Bryn Stephens – Bristol Bites’ wine writer – is currently out in South Africa working on the Vondeling vineyard, and will be blogging about his experiences! Read the first instalment below…
I don’t know how many of you have been to this part of the world, I can only guess. But if you have not, I implore you to come as soon as you possibly can. For all its problems (there are many and of course they are well documented) South Africa is a very important place for me. I have long attempted to find the right words to describe how this place makes me feel and what it is like to spend a time living here. I decided on two words last year that seemed to fit the bill nicely; raw and visceral. Life on the farm here is raw. Internet wasn’t installed on this side of the farm until last year, the television was still one of those fiddly aerials that you had to move millimetres at a time to find the best signal. Too far to the right and it was gone. The food is simple and hearty, no complicated sauces or fusions, just good, solid workers food. The people are hardy, welcoming and love nothing better than sitting on the stoep (veranda) with a couple of beers and a fire, watching the sun dip behind the mountains in the distance talking about nothing important until well into the night.
Which brings me neatly onto visceral. I have travelled a lot in my years so far, and I have seen some of the best scenery in the world, the majesty of the Himalayas, the bleakness of central Russia, but for some reason, being in South Africa awakens something within my soul. Some long forgotten but deep rooted part of the human psyche which tells me that I am home. And this feeling really does cut deep, and I’m not ashamed to say, brings me quite close to tears when I see those mountains and the Vondeling vineyard again. But just to say that it’s the scenery I miss is utterly insufficient. More than anything it is the people.
I arrived to 34 degree heat, a sharp but welcome change to the frosty morning I left in the UK. It was great to see Matthew the winemaker and Emile the junior winemaker again. But there was no time for big welcomes and hefty braais. Harvest had already started and I was late to the party! Three 20 ton tanks of Pinotage was already fermenting and was needing attention. Chenin, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier had already come in and were fermenting along nicely, the Sauvignon Blanc in particular was lekker (tasty).
It was a baptism of fire. I am not known for my early mornings, in fact those who know me best are very familiar with the fact that I can’t even speak before I have had my coffee, and if you try, I am not to be held responsible for my actions. But there I was, 5am on the first morning ready and raring to go. Waking up with the view I have is energising, just as any outdoor lifestyle is.
So here I sit after a week or so, reflecting on what it is to be here in this wonderful place, making wine with dedicated, passionate people. But harvest does not stop after a week. Next time I will go through the whole process from picking to tank and show you how our favourite Friday night accompaniment is made!
Cheers from sunny South Africa!!
To read more from Bryn, click here.