Whilst some of you wake up early to defrost your cars, we sit amongst the vineyards eating French toasts smothered in maple syrup. It is only 8.30am but the sun is already high, making our bare arms and legs look beautiful despite the lack of tan. Glancing across the table, the Helderberg Mountain seems even closer now that we’ve seen it in daylight. Grape wines hang over our heads and we couldn’t care less that Aussie flu is quietly sneaking into UK. Not today, not for the next three weeks. We are spending the North-European winter in South Africa, starting at 96 Winery Road.
Our first time outside of Europe (ever, ever in our 40 something years, with a bunch of good friends and kids that are up for adventure) – I can’t help boasting.
The Country Guest House may have a boring name but is nothing but for those who like to see the making of South African wine up close. Ken Forrester vineyards surround not only the 15 tourist accommodation cottages but sprawl far up the Raithby road. Small taster bottles of the white, red and pink ‘petit’ are in every room, not to mention the cellars of the 96 Winery Road Restaurant that stock the full range of Ken Forrester varieties.
All that remains now is to start exploring the history of this rather posh part of Western Cape between Stellenbosch and West Somerset. Originally inhabited by Khoikhoi people, I struggle to find original place name for this geographical area on the internet.
Embarrassingly, I find that the term Helderberg Mountain is relatively modern, replacing the older Hottentots-Holland Mountain. The term ‘you are speaking like a hottentot’ rings a bell with a derogatory phrase people used in Czechoslovakia during my childhood, describing someone who couldn’t express themselves very well. Little did I know that this was a term coined by the European settlers who found it difficult to follow the click sounds of the Khoisan language and therefore referred to them as ‘stutterers’ (hottentot in Dutch/German). That just about sums up the attitude of the era everyone would rather forget.
But Ken Forrester pledges to be a modern, post-apartheid kind of winery business that treats the land and its people with respect. Everyone who looks after us, be it in around the cottage, breakfast cafe or restaurant seems happy enough, but you’d make a mistake to think they grew up in South Africa. Zimbabwe and Malawi are the two most frequently quoted places of origin for staff who are clearly overqualified for their jobs.
Apart from wine groves there are lemons, limes and a tree nursery of some kind. A couple of understated lakes, one of which is good enough to fish in.
Tall African pines dominate the landscape in the distance and our 9 year old son wants to go fishing again. In the absence of any advanced equipment, Margaret, the Malawi cleaner advises on possible bait of corn from an unfinished pizza. She tells us her Dad and her little daughter, both of whom she hadn’t seen for a good couple of years, love fishing. But it’s ok, she assures me, though there are no jobs, there are luckily no wars in Malawi.
We chat, hang our wet swim suits on the wooden fence, then walk in the direction of the Helderberg Mountain to sit by the lake, attempt fishing (& catch nothing) into the evening (8pm-ish! December) sunset.
To be continued…