Stellenbosch On A Shoestring
What do you do when you find yourself driving through the leafy town of Stellenbosch? You suddenly slam on breaks…and make sure you spend the entire day there. That’s my honest advice, right there. If possible…. never leave! What more could you possibly want than mountainous views, a rich diversity of fauna and flora and vineyards that give one the illusion of being in the heart of Tuscany? Stellenbosch is home to more than 200 wine and grape producers. It’s a culinary and cultural cornucopia. (We all know how much I love both!)
Let me digress and tell you how my being in Stellenbosch came about…While flipping through the in-flight magazine en route to the Western Cape, an article about the ‘The Grain Debate’ caught my eye. Relax, I am not going to bore you with the nitty gritty of grains in this post… but, I will say, it was a fascinating and informative read. In it, Frits Schoon, the owner of Schoon De Companje, Stellenbosch artisan eatery, spoke about the process of ancient grains. His interview was convincing enough to get me to drive to Stellenbosch from Cape Town and go and visit his establishment, home to Freshly Baked Breads & delicate pastries, artisan ice cream, fresh organic produce & dairy, coffee roastery & juice bar, boutique wine shop, local brews on tap, Indian imported furniture and flowers. Schoon means beautiful in Dutch. It is a fitting description for this ‘beautiful’ artisanal collaboration.
The much-welcomed aromas of arabica beans being roasted greeted me as soon as I walked into Schoon de Companje. This was almost serendipitous for someone who was eagerly awaiting her first morning cup of coffee! Breakfast was a tough choice to make, as there were so many delectable options from which to choose. I opted for the homemade granola. No, I’m just kidding. I couldn’t resist ordering their freshly baked wood fire oven bread. My wooden plate arrived with two pieces of Schoon Sourdough as big as shoes. This signature loaf apparently goes through a three-day process to make. Well, I just about needed three days to finish a serving of such magnitude. I ordered mine with Honest chocolate spread…now, close your eyes for a moment, and imagine warm and rustic bread that has soaked up the chocolate spread… I can honestly say that it was the best chocolate spread that I have ever tasted! (There are several spreads from which to choose, ranging from homemade peanut butter, brie superlative, slow roasted tomatoes, shiitake mushroom pesto to olive marmalade, to name only a few). Schoon de Companje is found at 7 Church street, Stellenbosch. contact [email protected] or +27 21 883 2187.
After the sumptuous, yet affordable, serving of Pain de Vie, I was suitably carbo-loaded for a wine-tasting marathon along with two other friends.
This little adventure provided me with enough hilarious tales and haphazard experiences for a lifetime! So, I have compiled a list of the ‘best of’ my experiences as well as the ‘best avoided’ ones. I speak from experience here. Rather learn from my mistakes:
Start the day off early; you will want to get the most out of your day (especially if you are wanting to make your way through as many of the 200 wine farms as you can – which I would not recommend, by the way!!!) I wouldn’t suggest visiting more than three to four wine farms per day. This allows you to properly soak up the experience. (And the wine).
If you are not accustomed to the Southern hemispheres summer sun, and even if you are, pack a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen and be sure to take a water bottle along. One can easily get dehydrated – wine and the summer heat are not a good combination!
I highly recommend using Uber cab services. Especially, when your friend’s mint green 1980 Ford escort looses its hipster factor and decides to break down in 38c heat at your very first wine stop! Maybe, it wasn’t such a bad thing after all, as it’s never cool to drink and drive!
The magenta bougainvillaea creeping up the Cape Dutch buildings and the views of the mountains are a great backdrop for a wine tasting at the Peter Falke Winery. Needless to say, we made it our first stop. The fact that they served olives and an assortment of nuts, as a complimentary snack, didn’t hurt either!
Our second stop was at the Waterford Estate. Nestled in the Blauuwklippen valley, Waterford is a calming experience. This stunning vineyard has wine drives well worth booking. Nothing says, “Move over Karin Blixen, I’M in Africa” more than a drive though these sprawling wine lands. The 120-hectare property is home to citrus groves, rolling lawns, water features and fragrant lavender beds. I struggle to resist a good dry rose or blanc de noir, so I succumbed to the delicious notes of Waterford’s Rose wine, ‘Rose Mary’, and, also bought some as a memento to take home with me.
Waterford Estate, offers a tasting of dark and milk chocolates paired with the winery’s shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and natural sweet wines… So, if wine and chocolate are your vices… This is for you.
Our final wine farm for the day was Guardian Peak. If views are you thing, you definitely won’t want to miss this vineyard. Wine Tasting Mon to Sun 08h00 – 17h00. Lunch Mon to Sun 12:00 – 15:30. Dinner Wed to Sat 18:30 – 22:00. If time permits, enjoy a meal at their restaurant. Unfortunately, we arrived between their meal serving times, which meant that we were unable to enjoy a late lunch. We may or may not have snuck in to the vineyard and tasted some grapes straight off the vine….
Despite the ample breakfast of earlier in the day and the complimentary snacks, the ratio of food to wine started losing some ground! It was also getting late, and we needed to head back home. With my friend’s car still not showing any signs of life, we decided to take a peak hour train back to Cape Town…. On an empty stomach. This resulted in hilarious memories for the books, with each of us buying and scoffing three packets of Nik Naks (BRIGHT orange cheesy corn chips) at R1.20 each from a local vendor hoping to make a quick buck. Quite a come down from the opulence of earlier in the day! I would also like to mention that the train had no door. Just a gaping hole with vineyards whizzing by. This is especially treacherous when one has been on a wine tasting extravaganza. So for safeties sake… rather call a taxi cab. Taking the train however did keep costs down.
So, contrary to popular belief, one is able to enjoy Stellenbosch on a shoestring.
A highlight for me, was having a good friend of mine, Kristen, join me in Stellenbosch. She is currently studying her Msc in wine business in Dijon, France. She gave me some helpful tips when approaching wine tasting. I’ll be sharing these tips in my next post.