29 July 2009

Stellenbosch and the winelands

Stellenbosch, which is located about 50km East of Cape Town, is famous for being South Africa's main wine producing region. Yesterday we took a day long tour around some of the local vineyards with a company called Easy Rider. The trip included a cellar tour, wine tasting at 4 different estates, cheese tasting, lunch and most importantly of all a vehicle with a sober driver.

We started the day at the Simonsig estate on the outskirts of Stellenbosch. After a brief introduction into the history of South African wine making and a cellar tour we got down to the serious business of drinking . . . I mean wine tasting.

We were given a crash course on the techniques of proper wine tasting, which most of us did our best to ignore, and then let loose on 10 bottles from the cellar. Each person was allowed 5 glasses, so by paring up we were able to sample all of the wines on offer. I don't think I've ever drunk 10 different wines before 11 in the morning.

Then we headed onto the Fairview estate at Parl. Here everyone got to pick 5 wines from a selection of about 40 bottles. Again by pairing up we got to try up to 10 different ones. Fairview also makes a range of different cheese which we also got to sample, the best being the goat cheeses which they specialise in.

As we left Fairview we overheard another another person on our tour ask one of their friends "Do you have to kill the goat to get the cheese out?". I know we'd been drinking wine for a fair proportion of the morning but there really is no excuse.

To help everyone sober up we then stopped for lunch at another estate. There we got to try one of the more unusual African game meats with a springbok stew. Of course lunch was served with yet more wine. I think that this was the only place we've ever been to where wine is free with your lunch but you have to pay for soft drinks!

The third wine tasting stop of the day was at Dieu Donne Vineyards in the Franschhoek region. This time everyone got to choose 5 glasses from a list of about 20 different bottles. By the time we finished there things had started to go decidedly hazy and I think many of us would have struggled to tell a chardonay from a shiraz.

The forth and final wine tasting stop of the day was at the Boschendal estate back on the outskirts of Stellenbosch where we were greeted by yet another 5 glasses.

After the tour finished we wobbled our way back to our guesthouse for a dinner of freshly baked bread and Fairview goat's cheese washed down with a drop of Simonsig wine. Please note that no goats were hurt during the extraction of our cheese.

Today, as we headed back to Cape Town, we made one final vineyard visit, calling in at Spier. We weren't there for the wine though as we couldn't face anymore after yesterdays marathon. The Spier estate has an outreach project which allows you to get up close and, if you want to, in the cage with some hand reared cheetahs.

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