Review: Franschhoek Uncorked Festival 2014

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Franschoek UncorkedAfter all the tasting, the viewing, the sniffing and the driving, all I can say is ­ how long until the next one? Franschhoek Uncorked is a fantastic reason to make the trip to Franschhoek and spend the day bouncing between wineries and vineyards to the soundtrack of multiple live performances.

It is worth taking the time to plan your route, especially with 21 different wine estates scattered around the Franschhoek Valley. But it doesn’t matter where you start or finish, there will be nothing left wanting… just make sure that someone is sober to drive. Even with the numerous water jugs and plentiful spitoons there is no guarantee that you won’t be wobbling after that delicious third wine estate. Know now that it is impossible to visit all 21 all in one day, so if that is what you desire then scheme for the full two day experience.

To my surprise, we managed an impressive 12 wine estates over the six hours that the wineries were open, and that was including slow meanderings to listen to the live music or to snack on some cheese or even just to soak in the sun.

The ticket covers a wine glass and specific tastings at each venue, as well as all the side paraphenalia: the live bands, the parking attendants, the extra tents and the children’s entertainment. One of the many clever organisational tricks of this festival is the small paper tag to encircle the base of each wine tasting glass, which names the wines available and can be ticked off as you taste. If is a great help later when trying to remember what you tasted and actually liked.

The clear, bright pink signage made it easy to get around, even when distracted by the stunning views, and the surprisingly warm weather made it even better. We made Boukenhoutskloof our first stop which, though there’s not much room for parking there, was well worth it: the line up included tastings of their well known The Chocolate Block, and Reuben’s BBQ Extravaganza was there for food and the Kitchen Jamming Blues Band for music. Then we headed down the winding road covered by indigenous trees to the next stop, La Bri. Here, parking was easier, and the wine tasting took place in their cellar ­ one of the few farms offering the experience amongst the steel vats and oak barrels rather than in a tasting room or at tables outside.

A small breather then on to the next one ­ Rickety Bridge, established in 1797, where their Foundation Stone and Rickety Bridge labels were up for tasting. Further down the main beat, over a single car bridge and up a bumpy dirt road was the whimsical Four Paws Wines, a newer estate on the route but all the more pleasurable for it as there were fewer people but more time to browse, linger, taste the delightful Calico and Pablo blends and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere under the trees with cushions, dogs and small firepits ready in case of a turn in the weather. At the same time, Madame Fromage had a stall offering delectable handmade cheeses, including ripe brie ­ just the thing to add to the picnics which were appearing on the lawns of all the wine estates. No one visited Four Paws without receiving a pink or black paw stamp on their face – a clever marketing ploy, quickly forgotten about by those wearing it, but attracting glances wherever we went afterwards.

On to the next one, Leopard’s Leap Family Vineyards, packed with modern sophistication, lamb pitas and a jungle gym. It seemed like the more established estates were pushing only a small selection of wines, generally from their cheaper range, for the Uncorked attendees. A minor point that simply didn’t matter after a while, but it was interesting to note that it was the smaller spots that tried something different, something new and brought out the good stuff.

Another attraction of Franschhoek Uncorked is the number of estates that are not normally open unless by appointment. Eikehof was one of these, and we took the opportunity to taste their wonderfully crisp and unwooded Semillon-­Chardonnay blend. Another hidden treasure is La Chataigne, where the wines made change each year. Sipping their delectable Marron 2011 while watching an energetic game of Boules made for a great stop.

It was a long day but an immensely satisfying one. Apparently the crowds on Saturday were a bit much, but that just underlines the success of the event. I certainly plan to buy tickets for Franschhoek Uncorked 2015 to get to all the estates I missed this year and revisit the new­found favourites.

Samantha Orange

The Franschhoek Uncorked Festival 2014 ran over 27 & 28 September 2014 in the Franschhoek Valley.

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