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Whale Watching with Wine Flies
Take the scenic route through Western Cape
It’s 7:40am on a Thursday morning when the Wine Flies minibus pulls up to the sidewalk. Wrapped in a scarf and piled into three layers of warmth, I hop into the vehicle and six enthusiastic faces look up to greet me. A pair of Americans, a pair of Canadians and a Canadian Couple fill the four-wheeled chariot whisking us away for a 12-hour tour.
Wine Flies, owned by Francois van Binsbergen, is a boutique touring company. With them, you have the opportunity to explore the Western Cape through wine. Wine Flies offers four different tour packages (Scheduled Tours, Private Tours, The Forgotten Route and The Icons of SA) where you can visit up to five wine estates a day – even more if you choose to go on a weekend away.
This particular tour, The Icons of SA, celebrates the three W’s our province is known for: whales, wine and wors.
By the time we’ve cleared Cape Town; the charming quirkiness of Jeremy Loops’ sound is setting the tone for the day. Within 20 short minutes, we are gliding up the driveway at Asara Wine Estate & Hotel. Two more Australians join us and we take a quick drive into Stellenbosch for a coffee run.
Before the fun really begins, we are given the rules of engagement. “Rule number one,” intones Terrence, commanding the attention of the nine of us. “We play musical chairs; every time we get back onto the bus after a stop, you have to sit somewhere new. Number two, we leave no wine or no one behind. And lastly, no politics, religion or sex before lunch.”
Heading our tour guides directive, the nine of us keep the conversation light. One of the Americans has taken it upon himself to make a new friend in me. Chatting with the Yankee, I ascertain that he is a math teacher who’s relocated to Nigeria. When I confess that this is my second wine tour with Wine Flies in as many weeks, the two Australians and Canadians join the conversation.
Oom Samie se Winkel (Uncle Samie’s Shop) which opened in 1904, is our first visit. The historic store is bursting with South African knick-knacks. Cheetah hides hang from the ceiling, vintage gramophones, coloured feathers, posters, newspaper clippings, and porcelain dolls adorn the creatively crammed space. The Aussies purchase safari hats, catch a quick smoke and we head over to Middelvlei Wine Farm for our first tasting.
As we enter the gates of the wine estate, Terrence explains that the black Great Dane and Boerboel on the farm are called Merlot and Papsak (lining of box wine) respectively. “You don’t want to say ‘papsak’ to anyone in the Netherlands, it means fat ass to them,” Terrence says, much to the amusement of the Australians.
“We like to go to the small, and often forgotten, wine estates in the region,” Terrance says before giving us a brief Wine Tasting 101 course. “When it comes to tasting wine, we tend to be judgemental; we make assumptions on what we see. I’m going to teach you that you need to enjoy wine from the inside out,” he asserts. First explaining the five S's of the sensory experience: sight, swirl, smell, sip and savour, the enthusiastic wine lord then explains that we can only pick up on flavours and scents we are familiar with. “If you’ve never had gooseberry you won’t pick up on the gooseberry in the wine,” he teaches us.
The stop at the farm features a tasting of five wines and includes a cellar tour, where you get to taste wines at different stages of maturation straight from the barrels. An added bonus is that those brave enough get to sample a port with a 45% alcohol count. All this before 10am might I add!
We amble back to the car, feeling fruitier than when we arrived. The minibus is filled with more giggling and exciting chatter as we make our way to apple-centric Elgin Valley for some cider tasting.
From a converted shipping container on the side of the highway, Terrence treats us to a braai, some biltong and a tasting of five deceptively delicious ciders. With the sun on our backs, the breeze in our hair and the mouthwatering aroma of boerewors coming from behind the Everson’s Cider stall, we appreciate the simple pleasures this beautiful region affords us.
“Hi, I want to buy some cider,” a friendly local begins. When we explain that we are here to enjoy the delicious drink and don’t actually work at the stall, the unassuming stranger reveals that he is, in fact, Mr Everson himself. “I’m happy you’re enjoying it at least,” he jokes. I instantly understand why Wine Flies opts for the lesser known breweries and wineries; we get a chance to meet the brand owners and chat to them about their products. The Australians, proving to be the party starters in the bunch purchase four cases of cider, with four bottles in each case.
We’ve had some wine (and cider), we’ve whet our appetites with wors, now it’s time to try and catch a few whales in their natural habitat – and have some lunch too.
“Listen I’ve sent these guys a bunch of emails and called their shells a bunch of times,” Terrence begins, sparking genuine concern, “but whales are busy creatures. They might not be able to pay us a visit,” he jokes and the bus erupts in laughter. We’ve parked just off Marine Drive, where the roads curves with the coastline. Walking along the pavement we have our eyes and binoculars fixed on the ocean hoping to catch a sight of the gentle giants. Following the footpath Terrence leads us through, we stammer down stone steps into a restaurant. Bientang's Cave is an eatery that has settled in the seaside rock face of this quaint town. Only one of us has a serving of fish and chips, the staple this fishing village is known for. The rest of us tuck into chicken and beef burgers, as well as a vegan-friendly curry.
After lunch, we’re given 45 minutes to explore the area. Some sneak a romantic stroll through the rock pools, others indulge their inner Annie Leibovitz while the rest of us squeeze a scoop of gelato into our already full tummies. Feeling a little sluggish, we pile into the minibus and Terrence takes us to Honingklip for a beer tasting.
It’s roughly 3:30pm now and, believe it or not, the tour is scheduled for two more tastings. Honingklip, the only brewery on the continent that accepts Bitcoin as a form of currency is where we taste locally crafted India Pale Ale (IPA), saison, blond, sour and wine-infused beer. I am dared to eat a compressed hop pellet, which I vehemently decline.
Our final destination is Barton Vineyards and Villas for a wine and chocolate pairing. Lionel, our tasting host, bears a resemblance to Lionel Richie and the group spends 10 minutes marvelling at the uncanny similarity in features. “Guys, all the wine and chocolate is vegan-friendly,” Terrence confesses too late for it to really matter. The apricot flavoured chocolate complements fruitier wines while dark chocolate pairs perfectly with the full-bodied Merlot we are served.
And so, after a jam-packed day of exciting activities, it is time for us to head back to the Mother City. All in all, the Whale, Wine and Wors Tour is an entertaining and informative experience and is most certainly a unique way to explore the Cape Winelands.
Tip: You’ll want to purchase more than one bottle of wine, cider or beer so bring some money with you. Stopping in Elgin Valley and Hermanus gives you the opportunity to get some souvenirs too. Wine Flies can accommodate up to 13 guests. Make a booking for a group of five or more and recieve a fantastic discount.
The Bill: Offering great value, the Whale, Wine and Wors tour will set you back just R880/p which includes all tastings, pairings and lunch. The tours run every Tuesday and Thursday (August to December) from 7:30am-6pm. Contact [email protected] or +27 (0)21 462 8011
by Inga Sibiya and Gary Hartley
Eager to embark on a different classic tour with a unique twist? Why not try the Wine Flies duo's Forgotten Route tour to Matjiesfontein.
Eager to embark on a different classic tour with a unique twist? Why not try the Wine Flies duo's Forgotten Route tour to Matjiesfontein. Nothing beats good food and a great view, check out our pick of best restaurants with sea views in the city. Make the most of the warm weather at these blue flag beaches.
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