Brrr, it's 9c as our car tires crunch along the gravel driveway as we head towards our booking at Grande Provence. It's a Shiraz wine and dine collaboration dinner and it sounds spectacular. We're welcomed by a huge silvery full moon rising over the mountain casting its magical light on everything as we make our way to the restaurant.
Inside soft candles flicker on the tables while a crackling log fire warms the restaurant. The soft hum of chatting diners draws us in.
“Hello, I'm Michael,” we are warmly welcomed. The waiter gives us a board of warm homemade seed bread with sundried tomato butter.
“We probably shouldn't be filling up on the bread,” I say as I reach for another piece. I can't resist. I've just read the menu and it looks spectacular. Maybe just one more piece.
The first shiraz arrives it's a 2010 Lammershoek Syrah. It's smooth with a lovely linger. Maybe it's because it's our first wine and the tastebuds are excited, but this is a great start.
We kick off with a spiced butternut and saffron mouth warmer. So smooth. So tiny. So leaving me wanting more.
Clink, clink goes a glass. All heads turn towards a tall, commanding figure standing near the log fire. “Hi I'm Karl the general manager of Grande Provance,” he says as we all go quiet. He welcomes us to the fourth wine evening for the year. Darren the chef then takes us through the menu in an exciting verbal journey. This is followed by the winemaker from Lammershoek telling us about both his vineyard and the wine. Now I have a problem. I want to go and visit this vineyard. It sounds stunning. Nicky is soon on Google looking to see if we can find it. Maybe...
“Sir, here is your Indonesian salt cured duck...” the waiter says continuing with even more detail. All I know is it looks delicious. And as my teeth sink into the succulent duck with citrus caviar I'm enraptured.
“What makes a wine great?” asks Tamsin from Hartenberg Estate who has now stood up to introduce our second wine for the evening. “It's the company you keep.” And she is right. I'm enjoying this evening with stunning company - my wife - and a group of fellow wine lovers. “It's a very masculine wine,” Tamsin says describing the 2008 Hartenberg Gavel Hill Shiraz. “Hmm...if this is masculine I'm glad I'm a dude.”
Horse and carriage, love and marriage. That's what this is. The perfect pair. The barbecue sea bass with charred baba ganoush arrives on a warm stone plate. It is deliciously smoky and goes like a Siamese twin with the wine drawing out the natural smokey taste of the Shiraz. It's probably the best pairing I've tasted.
While the bliss of the taste match is still doing a tango on my tongue the winemaker from Eagles Nest stands up and regales us with fascinating stories about their farm and the 2012 Shiraz we are now having. It's paired with slow braised beef brisket and once more the combo is a choreographed symphony.
Finally, Karl stands up again and introduces us to our last Shiraz. “It's always a worry when you have to pair your wine to dessert,” he says smiling, “because the cream and buttery flavours mask the taste.” He tells us a great story about the guy who attempted to produce great wine by introducing weeds, then goats to control the weeds, then dogs to control the goats, then children to control the dogs...and finally birth control to control child production. Which shows simple birth control can produce the greatest vines. Just shows what you can learn about wine making at an evening like this.
The dessert arrives which is scarily “sago with white chocolate creme”. Sago? For dessert? Isn't that boarding school food as Karl joked? The plating is beautiful. I take my first tentative bite. “Bounce” go my jowls. Bounce. It's sago after all. Despite the delicious topping I still think sago is best kept as punishment for boarding school kids.
The diners next to us joke that the sago is big balls - sago on steroids. Well, the Shiraz was great! And serving this for dessert was indeed very ballsy.
Finally Darren the chef appears together with the whole kitchen team. It's been a spectacular evening. Lovely tastes. Great wine. And as we learnt...the key ingredient...great company. Here's looking forward to the Pinotage evening.
To find out about their next special wine pairing evening check out their site.
Clip, clip, clip. Once more my tips are trimmed. It's been the same routine for over 40 years. I'm never short of water or food. I'm never too hot or too cold. I'm constantly cared for, constantly groomed, but yet I am still so small. So unbelievably small.
How do you script a perfect anniversary day? Well it's hard after the previous day's experiences at Kagga Kamma and God's bedroom - but we are determined nonetheless.
The start is obvious. Walk the 100 meters down Frasnschhoek's Huguenot street to the best coffee spot, The Hoek. Begin the day with the best flat white around and their delicious chocolate twists - crispy on the outside with soft chocolate on the inside. Great start!
We then head over Hellshoegte Pass to the university town of Stellenbosch. Unlike Franschhoek on the opposite side of the mountain, Stellenbosch is not only bigger and busier, but it has a student vibe not a tourist vibe. The green heart of Stellenbosch is a stunning botanic garden and so we start our visit here. Soon we are immersed it its beauty and tranquility.
“This bonsai is 40 years old,” an official and obviously knowledgeable curator says as he gently trims the tree. Everything about it is miniature, even the fruits. It's amazing. “Yes,” he replies, “they are olives. However they are a special olive that is naturally small and so it makes them appear just right for the tree.” It's like we've been transported to a Lilliputian world. In fact we are so enraptured we even consider returning next week for a bonsai course.
We wander out the gate and notice a popup art exhibition in a disused building, and discover that Stellenbosch is having a huge art festival. And so begins a visual feast as we stroll through art shows in restaurants and shops, craft markets in hidden corners, and food stalls tantalizingly beckoning the unwary towards them. We soon find ourselves wandering around the vaulted halls of Stellenbosch's museum and art gallery. It's like being in another world - art, music, beauty, history, smells, tastes.
It's not long before our meanderings lead us past a restaurant that is advertising a delicious sounding mushroom burger. And so like those helpless to the siren's call we are drawn in for a burger and beer. A student sits with a long empty coffee cup at a nearby table working on his computer, while at another table a group of friends laugh loudly as they clink their glasses in a toast. The food is rich and full of flavor, just like our experience in Stellenbosch.
Returning to the botanic gardens towards our car we round off our experience with a dark chocolate cake and a chocolate mousse cake washed down with a double espresso. Our gastronomical glands are enraptured.
Did I say “round off our experience”? You can't leave Stellenbosch without wine tasting, it is one of the top wine regions in the world. And so we need to round off, again, our experience, by visiting Blaauwklippen and Lanzerec wine farms for a taste of the grape and a mellowing of the soul. Now we feel fully rounded off! With a glow of contement we drive back to Franschhoek to spend a few hours catching up on life before the coup de grâce of our day - dinner at Rocos.
We arrive at Rocos which is located at Dieu Donne wine farm just before sunset. We are seated outside where we have drinks and watch the sun explode the sky into oranges and reds from behind the mountain. We then move indoors to their beautiful glass enclosed restaurant and settle to enjoy what Josh and Hannah say are the best meals they have ever had - I have a Pork Belly that is superlative, Hannah has the Springbok Loin which is equally delectable and Josh and Nicky share a cheese board starter and a Pork Belly.
We all feel a little like porkers with full bellies, but as I drive home and slip into bed I can truly say this has been a day gifted by God…a gift that began 23 years ago and just keeps on getting better. Thank you Lord for 23 years and my four beautiful gifts.
It's a great time of year mainly because there's no shortage of food. Yet I know that it won't always be like this. In a short time the sun will not be as warm and the days will be short. So I don't take the food for granted. Even though we have enough I'm constantly searching for more. Yet today there are so many people around. It's unusual. Every now and then I spot an opportunity to dart down. I've seen an acorn lying just below a nearby tree. I climb rapidly down and dart across the open grass. Grasping the acorn with glee I turn to climb my tree. My heart leaps as a huge person towers over me. I jump backwards clawing at a nearby tree as I scuttle to the safety above, thankfully still holding my find.
There are many amazing things you can do on the Western Cape but if you are there at the right time of year, like the end of summer, there is a real treat you can share in. In what has echoes of Biblical times, we head to Eikendal Wine Farm to celebrate their annual harvest. We had been warned to get there early to secure a good spot so using our Berg Time to our advantage – we moved our watches two hours forward in January and we're still enjoying it - we manage to get there by 10am Local Time, 12 noon Berg Time.
We are ahead of the imminent masses and find a lovely tree and table near the edge overlooking the vineyards on one side and the lake on the other. Hannah and Josh notice an unused mega bean bag and drag it over to our idyllic spot. They plop down onto their comfy spot and we lean back to watch the arrivals.
Slowly like ants attracted to honey the crowds begin to roll in. Lounging in our spot we watch the latecomers’ despair as they search in vain for a nice table but have to settle for a spot under the burning sun. And so a day of relaxation and celebration unfolds. From tractor rides to grape stomping to art exhibitions to just chatting or lying on the huge bean bag, this is a wonderful way to spend a day.
The highlights are the grape stomping and the wine christening. Huge barrels of grapes are brought and throwing decorum to the wind the revelers leap in barefooted, dresses lifted high and long trousers pulled up. Children giggle excitedly as locals and foreigners, young and old enjoy the squishy sensation of crushing grapes with their feet. I'm not sure I'd want to drink the resultant wine, it piquant, somewhat acidic flavours with a lingering sweaty nose might not be the best. But it is sure fun stomping those grapes.
The harvest celebration pinnacle involves the naming and releasing of the new season’s wine. This year the 2015 Chardonnay is named after Solly Kramers wife, Anita. Of course what's the worth of naming without tasting! A huge barrel is opened and faster than squirrels on heat the crowds converge. I stand patiently in the line and am finally rewarded with a glass of strange milky colored wine – apparently this milky color is part of the final wine process. With glee I navigate the swarming harvest revelers with my glass headed for our table. I'm so intent on my destination I nearly step on a squirrel who also must have been celebrating with too much fruit of the vine judging from his startled expression and hasty exit up a tree. We drink deeply of the new vintage enjoying is tropical and slightly sweet taste. Here’s to Anita!
With the lingering taste of joy filling our souls we finally leave to pick up Sarah who has spent the weekend with her friends at UCT before heading back to our base at Franschhoek.
One might be tempted to think that this is the end of the day. One would be wrong – this is the Cape and there is always the prospect of a sunset which one cannot leave unseen. So Nicky and I, armed with sushi and a drop more wine, head to our special sunset dam in Franschhoek where we toast the end of a wonderful day and give thanks to God who has made all things possible.
Blue skies and deep cool shade blended with live music and good food results in a full bodied experience with a long finish. This truly has been a time of celebration.