From oysters, whales, jazz and daisies to cheese, olives, food and wine, it seems we have a festival for just about anything these days. Filled with stand after stand, sometimes our big day out turns into a big crowd-induced headache! But thankfully, there are still a few festivals where a truly authentic experience can still be had.
That’s right, it’s time to save the date for the 10th annual Stellenbosch Wine Festival, to be held 28-31 July at the Paul Roos Centre, preceded by Wine Week, from 22-31 July, when visitors can partake in rare and exclusive cellar door experiences at participating estates. This year will be the most exuberant celebration ever, marking the Stellenbosch American Express ® Wine Routes’ 40th anniversary and its unwavering focus on something that distinguishes not only the Cape, but South Africa, on a world stage. What’s that, you ask?
Of course even the grandest of wines would feel lonely without its two best friends in tow – Great Food and Even Better Company – and visitors can look forward to the trio during the festivities. Not about big crowds, expo stands or secret charges, visitors can experience an honest good time spent indulging in conversation with their favourite winemakers, swirling up to 500 different wines (selectively, of course) and irresistible winter warmers – hearty meals planned to pair to perfection. Visitors have the rare treat of enjoying their favourite iconic estates – from Delheim, Simonsig and Kanonkop to Neethlingshof, Le Riche, De Trafford, Warwick Estate and many more – either under one roof, or at the cellar door.
With so much to look forward to, I spent some time chatting with Annareth Bolton, CEO of the Stellenbosch American Express® Wine Routes, about what makes Stellenbosch such a special place, and what visitors can look forward to at this year’s festival:
With 150 farms, the Stellenbosch American Express® Wine Routes offer something for almost everyone. Tell me about some of its most memorable highlights?
Being the heart of the Cape Winelands, we are seen as the pioneers of wine tourism. The Cape Dutch architecture is a big draw card, while the modern tasting rooms and restaurants have inspired many visitors to come back time and again. Spending only one day in Stellenbosch, you can taste wine with a rugby legend, go on a game drive, enjoy lunch at a top 10 restaurant, try your hand at fly-fishing, visit a wine museum and mingle with the locals.
The Wine Route has grown immensely since being formed 40-years ago – what are some of the most exciting innovations since the early days?
In 1971, when the wine route was formed, no tasting or purchasing was allowed at wine farms. There were no road signs or maps, let alone restaurants and guests houses on farms. This really was the start of wine tourism in South Africa, and many have followed suit. We now have hundreds of thousands of visitors, which led to a thriving industry which contributes to job creation, skills development and international recognition. When I started the Sundays in Stellenbosch campaign five years ago, only a handful of farms and restaurants were open, while we now have over 65 farms open on a Sunday, offering kids entertainment, informative wine-tastings, hiking-trails, picnics and world-class restaurants. Social responsibility is at the order of the day, with crèches for farm children, local employment, and a drive towards supporting local business. It really is a winning model for all.
Stellenbosch was recently recognised as the “2011 Wine Town of the Year” by Sweden’s prestigious Munskänkarna wine club, the first time a city outside of the European Union has been bestowed such an honour. What do you believe helped distinguish Stellenbosch above all the other contenders?
This is a truly wonderful honour and opportunity for Stellenbosch. South Africa currently holds 20,5% of the market share in the Swedish wine market, making us the largest exporter to their country. We are a world leader in wine tourism, with annual awards bestowed to our members. I really believe that my predecessors at this organisation have done a great job of promoting our excellent wines – a study has shown that consumers recognise Stellenbosch as a wine brand before South Africa. Now our focus is on promoting all that surrounds the bottle of wine, in other words the tourism offerings. We are picking the fruits of our hard work, and this recognition as one of the world’s greatest wine destinations, is well deserved!
Sustainability is gradually becoming a more prominent consideration both in the eyes of the industry and the consumer – how are the members of the Stellenbosch Wine Route embracing sustainability – and do you believe it impacts upon the quality of the wine?
Stellenbosch soil and properties are some of the most expensive in the world. It would be much easier to develop it all into housing and golf estates, but that is not the legacy we want to leave for the ones following in our footsteps. I think farming in Stellenbosch is one of the hardest financial things you can be busy with at the moment, but also the most rewarding. Someone once said that the people from Stellenbosch will be disappointed when they get to heaven! We have a great responsibility, which we take very seriously, and once again we are leading the industry when it comes to carbon neutrality, solar energy, bio-diversity, restoring indigenous plants and trees, and looking after our wildlife. A truly inspiring town to live in!
These days there are many wine festivals – tell me about some of the unique experiences visitors can have, that help make this festival the one that is “not to be missed.”
The Stellenbosch Wine Festival is the oldest in the country, and this year we are celebrating its 10th birthday in its current format at Paul Roos Centre. It is a wonderful opportunity to taste up to 500 wines, all under one roof. The opening night, the wine connoisseurs evening, is where you can meet the winemakers, in a relaxed and warm atmosphere. All the wines on show are available to purchase at special festival prices, in order for you to stock up you collection. Friday is our social evening, with live entertainment, food demonstrations and signature dishes from local restaurants participating in our gourmet lane. Saturday is our busiest day, while Sunday is family day, with a secure and fun environment for the kiddies, while mom and dad enjoy good company and music. We have shuttles from the V&A Waterfront, Canal Walk, Tygervalley, Paarl, Franschhoek and Somerset West, enabling all to arrive safely back home. We offer historical walks through town, fantastic accommodation specials, and the restaurants are all ready to welcome you with warm winter dishes and roaring fires.
If you could name just two things that make Stellenbosch special to you – what would they be?
The mountains surrounding our town make this a very special place to be. There is always something to do in our town – whether it’s attending a production in one of our theatres, live music, art exhibitions, mountain biking, wine tasting, shopping, drinking coffee in one of the many corner cafés, you will never be anything but inspired and entertained.
- Tickets to the Stellenbosch Wine Festival range from R120 per person per day for online bookings (in advance, atwww.webtickets.co.za) or R140 at the door, to R350 for the Golden Pass for the entire festival. The entry fee to the opening of the festival, an exclusive Wine Connoisseurs Evening from 16h00 till 21h00 on Thursday, 28 July, is R160 per person for online bookings or R180 at the door and includes gourmet delights