Stellenbosch – Vergelegen, Simonsig, Fairview, Dieu Donne, Boschendal, Simonsig, Fairview – Cape Town
We left Hermanus towards Stellenbosch, and about 10 minutes into the trip we decided to stop at a winery on the way. Lisa hauled out the Lonely Planet and we hit up Vergelegen, a very nice estate (at least I’m sure the 7399 acres we didn’t see because we were drinking wine were very nice). For the bargain price of R30 (about $4.50) we got to taste 6 wines – I love wine! Overall, they were pretty good. We basically had no idea what the heck we were doing, but the opportunity to drink a bunch of wine for next to nothing in the middle of a lovely day on a beautiful terrace was just way too good to pass up.
Our hostel in Stellenbosch was cozy and mostly clean, and we signed up for the wine tour the next day. We decided to have our own wine and cheese party for dinner, and hit up the local Checkers to grab a few things. The results: a nice shiraz, edam, chevre, brie, olives, pate and a fresh baguette. YUM!
The wine tour left at 10am, and our first stop was Simonsig. Simonsig was the first winery in South Africa to make the Cape Classique, or SA’s version of champagne. Paul, the very nice wine advisor, took us around the winery and gave us a quick lesson on how the wine was made. Then it was off to the store room to see the reds and white ageing in their barrels. If you’ve ever wondered why good wine is so fricken expensive, it’s because the barrels need to be made of good wood (usually French) and are 700€, and you can only use them for 5 years, or two to three batches of wine. After that, they have no resale value and are just a whole bunch of firewood that smells like wine.
We started off tasting a glass of the Cap Classique, and then moved through the whites and reds according to the list. You have to drink the wines in order so that the full flavour of each wine comes through, and so you don’t overload your palate. The Chenin Blanc was very nice (we ended up with a bottle of that) as well as the Gewurztraminer (two bottles of that one, it tasted like grape-litchi juice!). for the reds, Lisa and I definitely have different tastes. The Pinotage is a grape developed in SA, and while it was nice, it Simonsig’s was a bit smoky for my preference. Their SMV, or Shiraz-Mourvedre-Voigner blend was incredible. (Dad, that was supposed to be your Christmas present, hopefully you like what I got you instead!) About half-way through the tasting, we decided that all the wines were just too good to rush into a decision, so we made up our minds to head back the following day to actually purchase them.
Our next stop was Fairview, which was actually a full farm as well as a winery. We had both a wine and cheese tasting at this stop – score! I happen to be one of the world’s biggest fans of cheese in general: I would choose cheese over chocolate any day of the week. Their Sauvignon Blanc was fantastic, as well as their Sweet Red dessert wine. The St. Martin cheese was definitely Lisa and I’s favourite, a kind of brie goat cheese. After this second winery, we were definitely feeling no pain, and it was a good thing our next stop was lunch. The friendly Italians bought some bread and shared it around to sop up the alcohol on our way to the restaurant.
I don’t really have anything nice to say about Dieu Donne’s wine; suffice it to say that I actually spit some of it out. The view was nice, but I would give this one a miss if at all possible.
Our last stop of the day was Boschendal, which I remembered Mom and Dad talking about from their trip here 5 years ago. It pretty much looked like a postcard, the mountains shrouded in clouds, the sun peeking through, green grass and beautiful Cape Dutch architecture. The wines were already laid out for us, so we just sat down and got straight to business. The rose I have marked down as boring, but I do remember the 2007 Shiraz being a bit on the peppery side, a nice accompaniment to steak or roast beef for sure. We sat at a table with a few international students from Harvard who were doing a year-long, round the world, city development course. They get to spend 4 months each in Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town and Hanoi to study and understand the urban environment – I would like to go to Harvard in my next life! One of the girls was also a choral singer, so we had a full-on choir dork-a-thon conversation, while her boyfriend, friend and Lisa exchanged bored glances of “these girls are so weird”. Whatever, Eric Whitacre is a genius and Zoltan Kodaly will give you goosebumps every time.
After 23 glasses of wine, I was quite ready to head back to the hostel for some afternoon wine-induced quiet time. We found that the hostel was basically a ghost town on this Thursday evening . . . it seemed everyone had checked out that day, leaving us almost alone. A nice dinner in downtown Stellenbosch pretty much rounded out the evening.
On the 12th we headed back to Simonsig and met up with Paul again to agonize over which wines to buy and which ones to ship home. We got our glasses and wine tasting for free (!) and with a few bottles (only 6) went to Fairview to pick up a couple more for the week in Cape Town. Only an hour later, we were sitting by the pool in Blouberg, soaking up the sun in one of the world’s most beautiful cities!