A barrel for two wine-o’s

ps: Pre-Lockdown Travels

We were a bit sad to leave Porto, but happy that the day started off sunny, and best of all, dry. Yoo-hoo! No drip, drip. Ha! Ha! Haaaa! Little did we know that the two hour drive to our next lodging would be filled with drama and lots of drip, drip. The sweaty kind of drip, drip. We started off with taking the wrong exit on the highway. It might be a laid back country, but in this city there was havoc on the highway. It was peak hour and we were driving too slow. We had to find somewhere to make a u-turn, (was that a no entry sign? Oops!), drive all the way back and start over again. The further from the city we were, the quieter the road became. We could relax! No wait! Those bridges! High, higher, highest! Geez, and over one of them, the highest and the longest, it rained non-stop. Vision was non-existant. We crawled along, hoping that no-one bumps into us from the back, or that we bump into someone at the front. After fifteen minutes the spook was over. We needed something to settle our nerves, so made a detour to the nearest supermarket. After scoffing at least four Pastéis de Nata’s (Portuguese custard pies) each, and on a too-much-sugar high, we were so ready to get to our hotel asap. Ha! Ha! Haaaa! We did not reckon with our GPS! That nasty little so and so directed us to hell. We should have relied on our own brains and turned back when we saw that the road got narrower and narrower as we proceeded, BUT, there was nowhere to turn, back or otherwise, so onward we went. We had to flip the side mirrors inwards, which made it worse because now we really could not see the rocks and bushes threatening to scrape the car. One of us squeezed out through the door and tried to “navigate” the other one. A mess! Big car, tiny road (what road!!??) and to top it all, a downhill gradient of at least thirty percent! We had to roll down inch by inch, trying to keep all four wheels from slipping into the deep ditches on both sides. Drip! Drip! Drip! The German was a superstar! He got us out of there despite ear-piercing screams filling the air. We now really needed something to drink!

We stopped along the banks of the Douro river to catch our breaths, calm our shaking legs and also to admire the beautiful scenery. We were now on the wine route and all would be well again…wink…wink!

 

Quinta da Pacheca (our choice of stay)

There are a lot of wonderful places to stay in the Douro Wine Valley, but we chose the Quinta, because they had the barrels…

We did a guided mini tour of the cellar (below). This one is not in production and is only used for touristic purposes. Thereafter we had a complimentary wine-tasting with four of their wines, two of them port. The highlight was the 40-year-old. Other than the four on offer, we could also try some of the other wines. Needless to say, everything tasted so good, that we spent a lot of money, a LOT, buying lots of wines, LOTS. Hot cash card hee-hee. Thank goodness for their postal service! We tipsy-toddled over to our sleeping quarters to prepare for supper.

Wining and dining in style. We were so mellow by now, forgotten was the drama of a few hours ago. It was time to eat, drink and be merry!  😋

The Wine Barrel! What an amazing experience. As mentioned, they are the only hotel in Portugal where one can sleep in a real wine barrel, smack in the middle of the vineyard. A wine-o dream! We were astounded at how roomy and cosy it was, with all the luxuries one needed, especially the complimentary bottle of port wine. 🍷 The round bed worried us a bit because we were afraid to end up on the floor, but wow! it was very comfortable and big enough for tossy-turvies 🤣 😍

The next morning we woke up to this amazing rainbow! What a special way to start the day! After a scrumptious breakfast we packed the car (guess which one 🤓 ) and zoomed off to our next adventure. It was time to be beachy…

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 😂). 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 😵

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… 😱 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! 😋 …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! 🙀

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.