Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rust en Vrede

I’ve been keeping a low profile in the African bush and the Cape winelands while the others have been beavering away at this blog. Finally I’ve emerged and decided to catch up. I must say that I had so much fun reading what the others had written – and the comments on it – that I nearly missed yet another deadline. Thursdays, it seems, arrive with increasing rapidity every week.

My visit to the Cape was for a conference on mathematics education, optimistically named Delta (the mathematical symbol for change). The change in question is the teaching of mathematics at college level. One of the plenary speakers noted that if ten years ago we had the research results we have now on how ineffectual lectures are, we wouldn’t be giving them anymore. I’m not so sure. Old easy habits die hard...

Anyway, I felt the need to combine this academic activity with some research for a future book. We have been toying with the idea of having our wine-loving Botswana detective win a wine tasting competition in Gaborone (perhaps he is the only entrant?) and getting a week tour of the Cape winelands as a prize. I suppose something unpleasant will happen to someone while he’s there, but that lies ahead. The real point was that I needed to do some fieldwork. The fact that I had some of the foreign delegates to the conference along to impress added zest to the undertaking.

As a wine lover myself, I find all areas hosting vineyards beautiful. But I have to say that the combination of vineyards, mountains and the ubiquitous Cape Dutch architecture makes the Cape wine growing region among the most lovely. The visitors seemed to feel much the same way. We got into the mood with a good lunch in the town of Franschoek – a village surrounded by the Hottentots Holland mountains with vineyards rising from its outskirts up into the foothills. Although the very first Dutch settlers started growing grapes and making wine, it was regarded as pretty foul. The real wine making expertise dates back to the French Protestant immigrants who came to South Africa to escape Catholic France. Many settled in this area giving the village its “French Corner” name.

After lunch we sauntered over the Helshoogte (“Hell’s Heights”) pass to the Stellenbosch area, which is widely regarded – and certainly regards itself – as the centre of South African wine farming.

We chose to visit the Rust en Vrede wine estate at the end of a narrow road that climbs up into the hills. The farm was established in1694, and the date is celebrated in the winery’s premier wine. The 1694 is a blend of Cabernet and Shiraz (Rust en Vrede is one of the few South African wineries which have managed to deal with that popular Australian blend successfully), and the price is an eye-watering R1200 a bottle (roughly US$160) which puts it among South Africa’s most expensive wines. But the Engelbrecht family has been making good to excellent wines at the estate since the 1970s, and the wines have a great reputation. Nelson Mandela chose them for his Nobel Peace Prize dinner in 2004. Other South African wineries have also had their moments in the limelight. President Obama enjoyed a South African sparkling wine to celebrate his election. Napoleon was partial to a sweet fortified wine from the Constantia area very near to Cape Town and had a bottle of it at his bedside when he died. Some suggest that it was used to poison him; others believe its supply showed that he was treated well by his British jailors.

The Rust en Vrede manor house was built in 1790 and although most of the buildings are much more recent, they all match the Cape Dutch style of gables, thatch and whitewash. The picture above is of the restaurant which started life as the old barrel cellar. And the name? For the non-Dutch speakers, it’s Rest and Peace. As appropriate today as it was in the seventeenth century.

The View from Rust en Vrede
Michael - Thursday


  1. Constantia!
    That's the name I've been trying to remember for ages.
    Eide and I had a bottle of it one night after a very memorable meal in Capetown.
    And the wine turned a memorable meal into an unforgettable event. I've been trying to buy another bottle every since.
    Don't you guys ever export any of that stuff? (Aha! I thought so! Keeping it all for yourselves, are you?)
    How about treating us to a photo of the (most unusual) bottle, which if anyone outside of South Africa ever sees (highly unlikely, huh?) they're never going to forget.
    That's the thing. You don't need to remember the name, because you can always spot the bottle.

  2. Klein Constantia makes the wine in the same style as Napoleon's favourite. It's not fortified though, nor botrytis. The bottles are in the style of the old hand made ones of the old days and they use the name Vin de Constance.
    More on my next posting!

  3. Very nice, Michael. Looking forward to Kubu's next adventure. Kit