My 30th Trip to South Africa

Chronologically, I may not be a kid anymore, but on this beautiful May day in 2000 I felt like one: we had actually purchased a farm in Africa! That the Wabooms River (more a strong, year-round creek) was still flowing strongly behind me in late fall was very encouraging. The Wabooms rages in the winter and then becomes tame for the rest of the year. But it’s always comforting to farmers to see running water year round. Dave Jefferson

On Friday, September 14th, I’ll make my second trip of this year to the Beloved Country, and my 30th trip since April 1994, then my first trip to South Africa. If “self actualization” is being confused between work and play, being in the Western Cape is near-perfect self actualization. However, the trip from CA (10,000 miles) and the time zone changes (9 or 10, depending upon Daylight Saving status in CA) is strictly work. If you blast straight through (San Francisco/Atlanta/Jo’berg/Cape Town), you can get there in just over 24 hours, but you are sleepy for days. (Ambien or its generic equivalent is essential, in my book, really helps with the impact of jet lag.) That said, a few times I have gone through a European gateway city, and spent a few days relaxing and seeing friends; by the time you then get on the next flight, direct to the Mother City, you are perhaps half way through the jet lag. I’m going through London this trip, after three days in the UK, and definitely feeling good about it.

September in the Cape Winelands is the equivalent of March up North, so the weather is quite unpredictable. In 2008, it was quite chilly, with snow on the mountain tops above Silkbush, but back in 1997, during another trip, it was warm and idyllic, rather like early November in NorCal. I guess I’ll pack a number of layers of clothing and hope for the best. It could rain on a day or two, but the rest of time it will be bright, and sunny blue sky days, and cold at night.

Normally I fly to see our vineyard in mid March, as the harvest season in the Cape starts to wind down. However, Silkbush is cooler, being in the mountains NE of Cape Town, and 93% in red grapes, which need a lot of heat to mature. Accordingly, we seldom complete our harvest before mid April. (We are also usually one of the last vineyards in Napa to complete our harvest. So plenty of “hang time,” which contributes to grape and wine quality.) I usually stay for two to four weeks, and would prefer to make just one, longer trip each year. However, starting in 2008, the CapeWine international wine show (see www.capewine2012.co.za), which originally was held in April right after harvest completion, was shifted to September, which naturally conflicts with harvest in the Northern Hemisphere! This was probably done to get greater Cape winefarm owner and winemaker participation (which is difficult in April) but it means extended overseas travel for North Americans like moi who do not live full time in the Western Cape. “Ah, shame,” as they say in the Cape …

The Capewine show, however, is really a “required formation” for all exporting wineries, which is just about everybody. Wines of South Africa (WOSA) does an outstanding job of organizing a content rich event for three days. It is the event where “everybody is who anybody” is there, and quite a few of the rest of us hangers-on. The event used to be held at Nederberg winery but they changed to the very spacious Cape Town Convention Center  in 2006, and it’s a grand venue. The major wine buyers from Europe are represented, especially the English super market chains, the beverage monopolies of northern Europe (Norway, Sweden, and Finland), many wine journalists, and the rest of the usual suspects. A lot of good times will be had and probably some serious business will be done. Moreover, it is a wonderful time to see old friends and to make new ones.

One last thing about my London stopover: I’ll be seeing Peter May, the founder and moving force behind the Pinotage Club. After years of urging, Peter made time back in January to visit Silkbush and our local GM/Partner, Anton Roos. Peter was quite impressed with our 2009 Pinotage and talented grower; he did a nice write up on his blog site: www.pinotage.org. So the least I could do is promise to come and visit him in St. Albans, a bit north of London, and beat the drum for our exceptional wine. It is not yet imported to the UK but we hope to change that quite soon. Ta dah!

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