in Red Wine with Stewed Waterblommetjies, Buttered Mash Potatoes, Green Beans and Confit Garlic. This was paired with some of the Cabernet Sauvignons/Blends, with the rich lamb muting out the green notes in the cab. I was especially intrigued with the waterblommetijies, which are a type of water lilly, that remind me of an artichoke (see photo).

Dessert was Warm Cape Milk Tart, Cape Gooseberry Sherbet Ice Cream and Sticky Toffee Sauce. This was very decadent especially because it was paired with a Cape Tawny. I need to mention that the Cape Gooseberry is a different variety than the regular European gooseberry. This one is orange with stone fruit, ginger and citrus flavors. It is very tart, and I was told to buy a jam made from it before I leave the country.

All in all, a very enjoyable dinner and a great way to celebrate my first night in South Africa. I was especially impressed with the warmth, hospitality, and collegiality apparent between all of the South African wineries and Cape Masters present. I learned that “Cape Wine Masters” are South African wine experts who have completed a two-year study program and passed a rigorous exam slightly more difficult that then Diploma level of the WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust).

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Arriving in Capetown, South Africa – One of the Most Beautiful Cities on Earth

(Sept 20 -22, 2012) – I’ve had many people over the years tell me how beautiful Capetown, South Africa is, but it wasn’t until the airplane was approaching the city that I could see the dramatic landscape. Steep mountains that reminded me of Yosemite surrounded the town and swept down to the ocean that was sparkling blue and caressed by white sandy beaches that could have come from Hawaii. As it was September, their springtime, everything was green, and you could see grass and trees on lower hillsides where no buildings are allowed to mar the beauty of the scenery. And in the distance the long and flat top of Table Mountain was evident, with a few clouds hovering above parts of it.

It was 11:15 am on Saturday Sept. 22, and I had left San Francisco two days earlier on a 7:45pm flight to London which connected to Johannesburg and then finally to Capetown. A total of 24 hours of flying time and 6 hours of layover – a very long flight. Fortunately I was able to spend half of it in first class, but the London to Joberg portion (11 hours) was in coach. However, since it was a night flight, I took an Ambien after dinner and slept most of it.

Both the Johannesburg (Joberg) and Capetown airports are very modern and new with great shops and places to eat. The Star Alliance lounge in both airports is actually nicer than the one in London. I was met by a representative from WOSA – Wines of South Africa – who held a sign with my name. We were quickly transported from the airport to downtown Capetown – about a 25-minute drive if the traffic is flowing.

It was as we exited the airport that I had my first glimpse of a township. At first I didn’t know what I was seeing, and was appalled at a level of poverty I have only see along border towns in Mexico. Thousands of people were living in tiny shacks made of corrugated metal, cardboard, or whatever they could find to build shelter. Clothing hung from lines between the shacks, children played in the dirt allies, and people cooked over fires in old oil drums. I found out later that the city does give them electricity and that some of the shacks have TV’s and microwaves, but I could not see these from the freeway.

When I asked why so many people lived this way, I was told that most were refugees from Zimbabwe and other war torn countries. The official unemployment rate in South Africa is 20%, but the unofficial one is 30%.

The contrast between the poverty of the townships and the beauty of the land, as well as the large corporations, tourist sites, and beautiful wine estates was to haunt me all week. When I mentioned my shock over the situation to a fellow traveler, she said, “You shouldn’t judge with American eyes.” This is true, I shouldn’t judge, but it did not stop the way I felt. It seemed wrong to me that so many people should live like this when so many others were living so well. However, I do realize that this is a nation that is recovering from Apartheid and is kind enough to accept refugees. If they didn’t what would be the fate of these people?

The Magnificent Sun Cullinan Sun Hotel in Downtown Capetown

There is a sharp contrast between the townships and the magnificent Sun Cullinan Hotel. It is a beautiful building painted pale yellow with tall white pillars flanking the entrance, and named after the famous “Cullianan” diamond. Friendly and professional staff surround the car and help you with your luggage. The lobby is filled with marble, chandeliers, sweet smelling flowers, and a view of the dark blue pool and palm trees in the courtyard. In the corner a pianist plays a grand piano, and if you arrive in the afternoon they hand you a welcome drink.

I ended up staying a total of 5 nights at this hotel – but checking in and out again several times due to the conference schedule. Each time I was impressed with the friendly service of the staff – even someone to greet you each time you ascended and descended in the elevator. My room was small, but very modern and tastefully appointed. I had a king size bed and small view of the harbor from the fourth floor. The breakfast buffet – which is included in the rate – is magnificent, with all types of food, and again flawless and very attentive service.

There is a free shuttle that takes you back and forth to the Waterfront, which is one of Capetown’s top tourist attractions, including an Aquarium. You can also walk from the Cullinan to downtown where there are many shops, restaurants, and historical buildings. I was warned, however, not to walk anywhere along after dark. The convention center is across the street from the Cullinan, so this was a perfect location to stay at for the CapeWine conference.