Posted by: Anna | February 9, 2011

Wine, Wine and More Wine

I love the wine country! I love to visit wineries, enjoy the scenery (always beautiful at wineries), and taste the wine. I like the silly explanations they give you to appreciate the wine – this wine has hints of green peppers and cassis (mind you, those things are not good together…).

We spent our first day in the South African wine country, around Stellenbosch, and it was all I had hoped and more. The scenery is absolutely amazing. As you drive, each curve in the road reveals dramatic rocky mountains, surrounded by acres and acres of green vineyards. Since it is summer here, the grapes are almost fully ripened. Harvest is starting at some wineries now, and will continue for another six weeks or so, depending on the winemaker’s decision and the vineyard location.

We headed out without a plan, so we just stopped at signs for wineries along the road. There are literally hundreds. I wish I had researched them and carefully selected the ones I want to visit, but traveling as much as we do, and with internet as limited as it is here, it’s really hard to do that. And I didn’t. I don’t know if we visited the best ones, whatever that means, but I had a wonderful time, and Tommy was a patient driver.

Our first winery was clearly a larger operation, fully organized for tourists – Spier. It is somewhere that South Africans frown upon for its commercialism and polish. However, it was a nice introduction, and the advantage to commercialism and polish is well, polish. Also, I really liked their Shiraz. And, entrepreneur-mind that I have, I don’t hold it against a business if I can tell they are making money. I just respect them for it. Anyway, enough soap box, more wine. For the tasting, we were seated in a lovely garden with vines growing overhead. The wine is so affordable here, with most bottles being less than $10, and the “higher end” are around $20 – $30. However, we inquired about shipping to the US, and no go. The customs charges on each bottle are $30 – on a $5 bottle! Ridiculous.

Tasting the Shiraz at Spier...happy Anna!

We hopped back in the car and continued down the road about five minutes. The second winery, Delaire, offered a stunning view and a luxurious atmosphere. Walking into the wine tasting area / restaurant was like entering a 5-star hotel. They seat you at a private table overlooking the vineyards and the mountains. A waiter serves you, and ours offered additional nice scenery, in my opinion, along with a cute South African accent. Tommy was less convinced. The wine here was delicious, but the views were the real star of the experience. Enjoying the view and the delicious wine was one of those moments to remember in life – you know the one – where you take a moment from the barrage of thoughts roaming your head, propelling you on to the next thing, planning your next move, and just look. For me, this was a great moment to just be alive, and to appreciate the amazing natural beauty of the world and the bounty of the earth.

Here's the view we enjoyed while tasting. Not bad.

Of course, being me – always on the go, with a brain in constant forward motion and a bias toward doing, I wanted to continue to have that feeling, so I wanted to do more of what allowed me to stop and be truly present – visit wineries. I misconstrued the feeling as one related to winery visiting, when now, upon reflection, I realize that I can create moments of appreciation intentionally, almost anywhere. It’s not the scenery that counts – it’s the awareness. One of the blessings of traveling for so long is the myriad opportunities to get to know myself better in different circumstances, and to find the circumstances that allow me to be my best version.

Other than the generic, and true, answer that I love to travel, a significant motivation for me to leave my normal life for a year was the chance to become more myself. It is almost like taking home a new piece of art and displaying it against different backdrops to evaluate where it fits – where do I fit? As I see myself against different backdrops, and experience ridiculous inconveniences, remove my normal supports and brainless habits, I can see myself more clearly. The moments of being are, for me, the biggest gift of our trip so far. Finding time to be, to be open to the full experience and emotions of life, is a challenge for me at home. Building my skill at being present is something I’ve been working on while we travel.

We continued on, and stopped at a boutique winery owned by a young South African entrepreneur. He had been a sports agent, then had two daughters and didn’t want to raise them in big city, hustle bustle Jo’berg. So he bought a winery and started making wine instead, or something like that. Certainly not a path available to most people, but also a path not taken by many people who could. In a way, I can relate to him – he chose to do something unusual with his opportunity, to make the most of it as he understood it for himself. One series of his wines raise money for an orphanage here, and others have his daughter’s hand-prints engraved on the label, or his wife’s kiss mark.

We visited another winery after that, with a big beautiful garden to enjoy during the tasting. It was just the icing on the cake of a very “Anna” day. I am so lucky to have a sweet partner willing to share in my joy at visiting wineries and drive me around so I can do it safely. He always wants to read the tasting sheet, with the notes about the wine – and pick out the most ridiculous of the descriptions….toasty cedar? new leather? He recommends which wines I should select for tastig based on the level of ridiculous in the description. When they come, even though he doesn’t drink wine, he “noses” them, then usually makes a disgusted face and hands it over. Somehow, it’s rather endearing.

And thank goodness Tommy is patient because we kept visiting more and more wineries. I think we made it to around 20 all told, but not all in one day. I also did some port tasting – including pink port, which they suggest you serve over crushed ice as an apertif. It actually wasn’t bad.

Trying to decide which to many options!

After a few days of visiting wineries on my own, I finally had a friend to taste with – our friend Anita from Jo’burg. She was a great tasting buddy, recommending some of her favorite wineries and providing a knowledgeable discussion partner for me. Much more fun that way! I want to try to paint a picture of the last winery I visited, with Anita.

We arrived about 15 minutes before closing on a Sunday at one last winery. We know nothing about it; we just stopped because we saw the sign on the road and decided to check it out. The grounds were beautiful, lush, a bit disorganized. We walked into this charming room that looks as if it has not been disturbed, or even dusted, since about 1713. The winery was founded in the late 1600s, so this is possible. The tasting room has a somehow charming Mrs. Haversham feel to it – cobwebs, paintings, a piano…and of course, many bottles of wine.

Behind the counter are two people working, a harried and grumpy waitress, and a 22 year old man who fancies himself quite the smart wine-tasting hipster. He has an air of thinking he is slightly too cool for all of this, and yet, he’s so young, it’s comical. The waitress is constantly erupting in strings of expletives and disgust over the fact that she cannot close her register correctly. She interrupts Mr. Cool, who is giving us an elaborate wine schpeel with the seriousness of a professor, to insist he probably screwed up the money collection, only after a brief discussion, some eye rolling from both, to determine they will just lie to close the till correctly. The owners children wander in, slipping ice down the back of a third, laid back worker we’ve hardly even noticed. He yelps, and runs after the child, while Mr. Cool gives us another eye roll and threatens to kill them all. Anita (our friend), all calm and collected, manages to continue a dialogue with Mr. Cool about which wineries are worth visiting, and which are not. Somehow, after all the polish and flash of some of the wineries, the humanity of this place left me with a warm memory.

Of course, now I’m fantasizing about having my own winery when I get back – then this could be a business trip, and I could live amongst this beauty every day. Would I survive as a farmer?

Sometimes the drive is a big part of the destination, especially when it looks like this.

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  1. Twenty wineries! The wine country sounds fantastic and I agree that wineries are always beautiful even the ones in surprising locations like New Mexico or Texas. Wish I could have Tommy too as a DD.

  2. So nice to hear of your travels in wine country of South Africa. It reminds me of a long ago trip to Napa. Its so nice just to move to each winery and just get such a different feel from each. They each had their own character, and sounds similar there – yes it’s a day (or days) of relaxed contentment.

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