Monthly Archives: April 2010

If You Thought You Knew Picnics and Pinotage…

Now that I'm wired once again, my last week in South Africa – spent in the great city of Cape Town – can be a part of Stellenbauchery, but first attention must be paid to my fabulous afternoon at Warwick Wine Estates two weeks ago. I've been a fan of Warwick's wines for about as long as I've been into South African wine, thanks to their presence in the U.S. market (arguably the strongest of any SA wine producer). In fact, I celebrated my approved SA visa a month before my departure with a bottle of Three Cape Ladies 2006, their flagship Cape blend. With Cornish hens stuffed with herbs de provence it was a luscious treat.

But perhaps even more fascinating than the wine itself is Warwick's owner and marketing director Mike Ratcliffe, who is largely responsible for Warwick's positioning as a leader in the South African wine industry and its success overseas. I was eager to pick Mike's brain during my stay in SA, so when he invited me to the winery I couldn't pass up a visit. 

 Warwick's tasting room

Warwick's marketing genius extends to the tasting experience: in a region that prides itself on an atmosphere and climate conducive to outdoor tasting, Warwick kicks it up a notch with a remarkable picnic setup. You order your picnic before, after or during your tasting, fetch it at lunchtime, and select a spot – either on the lawn where children can play on the elaborate swingset while you relax under an umbrella, out on the patio next to the exquisite tasting room, or in one of the lovely picnic "pods" which are more secluded. And if you hear "picnic" and think of a wrapped egg salad sandwich, think again: biltong pate, peppadew hummus, crusty warm baguette, camembert, and fudgy dark chocolate brownies make for an absolutely gourmet lunch. I had the pleasure of eating with Mike, and and I think he was as enthusiastic about the food as I was! Wrapped in a cute basket with a complimentary glass of wine, it's an absolutely ideal way to spend an afternoon.

 A family strolls on Warwick's picnic lawn

I was thrilled when Mike introduced me to winemaker Jozua Joubert and suggested that the three of us spend some time tasting in the cellar. I got to taste two tanks of 2010 sauvignon blanc which showed wonderful mineral characteristics and bright natural acidity; when I asked Jozua which varietal he most enjoyed experimenting with, he answered that sauvignon blanc was most fun because he could experience the results quickly enough to get a sense of what works and what doesn't. Anyone who's tried Warwick's sauv blanc knows that it's an incredibly smooth, luscious white that shows refreshingly delicate fruit flavors – definitely a unique take on a style that's often bitingly tart in this area.

 Tucked-away picnic "pods" are each named for a Warwick wine

Jozua gave me some phenomenal barrel samples including cab franc (of course), pinotage (in my opinion one of the best examples in Stellenbosch, with clean fruit, nice grip and well-integrated oak) and one of his experiments, a shiraz "Amarone" that tasted like a really sexy, chocolatey monastrell. Delicious wines all around convinced me that Warwick hasn't just perfected the outdoor tasting — they make some pretty outstanding wine as well. Pinotage in particular is a point of pride for Warwick; while many local wine farms are ambivalent about South Africa's signature grape, some shying away from its use while others using it only in Cape blends, Warwick produces an outstanding single-varietal pinotage in addition to blending it. And if all pinotage were like this one – elegant, layered, muscular, with no irritating flavors of stewiness, burnt rubber or banana flavoring, I'd say more wine farms should follow suit. I would absolutely recommend Warwick's pinotage to someone trying this finicky cultivar for the first time.

Those interested in Warwick must also check out the Vilafonte line, their collaboration with American winemaker Zelma Long. I purchased both the accessible "series m" for consumption with my friends at Blaauwklippen and the ageworthy, intense "series c" intending to bring it home to New York…but at my farewell braai bottles had a way of magically getting opened and the "m" went the way of the rest of my wine collection. Guess I'll have to make one more trip to Warwick before I leave!




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My Satellite Just Went Down

So those of you who have an interest in my survival have probably noticed that I've been off the radar for the most part in the past two weeks. I didn't get bilharzia, or get eaten by a lion, or get stampeded at the World Cup ticket line; unfortunately my situation is far less exotic. My trusty laptop has died a horribly slow and painful death characterized by a blinking folder with a question mark followed by a crash. It's so bad that the guy at the Apple Store Genius Bar choked back a tear, bowed his head and handed the computer back to me, his face etched with the agony of defeat.

Actually, he "tsk"ed sympathetically and chirped, "Looks like you need a new computer!" But I like to give Apple employees the dramatic imagery they deserve.

What this means is that for the remaining ten days of my trip I have no way of uploading photos and scant internet access. But stay tuned. As soon as I'm back in the States I will be posting on:

*My wonderful visit to Warwick Wine Estates, where I hung out with marketing whiz Mike Ratcliffe and winemaker Jozua Joubert

*My adventure in Cape Town which included skinnydipping in the Atlantic, Ultimate Frisbee, chameleons, Ethiopian cuisine, and a marvelous invention called ProNutro

*All the other fun stuff going on during my last few days here – and of course, what wine and beer accompanied it!

Pray for someone to steal my damaged-goods laptop so I can get the insurance coverage! Cheers!

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Race Relations Part II: Three Months In

This weekend I had an encounter with one of the
not-so-glamorous aspects of life in South Africa: deep social divides that
aren’t going away any time soon and threaten to destroy the peace South
Africa’s been working to build for years. Eugene Terre’Blanche, one of the most
notorious voices for reinstating apartheid and creating a separate Afrikaner
state, was beaten to death in his home on the night before Easter by two young
employees after an alleged wage dispute. Terre’Blanche was a terrifying character,
a man who sought a South Africa emptied of non-whites except as guest workers,
who might be compared to a Ku Klux Klan leader in the American 1950s.
Considering the fact that he served three years in prison for attempting to
murder a black security guard and assaulting a black gas-station employee, you
might say Terre’Blanche deserved what he got, in an eye-for-an-eye sort of way.
This comes on the heels of a recent controversy surrounding ANC Youth League
president Julius Malema, whose performance of an apartheid-era song containing
the phrase “Kill the Boer!” has been accused of inciting racial tensions. The
media was quick to associate the Terre’Blanche murder with Malema and the song.


As I followed the topic on Twitter Easter morning,  it seemed the most common sentiments
ranged from flat-out celebration of the murder to some version of “no one
deserves to die, but in this case…” The concern now is, of course, not
Terre’Blanche himself, but the fear of backlash from white South Africans who
are increasingly afraid of persecution in the land they so recently ruled.
There’s growing fear among whites here that amidst black empowerment
initiatives and affirmative action, the 10% of South Africa’s population with
European ancestry will gradually lose jobs, land and the quality of life
they’ve enjoyed for so long. Here’s a good news feature on poor whites in South
Africa, which is a good place to start if you want to understand what we’re
dealing with here these days:


 Poor Whites in Africa

I’ve heard many Afrikaners talk about “reverse apartheid” –
the concern that in attempts to bend over backwards to rectify former
persecution against non-whites, Afrikaners will lose their cultural identity
and even their standard of living in the process. “This black government is
totally against us, and crime is worse than ever now,” one Afrikaner student
told me. A middle-aged Afrikaner lamented, “We should be able to celebrate our
culture without being punished.” On the other hand, I spoke to a young South
African of Indian descent, visiting from Durban, who had no sympathy for
Afrikaners: “These are people who make up ten percent of the population and are
used to running the country, getting all the opportunities – they’ve been on
easy street for decades, and now suddenly they have to compete. Of course
they’re complaining.”

  Newly-planted trees provide a barrier between tourists and the village behind the farm; from this point you can only see the security fence which separates Blaauwklippen from an entirely separate South Africa

In the meantime, I’m living on a wine farm where tourists
from all over the world come to spend money, eat fancy food, and take carriage
rides, while right across the fence from the vineyard-worker house I share with
my roommates is a “village” (a euphemism for a township – a formerly designated
area for non-whites during apartheid) in which several hundred coloured and
black families, including many of my co-workers, live in makeshift shacks
without electricity or running water. I spent some time in the village last
weekend and was shocked at the feeling that as the winery security guard opened
the gate and let me through, I was walking into another world. Despite the
extreme poverty, I found a sense of life, warmth and friendliness unlike
anything I’d ever experienced; there was music coming from a local shebeen and
I was greeted by name with smiles from those I knew. Kids running around
pants-less did a double take when they saw me, then continued their games,
while my friend Eleanor greeted friends with a hug and three different
languages at once. It was another universe from South Africa’s cold, spotless
subdivisions and sterile strip-malls with two-story security gates and armed
guards, and though I left wanting to spend more time in the village, the
incredible poverty was a very real reminder of the massive social divisions
that persist here.


It’s enough to make you feel like South Africa is a ticking
time bomb.


Except I don’t get that feeling. For all the racial and
social tension the Terre’Blanche murder represents, the overwhelming reaction
I’ve found seen all over the race spectrum is that a horrible man met a horrible
end, and though his murder was wrong, South Africa is a better place without
him in it.


I leave you with a video of an interview of Terre’Blanche by
Louis Theroux, in case you weren’t previously aware of this guy and want an
idea of what he stood for.


Louis Theroux Meets Boer Leader


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