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Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODWINES -

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 luke@tjg.co.za.

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.

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