Sundays in Stellenbosch
Today is meant to be a casual picnic on the grounds of the Ernie Els estate in Stellenbosch, “weather permitting” being key to this plan. Unfortunately, springtime in South Africa is proving to be slow to take and temperatures are blustery and rather inhospitable.
Our van filled with international guests drives along the highway. From what I’m told, we are surrounded by mountains and the sea is within sight. None of this is immediately apparent; visibility is down to one hundred feet. If I didn’t know any better, I would say that Ernie Els decided to harvest grapes in a vineyard made of clouds.
As a result, the event has been set up indoors. Through the hall, there is an ample spread of charcuterie for snacking: multiple pates, an endless selection of cured meats, olives, and cheeses. Bottles from a variety of Stellenbosch-based wineries are organized on tables. Winemakers wander between guests fielding questions.
One such winemaker is Rijk Melck of Muratie Wine Estate. He’s standing in the corner, glass of red in his hand, wearing a large black coat, a pair of polka dot reading glasses tucked into his hair. He is friendly without fanfare, serious about his wines and in possession of the muted, frank enthusiasm of someone who has been doing this for a long time.
As we try the Ansela van de Caab, Melck tells us the story behind the wine’s namesake. Laurens Campher, a German solider and the owner of Muratie in the late seventeenth century, fell in love with a woman, Ansela van de Caab, who had been born into slavery. He would walk three days, traveling from Stellenbosch to Cape Town, just to see her. It was a journey that lasted fourteen years, until 1699, when Caab was emancipated and the couple married.
Over the course of this trip, I will come to realize much of the beauty of South African wines is the rich history of estates and the winemakers who inherit said history and relay it to future generations.
As we move to the next table to sample our second Muratie wine, Melck tells us more about present day life on the winery. It sounds like an idyllic and peaceful existence, one that a New Yorker such as myself finds hard to imagine. Rijk and his wife, Kim, have two daughters and three German shepherds. They harvest honey, house chickens, and make fresh nougat using as many locally sourced ingredients as they can get their hands on (sometimes the almonds have to be brought in from California).
Jamie Glover, my tasting partner today, asks Melck which of his wines are his favorites. “I drink depending on my mood, you know,” he tells us matter-of-factly. Though he’s unable to pinpoint a drink that suits him most of the time, Melck’s deciding factor is always as such: “You only live once; this isn’t a dress rehearsal. That is why you must drink good wines!”
Now that’s an ethos that one should take through life, even on its dreariest, coldest days.
[Photo: Courtesy of Maarten van de Voort]