AS THE year winds down, the pace increases in the winelands, where cellars are hoping for a bumper tourist season. In every region wineries are combining tastings with attractions that range from appetising country fare to river cruises, tasting on horseback, helicopter flips, gourmet picnics and more. Prices vary enormously: while some venues are clearly aiming to attract well-heeled international travellers, there are others offering attractive and affordable treats for family visits.
While judging cellar entries in the innovative category for the Best of Wine Tourism Awards earlier this year, I was struck – not for the first time – by what a difference personal service and attitudes make.
On visits to certain venues, where tastings, meals and accommodation add up to enjoyable, (although not necessarily innovative), wine experiences, those with competent, knowledgeable staff who made us feel special are the places we remember. They are the venues we tell friends and travellers about, who, in turn, tell others. The power of word-of-mouth recommendations cannot be underestimated.
Warwick Estate, which won the award for innovative wine experiences, has a range of attractions – picnic sites, tastings that include a wedding-cup experience, and a wine “safari” through vineyards to a hilltop pavilion with heartstopping views. While a couple of items in their picnic baskets lacked freshness, the service was spot-on, with our safari driver maintaining that delicate balance between enthusiasm and pushiness. The estate is open seven days a week, a childminding service is available, and the experience is affordable.
Nine wine-producing countries take part in the annual international Best of Wine Tourism contest. Heads of the judging panels gathered in Christchurch, New Zealand, last month to confirm and announce the winners’ names.
South Africa’s winner for 2011 is Steenberg, which won two of the seven local categories: architecture, parks and gardens; and wine services.
Rust en Vrede again scooped the best restaurant award; Delaire Graff won the accommodation category; Grande Provence the art and culture award; and Waverley Hills was rewarded for sustainable tourism practices.
The other global winners are Yealands estate in New Zealand’s South Island, Villa Vignamaggio situated between Florence and Siena in Italy; Chateau Paloumey in the Haut Medoc, France; Wine Oil Hotel, Villa de Laguardia in the Rioja; Quinta Aveleda in Oporto; Hyatt Regency on the Rhine in Mainz; Conn Creek winery in the Napa Valley; and the Bodega Diam Andes in Mendoza. TWEE Jonge Gezellen will mark its 300th anniversary with a jereboam (three-litre bottle) of Twee Jonge Gezellen’s Cap Classique, a limited release bubbly made from the best of its 2001, 2002 and 2003 vintages of pinot noir and chardonnay. It is named Nicolas Charles Krone, who initiated the practice of cold fermentation in the late 1950s.
His son, Nicky Krone, introduced night harvesting in the early 1980s which further improved the quality of their cap classiques. The celebratory bubbly is available from the estate and a few wine merchants at R3 000.
The estate’s annual celebration, Summer Elegance, takes place next Saturday, from noon. Come and sip the estate’s sparklers, while eating sushi and oysters, olives and cheese, nougat and more. A fashion show by Kobus Dippenaar, a vintage car exhibition and a sunset concert are on the menu.
Tickets are R120. Children pay R80. Booking is recommended. For details, call Luke Krone at 023 2300 680 or e-mail him at email@example.com.
The Stellenbosch Valley subroute’s annual holiday festivities will be held from December 16 to 19. Producers will offer food and wine pairings and informal and tutored tastings. Vineyard tours, donkey walks, movies and art expos are on the programme. See www.wineroute.co.za, or call 021 886 4310.