Monthly Archives: June 2014

Stellenbosch: First Impressions Part I (lots of photos)

As I mentioned before, Nina and I have been spending last week in Stellenbosch as guests of Stellenbosch Wine Routes. Needless to say, we had a fantastic time and there will be plenty of posts coming up over the next weeks dealing with every aspect of it in more depth, but for now I just wanted to share first impressions by photos.

Stellenbosch is what appears to be the pinnacle of South Africa’s Cape Province’s wine growing (I only say appears because we haven’t had a chance to try any other wines…and what we tried was outstanding!). Situated gorgeously along a range of mountains, most notably the Simonsberg, Stellenbosch is a bustling university town that developed from a Dutch settlement in the 1700s. Even if you have seen photos of the landscape, nothing prepares you for how stunning the mountains are in real life.

We came to explore the wines of Stellenbosch, most notably its Pinotage, but we soon realized, as is all too often the case when it comes to wine regions, the true stars of Stellenbosch are its people: From the cellar aide to the venerated winery owner, from the hostess at restaurants to the bus boys, everyone was so friendly. I wrote why I love Southern Africa in my previous post, and Stellenbosch seemed to be on a mission to prove me right – and more.

We did our fair share of wine tastings, ate fantastic food, and stayed in beautiful hotels, we met interesting and warm people, and we were treated like family everywhere. How blessed (there, Tracy, I said it!) are we really?

But let’s not get too sentimental, so, without further ado, this is the first part of just some photo impressions of our time in Stellenbosch. Installment two will follow soon…also, I realized during this trip how insanely inadequate my photo taking skills truly are, so forgive my amateurism.

Our suite at Majeka House, a beautiful boutique hotel just south of town in the aptly named quarter Paradyskloof.

Majeka House

As we got back to our room from a swim, the sun was just setting.

Sunset at Majeka House

A 2001 Straw Wine made from Chenin blanc (yes, what looks like stale Coke was made from a white grape) served during dinner at the excellent Makaron Restaurant. My first of many seriously impressive Chenin blancs.

2001 Straw Wine

We were alone in the restaurant that night (it’s low season here), so we had lots of time to bond with the sommelier, Esme.

Nina and Esme at Majeka House

We woke up to this vista on Tuesday morning.

Sunrise at Majeka House

Breakfast at Majeka House with Annareth Bolton, the CEO of Stellenbosch Wine Routes, that set us off on our journey. Annareth immediately made us feel part of this awesome community.

With Annareth Bolton

We headed off to L’Avenir winery in the morning, where winemaker Dirk took us on a vineyard tour first.

In the vineyards at L'Avenir

More vineyards at L’Avenir.

Vineyards at L'Avenir

After that, Dirk took us on a barrel tasting in his cellars, where we tasted the different barrels and their influence on the batches that go into their Pinotage. This barrel, however, contains a Chenin blanc in Acacia wood. A freaky crazy pine needle and honey flavored batch.

Barrel tasting at L'Avenir

From L’Avenir we headed to Warwick, where winemaker Nic treated us to tapas, great wines, and we got to hang out with a beads Madiba.

Paying our respects to Madiba at Warwick

After Warwick, we did the few minutes drive to Kanonkop, where winemaker Aabrie was awaiting us with a vertical Pinotage tasting from 1999-2012 in their treasure chamber. Nina clearly was in awe. We hit it off and stayed way after the estate’s closing time.

Vertical at Kanonkop

From there, we checked in at Evergreen Manor and Spa, a wonderfully preserved Stellenbosch villa in the university area of town.

Evergreen Manor

Dinner was served at Tokara Restaurant which during daylight offers stunning views over Stellenbosch all the way to Cape Town. Try to be there for sunset. The chef serves outstanding, creative food. This is a “Baked Alaska” (a typical dessert, I am told) as a starter, with Alaskan salmon, ice cream and a citrus relish.

Dinner at Tokara

The next morning, we had a tasting at Stellekaya with the winemaker Ntsiki, who had been down with a flu the day before but she hurled herself out of bed to present her intriguing line of accessible wines, some of which contain Sangiovese which adds a cool twist to the standard Cape blends.

With winemaker at Stellekaya

More to follow soon…

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What it means to me to be back in Southern Africa

These last nine days, Nina and I traveled around 3,600 kilometers (a bit over 2,300 miles) throughout Southern Africa. We started our journey by arriving in Johannesburg, moved on to Gaborone (Botswana’s capital, where we met), then an 11 hour drive to Windhoek (Namibia’s capital, beating Google Maps’ 14 hour forecast). From there we moved on to Swakopmund at the coast, and then down to Stellenbosch where we currently are for the next couple of days. We’ll be enjoying wines and meetings with winemakers, what promises to be excellent food (we haven’t had a chance to try any of it), all with the generous support of Stellenbosch Wine Routes, who are hosting us for the next few days.

Credit: Google Maps

Credit: Google Maps

Southern Africa has played a major part in our lives and in our life together. It was in Botswana that Nina and I first met, at a sports bar called Linga Longa (yes, it was really called that!). We were both watching the Euro (Europe’s equivalent to the World Cup) in 2008, and during one of the matches I had the audacity to sit down right in Nina’s view of the screen. Lucky for me, I realized it and apologized. That seems to have been enough to get her to talk to me…during the Germany – Portugal game was when we had our first real conversation….Shortly after my return to Germany we decided to give us a chance, and we haven’t regretted it since.

Back at Linga Longa, Botswana

Back at Linga Longa, Botswana

We decided to go back this summer. I liked to point out before the trip that this must be a sure way to ruin your relationship: Returning to the place you met, when everything was still up in the air, and our love was only barely unfolding. When everything was just AWESOME. Now, we have all that “relationship baggage”, you get what I mean. I said it in jest, and nothing could be clearer now: It has not harmed us a bit. We had a blast in Gabs, going back to Linga Longa where we watched Germany play Portugal (just like in 2008, and Germany won again!). We went to the Beef Baron, easily Botswana’s most reputable steak house which serves insanely delicious steak. We revisited places of our past, and while it seemed strange at times, it always was strange in a good way.

Being sandblasted in the Namib Desert

Being sandblasted in the Namib Desert

We have done our fair share of traveling in Southern and Eastern Africa, and I think it is fair to say that we feel most at home in Southern Africa. The people are so friendly, and once you get used to Africa Time (which I HIGHLY recommend: Don’t stress out about delays or waiting periods, it’s a way of life, and there is no real harm in it) and accept that Southern Africa is a talking culture in which it matters that you greet each other, exchange pleasantries and don’t immediately demand things, there will be no better place on earth to help you relax. The light in the morning and evening is just stunning, the wide African sky spans its wings above you, in desolate areas you actually SEE the Milky Way, the wildlife. Just stunning.

On the Trans Kalahari Highway, somewhere in the Kalahari, early in the morning.

On the Trans Kalahari Highway, somewhere in the Kalahari, early in the morning.

Southern Africa offers us a feeling of home, be it in Botswana or Namibia or now in South Africa. We have met great people along the way, everyone is ready to help, assist, move us along. We are actively contemplating spending a half year or so in the region, to work, but to also live here. It’s been a great homecoming for us, and having been able to add Namibia to our ever expanding list of countries we have to revisit has been an added bonus. You won’t believe the diversity in these virtually empty stretches of land (Namibia is the size of Alaska with 2.2 million inhabitants, and Botswana is the size of France but has only about 2 million inhabitants). While the distances may sound intimidating, the roads are in great condition. If you ever consider traveling the region I highly recommend you drive as much as you can so that you can see more of the countryside.  No need for a guide or driver or a 4×4. We have been driving a Hyundai i10 (a teeny tiny car) without a problem at all. Feel free to contact me whenever you contemplate a trip, we have a ton of tips and advice!

We are now facing four days in the good hands of Stellenbosch Wine Routes. We are super excited the time has come for this part of the trip, and we’ll share about it as much as we can! Our first stop is Majeka House, a wonderful boutique hotel just a bit South of Stellenbosch. We’ll write more about it in a bit, but suffice it to say, it feels great to be here.

Oh, and it turns out there is already a town named after Nina in Namibia….one less thing to worry about.

Nina at the place that is surely named after her.

Nina at the place that is surely named after her.

 

 

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Repost: Savanna Dry – my not so secret cider love

We are currently in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, and just returned from Swakopmund on the Atlantic. Tomorrow we are headed as far south as possible before it gets dark on our way to Stellenbosch. Being back in Southern Africa, an area of the world that I love dearly, I am also drinking a bunch of Savanna Dry again, a cider made in South Africa. It’s one of my favorite ciders, and I wrote a paean to it in October 2012, and have decided to repost it here:

South African Savanna Dry Premium Cider

South African Savanna Dry Premium Cider

 

I like to think that I discovered Savanna Dry ciders during my time in Botswana, because it would be nice to connect this discovery with my other two discoveries there (the other two being Pinotage and Nina). But that is not true. I actually first got exposed to it in 2005, when my ex brought some from a three month stint during her legal training in Stellenbosch…but I digress.

After my return from Botswana, I began looking for sources for it in Germany, and I was lucky. There was a guy who selling it (Germans, you can find his website here)! I admit, it is not cheap, but there hardly is anything like it to get that Southern Africa feeling back into my daily life. So, while Nina and I were living in Germany, we would usually have a box in our house, rationing ourselves in order not to overspend. But for our wedding celebration, we actually bought a couple of boxes to serve while people arrived at the venue…in the spirit of our relationship’s roots.

Here in the US, I have not seen it in stores, and online sellers here seem to be happy to completely overcharge their customers on shipping, so I give that a pass (the insanely high shipping and handling prices here will have to wait for a rant in a seperate post). So, when a friend of mine came to visit us from London this spring and asked what he could bring, I told him Savanna Dry. And he did bring two bottles, big bottles even (500 ml instead of the usual 330 ml)! We had one in the summer, and it was time to have this one the other night…leave aside all the emotional connections with it for me personally, and the first thing you notice is the awesome branding. I LOVE the label and the fact that they bottle it in clear glass, so the cider gives the label its appropriate background.

Savanna Dry is, as the name indicates, a dry cider (the company’s slogan is: “It’s dry but you can drink it.”). The color reminds me of the soft, warm sunlight of an afternoon in southern Africa. Its bubbles are never offensive, and it has this strong and great taste of yellow apples with a bit of tartness, sometimes it even reminds me of biting a bit too deep into the apple and getting the coarser inner bits that surround the kernels, which in this case is not offensive. The company website says it is made from apples in Elgin region in Western Cape province of South Africa. At 5.5% to 6% ABV it is just right for warm summer nights, but also when it gets colder. I like to throw in a slice of lemon for just the right punch of acidity and, I swear, I feel like I am back in Bots … where life is so much more pleasantly slow.

If you get a chance to try it, please do so! You can check out their website here.

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