Wine tasting is the cherry on top for Guild

It sounds a bit OTT to travel 85km for fish and chips and the next day drive 250km for a glass of wine or two but both destinations have become a pleasant tradition over the past 10 to 15 years.

Pringle Bay’s Hook Line and Sinker not only serves the freshest, crispiest beer-battered hake and chips brought by chef Stephan Kruger to the table in an enormous frying pan, but it is also where we meet for our annual catch up with gutsy yachtswoman Sue Fielden from the Isle of Wight and her Betty’s Bay cousins Merran and Edward Silverbauer.

Sue was on the all-woman crew of the tiny yacht “Sprinter”, skippered by Molly Warr, in the first Cape to Rio Race in 1971.

For years she was involved in the South African racing scene and in organising Cowes Week. Now when Sue’s here in summer she wields a huge pair of powerful long-handled secateurs joining Edward and the Betty’s Bay hackers in their never-ending war against alien vegetation.

The longer trip was to meet with 20 members of the Wine Tasters’ Guild at David Nieuwoudt’s remote land-locked Cederberg mountain farm where he is the fifth generation of Nieuwoudts, starting with his great-great grandfather in 1893. The first grapes were planted in 1973 on a fruit farm and we were there to pick the current vintage of ripe plump blue-black bunches of what will be the 2017 cabernet. (We were allowed to eat the na-trossies – the tiny bunches too small to pick but absolutely delicious!)

The guild has been privileged on at least five occasions to pick grapes in David’s vineyards. First it was pinotage with stalks that played hide-and-seek but we’ve also picked cab twice, sauvignon blanc at neighbouring Drie Hoek and found that the easiest bunch of the bunch was the shiraz for a rosé.

When our backs were weary bending, the tractor took our boxes to the winery for our practical lesson in winemaking— throwing the grapes into the de-stalking machine, (without jamming it), adding enzymes to the juice and, with a pitchfork, heaving the stalks from one bin to another where they were periodically flattened by a workman’s heavy boots.

Looking around the winery with its rows of huge gleaming tanks and expensive oak barrels filled me with awe. It’s astonishing that this multi-million rand meticulous enterprise was handled by three full-time winemakers: husband- and wife team Alex Nel (in charge of the whites) and Tammy (in charge of the reds) with David overseeing the lot with his boundless drive, foresight and passion for detail.

The cherry on the top for the guild was the marvellous tasting of 12 of his finest wines while sitting on the stoep of the Nieuwoudt family home and listening to his anecdotes and adven-

Deciding what to buy to take home is never easy. And a Constantia member was horrified when he collected his modest order for six bottles and found he’d accidentally ordered six cases at R6 600. He’d not worn his glasses when filling out his form!

Feel for firefighters

Driving into the country and seeing great patches of burnt mountain and veld drives home what a terrible summer it has been for our firefighters.

On December 10 the Cederberg Wilderness Area had a dreadful fire, resulting in the closure of the Wolfberg Cracks and Arch as the paths are unsafe. The once glowing mountain face has been turned into a dark and barren landscape with the rocks standing up like black tombstones on an enormous inhospitable graveyard.

The fire started far from the Niewoudt farm when a Namibian scout, in accordance with Namibian practice, covered his waste with a piece of toilet paper which he set alight. There was little wind so the fire was slow and when it curled around the lower slopes of nature conservation land, the decision was taken to let it burn out.

However, suddenly the wind picked up and in half an hour a furious blaze was sweeping towards the vineyards and the farm’s camping site at Sanddrif. Four helicopters could not drop their water because the flames were too high and the smoke too thick. Holiday makers had to grab their wallets from the tents and leap into their cars.

We could picture the scene of panic among the campers trying to escape across the one small bridge over the Dwarsrivier. Luckily there were neither deaths nor injuries but there was extensive damage to tents and equipment. It was a miracle that no buildings were torched, not even two under thatch.

Cyclists kept moving

On our way home, via Ceres, we had more than an hour on twisting and turning dirt roads with sharp rocks on the verges. Our relief at reaching the tar at Op die Berg was short-lived when we discovered a burst back tyre. Two local lads, both a bit babalaas from a heavy Saturday night’s revelry, offered to help jack up the car and put on the spare.

A kindly passing farmer, recognising our helpers, stopped to ensure that they did things properly. His name was Jan du Toit and he was a brick with a gentle sense of humour.

He told us three members of his family were hoping to cycle the 45km from Ceres to their farm – if they could find someone to drive home their bakkie. Like the small groups of riders still in their race gear that we’d seen slogging up Bain’s Kloof, these cyclists were determined to have a decent ride, even though the Big One had been cancelled. I thought that so gutsy.

Defining age

It’s never too late to be what you want to be, unless of course you want to be younger.