‘Tis the season and all that, but if you’re like me and you’re struggling to get into the Christmas spirit (but you also desperately don’t want to be a grinch) then I may have just the solution for you. You see, while I love and have always loved the Festive season, I must admit that this being a grown-up gig has taken some of the magic out of the whole thing. Work, deadlines, last minute crises. And let’s not talk about the anxiety of figuring out leave and holiday arrangements. Bah! Humbug! Hardly things that make me want to wrap myself in tinsel and sing Fa-la-la-la-laaaa. So how do we combat The Grinch at this truly lovely time of year? What could we do to dust off the anxiety and “meh-ness” of 2014 and get ready to have some summer fun in the gorgeous winelands? Lucky for you all, I have a secret. It’s called #SecretStellies and it might just put you in the summer festive season mood.
#SecretStellies is a little project dreamt up by Lydia from Beau Joubert. I could write endless posts about the endless talents of this remarkable wine-lover but for now, just take note of her marvellous idea: Secret Stellenbosch. The idea is to showcase the real hidden gems of the area. With nearly 150 wine farms on the official Stellenbosch Wine Route, there is more than enough to see and do to keep any wandering wino busy for months. Visitors are often drawn to the bigger, more well-known farms simply because they’re hard to miss. Of course they also offer quality wines, activities and are well worth a visit. But smaller wineries that may not have the word-of-mouth presence of the more popular ones are often skipped. #SecretStellies aims to uncover these secret treasures of the winelands and give the public a little insight on what they may be missing.
The first #SecretStellies day out was organised with military precision and focused on the Polkadraai Hills area of Stellenbosch. We simply had to make our way to Beau Joubert – the first of three stops – and the rest would be taken care of by The Amazing Lydia. At BJ we were treated not only to a tasting of their wines and a nice gab about the whole #SecretStellies concept, but we were among the first people ever to taste the very first MCC from Beau Joubert. And let me tell you, it certainly was worth the wait. If you’d like to know more, keep an eye on the Beau Joubert Twitter feed. After sampling their mind-bogglingly fantastic value for money wines (seriously, most of them are R100 or less at cellar door. I highly recommend the Chenin Blanc, the Shiraz and the “Free-run” Merlot Rosé.) we took a leisurely stroll down the road to the neighbouring Bein wines, where they had a special experience waiting for us.
Bein Private Cellar is exactly the type of winery that sits at the heart of the #SecretStellies idea; a small operation run by Luca and Ingrid Bein – Swiss veterinarians who fell in love with South Africa and moved here to study and make wine. Their focus is Merlot and they produce a fantastic selection. Bein also offers an unusual winelands experience: a donkey walk. The donkey walk takes visitors on a walk through the vineyards, up to a lookout point and picnic spot. The donkeys carry delicious picnic fare and when you reach the top, Ingrid and Luca unpack the spread and the wine and a little feast is had, overlooking the magnificent surroundings. A good time was had by all, relaxing under the trees and digesting not only the nibbles but the view. You only have to chat with the Beins for 5 minutes to uncover their love for South Africa and their enthusiasm for wine. A visit to Bein Private cellar and a donkey walk should be on everyone’s summer to-do list.
Once we rolled ourselves back down the hill (after being fed beyond elegant sufficiency with the lovely picnic) we were loaded into and onto a bakkie and whisked off to Saxenburg for a Safari Wine tasting. And no, this is not some metaphoric comparison of the Saxenburg wines with The Big Five. Oh no. The tastings are held in a game camp with zebra, antelope and other wild game trotting about around you. No rhinos, elephants or wild cats of course, but if you sit back and stare into the veld, it’s difficult to imagine you’re in the winelands and not at a luxury game lodge.
We indulged in a tasting of Saxenburg’s finest, including their truly fantastic MCC (at R180 a bottle it really is a brilliant buy – unfortunately the label design does let it down immensely as it does not visually present itself as a near-R200 bottle of bubbles, but DO give it a try if you encounter it at your local. It gives the other bubbles in that price class a real run for their money!). Saxenburg has a great selection of wines, from a creamy Chardonnay to a supremely elegant Cabernet Sauvignon which on their own make the estate worth a visit.
And with the view of zebras in the distance (and the kerfuffle of finding of an ostrich egg next to the camp), our #SecretStellies day ended. I’ve always known that Stellenbosch – in fact, all the winelands areas – are a heady mix of the historic, the well-known, the crowd-pleasers, the small and obscure. The #SecretStellies adventure reminded me that the hidden gems must be discovered and talked about. A little exposure will hardly turn them into commercial punters but rather serve to share the secrets they hold with the world. And when that happens, everybody wins.
So if you’re short on some summer Christmas cheer, I recommend a visit to one of these secret spots. It might be just what
the doctor Santa ordered . Ho, ho, ho!