South African Adventure – Journey’s End Vineyards

For four weeks, I am here in South Africa learning all I can about the ins and outs of winemaking, daily chores in the cellar and picking fruit in the vineyards. You never know what will happen in the cellar on any given day or what surprises may await you!

After moving free run Chardonnay into the tank, press wine went into a different tank. After 7 presses and four different tanks, the press wine has been combined into one and we are now ready to start fermentation on the free run juice. The juice looks amazing. And it can only be amazing with good quality grapes, and the Chardonnay grapes this year are beautiful. All of this makes winemaker Mike Dawson very happy and he’s predicting the wine from vintage 2018 will be even better than vintage 2017. You add enzyme and the least amount of sulphur to ‘help’ the grapes along. Some of this was my job.

This winemaking can be a precarious business. Inoculation can occur in the wrong tanks, wine can be moved wrongly from one tank to another, readings can be misinterpreted, wrong amounts of enzyme or sulphur can be mixed…oi, the possibilities are endless for errors. So, in the end, when the winemaker asks me to do something, I am triple checking to ensure it’s done right! Far be it from me to ruin 3 or 5 or 10,000 L of wine! I certainly don’t want to be responsible for that!

There are also hoses, pump machines, a destemming machine, grape conveyor belt and countless water tubs all over the cellar for which you need to be careful you don’t trip over! I have a large bump on my leg to prove it! All this to say, this is only the introduction to Journey’s End. Next week, the Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc will be picked – another new experience! After racking, the lees draining from the bottom of the tank.

So after another two weeks here in South Africa, I’ve been able to experience so much more at the cellar, both the good and the bad. Being able to take daily ballings (in short, taking sugar and temperature readings to ensure fermentation is indeed happening)has been nothing short of ‘super cool’. To see the yeast doing its job, along with a few nutrients; the fermentation bubbling inside the barrel, to smell the CO2 and cough when I can’t seem to get the siphon to work…it’s all part of the experience that I have had here that will rival no other. I love that the winemaker has enough trust in me to do this for him.

And just this past week, I tasted the lineup of Journey’s End wines that the winery makes, only to be thrilled, pleasantly surprised, and truthfully, for a very few, disappointed. I took it very seriously, imparting my WSET tasting skill set to taste and write some serious notes.

I have one week left to learn all I can, and (hopefully) get in on some RED wine harvest! It’s totally different and I want to be a part of it! White grapes are one thing, but red grapes? I want to do pump overs, i want to see skin contact, and I want to go home with hands that are so red and stained that people think I have a disease. I have loved being here at Journey’s End, truly a gift to learn from everyone and to have (hopefully) made lifelong friendships in the process. I look forward to when I can return again, this time for longer perhaps, and even bring my husband or the rest of the family! Gesondheid!

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South African Adventure – The Story of Creation

No, not that Creation, but rather the winery in Hermanus known as Creation. This place must be doing something right as it was extremely busy with people waiting under the umbrellas outside in the wind to get in to have their food and wine pairings. Known for their art of food and wine pairing and the use of Reidel glassware, Creation has made a name for itself on the South Africa wine scene.

Located in the Hemel en Arrde ridge, in the Walker Bay appellation, this little slice of paradise called Creation, was founded by JC and Carolyn Martin. Aptly named, Hemel en Arrde is Afrikaans for ‘Heaven on Earth’. JC Martin hails from Switzerland where it was always his dream to become a winemaker. Carolyn grew up in the wine industry in South Africa where her father, Walter Finlayson, put both Blaauwklippen, then Glen Carlou on the wine map. Their dream became a reality with much hard work and dedication, turning a piece of property with no running water or cell service initially, to a world class facility where visitors come in droves. The scenery is gorgeous, the staff friendly and well-trained, and the wines are meticulously made by JC to reflect the terroir of this world class winery, only 15 minutes from the seaside resort of Hermanus.

You can pick any food pairing from the menu, one, two, four or however many you want really! Or, like myself you can choose the Story of Creation. This was an eight wine pairing, with seven different food dishes, all carefully and thoughtfully prepared. The menu put it like this: and now for an exciting and truly unique 7-course adventure artfully paired with award-winning Creation wines, each of these small plate dishes serves to highlight the food-friendly, versatile nature of a specific cultivar or blend – bringing pleasure to the palate and joy to the table. Professionally presented by our knowledgeable hosts, each course or chapter also reveals the passion of the Creation team.

Creation Sauvignon2017/Creation Sauvignon/2016 Semillon – to start the taste buds flowing, this dish of leeks, granola, passion fruit (what looks like the egg in the nest) paired with both the Sauvignon, which had guava, pineapple, and only a hint of that green grassy note. Guava with guava…it was a pairing that certainly worked; and the Sauvignon/Sem brought flavours of tropical fruit along with that rich lanolin mouth feel of the Sauvignon Blanc. I loved this dish!

Creation Viognier 2017– paired with the pickled fish hake with curry and apricot, the spice of the fish didn’t seem nearly so spicy after a sip of the fresh apricot, floral, mouth filling Viognier. An excellent pairing.

Creation Chardonnay 2017– two salmon ravioli with roasted pumpkin, toasted with cinnamon and chai tea on the plate with a creamy, rich sauce that went with the creamy, peach/pear and round butter oak and toast of the Chardonnay. This wine was well balanced and served to offset the flavours on the plate superbly!

Creation Reserve Pinot Noir 2016 – Perhaps my favourite wine of the pairing, although not my favourite dish aside from the eye pleasing colour. Goats milk cheese, beetroot, raspberry coulis, pomegranate, radish, pistachio and Pinot noir salt served to enhance the look and flavour of the smoked duck breast. A little sweet, and a little savoury. Too bad I didn’t like the duck more!

Creation Reserve Merlot 2015 – a cream based cauliflower soup with walnut, Gorgonzola, onion and blueberries! This high antioxidant fruit not only brought flavour, but texture and a curiosity factor also! I was to sip the wine, have a sip of the soup, then taste the wine again. A true pairing exercise that left the wine with smoothed out tannins and alcohol after the soup. The Merlot was laced with berries, nuts, cedar, cigar box and cloves. My favourite flavour combination of the day!

Creation Syrah/Grenache 2016 – it stands to reason this full bodied wine would be paired with the braised lamb shank, with curry powder, rosemary, sun dried tomatoes, pomegranate and baby marrow; full of umami flavours with not only the meat but the vegetables and pickled flavours on the plate also. The wine brought juicy red fruits along with signature white pepper, black olive and plum. A great South African version of a Rhone classic!

Creation Reserve Chardonnay 2016 – a richer, heavier more dense Chardonnay with the use of new oak and flavours of honey and baked apple, lent itself well to the Boerenkaas cheese and fynbos honey. Fynbos grows all over wild here in South Africa and it’s a protected plant. You’re not allowed to dig it up to plant vineyards, for example. Sheep like to munch on it and you can taste it in their meat! It reminds me of a wild tumbleweed and all those sagey, wild grass smells of the Canadian Prairies! I’ll take various cheeses with various jams and honeys for dessert any day!

After Seven Chapters I learned much about this wine and why this winery is so busy! All of the pottery dishes were beautifully used throughout the pairing exercise. Food served on a beautiful plate only enhances the flavours and aromas of a dish.

Should you find yourself in the beautiful seaside town of Hermanus, take a trip to Creation wines and indulge yourself in the Story of Creation! A pleasurable experience and one that you will soon not forget. For R395.00, it’s great value! For my Canadian friends, all this food and wine for about $45! Of course, when with good people, food and wine always tastes better! Gesondheid!

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South African Adventure – De Grendel Wine Farm

I’ve discovered what a wine farm really is…more than just wine, De Grendel, at 7 km from the Atlantic Ocean and 180 m above sea level, boasts a massive landscape with not only wine being produced, but blueberries, cattle, sheep and in part, a private game reserve. Roaming about on the property, one can find Red Hartabees, Eland and Springbok. It was truly a delight to see (albeit from afar), three baby Hartabees loping about, although too far away to share a picture. If the amazing quality wines aren’t enough, expansive views, the restaurant offering a number of gastronomic delights, and a place to sit and drink a bottle of wine should bring you to the property.

Owned by the Graaf Family, I had the privilege of meeting Sir DeVilliers Graaf last June in Toronto, while on a press trip with PIWOSA (Premium Independant Wineries of South Africa). What I experienced of South African wines was nothing short of astounding and in conversation with him at that time, I told him I’d love to come to his country, with his reply an open invitation to come and visit. True to his word, after an email letting him know that I was here, I was invited out to the estate and had more than just wine, but an experience.

De Grendel means “latch” and was started by De Villiers great grandfather, Sir David Pieter Graaf – the 1st Baronet of Cape Town. He started his career as a butcher’s assistant and went on to make his fortune through the use of refrigeration, making his name known not just throughout South Africa, but South America and Europe also. To continue with the art of meat, and refrigeration, he journeyed to Argentina to purchase cattle, only to come back with some prized Arab horses, thinking to stable them at the foot of Table Mountain. With an annual rainfall of 2000 mm in that area, it became a sickbed for the horses, so he purchased in 1819, what is now the current site of De Grendel. Not only was he a respected farmer, he had a sense of social responsibility and eventually became mayor of Cape Town at age 32. His influence as mayor brought not only electricity to the city of Cape Town, but modernizing it, and cleaning up some of those ‘less desirable’ areas.

Shortly after unification, British honorary titles were being given out to South Africans. When Sir David Pieter was given his, he was a bachelor. Keep in mind, these titles were hereditary, and in this case, the baronetcy was to be passed down for the next 10 generations. But with no heir apparent, let alone no wife, the British thought it safe that the title would die with David Pieter. Much to everyone’s surprise, he announced his marriage to a woman aged 22, 30 years younger! This was something else the family had to explain. Let me clarify that statement: Sir David Pieter’s mother’s maiden name was De Villiers, his father’s surname Graaf. Since she eloped with his father (to elope was just not done in those days) there was a bit of confrontation upon their return: David’s mother was given the blessing of marriage (keep in mind they were already married) with the caveat that her surname De Villiers be kept in the family. Together they had nine children with David being number five in the line. Now, over 100 years later, De Villiers is still very much a part of the family name!

Baronet number one, Sir David and Lady Graaf had three sons from their union, the oldest Sir De Villiers, or “Div” inheriting the title of Baronet. He was also an influential politician and inspiring leader, and the baronetcy continued.

De Villiers father, Sir David Graaf, third Baronet, like his predecessors, was also involved in politics, but it was he who planted the first vines on the property in 1999, and built the cellar. The first vintage was 2004, made off-site and first estate vintage was 2005. Winemaker Charles Hopkins is passionate about quality wines and De Grendel Wines. After meeting Charles, I’m pretty sure his goal in life is to see De Grendel wines on shelves and restaurant lists all over the world!

With Sir De Villiers and Lady Gaedry Graaf. Some of the most hospitable people I could ever meet!De Villiers Graaf, fourth baronet, took over all operations after the death of his father in 2015. De Villiers is a true visionary, expanding operations by opening the restaurant on the property in 2012. With the closing of the dairy operations (not financially viable) he wanted to find another way to use the resources of the farm, including all the workers who suddenly were out of a job with its closing. After some research, it was discovered that blueberries grew well in the sandy soils, and were a sought after export. De Grendel plants Julietta, Magnifica, Bella and Bonita. Huh…who knew such genteel female names produce this blue fruit high in antioxidants! There are also solar panels on the property, providing about 20% of the power to the farm. Note there is no winery or vineyard in the De Grendel name, but truly it is a wine farm in all sense of the word. De Villiers may not have a working dairy farm, but cattle and sheep are most definitely a big part of this farm!Just a few of the animals who will greet you on the farmSome of the solar panels that help with the power on the farmBlueberries

Today, De Grendel produces 55,000 cases, with 70% coming from grapes on the estate and 30% purchased. They have some beautiful Methode Cap Classique (MCC) made from estate grapes, but their still Pinot Noir grapes comes from the Ceres vineyard, in the Wittenberg Valley, which is further inland, at an elevation of 960m. Pinot loves this cool climate, and along with this thin skinned red grape, you’ll also find more of their Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapes.Trying my hand at picking Chardonnay through a varietyThe efficient farm workers

They are most well known for their Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot wines, but perhaps an unsung hero lies in their Shiraz. With grapes being purchased from the vineyards surrounding the village of Elim, the Elim Shiraz wine boasts those peppery, meaty, black fruit aromas and flavours that you either love or hate in your Shiraz/Syrah. The Baronet, one of their newest wine offerings was made to honour Sir David, the first Baronet of Cape Town. In elegant packaging with the story printed on the inside of the box, this 80% Shiraz, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot has all the makings of a wine prepared to age. With many South African wines prone to high alcohol, this is well balanced with tons of flavour and personality. Expect to find black fruits of plum and cassis, along with pepper notes, cedar and cloves. I received a bottle as a gift and this bottle will be put away for a while. Perhaps the next time my friends from South Africa come to Canada, I’ll have reason to open and share this bottle of wine.A bottle of Baronet Continue reading

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South African Adventure – Day 1 & 2

Sometimes life deals you a hand you can’t refuse…yup, again, I am blessed, to not only be participating in my first harvest, but to do it in South Africa is beyond anything I ever imagined. I have my own little loft with a magnificent view, and on a daily basis, I will have the company and expertise of two handsome, intelligent winemakers at Journey’s End Vineyards! I’ve already been put through some paces…vineyard tour, tasting the grapes for ripeness, barrel sampling and stock counting, along with going through said stock to get rid of expired product. Then later on in the afternoon, I was able to assist with a blending: the tanks were going to be blended with some Cabernet with the Merlot and vice versa. Finding the blend that tasted the best was the task, and along with the two winemakers and the consultant, I also had the chance to taste. We all agreed.

Nice. I think I passed my first test.

I also discovered that I was chosen from literally thousands of applications for this PIWOSA Women in Wine program, so I’m certainly feeling even more special!ViognierCabernet Franc

Harvest is almost ready to begin. It looks like the Chardonnay could start Monday, so that gives me this week to explore a little and perhaps check out the sights this weekend. I will however, be heading to a partner winery of PIWOSA, De Grendel Wine Estate tomorrow, and will have a chance to work there for a couple of days. Pinot Noir is ready to be harvested, and I am looking forward to seeing that part of South Africa as well as meeting Sir De Villiers Graaf (again), along with the rest of his family.

My first full day in the Cape. It was hot. Very hot, but the evening was calm and serene and this was where I spent the early evening, meeting new people and sharing this unbelievable view!

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South Africa: My Next Journey Awaits

Ringing in the new year always gives me pause and makes me reflect on the past year’s accomplishments as well as looking forward to what the new year may bring. I work in retail and the dichotomy between December and January is staggering. Fully staffed on many days leading up to Christmas with the hustle and bustle of the season, to only the boss and myself for the doldrums of January. Still in the business of selling wine, but the sales come to a screeching halt come January 1. Long days at the store might be spent doing inventory, making schedules, making up (a lot) smaller orders, then spreading out time in putting everything on the shelf. In between all that, there’s a few computer games, music, movies and drinking hot water (because wow, it’s really cold here right now).

With events that are coming up, I know I should probably spend my time a bit more wisely, but truth be told, I don’t want to. Yet one more time, I need to write an Italian wine exam, and my brain screams that I should be studying my flash cards, learning more minute details, and also researching for my next trip, but again, I just don’t want to. Let things come what may.  I’ll pick up the flashcards closer to the exam, and learn as I go where I’m headed.

Speaking of my next trip…something that came as a complete shock to me was an opportunity to go to South Africa. A friend of mine was there last year on an internship program, and she encouraged me to apply also. PIWOSA (Premiuim Independant Wineries of South Africa) is a group of wineries collaborating resources, ideas and expertise to promote South African wine of quality. I went on a press trip to Toronto in June, 2017 to meet these producers, and found out myself how to apply for this internship program. Only for women in the wine business, it’s a journey to learn all aspects of harvest in both the vineyard and the winery.  I received the news in October that I had been chosen by Journey’s End Vineyards to assist in all matters of grape sampling, machine harvesting, hand harvesting, crushing, pressing, cleaning of tanks and barrel work, making additions, inoculations, lab work, sugar readings, and any other general cellar and vineyard work. What exactly does this all mean? Well, to be honest, I have no idea! Truly, I’m heading to Cape Town in two weeks with really no idea how much work I’ll be doing, when I’ll be doing it, or if I will have any downtime! There’s also the matter of being on a continent and in a country that isn’t always the safest! Ignorance is bliss as they say…I really don’t know what to expect.

But what I DO expect is to be surrounded by some of the utmost beauty of landscape, to taste grapes that have come from the earth, with the help of nature, soil and weather; to marvel in another piece of God’s creation, in a part of the world I have not yet been. I’ll also expect to taste some great wines that we don’t see here in this part of the world. No band-aid or bad Brett, just quality, varietally correct wine. And THAT is something I expect! I look forward to sharing my journey with you, in pictures, posts and comments. As they say in Afrikaans, Gesondheid!

The view I expect to see when I wake up every morning in South Africa! (photo courtesy of Journey’s End at http://www.journeysend.co.za/journeys-end-vineyards-photo-gallery/)

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