Sunday, October 21, 2007

10 Stellenbosch & Franschoek - Wine Region & Farm

Photos by M.P.
We pack up on Friday morning and head north a bit toward the beckoning green hills of the wine region. The weather has turned over the past week to warm summer temperatures, and as we travel inland, away from the crazy cape winds, the mercury rises. Predictably, we stop at the very first vineyard we come to, just about 25 minutes outside of Cape Town, and a world away. The Saxenburg Wine Farm dates back to 1693 - a vintage fairly common to the region. Somehow, we are the only guests sipping wine early Friday morning, and so are able to have a great chat with young Herman, our pouring host. He gives us some interesting insights about the life of a young (white) professional in this still-adjusting country. Herman is a professionally schooled and trained chef who has spend time abroad - as many of his friends have - in London to perfect his craft. He would like to continue here in SA, but the payscale makes it impossible when looking to the future of a marriage, family, house..... He has a friend who has stayed in the chef biz, for the love of it, and works mad hours as head chef at a high end 5-star hotel for the equivalent of about US $25k per year. Needless to say, many of Herman’s educated young working/middle class friends are leaving the country for opportunities just about anywhere else - the U.K. and Australia are popular options. The exception, he says, are his engineer friends who are doing well, and the only people he knows able to afford a house. (For those with the not-so-mighty US dollar, the market is still a bargain, with condos on the beach of trendy Camps Bay available for about $50k, and for the housewarming party, the most expensive bottle of wine we’ve seen in stores and vineyards is about $60, with an average of about $6/bottle.) The Saxenburg wines are quite lovely, and we manage to walk out the door with just one bottle - sadly not the flagship 2003 Shiraz - sold out. FYI: 2003 was an excellent year for the South African wine region.

We’ve been invited to lunch at the farm of (ATA) France’s parents - and suddenly it’s lunchtime. We scoot quickly through town and head out to the pass between Stellenbosch and Franschoek following signs toward the neighboring property “Rainbow’s End.” Past the security gate, (of course) and at the end of a loooong, gum-tree lined drive is the “farm” - a 1700s estate in the stunning classic Cape Dutch style: thick white stucco walls with thatch roofs and scrolled decorative extensions above the roofline. The lush valley in which it's set is surrounded by dramatic rocky hill/mountainsides that are designated parkland. We are welcomed with open arms and give our hosts the one bottle of wine we’ve purchased ---- most likely coals to Newcastle, but ah well. The Wilsons have laid out a beautiful luncheon outside on the trellis-shaded “stoep” (You may recognize the word stoop - anything from a large entry stone/step to a veranda.) Plied with a bottomless glass of wine, we spend the entire afternoon walking through the orchards, nursery, fields, pond, barns and studio. Maddie takes countless photos of the peacocks and geese roaming the property. The newer cottage and studios also have traditional styling with white exteriors and darker, woody & cool high-ceilinged interiors. Even the geese & goslings have a proper antique stucco poultry house with nesting niches built into the walls, open roof, and a cobblestone courtyard with a watering fountain in the middle. We head out reluctantly to spend the night at a posh hotel in Franschoek - a vaguely familiar layout with cottage suites sprinkled throughout a garden-filled courtyard with a pool at the center....

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