STELLENBOSCH WINE FESTIVAL
Sunday 25 February 2018
‘At what speed does a champagne/MCC cork leave the bottle?’, Tiaan asked at the Pongrácz session of the PicknPay Wine Club tasting. The answer was 65 kilometres an hour so there’s another tip for a Wine Quiz or Pub Night Quiz. The marquee offered welcome shade from the intense heat of the day. Earlier, my partner and I had arrived in time for the noon start on the Sunday of the 3-day Stellenbosch Wine Festival.
It was almost a year to the day since I first attended the Wine Festival in 2017, so I knew the routine and the spacious venue besides the Stellenbosch University sports facilities and beneath the craggy koppie. The effect of the Cape drought was much more noticeable on this occasion with the grass looking like white sand and bereft of life.
Even before opening time, the car parks were filling up and there was a steady stream of visitors to the entrance. There were few queues compared to last year, when I commented that there was insufficient shade for those waiting to enter, as there were several more ticket entry lanes. I was pounced on soon after collecting my tasting ‘credit card’ (for 20 free wine tastings) and Festival glass by an agent asking if I wanted to join the PicknPay Wine Club.
Fortunately, I had my blue Smart Shopper Card with me and so was able to join (it would have helped others who came without if this had been pre-notified). The Wine Club started in September 2017 and offers a R50 wine discount, free tasting session in the PicknPay tent, bottle of wine, as well as a 20% discount on selected wines each month.
The circular Festival layout was identical to the previous year: large music stage on the left; VIP and premium areas beyond; Momentum Hospitality and Kids Zone; tasting stalls from the wine producers; and the ‘Gourmet Lane’, otherwise known as food stalls. Limited shaded seating was in the middle – there can never be enough – together with a Charging Station and Cashless Kiosk. I used the Cashless Kiosk to load my card to purchase food but discovered after that most food providers were comfortable with card purchases.
I went to the Tasting Room straight away to book my session, expecting these to be fully booked early on. Pongrácz, Waterford, Kanonkop and Warwick each offered a 30-minute tutored tasting. I chose the Pongrácz one as I had not visited the winery (as I have Kanonkop and Warwick) and am planning a visit to Waterford soon. This gave half an hour to explore before returning to the tent.
I liked how the wine estates are grouped by Stellenbosch Wine of Origin Ward and wine route: Stellenbosch Valley; Stellenbosch Berg; Greater Simonsberg; Bottelary Hills; and Helderberg. Colour coding on signs and the individual wine stands made for easy location. I didn’t count the number of wineries but there must have been more than 50 different ones. Whilst the wards were the same as in 2017, the vineyards were not the same. Some were new but there were old ones too.
Another plus for the Wine Festival is that each stand is big enough to allow ease of pouring and discussion, and especially towards the end of the afternoon when visitor numbers are at their peak. The large venue and clever spacing assist. I mention this as it is not always the case – the Stellenbosch Street Soirée and indoor festivals like the Tops! At SPAR Wine Show and those in the Cape Gate and Tyger Valley malls come to mind – where clumsy queues can form at each wine station.
As ever at wine festivals, I prefer to choose to taste from the wine estates that I have not visited and this is largely reflected in the wines sampled below. The astute reader will notice that I drank more than the 20 wines that my tasting card provided for. This was due to sharing wines with my partner but also that most wineries didn’t bother with scanning the card. This is not unusual – I think of the Wacky Wines Weekend where one is given a small, fiddly booklet with 6 postage stamp sized vouchers on each page – and helps with visitor flow at each stand.
A notional limit makes sense too so festival goers do not drink to excess. I saw little evidence of this, even after 5pm before the Festival closed at 6pm, although the volume of chatter definitely increased throughout the afternoon. If ever a reminder of the drink-drive laws was needed, there was a significant SAPS alcohol unit road block to the South of Stellenbosch city centre as I arrived. Most wine stands had spittoons (another criticism of other festivals) even though water for drinking and rinsing glasses was in less supply. I was fortunate too to have a partner who was able to drive me home after.
The Pongrácz tasting session was all too soon. Entry was unnecessarily slow and awkward even though the names of the 50 or so people going were written on a single A4 page. Winemaker Peter and Chef Tiaan did a witty double act as they talked through 3 wines and their food pairing: tartare salmon with cucumber, ginger and sesame with the Brut MCC; oyster with melon and cucumber with the premium Desiderata MCC; and salty pink almond macaroon with the Rosé MCC.
The session was short and sweet – well Brut – and well worth attending. It was good to sit down for a short while, out of the hot sun, and I learned a fact or two also. The Tasting Tent was a new and informative initiative, no doubt linked to the PicknPay Wine Club, that was obviously fully attended and thus a success. However, I would not recommend a sparkling/MCC wine session in future. Pre-pouring in the heat meant that the wines were flat and warm and so far from their best which did Pongrácz little credit. The aromas and flavours – typically contained in the bubbles and never easy to pick up – were notably shy and weak. Nonetheless, I left with 2 free bottles of Nederburg The Winemaster’s Merlot (one for my partner).
Elsewhere, it was fun to wander at random from wine stand to wine stand. The venue is big enough yet comfortably small enough to allow that. It was good to network for the Cape Wine Lovers’ Society with unfamiliar wine producers – Waterford, Louisvale, Hill & Dale, Laibach and Jordan, for example – as well as to meet again the sommeliers who had hosted me for tastings at Ken Forrester, Idiom and Delaire Graff.
It is always a pleasure too to taste some old favourites such as the White Lady Chardonnay from Warwick, Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc (one of my favourite wines from last year), the rare unwooded Vino Baruzzo Novello Merlot and unwooded Pinotage from Mooiplaas, and the Sylvaner from Overgaauw (the only South African wine estate to grow this German cultivar).
In between, my partner and I took to the Food Court – oops, Gourmet Lane – to eat and then to sit down for a moment. Gourmet Lane, to be fair, is a sound description of the food outlets. The food offering was a cut above the level of burger and chips, curly fries, and boerewors rolls. There was pizza (and food suitable for children attending) but also oysters and mussels, wraps and Mexican fare, biltong and gelato ice cream, coffee, water and juices, and more besides.
We ordered the same food from the Lanzerac stand as we had remembered the tasty food provided by Lanzerac at the Stellenbosch Street Soirée. The dish of shredded lamb patties with crushed pistachio outside, basil pea and tomato salad, and sweet potato crisps was ‘real food’. It filled me up and good value at R95. There was even a glass of Pinotage provided with.
Throughout the day, the stage offered a mix of recorded music and live bands that added to the party atmosphere without overpowering it. Middle of the road it mostly was, with some old favourites from the Beatles and other groups, which appealed to the diverse tastes of those attending – from toddler to pensioner
As ever, and when wine producers are limited to a small number of wines (5, I believe), the range of wines is restricted. Typically, a wine estate showcased a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay, a Rosé, and a Pinotage, Merlot or Shiraz. I saw little Cabernet Sauvignon, a few Chenins Blanc, just one Riesling, and a smattering of white and red blends. Overgaauw was brave to offer (as last year) the unique Sylvaner as well as the Portuguese Touriga Naçional but, to my recollection, there was no single cultivar Gewürztraminer, Sémillon, Cabernet Franc, Cinsault, Malbec or Pinot Noir.
I sensed that more wineries brought the ever popular Rosés for tasting. Many were made with interesting and uncommon cultivars. I didn’t taste a dessert or fortified wine although they may have been offered. The wines that stuck in my mind were: the deliciously light and complex Waterford Pebble Hill red blend; the vibrant, green melon and fig, balanced Old Vine Chenin Blanc from Ken Forrester; the light and clean, fruity Mooiplaas unwooded Merlot; the Delaire Graff Cabernet Franc Rosé, with excellent strawberry fruity intensity and acidity, and worth more than 2 bottles at half the price; the Louisvale clean, appley, light, chilled, unwooded Chardonnay, excellent value at R65; and the most expensive wine I tasted (R300), the bold, berry fruit-forwards, smooth-tannined Merlot from organic-producer Laibach.
In writing this review, I have deliberately not looked at what I wrote last year. I did notice that wine prices have crept up by around R10 a bottle for many wines, or around 10%. That’s unsurprising and I predict greater increases over the coming 12 months as size of the 2018 vintage is reduced by the drought. Smaller berries, however, will likely have more concentrated juices to give higher quality wines next year.
Meanwhile, the Stellenbosch PicknPay Wine Festival has drawn to a close for another year. It is one of the biggest and best festivals in the wine calendar year and one of those ‘no-brainer’ events for me to attend. The occasion offers great value for money at R150 or R190 per ticket (depending on whether Friday or Saturday/Sunday). It was good to see more ticket lanes on entry and the new feature of the Tasting Tent, albeit best not to show MCC/sparkling wines in future. I’d like to see a broader range of wines (prices too) though I am realistic about the limitations of an event like this. There is scope too to include more vineyards from each Ward, and especially from the excellent Greater Simonsberg and Helderberg wine routes.
In sum, the return for a second time gave me more time just to enjoy. The organisers have the ‘same but different’ balance just right and I look forwards to return again in 2019.
Wines tasted (bought *):
NV Pongrácz Brut MCC (60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir) – R130
2009 Pongrácz Desiderata Brut MCC (60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir) – R420
NV Pongrácz Rosé (60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir) – R130
2015 Ken Forrester Sparklehorse Chenin Blanc MCC – R169
NV Mooiplaas Duel MCC (75% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir) – R180
2017 Jordan Sauvignon Blanc – R100
2017 Waterford Pecan Stream Chenin Blanc – R67
2015 Waterford Estate Chardonnay – R210
2016 Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc – R110
2017 Villiera Jasmine White Blend (50% Moscato, 27% Gewurztraminer, 23% Riesling) – R51
2017 Villiera Down to Earth (70% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Sémillon) – R55
2016 Hartenberg Riesling – R89
2017 Kunjani Sauvignon Blanc – R72
2016 Warwick First Lady Unwooded Chardonnay – R64
2017 Louisvale Unwooded Chardonnay – R65
2017 Hill & Dale Sauvignon Blanc – R48
2016 Overgaauw Sylvaner – R120
2017 Jordan Rosé (51% Merlot, 49% Shiraz) – R65
2017 Ken Forrester Petit Grenache Rosé – R50
2017 Laibach Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé – R65
2017 Delaire Graff Cabernet Franc Rosé – R120 FAVOURITE WINE
2017 Louisvale Stone Road Cinsault Rosé R50
2014 Waterford Shiraz – R225
2015 Waterford Pecan Stream Pebble Hill (Shiraz, Sangiovese, Mourvèdre, Malbec, Tempranillo) – R80
2013 Ken Forrester Renegade (59% Shiraz, 32% Grenache, 9% Mourvèdre) – R120
2015 Mooiplaas Vino Baruzzo Novello Merlot – R70
2016 Mooiplaas Pinotage – R110
2015 Villiera Down to Earth Touriga Naçional/Shiraz (70% Touriga Naçional, 30% Shiraz) – R55
2015 Laibach Clay Pot Merlot – R300
2015 L’Avenir Provenance Pinotage – R130
2015 Overgaauw Touriga Naçional – R130