Touring the Winelands – A truly authentic taste of South Africa
No matter what guide book I read, or who I spoke to about my upcoming trip, it was generally agreed upon that no visit to South Africa would be complete without a visit to the Winelands. The only problem – Dan and I don’t drink wine. Jessi on the other hand was very excited to do some wine tasting, so I found a way to make everyone happy – A 4 hour, horseback riding / wine tasting tour!
11:00 am – Drive to the Winelands
12:15 pm – Arrive at the stables
12:30 pm – Start our horseback ride
1:45 pm – Wine tasting at Solms-Delta Winery
2:30 pm – Head to Rhebokskloof Wine Estate
4:00 pm – Dinner at the Table at De Meye
7:00 pm – Drive back to Noordhoek
We awoke to a massive downpour today and decided we would just spend the morning lazily preparing for the day and making a nice big breakfast. We received a phone call from Rayanne from Delta Crest Stables telling us that due to the weather we wouldn’t be able to do the wine tour on horseback. We were really devastated and I chatted with her at length about how important this was to us. She told us that we would have to wait and see if it cleared up a bit by the time we arrived but she wasn’t promising anything. We dressed in our best waterproof / water resistant clothing and set off for Franschhoek. It was only an hour drive North and the scenery was actually quite pretty once we left the more urban areas. It was quite obvious when we had reached the ‘winelands’.
The area was a lot more mountainous than I was expecting, but the patchwork of vineyards was unmistakeable. We arrived at the stable right on time and went to find Rayanne. We were greeted by two very rambunctious, rather tubby yellow labs.
It’s no secret that I LOVE dogs. These guys were just so excited and friendly, I couldn’t help but pet them (even though they were rather smelly and soaking wet). We chatted with Rayanne and she told us that based on the steady rainfall, we couldn’t do the full tour because standing outside the wine estates, waiting for the tasting to finish would be a miserable experience for both her and her horses. We obviously didn’t want that. So instead we decided to just do an hour long ride through the properties without the tasting and then visit vineyards afterwards. Rhian then went and grabbed our horses for us one at a time and introduced us before saddling up.
Dan and his hungry horse, Monty
Not really sure why Jessi is so far away in this photo…That’s what happens when you ask other people to get photos for you!
Within the first 3 minutes of our ride we were completely soaked to the core. Thankfully it wasn’t that cold out so it was only slightly uncomfortable. Dan and I have been riding several times but Jessi had never been on a horse, so this was yet another ‘first’ experience for her. She stuck behind Rayanne while Dan and I trailed in the back. I was super excited that the dogs were also coming along! Unfortunately the dogs ended up finding a peafowl chick and killing it during our ride, and Rayanne was pretty furious. It was so weird, instead of getting off to discipline the dog, she wielded her horse toward the dogs, attempting to scare them or something. I suppose the real mystery was, why did the vineyard have peafowl running around in the first place?!
We continued onwards and started passing along the rows of fruit bushes in the vineyard. There were grapes, plums, apricots, etc.
We were even lucky enough to stop briefly and pick some fruit off the bushes to eat, delicious! The horses Dan and I were riding were mischievous and tended to stop and browse on bushes, grass and trees. This was probably our fault because we felt bad pulling the horses away, and I actually enjoyed listening to them munching. It also proved beneficial because after a long graze, we would fall behind quite a bit and in order to catch up, our horses would canter along the gap. Since Jessi was new at riding Rayanne didn’t want her to canter, but when our horses would do it she didn’t seem concerned, and of course, it was fun for us!
We returned to the stables after our hour ride and only had to pay for the riding (R170 each – $17 CAD) which was nice, and we were grateful that she was willing to take us out at all! We said goodbye to our doggie friends, but not before I was able to get a shot of me pretending to ride one like a horse! Sort of…
Those dogs were obviously very tolerant! We then headed over to one of the wineries that would have been on the tour: Solms-Delta Wine Estate. Even with the bum weather, quite a few people were already taking part in tasting and discussions about winemaking. We were definitely the youngest people there, but thankfully a kind gentleman came over and invited us to have a seat at the wine tasting table. It was a nice sheltered area, I guess it was a museum of sorts. The room was spacious and I read that it was the original cellar from the property during the mid 1700s!
Once we were seated, Jessi explained to him that she wasn’t really into white wines, and that she especially liked dry red wines. He brought out an assortment for her to try and left us to it. It was awkward. It was awkward because we made it awkward. None of us knew anything about wine or how to properly appreciate it, or any technical aspect to sophisticated tasting. So it mainly consisted of Dan and I staring at Jessi while she drank some wine and then asking whether she liked it or not. It turned out that her favourite one was also the most expensive one she tried – a ‘fortified’ shiraz. I had never heard of a ‘fortified’ wine before and the gentleman explained that it was basically like a port (something I had heard of but once again knew nothing about). The unique process that made the wine so special, was that the grapes (in this case shiraz grapes) were left to desiccate right on the vine. It was actually pretty interesting, and Jessi admitted that she was VERY tempted to buy a bottle but she was a bit paranoid about it breaking on her travels. I don’t blame her, she was headed to Indonesia and Thailand in a few days and would be backpacking around for a month! Plus if it did break, it would completely ruin all of her clothing.
We left the estate and sat in the car, discussing what we would like to do next. By this time it was only 2:00 pm and our dinner reservation wasn’t until 4:00 pm so we had to find something to occupy our time. I was flipping through my guide book looking for inspiration when I came across a piece that I had highlighted a couple of months earlier: Huguenot Fine Chocolates (http://www.huguenotchocolates.com). It said in the book that you could book a 30 minute tour of the boutique chocolaterie which would involve a history of chocolate, demonstrations of the chocolate making process, a tasting and even some keepsake chocolates. The best part? It would only cost R40 per person (that’s $4.00 CAD)! This was definitely a tour and tasting we could ALL appreciate, so we put the address into the GPS, although it had trouble finding it but finally we followed it to Huguenot Road in Franschhoek. We drove along, searching for the chocolate shop, but eventually the area became so run down and sketchy, with questionable people lurking about that we just decided to ditch that dream and get out of Franschhoek. As we drove in the direction of Paarl, Jessi suggested we go to another winery and I was able to find a highly rated vineyard in my book that was on the way – Rhebokskloof Wine Estate (http://www.rhebokskloof.co.za).
No amount o rain could hide the beauty of this estate! The lawns were vast and sprawling with perfectly manicured lawns and shrubbery. There was a nice lake in front that had areas where you could sit and enjoy the surroundings, although with the rain we weren’t really jumping at the opportunity to do that. We moved into the main building where the wine tasting was happening and approached the receptionist. After riding horses all morning, we looked rather pitiful and probably smelled unpleasant which normally wouldn’t really be a big deal, but since we were in such a formal establishment among the ‘sophisticated types’, we felt out of place. It was also awkward to explain that Dan and I would not be tasting, “just watching” because I already look young enough without having to add more preconceived notions about my age on top of it. We were ushered to a table and given a menu of the wines for Jessi to decide the three she would like to taste. It was a bit less awkward this time and she had a better idea of the difference between the wines. Once she had finished, we kindly declined any purchasing offers and returned to the car. This would be a beautiful place for a wedding.
Apparently the winelands are known for impeccable fine dining as well and we were able to experience that firsthand. We drove off towards our dinner reservation at The Table at De Meye (http://www.thetablerestaurant.co.za), nestled in the countryside southwest of Paarl.
The reason we went to this quaint little establishment was actually because of Jessi’s parent’s neighbour’s brother. That’s right, confusing I know. The brother (Russell) owns the restaurant and we were told it was a lovely place to enjoy fine dining and since we were in the area anyway, we figured we would try it out and say hello to Russell. It was misting a bit when we arrived and so the dining was happening in a little white building instead of on the lawns (which seems to be the norm). We entered the cottage and thought we may be lost. It was a small room, probably the size of most people’s living rooms and had around 10 wooden tables set up with groups already sitting and socializing at each. The chairs were mismatched and there were little handmade centrepieces here and there. We asked one of the staff members for Russell and he came out right away to welcome us. What a lovely man! He has an intense passion when it comes to food and the dining experience and he definitely passed that excitement to us. The menu was set, and the cost was R250 per person ($25 CAD which is more than usual in SA but it was a three course meal). Russell brought Jessi a wine from the vineyard on site and we were given a lovely rose geranium cordial. I can’t really explain it, but this drink was unbelievable. We were told that a local girl had been trying to sell some perfumes and things from rose geranium extracts but with no success and then she stumbled upon the idea of making a cordial instead. I swear, if this was available in Canada, we would be serving it at the wedding, it is THAT good.
The atmosphere of this restaurant was very intimate, like being at your friend’s grandma’s house. Russell would come out and introduce the courses one by one, describing what we were being served, how it was prepared and exactly where each of the ingredients came from. Most, if not all, of the ingredients for our meal were from local sources whether it be local fields, the garden outside or a farm up the road. It was amazing! It turns out that our entree was the most memorable and delicious dish we had (for me anyway):
Our delicious appetizer, photo taken by Jessi – swiped from her instagram
It was a base of phyllo pastry, topped with whole caramelized onions, sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan and served with mixed greens. Heaven. The fancy term that Russell used was a ‘tarte tatin’ in case you would like to make one yourself. If you haven’t already noticed, I tend to not post photos of our meals. Why? Unfortunately it’s due to a certain lack of self-control. I see delicious food – I eat delicious food. I think about how nice it would be to get a photo once the deed is done. Hopefully by my next trip I will improve… I was worried that they wouldn’t have a vegetarian option since the menu was set but thankfully they did. Russell told me it was aubergine baked in a creamy tomato sauce with mixed vegetables, it was until later when I realized that aubergine was another name for eggplant! As I mentioned I did not take a photo myself, but I did find this one on the Table at De Meye’s Facebook page:
It was so tasty and fresh! Psychologically, knowing that the produce is local and organic makes the meal that much more memorable! Dan was in heaven once more with his entree of roast lamb, smashed potatoes and mixed broccoli and beans. I was starting to feel full after the starter, so you can imagine just how stuffed I was when I finished up my entree! I have never been one to waste food however, and with anything that tastes so wonderful, I shovelled it up faster than my body could register it’s capacity. And just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore, our dessert arrived. A cream puff pie with ripe blueberries and a passionfruit sauce. Did I mention how full I was? Well that certainly didn’t stop me from polishing off my dessert plate. After our gorge-fest we were all dying, partly of happiness and partly from our bursting bellies. We decided to take advantage of the beautiful property, sudden stop in rain and need for immediate exercise, by taking a stroll around the yard.
As promised, we easily found the vineyard only around 200 metres from the restaurant. The very vines that Jessi’s delicious wine had come from; it’s a great feeling seeing where your food / drink comes from! They even had a big bowl of tomatoes on the front step for anyone to take home with them if they like (which we definitely did!). We also made sure to take a photo of Jessi in front of the restaurant so she could show her parent’s neighbour, Martin.
We hit the road once more, heading back to the cottage with a sense of fulfilment and happiness that we had made the trip out to see the beauty of the winelands. No amount of bad weather could put a damper on the charm of the cape countryside.