It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Almost every time I take a sip of a white or red blend, I try to differentiate the different grape varieties that have gone into the wine and their specific impact on the resulting bouquet, taste and finish. I’ve often wondered what my perfect wine would be and which varieties I would use to create it. On my recent trip to Stellenbosch, a historic town in the heart of the Cape Winelands (a 45-minute drive from Cape Town, South Africa), I was offered the opportunity to blend my own wine in Middelvlei Wines. I didn’t have to think twice!
Middelvlei Wines is a lovely winery located in the outskirts of Stellenbosch. Housed in a gorgeous country home with a wrap-around Victorian veranda, the winery is surrounded by verdant hills, lakes and lush pastures, and its expansive vineyards. As I stepped out of the car, I was greeted by the bleating of a goat and the clucking of chickens. It was unlike many of the other splendid wineries I’d previously visited in the Cape Winelands, with their historic Cape-gabled homesteads and sprawling, manicured gardens. With its wooden tables and benches and large lawn, Middelvlei had a distinct homely feel. Their two dogs ran out to greet me as I approached the house. It was a gorgeous sunny day – families sat at long, wooden tables drinking wine and tucking into a braai (South African barbecue) whilst the dogs kept the children entertained.
I met the proprietors of the winery, Ben and his wife Jeanneret, and I immediately felt at home with this lovely couple. They welcomed me with a glass of their Free-run Pinotage; made only from juice naturally drained off the freshly crushed grapes, the deep ruby red wine bursts of sweet raspberry aromas with mulberry undertones and elegant oak. This Pinotage is truly one of the best I’ve ever tasted! It’s funny how a good wine can lull you into a dreamy state – I found myself staring at the mountains in the horizon and the bright blue sky when I heard the magic words from Jeanneret, “Let’s get you set up for the wine-blending”. I snapped out of my little dreamland in an instant.
Several bottles of wine were set on the table along with a platter of different spices and fruit, concentrates, measuring cups and pipets. After receiving an introduction to wine-blending, I was instructed to sniff each of the spices and fruit to open up my sense of smell. I also tasted a drop from a small bottle of pure grape concentrate. Each bottle contained a different grape variety: Pinotage, Shiraz and Merlot. These are some of my favourites so I knew my wine was going to be something I would really like! I used Pinotage as the base and added a bit of Shiraz and Merlot using the measuring cups. I finished the blending with a few drops of the grape concentrate (which acts as a natural sweetener). It was my first attempt and lo and behold… the result was a DIVINE red blend with rich berry flavours and hints of wooded spices, liquorice and vanilla. Ben and Jeanneret tasted it and nodded their heads in agreement – this wine is classy! I beamed from ear-to-ear!
I wrote down the formula and passed it on to Ben – they would then create the blend, bottle it, stick a personalised label onto the bottle and send it to me. How cool is that!
The wine-blending session was followed by a terrific wine-tasting paired with Middelvlei ‘boere tapas’ (farmer’s tapas) from the braai, an ingenious combination. The home-made snoek (a type of mackerel) paté was superb, as was the ‘boerewors’ (farmer’s sausage). Middelvlei has a resident braai expert who cooks up (or rather, grills) a variety of delicious specialties every day so all you have to do is show up, order some wine and check the boerebraai menu for an authentic South African experience!
I had an unforgettable afternoon. The wine-blending at Middelvlei was wonderful but the relaxed ambiance, the warm hospitality and the terrific ‘boere tapas’ made my visit truly special. If you’re visiting the Cape Winelands, don’t miss this gem… and the unique opportunity to blend your own wine!