Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Wine Tasting on Bikes

Admittedly, L and l slacked off on planning many details of our trip to Cape Town. However, visiting Stellenbosch, the wine region an hour outside of the city, was high on our list. We had read about bus tours but weren't very eager to spent a day sitting on our butts being shuttled around. A bikes and wine google search gave us the name of one company that provided tours in the region so we booked the only tour available the following day. At 830am we met Laureen at a backpacker's hostel on Long Street before heading to the nearby train station, an impressive structure recently modernized for the 2010 World Cup. The graffitied train, reminiscent of NYC subway cars from the '70s, was unexpected, as was the fact we were the only white faces on the platform. A man came down the aisle spewing rhetoric about Jesus and handing out pamphlets. Total time warp. We were unaware, the trains are only frequented by those who don't have cars. Thus far, the city has been unsuccessful integrating the classes when it comes to mass transporation. In fact, the entire city still seems quite divided. Sadly, the townships can be averted, and one's focus can be on the natural beauty and upper class neighborhoods. Laureen was raised in Cape Flats, got pregnant as a teenager, but was motivated to get an education and change the direction of her life. This was only her second day at the bike company, the third job she added to her already hectic schedule.
We departed an hour later at Vlottenburg and met the owner, Quentin, who was our official guide. A non English speaking Dutch couple, and another trainee, Willem rounded out our group. In theory, biking the back roads from wine farm to wine farm is a brilliant idea, but in practice this operation was a little rusty. Initially we started up a steep dirt path, stopped at the top for some information only to turn around and head down it. This portion seemed to be added solely for the heart pumping factor. We stopped at two very different vineyards, a large, modern estate, Spier and a smaller family owned farm which favored chintz and heavy antiques. The wine was unimpressive at both especially given the amazing varieties the region has to offer. My favorites were a pinotage at Spier, and the sparkling grape juice at Vredenhiem. Our third stop was a high end, brandy distillery with gorgeous grounds and interior. Took a lengthy informative tour, the highlight was a demonstration by a seasoned cooper about the dying art of making a barrel from imported French oak. At the end he made a percussive tune with his hand carved tools as he secured the metal rings around the wood. Unfortunately, neither of us fancy brandy, but we both had a new appreciation for the art of making the spirit. Overall, even though the tastings were disappointing it felt good to petal and sweet down dirt roads along the Eerste River in the shadow of Table Mountain. I also enjoyed interacting with three locals, our guides, all from diverse backgrounds. Traveling always reminds me as much as we're different, we're the same.

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