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South Africa — Pining for Pinotage

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Story and Photos by Justin Ocean

“A week-long exploration into the luxe queer side of the Rainbow Nation.”

Day 7, Franschhoek Winelands

Rested and recovered from my nights at La Cabrière Country House, it’s wine time! Floors van der Wateren, equal parts guide, historian and wine expert (and soon to tour company owner, he admits), leads my swath through farm after verdant farm in a two-day tasting spree I’m still trying to wrap my head around. With a warmer, longer growing season that’s quickly becoming even more productive thanks to global climate change, South African wines pack a higher alcohol content and each exceptional taste of Pinotage (a hardy South African varietal created in 1925 by combining Pinot Noir and Hermitage vines into a robust red) and Sauvignon Blanc (the region is renowned for its whites) has a tendency to sneak up. Brandies and sweet wines and, surprisingly, olive oils for the AA crowd are also tops, as is the local bubbly, denoted Methode Cap Classique to indicate the same in-bottle fermentation process as champagne.

Outside of individual bottles — I still can’t get the crisp Pierre Jourdan MCC and bold and peppery though truffle-undertoned Reserve Syrah from Seidelberg out of my head — vineyard highlights include the homegrown archeological and social history Museum van de Caab (“of the Cape”) at the Solms-Delta estate.

Tales of Khoisan tribesman, slave workers and contemporary oral histories engage with artifacts to create a holistic history of the region. Meanwhile 50-percent of the estate’s profits benefit a local trust that aims alleviate the persistent historical inequities and semi-feudal society of the vineyards through cultural and fiscal empowerment. Their sweet-then-dry Solms Koloni, a Riesling and Muscat blend that’s desiccated on the vine and matured in oak, is a feat of forward-thinking ingenuity, too!


Story and Photos by Justin Ocean

“A week-long exploration into the luxe queer side of the Rainbow Nation.”

Day 7, Franschhoek Winelands

Rested and recovered from my nights at La Cabrière Country House, it’s wine time! Floors van der Wateren, equal parts guide, historian and wine expert (and soon to tour company owner, he admits), leads my swath through farm after verdant farm in a two-day tasting spree I’m still trying to wrap my head around. With a warmer, longer growing season that’s quickly becoming even more productive thanks to global climate change, South African wines pack a higher alcohol content and each exceptional taste of Pinotage (a hardy South African varietal created in 1925 by combining Pinot Noir and Hermitage vines into a robust red) and Sauvignon Blanc (the region is renowned for its whites) has a tendency to sneak up. Brandies and sweet wines and, surprisingly, olive oils for the AA crowd are also tops, as is the local bubbly, denoted Methode Cap Classique to indicate the same in-bottle fermentation process as champagne.

Outside of individual bottles — I still can’t get the crisp Pierre Jourdan MCC and bold and peppery though truffle-undertoned Reserve Syrah from Seidelberg out of my head — vineyard highlights include the homegrown archeological and social history Museum van de Caab (“of the Cape”) at the Solms-Delta estate.

Tales of Khoisan tribesman, slave workers and contemporary oral histories engage with artifacts to create a holistic history of the region. Meanwhile 50-percent of the estate’s profits benefit a local trust that aims alleviate the persistent historical inequities and semi-feudal society of the vineyards through cultural and fiscal empowerment. Their sweet-then-dry Solms Koloni, a Riesling and Muscat blend that’s desiccated on the vine and matured in oak, is a feat of forward-thinking ingenuity, too!

Nearby Fairview Estates, which gained notoriety for winning a court case against the French Government for trademark infringement on its Goats Do Roam line (get it?), offers up a smorgasbord of delectable goats and cow milk cheeses, such as a pungent brie-like gorgonzola, paired with homemade fruit preserves in an indulgent, rotating tasting selection. Outside, coax the Swiss Mountain Goats off their historically accurate “Goat Tower” (seriously) with some oak leaves for a perfect picture op. With a race horse stud farm outside, and a stud of a wine steward Pieter inside, Avontuur Estate in Stellenbosch is prime for those classic rolling hills photo ops as well — not to mention a lemon-meets-ginger 2007 Chardonnay Reserve named Luna De Miel that’s all the rage in the national wine bible John Platter Guide. Floors swears they carry the region’s best Pinotage as well.

It’s no contest that the food in Franschhoek is the region’s best. Like any world-class wine village its main street is a veritable who’s who of gourmet South Africa. Reuben’s Resturant & Bar is and nothing short of exceptional and wins the prize for best meal of the trip thanks to its Cape Malay-influenced green curry-spiced fish cakes, lightly tempura battered and accompanied with a mint and cilantro salad. The eclectic menu (lamb kofta shares space with mustard-glazed ostrich) changes daily along with its fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.

Around the corner at Le Bon Vivant, an artistic trio of buttery beef and veal (in ravioli, tartare and medallion form) that traded a bit of substance for high-class style came in a close second. Third? Nik Naks (South African Cheetos), Mrs. H.S. Ball’s chutney-flavored Simba chips, Rollo Ice Cream Bars and biltong peri peri snap stix from a late-night raid on a petrol station mini mart. (You can tell a lot about a country from its junk food!)

In a way, junk food is actually a perfect metaphor for a trip to South Africa: comfortably familiar yet surprisingly unique. Traveling its striking landscape — in Cape Town alone you can go from beautiful beaches to vineyards to mountains and back to urban adventures within the space of a day — and meeting its astonishingly warm people, it’s easy to be wooed by the glamour and game and forget you’re on the tip of a continent in flux. But beneath its queer and luxurious veneer thrives a multifaceted, exceedingly fascinating place that’s both a memorably indulgent vacation and a front-row seat into the trials of our increasingly global times.

Case in point: on my flight back to NYC I was reading a local Cape Town paper’s OpEd section and was bowled over by a piece that spoke to the future of the country. It turned out it was actually an edited down version Barack Obama’s recent ‘A More Perfect Union’ speech on race relations in America with “South Africa” replacing mentions of “America.” A neat trick — and telling.

If we can be a mirror to South Africa, so it can be a mirror to our own domestic dramas. And isn’t the purpose of travel educational as much as experiential? A journey to more expansive understanding of our place in the world? Seven days was barely enough time to scratch the surface of the country. I for one can’t wait to return.

Go back to Day 6, Cape Town to Franschhoek Winelands

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