friday wine tour

and now the real fun begins!  i had booked an adventure tour with bikes ‘n wines, a local tour company.  i wandered in the early morning up to their office, met my guide for the day, and we got a lift for the 40 minutes drive out to the village of vlottenburg, near stellenbosch, where we met the rest of the group (two couples: one dutch, one american; plus our guide and a guide in training, and me) and picked up our bikes.  we immediately started with the toughest climb of the day, up a dirt track through vineyards.

our first stop was thandi wines, the first black-owned winery in south africa, and the first winery in the world to receive fairtrade accreditation.  i’d seen this winery featured in a documentary, and was keen to learn more about it.  unfortunately, the tasting room manager was taken ill just before we arrived, so we were not able to sample the wines or tour the winery.  i guess i’ll have to come back and do it another time.

we carried on up the slope to our first tasting at skilpadvlei (skilpad is africaans for turtle).  on a shaded patio, we tried 5 wines:  an chenin blanc (unoaked, very crisp, and my favourite at this stop), a sauvignon blanc, a rosé (bit too sweet), a cabernet/shiraz (50/50 blend), and their signature ML Joubert blend (lots of licorice, wood and leather).

we continued our cycle tour across the hilly vineyards, stopping to take photos of the stunning views of the mountains surrounding stellenbosch, and the distant back side of table mountain – sharply visible on this clear day – then coasted downhill to the next stop, lovane, a boutique wine estate and guest house.  i would happily stay here on a future trip.  it is one of the smallest estates in the stellenbosch region (only 2.5 hectares, with 90% cabernet sauvingnon, and the remainder equally divided between cabernet franc and petit verdot), and only sells bottles on site.  we were allowed to wander into their cellar – 10,000 bottles: their entire production since they opened in 2006.  so, all reds for the tasting.  first up, the unfiltered blanc de noir, a rosé from cab sauv grapes.  next, the berries only 2009, where grapes are de-stalked but not crushed; the yeast is added to the whole grapes to break down – fruit-forward but quite dry.  on to the isikhati 2009, a bordeaux blend (49% cab sauv, 32% petit verdot, 19% cab franc). then my favourite, the 2010 cabernet sauvignon – very smooth, all red berries and plums, yum!  i had to buy a bottle to bring home.  finally the cape vintage dessert wine, a port style with a distinct honeycomb taste and a hint of raisins.  for our group, most of the shopping was done here.

we carried on pedaling through the vineyards to the vredenheim estate.  another five wines were sampled here:  starting with the pink bubbles of the sauvignon blanc/cabernet vredenvonkel vin sec, followed by m’lord chardonnay (barrel fermented for 10 months, light buttery taste with just a hint of smoke), the merlot (new french oak barrels – way too much wood in the wine for my palate!), the cabernet sauvignon (plummy, with a hint of pepper on the finish), and ending with the flagship gracious lady (80% cabernet sauvignon, 15% shiraz, 5% merlot), my favourite of this stop.  we sat out on a lovely patio for lunch.

a little less than steady now on the bikes, we made our way over to our final tasting of the day: brandy at van ryn distillery.  the tasting room was like the interior of a medieval european manor house.  the 10 year old was not to everyone’s liking, and was soon forgotton with the sample of the superior 12 year old pot still.  i can see why it wins international awards.

back to the meeting point to drop off the bikes and bid farewell to the group.  with my guide and guide in training, i caught the local train back into cape town.  had a quick shower, and went to meet ingrid for dinner.  she’d been on another stellenbosch wine tour (not on a bike), so we compared notes of what we’d tasted over excellent burgers and beer and more wine at the very loud tiger’s milk restaurant and bar.

i’m exhausted just recalling the day…


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