The last fortnight on our 5-month sojourn and we suddenly felt as if we were running out of time. Technically we were still illegal aliens with a bit more aggro to come. This blog is predominantly a happy picture story with captions, so I might as well get the aggro out of the way at the start.
SA Home Affairs VFS Global
In summary, we first found out that our Irish passports were only good for a three month stay after we'd booked our flights for a five-month stay. Initially this seemed a fairly trivial obstacle. Ha ha ha. There was allegedly a new online app that would expedite everything. After initial attempts to follow this route it proved purely ephemeral. Some email communication between Oxfordshire and Cape Town later, I resorted to calling the Embassy in London. The operative there was rude and unhelpful. And so it went.
The received wisdom was that we should leave for SA as planned at the beginning of October 2021 and apply for an extension once we got to the other end. A month before our allowed 90-days was up, we were told. No worries, we were staying fairly close to Caledon Home Affairs, so not a major hassle.
There is no point repeating chapter and verse what happened after that except that the process had moved to Long Street in Cape Town and in mid-February 2022 we were R15,000 poorer and remained sans visas.
What could they do when the time came to fly home on February 28 and we remained technically aliens. You may well ask! We had heard stories, at least one of them verifiable, of travellers stuck in South Africa for an indeterminate period. It took our friend something like three weeks to sort things out before returning home.
Come mid-February we enquired (yet again) about progress and were told to be at VFS in Cape Town at 2PM on Friday, February 18. Given that we could be there all afternoon we booked accommodation on the Cape Peninsula for that night. Confirmation of the VFS booking would be emailed to us that we would need to print off and present upon our arrival at Home Affairs.
"Did you think your appointment was on Friday the 18th?" Kerry blurted when Shan answered our phone. We'd emailed her to ask if her husband, Tim, would mind printing the confirmation. We had no printer at our current place of abode.
"Yes," Shan replied, "we've booked and paid for accommodation for that night!"
"Well Tim's just noticed that the appointment has been confirmed for Monday the 21st."
I shan't repeat my normally polite wife's stream of invective. She was very cross when she managed to get hold of the agent on the phone. Apart from anything else, it wasn't even clear whether we'd been granted the visa or not and with just 7 days to go ...
To be fair, they did pull the stops out and came back with an answer: "Be there when VFS opens on Friday morning and they'll see you then ... ."
They did see us and after a fair old nail biting wait we went through another interview and some signings and finally our visas were stuck into our passports. Idly flicking through my passport to look at the paperwork this morning I noticed that the visa had been granted four weeks previously. They could at least have put us out of our misery. Listen here: no more depressing stuff [Ed]
A tale of two quite different eateries
These were two fab places to eat that we'd somehow managed to miss out on until our return to the UK was looming.
First there was De Vette Mossel, a kind of weekend pop-up with panoramic views while having, to quote my wife, "Great fun eating 7 courses with our feet and chairs teetering on the sand."
The plan was to entertain our generous benefactors as a final thank you and maybe distribute a few bottles we'd rashly overbought in our rediscovered love for Western Province wine.
So here's to Kerry, Emma, Sheila, Tim and Tony.
Above: (top) The view of the Klein River lagoon so cunningly framed by the proprietors that, no matter where you stand, it is always right in front of you; (row 2, l-r) Shan and Kerry, a.k.a. Kinkles, having a laugh; joined by Emma on the pier; all the okes, presumably taken by my vrou seeing as she's not in the picture; (Row 3 l-r) Tony; Tim; Sheila; me having a laugh with Emma; (Bottom) Sea Gals ... see what they did there.
OK this is starting to sound a bit like a corny Cornish postcard (which is a delightful juxtaposition with the lekker food and continuity announcer/maitre'd).
On the opposite end of the spectrum was Le Chalet, an old-fashioned fine-dining restaurant to which Emma had been dying to take us. It was fabulous. Leo the chef/proprietor has clearly downsized from a much more substantial Swiss establishment to Fisherhaven, where he continues to serve up one delight after another in this entirely family run restaurant. If one sits outside there are views of the Bot River lagoon where an eclectic list of fine wines will round off ones visit (this is all beginning to sound like a blurb but these are all my own words). Le Chalet seriously delivers. Why did we only discover it within days of heading back to the UK?
Above l-r: An unassuming, but very typically Swiss, chalet; the dining areas follow suit; each course is prepared and delivered with style.
We were getting a tad antsy while going through an entire morning of visa minutiae, partly because they still hadn't confirmed that we had actually been granted the visa but mostly because we had a date with Angela Lloyd before some prearranged family engagements. Angela had not yet had the privilege of a particular cheese and of a winemakers produce we'd been lucky enough to get hold of up the Hemel-en-Aarde valley. Her car was on sick leave and we had promised to get some of these examples of deliciousness and drop them off in Kenilworth.
Intuiting that we would refuse any payment for a couple of bottles of Die Kat se Snor and a chunk of cheese, she lay in wait with a bottle of 2018 Skerpioen as a thank-you to us. For those of you in the know, I don't need to describe what a fine present this was. For the others, suffice to say that "thoughtful" and "generous" don't come close to our appreciation of the gift of one of the Sadie Family's signature wines. The question now is when, and with whom, do we drink it?
Our final destination that evening was the Grosvenor Guest House in Simon's Town, which was most comfortable in its own right but also remarkable for its sweeping views across False Bay. Before settling in for the night, we set about exploring the town itself.
Shan had never stopped there before and considerable nostalgia ensued wandering around the streets of the town where her Dad, Arthur Deale, had spent his time in the naval base during WWII. Much of the architecture of Simon's Town and many of the buildings date from long before that time.
Above: (top row) Naval ships are juxtaposed with civilian vessels these days but the majestic mountains encroaching on False Bay and those enshrouded by cloud beyond the Cape Flats are constants from Arthur's time in Simon's Town; (middle row l-r) the beautiful boy on the right is Arthur; one would like to imagine that he, a Durban boy, might have enjoyed a curry in this establishment [although it is sadly unlikely that the Natal and Cape cultures had merged to that extent in the 1940s]; a little more likely might have been that Arthur could have stood outside this fine convenience when out on a passeggiata with a date during shore leave; back at the Grosvenor Guest House sipping wine on the patio and the moon made a dramatic appearance with two babies; (bottom row) across False Bay at night.
And here's an aside to the Deale family who grew up with Maxi, the Great Dane. In Simon's Town, at the main viewing spot, there is a statue to Just Nuisance a raffish but much loved Great Dane who inhabited the town and its surrounding areas during WWII, eventually becoming enlisted in the navy. One does wonder if Arthur chose Maxi as Judy's 30th birthday gift partially in memory of nights spent under Nuisance's protection.
The other side of Shan's family
After WWII, and some time before 1951, Eric Arthur Percy Deale met Judith Elaine Eriksen. This was a lucky coincidence for me because that was how my dear wife came into being in 1960. Before that my outlaws, Patrick, Martin and Kerry came into this world. Judy (Judith) still lives in Hermanus and was the main focus of our 144 days outlined in this blog. Her niece Vickie Tyrrell and nephews, Leif Eriksen and Charles Phillips live in Cape Town and we were headed to Miller's Point, South of Simonstown, to join them for a pukka braai. The venue was a splendid wooden shack, owned by Leif's wife, Angie's family since time immemorial (we believe built by her grandfather in 1929). We'd heard about it for years and now we were going to visit it. Before launching into the pics, I must apologise to Angie and Shan for the camera distortion my iPhone brought to the wide angle extremities. They really aren't that wide.
Above: (top) the view from Angie's shack at Miller's Point; (below l-r) Angie, Leif, Joe Tyrrell, Vickie, Charles and Shan; don't ask [any of the participants may elaborate in the comments to this blog if they have a coherent explanation - as with all these blogs, they are living things ... Charles knows].
Before we left we simply had to have lunch at the Tesselaarsdal Post Office (which we shared with a very polite family and an extraordinarily well-behaved stag party [maybe there was more to follow later]). We also had to pay our respects to Carolyn Martin at Creation Wines and have a cocktail on the beach at Dutchies (miraculously we'd not got around to this for 5 months!).
Above: hopefully these pics [predominantly of the Tesselaarsdal PO and its clientele and fare] speak for themselves; Delicious cocktails at Dutchie's on the beach in Hermanus round off our holiday.
It was fitting that we spent the last evening of our sojourn in the Western Cape drinking wine with Emma. Probably not quite so sensible that we started at 5PM and stopped at midnight.
What a roller coaster we'd had.
Above: The overall framework of this series of blogs, now ending, was a 5-month expedition for us to spend time with Shan's 92-year-old Mum, Judy, after we'd all been drained by Covid. More than half a century had elapsed between the two photos above and Shan and I got our own daughter, Kate, in the bargain.
Postscript ... a doff of my hat to Creation Wines
For 5 months from October 2021 to February 2022 I'd dithered over a trip to Creation. There was a website but it wasn't clear to me what was on offer or how to go about making reservations et al and time swept by.
This came out in a chance remark to a newfound wine Twitter friend, Lisa Harlow. I think she was a bit irritated with me but didn't show it. Suffice to say (a brusque "leave it to me" to be exact) Lisa contacted Carolyn Martin, Creation's co-owner, who contacted me. At this stage we had no time left for a proper visit but Carolyn agreed to meet me at the winery for a chat on our last Saturday morning. We were en route to Tesselaarsdal.
When I saw what I'd been missing I knew I'd deprived myself and, more importantly, Shan, of a unique experience. We vowed to go back there when we were next in Hermanus.
Actually, the opportunity came up for one of us to visit Creation again sooner than expected. Shan's Mum, Judy, had reached a crossroad and she really needed to be moved to a care home. If Shan didn't pop back to Hermanus, Kerry and her family were going to be left with an intolerable burden. The two sisters worked like Trojans and I scratched my head for a way to release some of the tension. It didn't take long to to come up with the obvious answer. I contacted Carolyn and set the Creation ball rolling. Happily Tim, Kerry's husband, was complicit and offered to fetch the two tired and emotional sisters after a 7-pairing fine-dining experience.
The deal was sealed and I reckoned I earned a few brownie points to mitigate my unrequited FOMO.
Above: les girls raved and a great many OMGs punctuated that evening's WhatsApp intercontinental dialogue. There was special mention of the wonderful attention they'd had from the staff and the extraordinary taste sensations they'd experienced. They were so carried away they even agreed to drink some red wine and conceded that it had been the perfect match for courses it had accompanied (including the chocolate pud in the last frame above).
An old bloke ventures into France for the first time post Brexit. His wife and her sister tag along. We're about to experience our first long-range EV journey before leaping into a camper van for 10 days. What could possibly go wrong?
The tableau above has become a bit of an icon on the N2 highway before traversing Sir Lowry's Pass on the descent into Cape Town. It invites travellers to browse a stupendous collection of bric-a-brac and perhaps consume a welcome breakfast before embarking on the final 100km of the journey.
The 5 days of missed highlights proved to be pretty intense. A pause at the end of Day 2 seemed a good idea so that we could include a few surprises, starting with breakfast in a prison.
Actually you already went off piste at Grunters Twice! ... get on with it, (Ed.)
Turn off at Riversdale
Who'd have thought of taking in the Riversdale prison on a road trip? Actually, who'd have thought of stopping at Riversdale!
It turned out there was another good reason to swerve off the N2 highway at this unassuming town but, first, how about a volle tronk ontbyt (see below) with all the trimmings, to set us up for the day ahead.
Above: (clockwise from top left) while choosing your breakfast, you can read how the dastardly Gilbert Hay of Heidelberg came to meet his maker in Riversdale; following that you can admire the rope that brought about his dénouement; then you can consume the hearty brekker, fit for a convict; a fair degree of convo-chic has been added to what is now a labyrinth of small shops selling art and used furniture (some of it very good value for a wandering British tourist).
Now, back to that other reason (incorporating a bit of preamble).
The English have a strange tradition of "bagging Wainwrights", which involves going through a book (or many books) identifying Wainwrights (hills/mountains in the Lake District catalogued by one Alfred Wainwright), walking up them and then ticking them off on a sort-of bucket list.
You can imagine the conversation halfway up Scafell Pike in the drizzle, two Wainwright-baggers on a mission cross paths:
"Hello, lovely day 'innit? This is #113 for me," chest slightly puffed out.
"Oh, this is #142 for me. Have you done Blencathra?"
Interlocutor number one looks crestfallen, aware of being trumped by the taller, more difficult peak.
And so it was with Shan and me that sunny morning in February. I doubt the Wainwright-baggers would've accorded us the credibility we felt we deserved but we'd motored over a few South African passes in our time, many of them gravel in a dubious state of repair.. names like Sani, Naude's Nek, Quacha's Neck, Ramatselitso's Gate, Price Alfred's, Bainskloof, and Swartberg (the last three of these the sadistic machinations of Thomas Bain - and the last mentioned the one Shan made me vow to never take her over again). Now we were contemplating a new road, swooping over the Overberg into the Klein (Little) Karoo.
If you love craggy scenery with gentler curves, ascents and descents, Garcia's Pass will get you started and begging for more. The gravel road to Barrydale just behind the mountains is a perfect introduction to the Little Karoo if you wish to relieve the monotony of the N2 highway, mostly notable for taking the shortest distance between Mossel Bay and Cape Town.
It was an easy drive to Montagu (allegedly pronounced Montagee by those in the know although we couldn't bring ourselves to do this), punctuated by brunch in one of the many cafés in Barrydale.
Above (clockwise from top left): breakfast on the terrace at the scenic Kogman & Keisie Guest Farm; the pocket Leidam Bird Hide and sanctuary in central Montagu, with egrets and stuff, which delighted my wife; two samples of the delightfully OTT baroque/contemporary/Art Deco BluVines winery, dining and coffee establishment ... the pic on the right a kind of temple to wine and the one on the left for sun-worshippers who are serious about their religion.
When he heard we were spending the night in Montagu, my friend, Daryl (Balfour) insisted: "If you go nowhere else in the town you must go to BluVines."
Sadly they weren't open at the time for evening meals but we managed to drop by when leaving town the next day and vowed to return if we ever visited the area again.
I had heard about Greyton but Shan wasn't sure. It is a small town in the Western Cape with a bit of a rep for being a lovely place to visit. I probably wouldn't have been that bothered had it not been for the lure of wine. Somehow a few winemakers had recognised the potential of the area around there. In recent years one in particular had risen to the fore through a combination of her skills and her fortitude in overcoming a devastating fire.
For all our Roaminations around the length and breadth of South Africa during the five months starting at the beginning of October 2021 and despite Greyton being a relative stone's throw from our base in Hermanus, we had never seemed to get there. Weekend trips had been mooted from the very start of our stay but never quite materialised for some reason or the other:
"There's an art festival on this weekend and accommodation will be impossible in the town;"
"Why would I want to go to Greyton with all the other superior attractions;"
"It is a drop with a mountain - every time we've been there we've never seen the mountain because of the cloud;"
And so it went. And now we had less than three weeks left. And I wanted to "bag" a winery, Lismore, with its window on the world in central Greyton. With a following wind I might catch a glimpse or even a word with its inspirational winemaker, one of South Africa's current finest, Samantha O'Keefe.
In so doing I had set myself up for another in a series of "Broomfield Moments".
After more than 4 months during which I had, unbeknownst to Ms O'Keefe, tried to contrive an opportunity to congratulate her personally on her peerless Viognier I had failed miserably. Not only was she out of town (I believe she may have been in London being feted by the likes of Roger Jones and Neleen Strauss, restaurateurs of note and formidable sommeliers to boot) but the Lismore shop was shut for the time we were there.
As for the dreaded cloud cover, there wasn't a daytime Greyton moment when we didn't see the mountain.
So for anyone asking hopefully of our visit to Greyton: "Did you see the mountain?"
My answer was going to have to be: "Yes but we didn't see Samantha O'Keefe."
Above: (top row) The Lismore shop is bookended by scenes from our rather pleasant digs at Fiore Garden Centre, Restaurant and Guest Accommodation - on the left the mountain can be clearly seen, on the right the makings of an evening joyfully spent; (bottom row) one of several corners of the town that has been attractively restored.
But someone did tell us we should visit Genadendal ... perhaps it was Emma?
Genadendal (née Baviaanskloof)
It does seem a little bizarre that Genadendal is evidently subservient as an attraction to Greyton. There is so much to say about the former that I'm really not going to attempt a full description. It is a place that stands proudly on its own and deserves a day spent there, walking around absorbing the magic and taking in one of the most comprehensive and wide-ranging but eclectic museums we've ever visited.
Essentially Genadendal was the first location in Southern Africa where European religious zealots attempted to proselytise the local population and the intervening almost 300 years has had its ups and downs. The Genadendal Mission Museum tackles this pretty much head on and is consequently a fascinating interlude for those interested in the vagaries of South African history since the Moravians arrived to set up the mission in 1737. It has veered from a refuge for freed slaves in the early 1800s to an eminent teacher training facility set up in 1838 and closed in 1929. Nelson Mandela visited in 1995 and it is rumoured that his naming of his Cape Town presidential residence was associated with that trip. Visit the museum to absorb the fascinating details in more depth.
Today Genadendal is a town of two parts, the somewhat regal historical village and a sprawling modern township. It is ironical that it has become subservient to Greyton, falling under the latter's tourism ambit.
Above: This is a sampler of what is to be found in the historic village. There is no substitute for the museum and for generally moseying around. The final frame shows the mountain sans cloud - at its base there are nature walks between Grenadendal and Greyton.
A few quirks on the last leg
The subject of Shelley-ann's opening photograph to this blog draws travellers in to an extraordinary cave of bric-a-bac with useful ideas for that gift you just forgot to buy for your Capetonian hosts before setting off on your visit - options can be mulled over via enjoying a breakfast, brunch or lunch.
We were also drawn to the fine pub that now inhabits one of the old sheds at Bot River station. The Shuntin' Shed serves tasty pizzas and other victuals to go with the beer and wine. Bot River is becoming increasingly admired for its wine and I would salute the entrepreneur who established train-based booze cruises
Above: I think these pics are self-explanatory.
Wrapping up our 144 days (perhaps as illegal aliens for the last 54).
Individual, longer road trips had always pushed our time envelopes, ending up with a rush to get back to Hermanus. A closer-to-home mini-trip was in order. Of course, "closer-to-home" is a relative concept when confronting the vast spaces of the Western Cape.
Visiting Arniston at last
We must have been the last of the intrepid travellers we knew to miss out on Arniston. In fact, calling the place Arniston is a bit misleading. The most interesting bits are in adjoining Kassiesbaai and at the end of a short(ish) trek South to Waenhuiskrans.
Let's start with Waenhuiskrans and its grot (Afrikaans for cave seems most appropriate). Timing is all because it's not good to be inside the grot(to) when the tide comes in. That much is fairly obvious from the pictures but there is also the access to the cave which involves traversing large slippery boulders for a hundred metres or so before slithering through a low entrance to reach the final destination. And that's after you've descended a precipitous path of uneven rocks before you even reach the water. Not great when one's balance is compromised by Long Covid.
Shan got there first and took the following fab photos. She also established that, despite the fact you'd never get a wagon and attendant oxen down there, the cave was originally named Waenhuis (Wagon House) on the hypothetical assumption that if you could, they would fit.
Above: (top) A splendid shot from the back of the cave; (bottom left) Shan slithered forward for more of a view from the grotto's mouth; (bottom right) taken from outside the grot four intrepid surf anglers dice with the waves that would grab unwary tourists at a slightly higher tide.
Happily, we emerged relatively unscathed. A few cuts and bruises for me but not a scratch for my wife, the gazelle.
We repaired to Kassiesbaai for lunch. To Willeen's Art, Craft and Restaurant to be exact. This enabled us to do several things:
We strolled back to the 'Posh" bit to retrieve our car going a little bit past it to check out the small enclave of kerk and the odd restored cottage that were separated from the riff-raff by the Spa and Behemoth now occupying the central ground.
Above: (top row) Langklip beach at the Kassiesbaai end was by far the most lively and provided the backdrop for an enjoyable lunch; (2nd row) characterful buildings in the old fishing village en route to Willeen's and the beach; (3rd row) Shan at Willeen's and a meal of succulent fish; (bottom row) improvised sculpture and an informal housing unit pumping out a dash of reggae.
We retired to the BlueSky Arniston Guest House for the evening (although I did escape for a quick sortie to take some photos in the lengthening shadows, below). Despitebeing set a fair way back from the sea front, this was one of the best accommodations we stayed in during our 144 day odyssey.
Above: (top row) a kerk and historic farmhouse form a small collection of historic buildings on the "posh" side of Arniston/Kassiesbaai; (2nd row) some of the fishermen's cottages facing across the "Newtown" have been smartened up but most still retain a more informal and sociable air; (3rd row) heading to the beach to catch the last rays and perhaps a swim; (bottom) a kind of passeggiata in which car drivers are also participants, crawling along the few streets - don't expect to maintain even the 30 km/h speed limit at this time of the evening..
The next section of our journey involved skirting around the particularly wild stretch of coast to the North-East of Kassiesbaai, which includes the De Hoop nature reserve. Our primary point of interest was to be the Sijnn winery, which we had been told was doing some splendid things that were specific to the local terroir. As was often the case on our South African road trips, there were other unexpected diversions, too.
Above: map of the 650 km, 5-day inner circle of missed highlights, note to self - spend a few hours in Napier if following this route again, maybe time it for lunch.
Sijnn at last
"If you get a chance and you're passing Malgas, you must try and get to Sijnn wines," my friend, Daryl (Bikey) Balfour, pronounced.
'Er, Bikey, you don't just "pass" Malgas! Nonetheless, my heartfelt thanks because we did just pass Malgas but only because the primary destination was the Sijnn vineyard (at your recommendation, of course).
There were a few of bonuses along the way thrown into the bargain, too. A couple of these presented themselves before we even got to Sijnn when we were confused by the signs and had to ask for directions ...
Above: (top left) listen guys, this occurred on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere between Ouplaas and Malgas and we weren't quite sure we were on the right track - there was no-one else to ask; (top right) and yes there was a Dop Shop, together with an estate agent, a trading post and Grunters Restaurant and Pub (complete with disco), in the middle of vast scrubland with a few gravel roads heading in various directions; (bottom left) and yes there were two pristine Dutch cyclists in Grunters having breakfast, having cycled that morning across semi-desert from Swellendam, 45 km away; (bottom right) we resolved to return to Grunters after visiting Sijnn - we were definitely up for a burger and chips.
So now we really are at Sijnn
It would seem that I have been serendipitously dilatory catching up with my blogging endeavours in the week during which Tim Atkin MW delivered his much awaited 2022 SA report. Not only does it reveal that he has named Charla Bosman (née Haasbroek) his 2022 Young Winemaker of the Year but it also includes a comprehensive article on Terroir in his introductory section "South Africa at a glance - The 10 things you need to know."
This is important to this yarn because on that day in February I learned more from Charla about terroir than at any time in my previous half century of being a wine-lover. Described by Jancis Robinson MW as "the total natural environment of any viticultural site" it all became crystal clear sitting beside Charla on the Sijnn verandah while she gestured at the spectacular scenery in front of us. It was a glorious day with the Breede River valley bisecting the arid scrub on its way to the sea.
Shan and I were tasting the 2017 Sijnn White under the tutelage of its eloquent winemaker..
After a brief chat about the coincidence of two great young winemakers, Francois and Charla, having the same family name, and establishing that they were firm friends but in no way related, we turned to more serious matters.
This vintage of Sijnn was the White's 10th vintage. Charla noted that they were just beginning to understand their terroir which had brought about the most exceptional vintage yet at Malgas. The latest 2021 vintage is described by Tim and others as the best yet so I'd better be sniffing out UK importers before Sijnn fans have snaffled the lot.
Shan wandered off to admire the landscape while Charla poured some of the red vintages for me. The latest of these, the 2019 was awarded 96/100 points by Tim in his 2022 report.
I think the most fascinating aspect of this little bit of heaven on the edge of Malgas was that a decade or so earlier the terroir was being treated with extreme scepticism by fellow winemakers. Seemingly hot, dry and arid compared with other emerging regions such as Hemel-en-Aarde. But, enabled by owner David Trafford, Charla had a multi-faceted plan to harness the cooling sea breezes Malgas shares with Hemel-en-Aarde including:
I could go on (and on and on) so apologies to readers if I've been dwelling a bit about the winemaking details that were a revelation to me ... we'll be returning to Grunters soon for some soul food.
But briefly back to the fact that two of South Africa's foremost emerging winemakers started out in life with Haasbroek as their last name, I think it was Charla who assured me that it wasn't as unusual a name as I'd imagined it to be. Apparently, not even in the wine industry.
Thank you again Bikey for the suggestion, it was totally worth it.
Above: (top left) we caught the comfy wine and food tasting verandah at a quiet time of the year and were privileged to enjoy undivided attention; (top right) the Breede River winds its way to its mouth with what appears to be an extension of the Overberg in the background; (bottom left) Charla Bosman née Haasbroek and David Trafford; (bottom right) not too easy to find in the UK, Charla pointed me towards a Scottish distributor who was most efficient but didn't have much stock - will Tim's report make finding Sijnn wines outside South Africa easier or more difficult?
Grunters Restaurant and Bar at the Breede River Trading Post
Returning to the Breede River Trading Post and while consuming our fat boy (and girl) special burgers we contemplated this phenomenal establishment with not a dwelling in sight or within several kilometres. It must seat close to a 100 revellers at peak capacity. Unless they are all Dutch cyclists and/or horse riders, you can forget pistols at dawn. SUVs at closing time a definite possibility, though.
Above: (top row l-r) the trading post that is a precipitous few kilometres from anywhere on the Breede River; clearly they must entertain the occasional fisherman, given the name of the bar and restaurant; there is an ample sound system (which was currently blaring out Bruce Springsteen) and seating for what must be 100 diners/revellers; (bottom row l-r) Shan can't keep the grin from her face as she contemplates a fatty-burger a la Brucie; examples of some serious lavatorial kitsch - where does one actually find such things.
Ferry 'cross the Breede
It had been with a little trepidation that we committed to this route. As with quite a few remote rural locations in South Africa it can be quite tricky to obtain current information as to the passibility of roads. Had it not been for the drawcard of Sijnn we probably would have taken an alternate route via Swellendam.
When contemplating our travel plans we could only find info via the net. The following was a fairly typical entry from two years before: "It was with great sadness that we said farewell to the historic pontoon/ferry over the Breede River at Malgas. Since the first half of the 19th century it has transported goods, animal and vehicles over the River. However, it will soon be replaced by a yellow metal monster with no character at all. I salute the amazing men who harness themselves to the cable and walk the length of the pontoon to pull it 120 metres to the other side of the river."
I suppose it was a little sad but this was outweighed by the relief at finding the new crossing in place and working like clockwork. It's free, too, which is always a surprise to the British motorist. The passage was as smooth as anything; just a tad of welly/wheelspin getting off and up the ramp on the other side marred our stately progress.
Above: (top row) the pont approaches from the far side; our car embarking; (bottom row) we had to travel via the mouth of the Breede to pick up an easier road up to Riversdale; finally ensconced at our accommodation for the night with a glass of wine.
Tomorrow we would be breakfasting in prison before crossing the mountains in the background of the last picture above.
The last 3 days of our short road trip, taking in Garcia's Pass, Montagu, Greyton and Genadendal.
I guess it shouldn't be surprising that Hermanus in the Western Cape has at least two proper wine merchants. It is, after all, at the foot of the Hemel-en-Aarde valley, new darling of the South African wine cognoscenti.
Of course, Hermanus having been the focus of Walker Bay for as long as I can remember (and that is becoming a very long time), there are many other wine outlets, too. They range from street corner minimarkets, offering a handful of cheap and cheerful bottles, to large chain store outlets with vast premises and surprisingly little choice.
During numerous previous trips to Hermanus I have treated The Wine Village, which sits a little out of town at the entrance to the Hemel-en-Aarde valley, as a temple to much of what is Great and Good in South African wine. A generous space housing so much, enthused over by a knowledgeable staff. In fact I'd have had no reason to go anywhere else had it not been for a message from my old pal Daryl.
"Banj, go and see Gary at Wine & Co in the centre of town."
Why would I do that? Nirvana was already at The Wine Village?
But, as we were staying within a stone's throw (well almost, certainly easy walking distance) of the centre of Hermanus, it wasn't long before I stuck my head in the door of Wine & Co to see what Gary had to offer. There was an instant, almost spiritual, magnetic draw. This was a rare quality that I'd experienced only a few times before. Fairly recently at the Wine Kollective in Riebeek Kasteel and, in the beginning, Wherever Solange Raffray Was at the Moment. I never went back to The Wine Village. Sorry guys, you were great.
The shop's exterior blends in with its attractive surrounds and the interior is intimate. Gary and Siemon are attentive but not intrusive. It seems as if, despite its pocket size, everything is in there. Mostly Saffa wine but also some international gems (and a choice bottle or two of pukka Whisky).
Wine & Co's Wine Shop stands in one of the charming early 20th century streets behind the main thoroughfare through Hermanus's centre
The shop has many nooks and crannies and, believe me, there are treasures to be discovered poking their insidious noses from those shelves. They go for diversity rather than vast quantities of each individual wine. Except, maybe, for the central bins that contain the "quaffers". There are Persian rugs on the floor that both filter out the harsher sounds and possibly save the odd dropped bottle from a terminal catastrophe.
Oh no, he's orff at a tangent again ...
But first, before progressing further I'm going to digress as I'm often wont to do: We were recently running low on everyday Chardonnay at home in the UK and I had some credit on an account I have maintained at a large mail-order retailer in Norfolk. They generally supply me with splendid products from Richard Kershaw, Kruger Family and other similar wines. I tried to order 5 or 6 of my favourites and they were out of stock. Might as well try something less familiar, I think. Ticked the box for 6 bottles of some Californian stuff at £13 (R260) a bottle. It duly arrived and was clearly off. I attempted to report this via an extremely clunky process on the retailer's website. Eventually ended up phoning the company to report that something was wrong with the wine.
"Can you try another of the 6 bottles?" the operative suggested. I wasn't keen but she seemed be adamant. I've been drinking wine for more than 50 years and I know when a bottle's contents are vrot. Shan agreed with me and she drinks Chardonnay most days of her life.
We opened another bottle. If anything it was even more vrot. I tried to report back but I could not find a way to do it other than via a completely useless bot that had been preprogrammed with a restricted set of options. So I ranked the wine on the site. The winemaker replied promptly and suggested I contact the "Customer Happiness Team" for a refund. Also, this retailer has a set of super-customers that are like school prefects who seem to parse the customer feedback loop. Don't know what their role is other than to tell you to contact the Customer Happiness Team. The winemaker had already told me this on the same thread. Two of them responded in this fashion.
It is not immediately obvious from the site how to contact the Customer "Happiness" Team and somehow I ended up back in the same loop. There was a phone number through all this but it was never available. Eventually found a side street in the bot that allowed me to request a call back within a day or so. In fairness the call back was fairly prompt and my account was credited in full. But what a process and no offer to refund the actual money.
OK, so shit happens and we have to suck it up in the name of convenience. Only problem is that these companies that emulate the likes of Amazon have seen off huge tranches of "corner" shops throughout the UK. Our town used have a wine merchant, as did the next town 5 miles away.
How are Gary and Wine & Co different?
Let's start with the social intercourse. Visiting the shop is an intrinsically enjoyable experience.
If it's just a bottle or two of Shan's everyday Chardonnay you need, foraging becomes a pleasant stroll into a picturesque part of the town and a furtle around in the Wine & Co bins in the middle of the shop (see above). There is almost always one for Chardonnay. Pick up the bottles you want, exchange a few words with Siemon or Gary, pay at the counter and leave the shop with a smile on your face.
Of course your smile is splitting your face because the benchmark quaffing Chardonnay is priced at R70-ish (That's less than £3.50). So, in real terms for comparison's sake, your basic benchmark wine, handed over with a smile, is costing a fraction of its Norfolk equivalent which comes at best with a clinical transaction and at worst with more than a week of aggravation.
At the other end of the scale, Wine & Co gets most of the exclusive "allocation" stuff, including from the likes of the Sadie Family, Alheit, Mullineux, Savage, Leeu Passant, Porseleinberg and many more. For those not in the know, these are limited-quantity high-end wines that riff-raff, like you and me, have no access to (except that we do, provided we know a Gary).
But that's only the half of it and it's not long before the real fun starts ...
Above, clockwise from top left: I'd asked my nephew, Michael Tindall, and his wife and daughter, Janine and Mia, to pop down to Wine & Co to take some photos for me (I'd been too preoccupied every time I went there myself to think of grabbing some pics). Michael's thank-you was to have been the bottle of Anysbos DISDIT he is holding in his paw. Unfortunately, I evidently hadn't explained to Gary that that bottle should go home with Mike; In the mean time, to demonstrate the versatility of the Persian rugs, Mia reclines while checking out the options for her parents' evening quaff (her mother is sadly not in the picture, Mike having delegated the lichtaffen responsibilities); deprived of their DISDIT, the Tindall family bought their own bottle of home brew ... watch out for sharks, crocodiles and bilharzia; Gary and Siemon depriving Mike of his hard earned gains with a smile.
Gary pretty much remembers one's name from the first step one makes into the shop. He also remembers the names of anyone who has accompanied you, so Mark, Shan and Kerry (Shan's sister and Michael's mother), who lives in Hermanus, are all addressed as such. Some other people can do that but Gary remembers one's preferences, too. So, instead of a dodgy website (housed in Norwich) that keeps offering me wine I've explicitly said I don't like, Gary has the knowledge. Stored. In. His. Head.
And it's not long before regular customers get a WhatsApp message going something like this:
"Just opened a bottle of ... that you might like. Pop into the shop if you'd like to give it a try."
I also mentioned that Wine & Co doesn't carry vast quantities of each individual wine. That's because (and I'm surmising here):
I could go on and on but I'll leave it with this thought. Wine & Co is more than a shop. It is a gathering place for people who love wine. If you accept an invitation to "Pop into the shop" you'll probably end up in a spirited conversation with like-minded individuals who've also received the summons. What better way to spend half an hour at the end of the day. If you truly love wine you just want to share that love. If a wine is pretty special, I personally want to sip it in the company of similarly appreciative winos.
Just before I left, I actually took my own bottle of 2017 Syrah down to one of these soirees. I'd bought it direct from wine sage Francois Haasbroek at Blackwater Wine and wanted to share it with people who understood and would appreciate it. Gary and Siemon fitted the bill perfectly.
If you simply need to stop by to pick up a consignment that is too extensive to carry home in a bag, the penguins will keep an eye on your vehicle while you wait.
Wrapping up our 144 days (perhaps as illegal aliens for the last 54).