STELLENBOSCH BE­YOND THE WINE

Nomad Africa Magazine - - Food & Wine | Stellenbosch Beyond The Wine - Words: LAU­REN MANUEL MCSHANE Photos: THETRAVELMANUEL.COM

It’s barely past 11am and I’m squashed be­tween a group of tal­ented sto­ry­tellers in a sa­fari ve­hi­cle at­tempt­ing its way up a steep hill. Our guide ob­vi­ously meant it when he said that twelve peo­ple was a few too many for this ve­hi­cle, but we per­suade him.The car heaves rather sadly to the hill crest be­fore splut­ter­ing to death and rolling back down.

icry with laugh­ter, oth­ers shriek and the ever up­beat Sowe­to­born cre­atives, Ongama Zaza­yokwe, Fhatuwani Mukheli and Vuyo Mpantsha dance and sing their way through the drama in the front seat, will­ing the car up­ward. On the third at­tempt, we cheer in zest­ful chorus for the driver (and his steed) un­til we fi­nally make it over the hill. I how­ever can­not stop cry­ing with laugh­ter.

This is the first of many ad­ven­tures I em­bark on with these Jozi boys, best known by their blog name ‘ I see a Dif­fer­ent You’. After launch­ing a blog and work­ing in the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try, they started their own cre­ative agency; all with the aim of chang­ing the nar­ra­tive of Africa and South Africa to a pos­i­tive one. To­gether with Fhatuwani’s twin brother Ren­dani, they all first met at church in Soweto, Jo­han­nes­burg, when Vuyo was only 8 years old and Ongama a tod­dler. They laugh and tell me jok­ingly that they never wanted to hang out with him be­cause he was so much younger, and still don’t want to. To­gether with Cana­di­ans, a Brit and an Amer­i­can, we ar­rive at Rozen­dal guest farm with horses in a neigh­bour­ing pad­dock and the big­gest, hairi­est pig I’ve ever seen named Truf­fles. In­trigued by what a vine­gar tast­ing would en­tail, we make our way into a trendy, raw ware­house with a yel­low, vin­tage couch, peel­ing ice skates, sepia photos and ag­ing farm im­ple­ments. The ef­fort­lessly, stylish trio take a seat on the couch and in­stantly our cam­eras start snap­ping. With­out try­ing, they make each back­ground, bar­rel, couch and scene look cover shot wor­thy. On any given day, they never fail to look funky with no fear in don­ning an ar­ray of flo­ral pat­terns, bright colours, leather jack­ets and denim one­sies.

Aside from their com­fort in front of a lens, all three are skilled in pho­tog­ra­phy, pro­duc­ing, di­rect­ing and mu­sic-mak­ing, which all came in handy when you own your own pro­duc­tion com­pany. They be­lieve they’ve made some ground in chang­ing the way peo­ple see South Africa, es­pe­cially Soweto, but still have a long way to go. After work­ing in ad­ver­tis­ing, Vuyo says they re­alised there was a “lack of home­grown sto­ries and when peo­ple read about South Africa, they only saw crime and poverty”. So they started story-telling through pho­tog­ra­phy, first in Soweto and then through­out Africa. Pic­tured on de­serted cars and in the dusty streets of lower in­come set­tle­ments, from side­walks in bustling cities to wine bar­rels in lux­u­ri­ous es­tates; their pro­files have been shot ev­ery­where and re­ally tell so many sto­ries. Sto­ries that have been told and ex­hib­ited as far afield as Ja­pan.

Be­fore the vine­gar tast­ing be­gins, I wan­der around the ware­house, my eyes dart­ing back and forth be­tween the myr­iad of in­gre­di­ents used in their tra­di­tional French Or­leans vine­gar-mak­ing method. Chilli, vanilla pods, wild laven­der, carob, kelp and bay leaves dot the long wooden ta­ble in vases and on wooden boards. We fol­low the vinega-rmaker Alexan­der Am­mann, whose fam­ily own the farm, be­side small oak bar­rels, which hold a blend of red wine cul­ti­vars and ma­ture them over 12 year so­lar sys­tem.

He opens a bar­rel of rose gera­nium bal­sam and waves the fra­grance up and out with his hand for us to smell. Hud--

dled around the bar be­low wooden lanterns he made from oak bar­rels, he pre­pares the first tast­ing of fyn­bos vine­gar and ex­plains that the real char­ac­ter of all their vine­gars likes in the botan­i­cal in­fu­sions, which have been cho­sen for the health and culi­nary prop­er­ties.

The re­sult is a Bal­samic-style vine­gar; bal­anced in sweet­ness and acid­ity and of­fer­ing a ro­bust tonic and chef’s es­sen­tial. But the real char­ac­ter of this vine­gar range lies in the botan­i­cal in­fu­sions, care­fully se­lected for their culi­nary and healthy prop­er­ties. We are en­cour­aged to sip the Bal­samic-style vine­gar, swirl it around in our mouths first and as it warms up, the full flavours are re­leased and it loses any sharp acid­ity. After my first sip and swirl, I have to ad­mit that I re­ally love the Fyn­bos vine­gar with buchu, rose gera­nium, wild olive and wild rose­mary with its rec­om­men­da­tion to cure stom­ach aches and as an all round pick me up.

That evening, we find our­selves in Kaya­mandi Town­ship, home to 30 000 peo­ple, with Thembi as our fierce and flam­bouyant guide. An able and en­tirely will­ing muse and model, Thembi leads us into tiny set­tle­ments where her grand­mother and friends live and hap­pily poses when­ever our lenses come to rest on her. We fol­low her past hair dressers of­fer­ings weaves and nail care, a she­been and el­derly men play­ing domi­noes at a braai meat restau­rant. Won­der­ing why we all keep tak­ing so long, she gives up on keep­ing us all to­gether as a group and con­tin­ues past bark­ing dogs, through tight al­ley­ways and past full, bright wash­ing lines.

Vuyo has found a young boy spin­ning a

top and al­most hor­i­zon­tal on the ground, he films him spin­ning it on the white line in the road. The boy’s friends ex­cit­edly gather round, some danc­ing, oth­ers play­ing with their toys ei­ther too shy or very keen to get a chink of the lime­light. Din­ner tonight is at No­cawe Piet’s mom’s house. Bright Sh­weshwe fab­rics and de­signs hang in the en­trance­way and din­ner awaits on the ta­ble. Pap, spinach, pump­kin, chicken, vetkoek and chakalaka await and we all hun­grily dig in be­fore No­cawe en­ter­tains us with a few songs, to the drum­beat of her nephew as she dons her black and white makhoti ( mar­ried woman) out­fit. Ra­di­ant and al­ways up­beat, she tells us how her busi­ness of host­ing peo­ple and ca­ter­ing is grow­ing by the day and how she now has a team of peo­ple cook­ing for her.

I ask Vuyo how their Soweto com­mu­nity, friends and fam­ily feel about the work they are do­ing. “They are very, sup­port­ive and send us mes­sages say­ing that what we’ve done has given them so much hope and faith that they can do what­ever they want in the world. Be­cause from Soweto to trav­el­ling around the world, it changes your mindset and in­spires a lot of peo­ple, “says Vuyo.

It’s the morn­ing of Fhatuwani’s birth­day and our mot­ley crew is toast­ing be­side a fire with cham­pagne and cake at the Tokara deli. Hav­ing en­joyed an olive oil tast­ing, the gallery of art in the hall­ways and stroll through the olive trees, we were still in for one more sur­prise be­fore our week in Stellenbosch comes to an end.

Be­fore I know it, I’m stand­ing be­neath an oak tree be­side a gur­gling pond don-

ning a red leather jacket, bowl hel­met and gog­gles. Six bik­ers with side­cars wait for us as we take a mil­lion self­ies ad shoot umpteenth clip. It was time to ex­plore Stellenbosch by side­car. This was cer­tainly a first for all of us and from the sturdy side­car, I snug­gled be­neath the leather cover and watched as the val­ley and stu­dent town of oaks sped past me. Liv­ing only 45 min­utes away from Stellenbosch, this was re­ally the last thing I ex­pected to be do­ing here. That and hik­ing through the Jonker­shoek Na­ture Re­serve with a guide Raino from Ad­ven­ture Shop.

I’d vis­ited Stel­lies for years and this was my first time walk­ing into the shad­ows of this forested canopy. Start­ing out in a down jacket that kept the morn­ing dewy chill out, we fol­lowed Raino across moun­tain streams, over mossy rocks and be­side moist ferns. Once out of the shade, our in­creased pace along nar­row sunny path­ways amidst pine tree forests, fyn­bos and the Jonker­shoek Moun­tains, sud­denly brought my tem­per­a­ture right up. Blood flow­ing, legs pac­ing and chat­ting all the way about these moun­tains, its streams and veg­e­ta­tion was one of the best ways to spend a morn­ing.

To­gether with my hik­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and gin tast­ing at Devon Val­ley Ho­tel, I al­most for­got about wine and the fact that it’s what most peo­ple come to Stellenbosch for. I was re­minded what Fhatuwani once said about their pho­tog­ra­phy; “It’s not just about a nice im­age, it must show you soul”. And how their work went “be­yond their blog and was a truly a move­ment to change peo­ple’s per­spec­tives about Africa.” After one week of vis­it­ing sur­pris­ing cor­ners of Stellenbosch, meet­ing its lo­cals and cap­tur­ing some of its var­i­ous faces, my per­spec­tive of this town had changed com­pletely. There is so much more to this re­gion than wine and I’m thrilled to say that after delv­ing in its forests, walk­ing along it’s moun­tain­ous foothills and tast­ing its other fruits, I would be re­turn­ing long after for ev­ery­thing but wine and hop­ing that many oth­ers fol­lowed suit.

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