Travelling in the South African wine regions can be full of surprises at Rickety Bridge Winery
It looked very curious. The clouds were pouring over the edge of the mountain tops in the Franschhoek Valley. It looked almost like a waterfall that was falling down on us. Luckily the “waterfall” evaporated before it reached the middle of the valley where we were standing in the vineyards.
We were in a block of merlot at the Rickety Bridge Winery in Franschhoek together with Wynand Grobler, their young winemaker. It was one of our visits on a South African wine tour.
Franschhoek was once called Olifantshoek, the elephant corner, before it became the French corner. There used to be a lot of elephants here but no longer. It is more than 150 years since they disappeared. Instead of elephants grazing the land the valley is now full of vineyards, and of restaurants and the famous South African guest houses (small hotels). (There are still elephants in South Africa, that you can see e.g. on safari.)
The Franschhoek Valley is a long and narrow valley that is closed on three sides by steep mountains. It was from the top of these mountains that the curious cloud formations were pouring down on us. And it was perhaps thanks to the protection on three sides that the mountains gave them that the elephants once liked to come here. (And it was perhaps due to these mountains on three sides that they were subsequently made to disappear by the increasingly numerous humans.)
Wynand had taken us out to the vineyards to show us the almost ripe grapes. One more week and then this block of merlot should be picked.
“Taste the grapes”, said Wynand, “you’ll see that they are not quite ripe. The tannins are still a bit hard.” Perhaps they were. But to be quite honest, to me they tasted delicious. Sweet and full of fruit flavour. Harsh tannins? Hm. Well, maybe.
If anyone has ever told you that “grapes that you make wine from are not tasty to eat” then do not believe them. It is not true. They are absolutely delicious. They are much sweeter than “table” grapes and they have lots more flavours. You should try it!
Right now there was actually a pause in the picking. Some other plots of the vineyards had already been harvested and were quietly fermenting in the winery.
Or not so quietly actually, as we discovered when we went into the winery. It is not that there is a lot of noise in the winery from the fermenting wine. No, not really. There is some noise, yes. Sometimes. From pumps used for pumping over. From cooling machines that keep the fermentation vats at the correct temperature. From tools being moved around. From high pressure water to clean. Etcetera.
But the wine itself can also make some noise. There were some barrels in the winery with fermenting wine in. When I lifted the bung and put the ear to the bung hole there was a quiet whisper. I could actually hear the wine fermenting. Thousands of small bubbles rise to the surface and burst. It felt a bit like listening to the sea by putting your ear to a conch seashell. Only with the difference that the sound from the wine is not an illusion. It really does make a sound.
The last step – or actually the last but one! – of our visit at Rickety Bridge was of course a tasting.
They have an interesting and unusual range of wines. Most of them are made in “European” style, with a good structure, good tannins and not overly ripe grapes. Even their South African Pinotage has a lot of freshness. It is not always the case in pinotages. It is actually made from grapes from their vineyards in Swartland, an even hotter region. It seems to be the place to be today in the South African wine regions. There are a lot of exciting wines made in the very young wine region. (More of my tasting notes on Rickety Bridge wines.)
We had also planned to have lunch at the winery. After the tasting they had promised to arrange for a little pick-nick for us in the garden. They have a lovely small Cape Dutch-style mansion in front of which there is a green lawn with a big tree.
Perfect for some shade and perfect to put some blankets on the ground and enjoy some pick-nicky finger food and a few bottles of wine.
Or so we thought. It was not to be.
It turned out to be a rather different affair. Rickety Bridge had not planned (what I thought was) a small pick-nick in the garden. I do not know what the South Africans think of when they think of pick-nick but for me it normally does not mean a beautiful table set with white linen table cloth, comfortable chairs and kind people coming to serve you food.
But that was what awaited us in the Rickety Bridge garden. After a “very busy” morning with a vineyard walk and a winery tasting it is indeed nice to sit down and enjoy some delicious food. And to that to continue the tasting that we had just finished with some more wines. On the lawn. In the shade. Under the tree. At Rickety Bridge. In Franschhoek. In South Africa.
I was certainly not complaining!
See more pictures from a wine and food tour of South Africa and from going on safari in South Africa.
Read more on travelling in the wine regions in South Africa.
It is a special and unique experience to travel in the wine regions of South Africa. If you are in for this wine and food adventure you can joins us on one of our wine tours to South Africa.
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