If it’s a Wine Festival it has to be Stellenbosch

If you can remember the Stellenbosch Wine Festival of the old days’, you probably weren’t there. This was held in the Town Hall in Plein Street, and around its heyday circa 1982 it was an ideal place to get mindlessly drunk under the pretence of experiencing Stellenbosch’s wine culture. I mean, give a few hundred 19 to 25 year olds a wine glass and tell then they can get it topped up all night for free, and the result is not going to end in spirited debates on the poetry of NP van Wyk Louw interspersed with rigorous bouts of waltzing to a boere-orkes.

No. Blotto and beyond blotto is the word, and that is how it was of the two Stellenbosch Wine Festivals I can remember. God knows what happened at the other four I apparently attended.

All this changed in 2003 when the new revamped Wine Festival belonging to the country’s premier wine region was re-launched. With a sponsor on-board – American Express then, Pick ’n Pay now – the play was for a classy lifestyle event instead of a student piss-up.

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For the first few years the new Stellenbosch Wine Festival was held in the confines of the Paul Roos Gymnasium hall. Then in 2013 it packed off to the Braak for two years. And now it is where it should always have been, at Coetzenburg.

Are these not the most splendid sports grounds in the entire land? Cradled by the Pieke and other majestic mountains, the setting is dramatic and places the festivalgoers slap-bang in the middle of the natural beauty that contributes to making Stellenbosch the leading South African and food wine destination.

I slipped into this year’s festival on the final Sunday morning. This is what a festival wants: spacious lay-out, organised stands, wine-people behind the counters. A peach of a blue-skied day helped, too.

Before getting caught-up in some wine industry shop talk with other attendees, I took the opportunity of doing what one comes to this kind of gig for, namely to taste the vino. Obviously, one does not have the opportunity of getting through the entire offering. And being a hot morning, I was definitely sticking to whites.

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Perfect day for Chenin Blanc and lighter whites, and here there was more than enough to please the deprived palate.

Villiera Bushvine Chenin Blanc 2014 has always been a goer, and still does not disappoint. Lovely newish label, too. The wine is everything I want in a Chenin: fresh entry, dollops of bright and brisk white fruit with a tropical-mineral finish, like volcano soils next to a papaya orchard in Hawaii.

A real surprise was the Alma Mater Chenin Blanc from Lanzerac. Dig the retro bottle! Aimed at the student market, this wine has a bit of residual sugar to ensure its status as a panty-dropper wine. Yet the sweetness is not of the cloying kind. Lovely melon and nectarine flavours boosted by a fresh wash of citrus. A hugely enjoyable vino which, if I heard correctly, comes in at R30 a bottle.

Deciding to try the heavier stuff Chenin-wise I hot-footed to De Morgenzon. Alas, no Chenin. But I was convinced to slug the Maestro, a white blend from the 2014 vintage. The Roussanne variety leads the way, with Chardonnay, Viognier and Chenin Blanc added to the mix. And a beaut of a white blend it is. Fresh and lively – no plodding oxidative pretensions – the wine is a harmonious combination of salty earth, succulent fruit and suppressed spice.

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For me, the assertive mouthfeel of Roussanne plus that breezy dried herb-like presence has always been appealing. It formed the perfect backbone to the peachiness of Viognier and succulence of Chardonnay, with the Chenin bringing an embracing wet cloak of freshness. Hard to believe this wine saw a new barrel, but there it is.

Wine of the day: Lanzerac 2013 Chardonnay. Wine of Origin Jonkershoek, this is heading towards greatness. An appealing quince-like tartness heads the wine in an umami direction. Fresh white linen on the nose, a stern nod of burnt butter and a complex tango between early Key Limes and white flowers makes this wine as evocative as Madame Butterfly’s “One Fine Day” sung by Kate Moss with the voice of Chrissie Hynde.

Let the festivities begin.

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