Wanna Kill Devil? Drink Rum!

Our ode to rum. This post is not a history lesson in rum, because no-one REALLY knows EXACTLY when rum was first produced nor where the name originated from. Is it pirate juice, or rumfustian, romani, kill-devil, demon water, medicine or something else, or was it first created in the east, or west, maybe somewhere south, or to fend off the cold on the north pole? Really very complicated stuff, that’s why for us it’s simple. We love it. Loooove! We drink it. Neat. Well, as neat as possible, or until one little sip starts killing all those devils gathered in your throat¬†ūüė¨.¬†A¬†very complex and high-spirited (pun intended) liquid in a glass. RUM.¬†ūüė欆That’s why we were quite excited to visit a distillery or two in Mauritius to try some homely spirits. Okay, so we’re also avid collectors…enough said.

Distillerie de Labourdonnais (formerly known as Rhumerie des Mascareignes)

One word. Magnificent! Impressive! Amazeballs! So who’s counting…eh!? We were there in June, winter time in Mauritius, when sugar cane harvesting starts, and also the time when probably most of the distilleries are not in full production. We were lucky to have a chat with the charming and very knowledgable Master Distiller of Labourdonnais, Mr. Dassa, who explained how they produce their rum. We really appreciate the time he took to answer our questions too. Let’s just say we were so impressed that we had to declare our extra bottles at the customs of our local airport. ūü§ó¬†Why buy only one? ūüėú¬†We also sat down at the rum tasting bar to sample a few of their flavoured and classic rums. We loved the one with lemongrass, what else, but to be honest, they all tasted good. Yes, we sipped all of them! After that we sat down to eat at the restaurant right next door where we had the most delicious fresh salmon. We went back to eat there a few days later for a buffet of local food. Hmmm…

The Chateau de Labourdonnais

On the large and impressive grounds is a large nineteenth century mansion/chateau that has been restored to its full glory of years gone by. This is how the better half lived in the late 1850’s. As soon as you step through the door it’s like going back in time, the wooden floors and polished furniture, the murals on the walls and the glassware. The mansion is smaller than it looks, and some rooms have modern arty stuff on display (for sale) but both¬†verandas, upstairs and downstairs, encircling the whole house are huge. From here one has a wide view the well maintained gardens with many old and imposing trees. It was very peaceful when we visited, but also busy due to some preparations for an event. We took the time to sit down and watch the videos about the history, the renovation of the property and also about the distillery. There is an entrance fee to visit the Chateau. The price includes the rum tasting. To visit the restaurant and gift shop no entrance fee is charged.

Labourdonnais Gardens and Orchards

There is a vanilla plantation, an orchard with many tropical fruit trees like passion fruit, mango, guavas, and lots of plants and trees. Some trees are very old, like more than one hundred years old, old. Wow! We meandered through the gardens and were delightfully surprised to find a few very big tortoises lazing in the sun. We were accompanied by a butterfly or two and many happy chirping birds. It was worth the visit!

As we walked towards our car we were met by this magnificent rainbow, the fourth one so far. An awesome end to a fantastic day!

Labourdonnais Gardens and Orchards

 

La Rhumerie de Chamarel

This was the furthest we travelled from our hotel in the north of the country and it was also the most adventurous, especially on the way back. This rum distillery lies south west of Mauritius and it took us about two hours to get there. The scenery was lovely though the weather was not so nice, with more bouts of rain than sunshine, and windy. It was also a bit confusing to find the distillery and we thought we were lost when it appeared as we were driving up the hilly road. The La Rhumerie de Chamarel seems to sit on top of a hill surrounded by acres of sugar cane fields which they cultivate themselves. From July they start harvesting, by hand, and the sugar cane is delivered to the distillery within four hours. We had a guided tour, in English, which is included in the entrance fee, together with a rum tasting. The tour was very short, just about twenty minutes. Unfortunately the rum producing plant was shut down, but we did get to see all the equipment they use. There was also a little video for more information if needed.

After a short walk from the main gate you arrive at this imposing entrance (below). The whole area inside is not big, sometimes overcrowded, but the stone buildings are nice.

There are about four rum tasting stations where each group gathers/stands around to sip from nine varieties of their agricole rums. The coconut one was delicious! We wanted to sample some of their special varieties, like the VO (very old) and single barrel, so had to pay an extra fee for this pleasure. Was it worth it? No comment. We bought their coffee…

Before leaving we had the most delumptious meal at their restaurant. Wow, the portions were generous and the highlight was dessert, Chamarel Gold Rum Baba. The best baba to papa and mama ever! A “doughnut” swimming in rum with fresh cream and home-made vanilla ice cream hugging it can get some hormones out of retirement. Shoo! After that glorious attack on our taste buds, we took a walk in the garden outside, then headed on the looooong road back home…but first with two more stopovers…

 

Life’s full of sip, so it’s okay to wine!

Day six: Thick and heavy clouds everywhere, and the possibility of it raining for the first time since we’ve¬†landed in the country is very high. It’s one of those days that all you want to do…is wine. Where better to do this¬†than in¬†the attractive Cape Winelands. Some of the best wines in the world come from this region (heard it through the grapevine…yakkity-yak ūüėā). It is not far from Cape Town city itself, so one can spontaneously take a leisurely drive to explore the region, like we did. One could also join one of the many tours on offer, or hire a personal tour guide. Prices for both options vary, depending on what you want to experience. Whatever option you choose, you will not manage to see everything this amazing region has to offer, let alone visit all the vineyards. You need time. Lots and lots of time. It is a very enormous¬†and geographically interesting area, stretching a little over 22300 square kilometres¬†and¬†largely mountainous, some reaching 2000 metres. There are several¬†ranges (many with¬†fascinating¬†sandstone peaks), cliffs, canyons, caves, waterfalls, rivers, natural pools, springs, forests and other wonderful attributes of nature that simply¬†cannot all be seen in one little holiday, possibly not in a¬†lifetime. The¬†Mediterranean climate, where summers are hot and dry and winters cool, wet and windy is excellent¬†for the vines. They really thrive, though the winelands have also been affected by the¬†crazy global climate changes in recent years. It has been snowing more than usual during winter so there are more snow-capped¬†mountains peaks in the summer. As mentioned before, there are so many vineyards, very old and very new, so we opted to visit the ones in the second oldest (330 odd years old) European settlement town called Stellenbosch. Cape Town was the first settlement. Stellenbosch is also known as the “City of Oaks” due to all the¬†oak trees lining the streets. These were planted by its founder and namesake, Simon van der Stel. Stellenbosch is a very beautiful town situated in a valley with mountains and hills as a backdrop. Oh, and¬†we only managed to visit three wine producing farms¬†this day. All that¬†sipping¬†and spitting¬†can be quite loopy…uhm…merry…uhm…tiring…hic ūüėĶ

Van Ryn’s Distillery

This has nothing to do with wine. It’s the only brandy distillery in Stellenbosch, and home to the award winning best brandy. The current distillery, dating back to 1905,¬†is in¬†a historical and well-preserved building complex¬†on the banks of the Eerste River. The original building, still intact, apparently was built with stones collected from the river. As you enter the door, you are greeted with a very friendly welcoming smile…and a tasty little cocktail. After booking a tour of the working distillery, and while you wait for it to start, you’re encouraged to sit in their amazing lounge. What an impressive ambience! Where better to sip your cocktail than on a comfy old sofa or an ancient wing-backed leather chair. It¬†feels like you’re back in the 1900’s! It was not easy¬†having to get up off the couch, as one could simply sit there all day, but it was time to tour. We could gape at their historic copper potstills, deeply inhale¬†brandy fumes in their maturation cellar and be bowled over by a very amusing and entertaining cooper. With funny anecdotes, “drum” beats and jolly banter, he took us through¬†the entire¬†wooden barrel making process. It was such fun!!

At the end of the tour we had a tasting of some of their international award winning spirits together with confectionary and cheeses. A must do¬†if you’ve never tasted the stuff before, or if you’re a¬†brandy lover or connoisseur.¬†Cheers!

 

Neethlingshof Wine Estate

The first reaction as you enter the gate is WOW! There in front of you is a kilometre-long avenue with stone pines on either side. If you’ve ever seen one of their wine bottles, then you’ve seen this very image on their labels. Then another gasp as you exit the tree-lined avenue. Beautiful landscaped gardens and Cape Dutch buildings with a panoramic view of the winelands. The wine estate dates back to 1692 where it was called De Wolvendans, roughly translated as “The Wolves Dance” or “Dances with Wolves” (sic). About 96 years later Charles and Maria Marais bought the farm and started making their own wine. When their only daughter¬†married¬†Johannes Neethling forty years later, he became joint owner and changed the name of the then¬†very prosperous estate to Neethlingshof. Maria was widowed very early, yet she still managed to run the whole business right up to when she sold it to her son and son-in-law. ¬†She still engaged in the running of the estate right up to her death at age 68. She was one of the first female vintners in the¬†young South¬†Africa at the time¬†and¬†the Maria Noble Late Harvest is¬†a wine inspired by this memorable and gutsy woman. The grand historic manor now houses the Neethlingshof restaurant where we had our winetasting. We could sample five different wines and nibble on delicious tit-bits. Yes, you really have to spit it all out after rolling it over your tongue or swirling it in your mouth. Sometimes a sip or two “by mistake” fell down your throat. So what, sip happens! We were not able to¬†tour their cellar as bookings have to be made¬†at least 24 hours in advance, and not because we had wobbly legs. Tsk-tsk…It was a lovely experience anyway¬†the¬†wines we had were really good.

 

Die Bergkelder Wine Centre

Die Bergkelder is Afrikaans for The Mountain Cellar, and the first of¬†such in¬†South Africa. This is a really sensational place! We were very impressed by everything we saw, sipped and swallowed. No, no spitting out of such lekker stuff! Another surprise was how “young” the Bergkelder is. Founded in 1967 means that the two of us, !oh-my-golliwog!¬†are¬†older… ūüėĪ Whatever. We booked a wine tour and did not have to wait long for¬†it to start. There’s a¬†maturation cellar with more than 20 thousand barrels of wine. You also take¬†a refreshing stroll¬†on a little footpath along the banks of the Plankenburg River, cross a¬†little bridge set in a green and plush big garden¬†to¬†enter the mountain cellar. After a short¬†informative audio-visual before you are escorted to one of the many stone alcoves. There are five different wines to taste on this tour, and each wine is presented in a different alcove. Each¬†alcove¬†has¬†hundreds, maybe thousands of old and dusty brown bottles stacked against their walls. The lights, soft and slightly dimmed,¬†turns¬†the¬†creepy “dungeon” to a¬†very romantic room. Then after a short walk down an amazing passage with half a million bottles flanked on each side, you enter a cellar filled with French oak casks. Wow! These¬†beautifully carved casks are more than three hundred years old! Oh, and we were told that all the bottles lining the walls were full of wine,¬†but¬†undrinkable. Hmmm?? We could drink some other grape products though, like “Black Gold”, the¬†most divine and unusual coffee and chocolate brandy! ūüėč …and we didn’t have to spit it out…No, it’s not one of theirs, but it was served from their bar area. The end of the tour takes you through their¬†bottling plant which is really big…ten¬†thousand bottles per hour big! ūüôÄ

Did you know that Die Bergkelder has a unique range of Fleur du Cap unfiltered wines? Yes, they launched this wine in 1998. The natural flavours and varied characters of the grapes are retained in the wine, with the least amount of human tampering.