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AFRICA, PART 2: CAPE WINELANDS NOT QUITE NAPA … YET

When one has the good fortune to be just a few hours from the world-class Napa Valley, it is easy to become a bit jaded in terms of whether another region can compete.  But when the hubby and I arrived in Franschhoek, outside of Cape Town (see previous post), it was time to rethink that premise. Certainly the accommodations at La Residence rank atop the most superb experienced in our travels .. and that is saying A LOT.
From La Residence:  the entrance; staff greeting us; our vineyard suite and looking our to the main pool.
Pool for the five vineyard suites; our accommodations and the bar provided.  Don’t see what you like; Just ask!
From the welcome crew awaiting us on the portico to our vineyard suite, one of five total (this one belongs to owners Liz & Phil Biden) plus 11 rooms in the main building, I have now declared (only somewhat in jest) that I am never leaving.  The beauty is just staggering, not to mention everything included — bar stocked to “our pleasure,” amenities galore, fireplace, private garden, and on … I am embarrassed to admit this wasn’t even our first choice — that actually was Delaire Graff (comments below).

 

Bath drawn by the amazing staff; breakfast laid out by a roaring fire to ward off the morning chill; news summary provided plus an assortment of reading glasses just in case …

 

Two days is a wholly-inadequate amount of time to enjoy the wine country. Between the principal areas of Franschhoek and neighboring Stellenbosch, there are more than 300 wineries of varying size with more opening all the time. Comparisons to the wine country of Northern California are inevitable. The surrounding mountains are higher in the Cape area, and the weather is more tropical.  Both regions have a mix of enviable soil, open vistas and non-stop visitors coming through.
 
The biggest difference regrettably is I’ve never known Napa/Sonoma wineries to have barbed-wire fences surrounding their properties.  Nor are there spaces where undeveloped land is home to virtual slums — open-sided “housing” with no evidence of the most basic conveniences about which we Americans don’t give a second thought. There are lots of small children milling about. The circumstances are heartbreaking. That is not unique to the wine area; we saw much too much of it when driving in other areas of the Cape.  
 
The wine area of Northern California always appears to me to be “manicured,” even in areas absent a winery.  That is another difference compared to the Cape area where undeveloped land is every mix of weed and debris. 
 
That said, there are ultra-luxurious properties around the Cape — certainly La Residence (one of five properties making up The Royal Portfolio) — plus Delaire Graff, the latter developed and owned by British billionaire/jeweler Laurence Graff.  It is an exquisite property with just 10 accommodations and two phenomenal restaurants: Indochine and Delaire Graff Restaurant.  We had a wonderful dinner with great service at the latter on our last night in the area.
On the grounds and elsewhere, there is an impressive collection
of these enormous Dylan Lewis sculptures.
The other sought-after restaurant is The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Francais in Franschhoek.  The tables are offered to hotel guests first, and then to outsiders.  We were thrilled when our wait-list booking was confirmed just hours before the requested time slot.  For a party of two, no two dishes within a course are the same (we swapped a bit after being served). Thankfully a printed menu was presented with the bill so I could read what was just consumed.  Many of the ingredients incorporated were both regional and unfamiliar with inventive presentations. The staff is meticulously trained, yet it was challenging to understand most of the personnel because they speak a variety of dialects. Right now the exchange rate of South African rand is extremely favorable to US dollars which is definitely a benefit to us, but not so to the country.

 

Franschhoek Motor Museum: South Africa’s answer to Jay Leno is the collection of 300 cars owned by the Rupert family.  There are 80 cars on display at a time.  Above is the trolley we took to tour the main grounds of this estate, including the winery and private track above where the cars are routinely driven.
Clockwise from upper left:  the first Ford Model T in South Africa; a Cord; the source of the family wealth (tobacco); the buildings display 80 cars at a time (rotated every six months); a Bugatti
Early 20th century touring cars; celebrating 100 years of BMW; collection of Mustangs
That Aston Martin works for me; five of their 15 Ferraris; our
guide/docent was extremely knowledgeable.  Only the five mechanics on staff are allowed to even start the cars, let alone drive them.

 

The proverbial take away is go, go, go to this wonderful and fascinating country.  The Cape winelands may not be the Napa Valley just yet, but you are certain to enjoy the scenery, great food, hospitable people and some excellent wines — in particular Pinotage, which happens to be South Africa’s signature variety, which we greatly enjoyed.  It is a cross between the Pinot Noir and Cinsaut grapes  and was developed in South Africa in 1925 … cheers!
Rust en Vrede — the land dates back to the 1600’s
Ernie Els — one of the country’s best golfers and pretty good vintner