A couple weekends back I participated in an interesting experiment run by the folks in charge of the Great Wine Capitals (GWC) network here in South Africa. The short version of the story is that GWC is a network set up to promote wine tourism – a worthy cause in my mind. Each year they run a competition aimed at assessing the Best In Wine Tourism; local entrants from each of the wine capitals are judged and the finalists from each capital are pitted against one another to receive the awards. As part of an effort to increase awareness of the campaign and also to assess the potential of including public opinion in the process of selecting the finalists to represent Cape Town, a bunch of local online junkies (bloggers/twitterers/etc) were invited out for a day in the winelands. To find out more I recommend you check out their website (link above) or the more informative post by fellow blogger Harry Haddon that goes into much more detail than I care to.
So onto our day… which started out at Seidelberg – quite a change for me as this is a farm I generally only visit once I’ve been to a few others already and when I’m more interested in drinking than tasting. Sadly, even when given this opportunity to assuage my uncontaminated palate they failed to impress. The hostess whilst knowledgeable failed to gauge the knowledge of her guests and any attempted interruption or interjected question to set her on track was barely noticed as she rattled off all the “correct” things to say. As for the wines, they also failed to impress. The whites were either flat or flabby and the reds all had this common trait – that I can’t put my finger on – that put me off. Terroir? Wine-making artefact? I’ve got no idea.
Next up was Plaisir de Merle, the flagship estate of industry giant Distell, where the quality of wine definitely took a big step up and the price even more so. The tasting room smacks of old-school elegance and our tasting assistant, Jackie, was fantastic… whilst we had her full attention. She delighted in regaling stories relating to the farm and wines and it was only at the end, when there were other customers that she stumbled a little leaving us to pour our own tastings of their flagship Grand Plaisir – with no complaint from me… in fact I wish more winemakers/assistants would leave me alone with a bottle of their good stuff! The “Taste Sensation” tasting, a pairing of 6 wines coupled with some morsels of food, was nice but as an entrant in the Innovative Wine Tourism Experiences category I didn’t see anything there that would have them posing much threat to other entrants to this category.
Continuing down the road a way, our next stop was L’Ormarins: home of Anthonij Rupert wines, the Terra Del Capo range of wines, a car museum replete with 1000 cars that are rotated on a regular basis and an art collection that will apparently get your juices flowing. L’Ormarins was where it got really difficult for me… This was admittedly the first time I’ve actually done a tasting there as it’s a long process: you wait in the reception area and they fetch you in a fancy minibus, and then drive you to and from the tasting centre further up the road. The wines were great, the tasting excellent and the farm, and all the old buildings, outstandingly beautiful, even on a wet winter’s day. But I struggled to slow down, appreciate the experience and could never break from my desire to get the tasting over and done with and move on asap. That said, the point of the exercise was to evaluate the offering from a tourism standpoint and when looking through those rose eyed goggles I could not fault them.
As soon as our limo had brought us down the hill we headed back onto the Paarl route towards our half-way point - Backsberg. As an entrant in the category for “Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices”, Backsberg would definitely get my vote – whilst they may not be completely on the organic/biodynamic bandwagon they definitely lead the pack when it comes to sustainable practices in this country. As SA’s first, and as far as I know still the only, carbon neutral winery they have a firm belief in ensuring that sustainability is considered in everything they do be it environmental, business and/or community based. Oh and it doesn’t hurt that their wine tastes great and offers superb value, regardless of price point. On this visit I was especially pleased to be able to taste their latest release 0f the Babylons Toren White and Red blends which had me salivating for more.
Moving on a little further down the road we arrived at Glen Carlou - an entrant into the Art & Culture and Wine Tourism Restaurants categories. Not knowing anything about art I’ll reserve my opinion there, but I did take a quick gander through the gallery and was definitely intrigued. But of course, we were there for lunch and they certainly impressed there… A kudu carpaccio starter left me drooling for my main course – a mouthwateringly (yes I just made up a new word there) delicious rack of Karoo lamb which didn’t disappoint either. It was also great to be able to sit through a full tasting of their wines, presented wonderfully by the tasting room manager Georgie, whilst enjoying our meals. And so it was that time somehow slipped away from us and we ended up spending a good couple hours there.
We arrived at the final farm, Delheim, rather late – 15mins before closing – and I was almost expecting to be denied the opportunity but too their credit they welcomed us in, sat us down for a tasting and did not– again against my expectations – hurry us to taste and leave. Unfortunately though the tasting assistant was understandably rather busy cleaning up, cashing up and generally getting ready to get the hell out of there so I didn’t get to explore their entry into the sustainability category but the farm certainly has a wealth of history in these matters including being a founding member of what has become the Greater Simonsberg Conservancy. I guess, I’ll just have to go back there at some point to find out more.
Sadly folks that’s where our day was wrapped up. It was definitely a most entertaining day and quite a mindset shift for me to actually try looking through the eyes of a tourist, and a judge – never before have I really considered whether there was adequate signage and/or parking and whether or not the seating was comfortable. I’m there for the wine. But I have to admit that there is a certain wonder in slowing down, and truly appreciating the beauty and wonder of this outstandingly beautiful region we are so privileged to live in. So next time you’re out on the routes, hurrying your way through in an attempt to hit the top spot on spitorswallow why not stop, look around, take a deep breath and be glad that you’re in some of the most beautiful winelands in the world.