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Wine, lashes, elephants and MCC in the Cape Winelands

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“In 1652 Jan van Riebeeck, the founder of Cape Town wrote in his log book that a certain Jan Blanx, arquebusier on the ship, was sentenced to fall from the yard arm [a boom half way up the mast] and to receive 50 lashes for having wilfully and petulantly defied the captain…” Teddy Hall tells us the story of one of the early settlers on the Cape, standing on a street corner in Stellenbosch.

Teddy Hall is a modern “settler” in Stellenbosch. We met him on a recent wine tour of the Cape Winelands. He settled in Stellenbosch after a career in finance, hopefully less colourful than in the 17th century. Teddy is now a very successful winemaker making some of the best chenin blanc wines here. But Teddy is also a great fan of history and storyteller, so taking a walk around Stellenbosch with him makes the city come to life in a totally different manner.

An old house in Stellenbosch in Cape Dutch style, South Africa
An old house in Stellenbosch in Cape Dutch style, South Africa, copyright BKWine Photography

Today Stellenbosch, the “capital” of the Cape Wine Lands, is a very elegant town with excellent restaurants, comfortable hotels and a lively night-life. It is a good starting point when exploring the Cape wineries. But when you listen to Teddy’s stories you understand that life was very different in earlier times. A pioneer’s life. A rough life.

Teddy points across the street, at the Jan Cats restaurant. “Jan Cats, a medical practitioner, had his surgery there. Across the street, where the book shop is now was the mortuary. When people died in the surgery they used to pass them out through the windows at the middle of the night so that no one could see it. So that people would not be worried about the good doctor’s failures.”

But the horror of it does not seem so terrible when we’re standing on the street with a glass of Teddy Hall’s excellent sparkling Brut Methode Cap Classique Chardonnay in the hand.

If you come to the Cape Wine Land there are plenty of things to see in Stellenbosch. We stay at the Oude Werf hotel. It claims to be the oldest hotel in the Cap founded in 1802, well after Jan Blanx but still full of old atmosphere. A glass of rooibos tea was waiting for us when we arrived.

Vineyards and mountains in Stellenbosch, South Africa
Vineyards and mountains in Stellenbosch, South Africa, copyright BKWine Photography

From Stellenbosch you can explore many wineries. We went, for example, to Dalla Cia, where we also has an excellent home-made Italian lunch at their restaurant, and to their neighbour Stellekaya.

But we wanted go on exploring the vineyards so the next stop was Franschhoek, the French corner. This also has a long history. In 1688 176 French Hugenots arrived who had fled their home country where Protestants were violently persecuted. At that time this beautiful valley was called Olifantshoek, the Elephants’ Corner. But the elephants soon disappeared and the place changed name to Franschhoek.

Franschhoek is a famous wine region but it is actually a very small town. In a very beautiful location. On three sides you have high mountains and in the middle you have vineyards. There are several cosy guest houses and we picked one of them, La Fontaine, for our stay. It almost feels like visiting someone’s home, staying there.

Vineyards in Franschhoek
Vineyards in Franschhoek, copyright BKWine Photography

There are plenty of exciting wineries to visit here. We started at Rickety Bridge and Boekenhoutskloof. We never found the rickety bridge at Rickety Bridge but we had a fantastic time with their winemaker, Wynand Grobler. He had arranged a “wine blending workshop” for us. With three different “raw wines”, from different grape varieties, we were to make our own blend, to try our hand at the difficult art of being a wine maker. It is surprising how big a difference small changes in the blend can do.

Boekenhoutskloof is a very different affair. If Rickety Bridge makes elegant European-style wines “The B” makes full-bodied, sometimes massive, wines that impress, for example the famous Chocolate Block wine. The winery is hidden away in the far corner of the valley. Go further and you are in the wilderness. We were told that some time back they had found leopard tracks in the vineyards… But tasting their range of wines on the terrace with a view over the mountains you can feel quite safe…

A winery in Franschhoek in Cape Dutch style, South Africa
A winery in Franschhoek in Cape Dutch style, South Africa, copyright BKWine Photography

One of the things no to miss in Franschhoek is to get up on the hillside to get a view over they valley and see its beauty from above. It is not easy to get a good view but we found what is perhaps the best way to do it: Head up to the hillside Dieu Donné winery at sunset and have a drink in their garden. There is a beautiful view over the valley and of the sunset.

One great advantage of travelling in the Cape wine lands is that many of the wineries have excellent restaurants. For example, at the Spice Route winery. We arrived just before lunch. Instead of having just a “plain” aperitif we sat down to a wine and chocolate tasting cum aperitif. Very interesting to see how it works with chocolate and dry white and red wines. Although I still prefer to have my chocolate on its own the combinations were very interesting. And travelling in wine regions tasting wine is all about discovering new experiences, isn’t it?

Tasting rosé wine at Rickety Bridge Winery in Franschhoek in South Africa
Tasting rosé wine at Rickety Bridge Winery in Franschhoek in South Africa, copyright BKWine Photography

At Spice Route, in addition to the winery and restaurant, they also have their own chocolate factory. They even have a grappa distillery and a pizzeria if you want to go Italian.

So how did it go for Jan Blanx, after the 50 lashes? Well, he decided to flee to Mozambique (!) with 4 bisquits, fish, 4 swords, 2 pistols and a dog. He did not come far with that so he soon turned back. And got into more trouble, including a keelhauling. But you’ll have to ask Teddy Hall about that. Or taste a glass of his Jan Blanx Super White Cuvée. We did both!

Some links with additional information:

The Cape Winelands has a lot of attractions. The main is of course the wineries, but the landscape is spectacular, the food excellent and the people friendly. If you want to experience the Cape Winelands and its wines and food you can come on a wine tour to south Africa with BKWine. the next wine tour to South Africa is in March.

Travel to the world’s wine regions with the experts on wine and the specialist in wine tours. The unparalleled wine experience.

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