STELLENBOSCH WINE FESTIVAL
Sunday 26 February 2017
It was a baking hot Sunday afternoon when I arrived at the Coetzenburg Sports Ground in Stellenbosch for the PnP Wine Festival. I was early, like many others, and full of anticipation. I had not been before but I had recently been to wine festivals at Franschhoek (Summer Wines) and Delheim (for grape-stomping). I was interested to see how Stellenbosch compared. I was not alone in wishing for shade netting over the ticketing queue.
Tickets for the three-day lifestyle festival were R190 with additional costs for programmed events in the Wine Library (R150) and Tasting Room (R75). The wine and food stalls were laid out in a large circle neatly displayed on a large map as I passed through the ticket tunnel.
I liked how the tasting stalls were arranged by region: Greater Simonsberg, Stellenbosch Berg, Stellenbosch Valley, Helderberg, and Bottelary Hills. Each region was colour-coded, through to the stand names, price lists and flags above, which greatly helped to find my way around. Within each geographic wine grouping, the estates and vineyards were arranged alphabetically (unlike the more random approach at Franschhoek) which made finding a specific vineyard easy. Nonetheless, I would have liked a festival brochure with my ‘free’ tasting glass on arrival. This was provided at the Franschhoek festival and helped me to navigate my way to the wine estates I wanted most to visit. It was useful too for writing notes on about the wines I enjoyed and wanted to buy.
There was plenty of shaded seating, unlike at Franschhoek, in the middle of the large festival ground. Visitors were soon arriving but not in as many numbers as on the previous days. I was selective in the wines I tasted to start with and picked out those that specially interested. There were other activities too – the Momentum Health Zone for children and grape-stomping – but I did not visit either.
Cashless systems are commonplace at large-scale events nowadays. It is never easy to know on arrival the amount needed. One does not want to leave an unused balance on the card afterwards even if refundable. The queues to top-up were short (I wondered about yesterday) and so it worked well.
The food stalls, fancifully called The Gourmet Lane, were to the right of the entrance. There was a wide selection of offerings. I tasted both a steak roll and, later, cheesy doritos. The staffs were attentive and it was fun to see my doritos being ‘blow-torched’ to melt the cheese.
A wine festival is of course all about the wine. There were over 60 vineyards represented, more than double the number at the Franschhoek festival which, oddly, showcased only white and rosé wines. I learned that each vineyard was restricted to display no more than 5 wines. Thus, despite the number of vineyards present, the range of wines was surprisingly limited. Companies inevitably chose to play safe: two white and three red, or three white and two red. Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc dominated the whites, with some Chardonnay too. Most were served too warm given the combined effects of the heat of the day and bottle turnover, which meant the wines were not at their best for tasting.
The red grape varieties were primarily Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon (or Bordeaux Blend) with some Merlot and Shiraz. There were some gems but they were hard to find. I tasted my first Sangiovese, the 2012 Hercules from Stellekaya, and my first Zinfandel, from Blaauwklippen. I preferred the Zinfandel and shall definitely visit Blaauwklippen which specialises in making wines from this Californian grape of European origin.
I had booked two events. The first was the Pinotage tasting in the Wine Library. R150 was on the pricy side to taste the 6 wines given sponsorship of the festival. The event was well-attended, if a little rushed, but the wines were the highest quality I tasted at the festival. The highlight was the specialist knowledge given by the speaker from the Pinotage Association about the effect of different types of oak barrel: French, American and Hungarian. This was really useful information for me as I study wine with the Cape Wine Academy.
There was time for little more than a snack before the second workshop, hosted by Fleur du Cap, in the Tasting Room. The chef who presented was witty and fast-paced. A seared salmon slice with tartare pieces ‘cooked’ in lemon juice, served on a rice cracker was paired with 2016 Unfiltered Sauvignon Blanc. A canapé sized mushroom arancine with truffle and aioli topping was served with a 2015 Pinot Noir. Best for me was the 2011 Nobel Late Harvest Chenin Blanc that was delicious with a tiny frangipani tart with peach purée. I really enjoyed these tasty pairings – and not just because I was sitting down in an air-conditioned marquee!
Other wines that I enjoyed were the 2016 Overgaauw Sylvaner, another grape variety ‘first’ and the only wine I bought. Mooiplaas brought their 2011 and 2016 Bush Vine Chenin Blanc. It was fascinating to taste both side-by-side. I definitely preferred the older vintage. I much liked the 2016 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc from Ken Forrester, made from vines that are 42 years old. I had not tasted the Pongracz MCC Rosé before either. This was served at just the right temperature, as was the Pinot Noir from Peter Falke.
I stayed until the festival end at 6.00pm. It surprised me to count up the wines I had tasted and they numbered over 30. This ably demonstrated the strength of the Stellenbosch Wine Festival. I was able to sample wines from many vineyards in one location, even if the range of styles and varieties was limited.
The afternoon for me was a mixed experience. There were things I would change and are suggested for the future: a Festival brochure, shade-netting in the ticket lane, wines served at the right temperatures, and a wider variety of wines available for tasting.
Surprisingly, the Festival felt ‘empty’ and lacked atmosphere. There was a definite vibe to Franschhoek – aided by the efforts made by the festival-goers to wear white – but was lacking at Stellenbosch. I wondered why that was. The festival ground was too large for the number attending (it may have been different on the busier Saturday) and the music stage ridiculously large. The stage would not have looked out of place at the Up The Creek music festival. I love and support live music. Manouche were by far the best band and got people up off their feet to dance to their witty, funky songs.
The Festival did showcase a large number of vineyards and estates which was a good thing. I left wanting more and perhaps that too is how it should have been. There are certainly a number of vineyards high on my list to visit next. I shall be interested too to visit next year. Maybe I shall visit on the Saturday ……
Wines tasted (bought *):
Pongracz Rosé (60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay) – R120
2016 Delheim Gewürtztraminer – R120
2015 Glenelly Wooded Chardonnay Estate Reserve – R130
2015 Hartenberg Riesling – R80
2016 Fleur du Cap Unfiltered Sauvignon Blanc – R100
2016 Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc – R100 FAVOURITE WINE
2016 Kings Kloof Sémillon – R70
2011 Mooiplaas Bush Vine Chenin Blanc – R190
2016 Mooiplaas Bush Vine Chenin Blanc – R87
2016 Overgaauw Sylvaner – R90*
2015 Uitkyk Chenin Blanc – R75
2015 Usana Pinot Gris – R70
2013 Waterkloof ‘Circle of Life’ White (60% Sauvignon Blanc, 33% Chenin Blanc, 4% Chardonnay, 3% Sémillon) – R150
2016 Deux Frères Blanc de Noir (100% Mouvèdre) – R44
2014 Domaine Coutelier ‘Here Comes the Sun’ Rosé (100% Merlot) – R65
2016 L’Avenir ‘Far and Near’ Rosé (100% Pinotage) – R65
2015 Audacia Wooded Cabernet Sauvignon – R105
2014 Audacia Wooded Cabernet Shiraz – R65
2013 Blaauwklippen Zinfandel – R97.50
2011 Deux Frères Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot – R116
2013 Domaine Coutelier Merlot – R115
2015 Fleur du Cap Pinot Noir – R150
2014 Fleur du Cap Unfiltered Pinotage – R85
2010 Kanonkop Pinotage – R85
2014 L’Avenir Single Block Pinotage – R170
2015 Neethlingshof Pinotage – R200
2010 Neethlingshof Owl Post Pinotage – R220
2015 Peter Falke Pinot Noir – R150 FAVOURITE WINE
2014 Simonsig Redhill Pinotage – R200
2012 Stellekaya Sangiovese Hercules – R125
2012 Yonder Hill Merlot – R155
2011 Fleur du Cap Noble Late Harvest Chenin Blanc (375ml) – R130 FAVOURITE WINE