Friday, June 11, 2010

Feel it

It is here.

Woke up this morning at 7:30 to the sound of vuvuzelas. Probably hearing them all the way from Cape Town. Heading into town soon to watch Bafana Bafana/Mexico at the public viewing place in Cape Town, then walking to Green Point Stadium for France/Uruguay. Go Bafana! Go Uruguay!

Friday, June 4, 2010

More visitors!

Dad here ~10 days ago. I immediately got sick and he took care of me. Otherwise, lots of relaxing and frisbee-throwing and good meals.

Wu and Brunner arrived today. We met Wu with balloons, KT dressed in a lion costume, and a tiara. Busy busy. World Cup!

Sunday, May 23, 2010


When people talk about soccer and the World Cup in South Africa, 90% of the time the conversation is about how stressful it will be, what a disaster it will be, how ill-prepared the country is, etc. (I don't actually think it will be a disaster or that the country isn't prepared, although I'll be surprised if the M5 intersection is ready by World Cup 2014, let alone three weeks from now. There are some valid criticisms though -- mostly that a country with like 30-40% unemployment has built a bunch of enormous soccer arenas that won't have a clear purpose in 7 weeks). Aside from government-sponsored SABC programming, I hear almost no one hyping the World Cup as something that will be fun or being excited for Bafana Bafana games. Not that The Boys The Boys stand a chance.

What people are into, though, is rugby. The current big league that is happening is the Super 14, with 5 SA teams, 5 New Zealand teams, and 4 Australian teams. They played a round robin season with one game per week. The top four teams advanced to the semifinals, which happened yesterday. And I went and watched! The Western Cape team, the Stormers, have supposedly been bad for a number of years. Somehow, though, they put together a good season this year and hosted one of the semifinals games at Newlands in the southern suburbs. We decided to go.

On Friday afternoon, spent some time on, sort of a SA craigslist, since the game was sold out. Talked to a few people and found someone that would sell us some tickets. Saturday morning, while I was running other errands, I went into Cape Town to meet the guy and buy the tickets. Also managed to pick up a couple Stormers hats from a dude selling them at a stoplight. A few hours later, we were rushing to close up the farm and get on the road. Thankfully there was no traffic going to the stadium -- everyone was already in place watching the other semis game that was taking place (the Bulls from Pretoria won it).

We got to Newlands, which is a nice big stadium - 52,000 people - though it does a good job of blending in with the surrounding area. I've driven by there plenty and had never really noticed it. The game was fun. Kris and I went with Simon from Backsberg and his buddy from college. I spent the whole time asking lots of questions, since my rules knowledge is spotty. Plus, rugby seems to do a bad job of explaining what is going on (what the penalties or for, who will get possession, etc). Of the fan antics, my two favorites were some extended (and quite catchy) song about the Stormers that was mostly in Afrikaans, and the chant "Hier kom 'n ding! Hier kom 'n ding!" Translated, that means "here comes a thing! here comes a thing!" We badly need that chant in American sports.

There was a lot of defense and a lot of kicking in the game, though we had a great view of the one try by the Stormers. For a half, we also had a view of the "VodaBabes," the cheerleaders/dancers who apparently were created in a Vodacom laboratory and are corporate entities.

The Stormers won! They go play the Bulls in Soweto next week for the championship. Should be fun to watch (on tv this time). People will be really excited about the all-SA final this week before then focusing all their energy on complaining about the World Cup.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mozambique trip, pt. 1

Got back from Mozambique Thursday. I kept a short-hand log and took a few pictures (probably not enough due to negligence). Here's what happened:

5/12/2010, 7 a.m., South Africa/Mozambique border near Nelspruit

After game lodge, flew back to CT. Lots of running around. Mom left, got Lil and Roberto settled in cottage, packed for Mozambique. KT and I did deliveries then left. Flew to JBurg. Bizarre cab driver talked our ear off. He was overbearing and racist, but gave us a good price so we set a date for him to pick us up at 4 a.m. on the morning we return. He claimed to be "old school" and a man of his word. We are pretty sure the old school he refers to is apartheid. Beers at bus station then onto bus. Jam-packed, uncomfortable, loud pop music, crying babies. Both of us in aisle seats. Terrible movie [turned out it was Book of Eli]. KT thinks at least a passenger or two has TB. Finally to border for 2 hour crossing, 5-7 a.m. while sun rises. They removed all comfortable cargo for inspection (pillows and comforters but no suitcases). Never really knew what was happening or why - no explanations given, but we eventually got put back on the bus. Visa worked successfully and we're in Mozambique. ~1 hour to Maputo.

11:27, Fatima's Backpacker Lodge

Off the bus and headed to lodge recommended by a friend. Got a bit lost, then got bearings and headed for Av. Mao Tse Tung. All streets seem to be named after socialist leaders, even the murderous dictator ones (Avenida Salvador Allende; the Robert Mugabe roundabout, etc).

Nice breakfast and changed some money. KT met problems changing US dollars -- "only 2006 series dollars." The next teller over then accepted the dollars from other series. This was a segue into a favorite pastime: making sarcastic quips about southern African bureaucracy (not that US bureaucracy is much better).

Got to Fatima's, sprung for room with personal bathroom and shower. Pink room that makes me want to vomit. Off to go explore, tired but refreshed by shower. Glad I brought a bar of soap at the last second.

Ugly pink room:

20:00, Fatima's Backpacker Lodge
Long day of wandering the city - just about all the way around. Nice city with some cool neighborhoods. Especially like the quiet residential ones -- lots of trees and shade. Stopped in museum of natural history. Lots of hilarious stuffed and plaster animal displays. Every animal was shown fighting another animal in a gruesome battle. My favorite was when the monkeys were being attacked -- they were created with a look of sheer terror on their faces. Excellent artistry and my kind of museum. Back to lodge for a long nap.

5/13, 8:45 a.m., coffee shop on Av. Mao Tse Tung

Out last night. First to a Portuguese restaurant that we'd been eyeing earlier. Delicious bread, meat, cheese -- got filled up before ordering. Split a mixed meat kebab with rice and beans and some kind of a grain salad. Really good.

Went in search of live music from there. Cab brought us to a really trendy spot, Gil Vicente. 3-person band, all percussion. Two xylophone-type things and a girl singing/playing shakers. Two excellent sets (though the songs ran together) while I had gin and tonics (someone once told me tonic repels mosquitos and I hoped to avoid malaria). Couple conversations, discovering that spanish or spanish with a fake portuguese accent gets the point across 75% of the time.

Stayed out for a while longer and found another bar. Looked up and randomly noticed that at ~2 a.m. the tv was showing the Yankees game at a random bar in Maputo! First live baseball game I've watched this season. Another highlight was at one point in the night when I came back from the bathroom and Kris was trying to teach a couple of girls to say "that's what she said" at appropriate moments. Their english was spotty at best, and it didn't quite work.

Home and sleep. Up early and coffee. Plans today: revolution museum, other sights, make plan to get car to head north tomorrow, more live music tonight hopefully.

5/14, 7 a.m., Fatima's in Maputo

Fought through tiredness yesterday to have a good day. Spent a while on logistics for the rest of the trip, deciding on renting a car from the airport today.

Then went to find the Museum of the Revolution once siesta time was over. Museum had been closed for what looked like years! Thanks, internet and guidebook.

Saw some other sights, including an all-steel building designed by Eiffel, a nice old-style train station, the central market where we bought some peri-peri cashews and some Mozambique music. [Both those items later proved vital for enjoying our trip up the coast].

All-steel building designed by Eiffel. Apparently it didn't work as a residence because it got way too hot in there. Who woulda thunk it.

Then to the Nucleo Arte, a highlight for me. It's a gallery with all local artists. Next door is a little cafe/bar. Then next door to that is a studio where the artists can work. One guy invited us in and with talked with him and this old grizzled-looking painter who was working. Won brownie points with him by having identified the painting from the gallery that was in his style. Also, he liked that I am from NY. Funny old guy.

Had some peri peri chicken on the way back.

Last night was a loss. Sat down to read for a while to rest and kill time before dinner/out. Next thing I knew, it was 11 pm and I was waking up. Had to get up early anyway to rent the car, so decided to just power through with sleep. Not one of my finer moments, but I now feel refreshed and ready to take on this drive up to Inhambane. Hopefully after a big breakfast.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I have let down my vast (and apparently very demanding) readership by failing to write anything for a long time! Sorry Mom, Granny, and Danielle.

Many apologies. Have had lots of visitors and whatnot. Will catch up in a hurry.

Paganello was excellent. My team was very good and very fun -- particularly enjoyed playing with some hilarious young Austrian kids who were really good players and seemed to know the words to every Will Smith song ever made (except for the Fresh Prince theme song, which they had me rap for them within an hour of meeting them. We finished something like 5th, and the weekend was cold and wet but a great time. Definitely hope to return to Paganello again. Here's a picture of me playing frisbee on the beach, and a picture of our team:

From Rimini, I went with Mark and Rebecca and Dad and Andrea up to Venice. We stayed on Lido, and I went to a crappy circus on Lido the first night. Very enjoyable. Spent the next day walking around the city, which is great and beautiful once you get away from the particularly crowded touristy areas. I worried at first that the whole city was going to be like Piazza San Marco -- luckily the rest was extremely charming.

From there, I went with Mark and Rebecca to Bologna, which I also really liked -- it felt more like a real city and less like a tourist mecca than Venice. Stayed near the University part of town. The highlight by far was a huge lunch that we had at a trattoria just outside the south west corner of the city. Tagliatelle bolognese followed by a zucchini stuffed with meat and a tasty tomato-ey bottle of sangiovese to go along with it. Great meal. Otherwise, walked around the city, saw stuff, drank lots of coffee, ate lots of gelato, etc. Fun times. Had a crappy trip back to Cape Town, getting stranded overnight in Madrid and getting home much later than expected. C'est la vie.

Hosted a flurry of visitors soon after getting back from Italy.

At one point somewhere in there, played in South African frisbee nationals. Our pool games kind of ran together. I enjoyed matching up with the big guy on the Stellenbosch team who was doing everything for them -- Nils, a big German kid who turned out to be only 18. He happened to know the same Austrian kids that I played with in Italy. We played in the showcase game against Johannesburg on Saturday night -- though a meaningless game because they'd underperformed, they played pretty well against us and we only won by a few. Ate some delicious food after the game and had a couple of beers at the party before crashing at Ant's house so I didn't have to drive back and forth to Paarl. Beat Zebru (another Cape Town team) pretty easily in the quarters. Then had a good semis game against Khayoba (Cape Town + Khaylitsha), who beat us the two times that we played them when I was there (including in summer league finals). They're a strong team with easily the best actual frisbee talent in the country. I think they took half on us, but we snuck back in the second half and eventually received on double-game-point. We turned it when Finn shut me down on a dump and we threw a desperation huck to the end zone. They marched it back down, but turned it themselves on an ill-advised hammer attempt. Finally we marched it in for the win. In the finals we played against the Long Donkeys from Pietermaritzburg, who were these enormous dudes who threw thumb forehands to each other. I guess a couple of them might have played for the SA basketball team at some point? I don't know. Anyway, I managed to knock away a couple of their early attempts to bully us in the air, so they had to move on to plan B -- they were not as good at plan B. The game cruised along until it was double game point again, them receiving. We intercepted a pass to the end zone, worked it down and punched it in against their tired defense. Wahoo! So I'm now a South African national champion. Fun tournament.

Once my Mom, Lily, and Roberto were here, we took a trip over to the other side of the country. Flew into Durban, rented a car, and drove a few hours north on the N2 to go stay at a game lodge. We lived like kings there -- tasty buffet breakfast and dinner, a game drive each day, massages, pool, etc. It was the first time in memory that I've been on a spa-like vacation, but all of the pampering felt somewhat justified because, other than when we went on game drives, we were basically confined to this small area of a reserve roughly the size of a football field. Game-wise, we saw a family of elephants (who weren't really wild), warthogs (my favorite because they reminded me a lot of Watson), nyalas, impalas, wildebeasts, hippos, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, buffalo, and probably some other things that I'm forgetting. Cool stuff. Will be interesting to compare the game lodge on a somewhat small reserve experience to the safari that we're going on in Kruger National Park in June.

Almost directly after flying back from Durban, I got myself together for a vacation to Mozambique with Kris, who was in need of a vacation. I kept a running journal during that trip and took some pictures, so I'll get that up tomorrow or this weekend to get you critics off my back.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Journey, Cape Town -> Rimini

We interrupted our regularly scheduled programming for a trip to Europe! A Spring Break, if you will. Plans were to go play at Paganello, and travel around Italy with Mark, Rebecca, Dad, and Andrea. Good times were had. Too much to write about all at once so I will break it down bit by bit.

I had a long and complex journey to get from Cape Town to Rimini over the course of a few days. Started off flying from Cape Town to Johannesburg on SAA. Had their beef stirfry on the plane, which tasted decent but turned out to be a disaster: on the longest leg of my journey, a redeye from Johannesburg to Madrid, I had food poisoning. Pretty miserable time, alternating between trying to sleep and spending lots of time in the airplane bathroom. Thankfully I had a row of two seats all to my own, so I managed to be semi-comfortable when I was getting some sleep. The flight actually felt like it went pretty quickly despite all of this.

Felt much better by the time I got to Madrid, though I wasn't able to eat anything until later that day. During my Madrid layover I was treated to a nice sunrise over the runway:

Finally landed in Marseille, where Mark met me at the airport and we took the bus to Aix-en-provence, where he and Rebecca are living while she goes to school there. He managed to convince his company to let him work from his apartment there for the couple years. Despite complications due to the time difference and his grumblings about hating work, that is a pretty sweet deal.

They live in a cute little apartment right in the oldest(-seeming) area of Aix, which has tiny streets, lots of shops, and lots of pedestrians. It being France, of course, those pedestrians all have a cigarette in one hand and a dog leash in the other. At one point I saw this kid who looked no more than 14 with a cigarette in each hand. I grabbed a nap that afternoon, and went out to dinner to a nearby crepe place with Mark and Rebecca that evening. My appetite still hadn't fully recovered from my sickness, so I wasn't able to fully enjoy my crepe with some kind of ground meat and cream sauce, but it was good nonetheless. Here's a picture from a square in Aix. I liked the trees.

I slept in the next morning, then had lunch with Mark and Rebecca at this little burrito shop a few blocks away. The owner of the shop had been inspired by Anna's in Boston/Cambridge, and modeled the store after that. It was pretty tasty stuff and I just about regained my full appetite. Was glad about that, considering I had more long travels ahead followed by a 4 day ultimate tournament.

After lunch, Mark went to do some work and Rebecca and I took the bus over to Marseille so I could see the city. Rebecca played tour guide admirably well. With only a few hours there, we decided to walk from the train station through the new port up the big hill to Notre-Dame de la Garde to score a sweet view of the city and the sea. I am not a huge fan of visiting churches in Europe -- in my view there are too many to keep track of and they are all roughly the same -- but the 360 degree view from up there was excellent. Plus lots of the art in the church was maritime-themed, which gave me a kick. We headed back to Aix, grabbed some Indian food for dinner, and turned in early. Here's a couple shots of the view from Notre-Dame de la Garde:

Woke up well before dawn the next morning for a long day of trains to Rimini. Rebecca had worked out the route, which took us along the coast all days and gave us a good long layover in Nice around lunchtime. We walked from the train station in Nice down to the beach, which was beautiful to look at through sleepy eyes. Large rocks are where the sand should be, which made me glad that the tournament was not being played in Nice. We grabbed a long lunch from a cafe by the beach, then walked back to the train station. Nice feels very chic and upper class, at least in the areas that we saw. Mark on the beach in Nice:

Up until Milan the train rides went nice and were pretty smooth. We switched trains a couple of times, watched the countryside and the Mediterranean coastal towns go by, read (I finally finished Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom), and did crossword puzzles from a book of Sunday puzzles.

Because one of our trains was delayed, we had a tight connection in Milan. Still, when we got to our train we were relieved to see that it was still there. We were not relieved, however, when we realized that none of the nearby doors were unlocked. We tried a few to no avail. Soon we were running down the train trying every door, realizing that it would leave any second. Then it started to leave. Damn. We looked up at the big board and noticed that one train listed Rimini as its destination. We decided to hop on that train without going and trying to switch our tickets, and hope for the best. No one had even looked at a single one of our tickets all day, so we figured the odds would be good that we would make it through. Of course, a ticket guy came by within 30 minutes. We babbled to him in English (and occasionally a bit of my terribly rusty and broken Italian) for a while, before he finally just smiled, said "thank you," and backed away out of the car. Phew. I had three seats and a pillow, so I went to sleep and woke up as we were pulling into Rimini.

I hopped in a cab that took me to my hotel there, where I met and said buona sera to a sleepy father, who showed me to our dingy little room. Went to sleep excited for the tournament to start the next day (but glad that our first game wasn't scheduled until noon).

Monday, March 22, 2010

An update and a weekend off

Things have settled down a bit around the farm now that harvest is through, and will continue to settle down as the time-intensive stages of winemaking finish up.

Our small-batch wines are now entirely in barrels. The mourvedre had a totally different smell for the first couple of days that it was in the tank. The smell became more wine-like as it sat on the skins and fermented for a while. Not knowing what mourvedre is really supposed to taste like on its own (instead of blended with shiraz or something else), we decided to try out a couple from the area. It is a really light red wine, easy to drink and without much structure. Ours started to show characteristics like that as it continued to ferment. We did fewer pumpovers on it to avoid overextraction from the skins to keep it having that light character. Now it sits in a barrel, where it will stay for a while.

The shiraz ("Death March Shiraz") is really nice -- Kris and I are convinced that it will be the nicest of these small batches. The cab seems like it will be nice, but at this point I have to use my imagination to try and predict what it will taste like after being on oak for 12-18 months (and then probably aged for at least a couple of years after that). The shiraz, by contrast, tastes like real wine right now! You get all the spiciness and taste of the varietal, only really missing the structure that it will gain from some wood and some time. That one will be nice to drink a lot sooner.

Death March Shiraz barrel:

We made some last-minute decisions with the "Sweet Tooth" Shiraz, made from late-harvested grapes right at the end of harvest. For most of the time that it was in the tank, we hardly did anything to it. Feeling the effects of six weeks of winemaking and harvesting, we decided not to do a single pumpover on it, and only do punchdowns to mix the skins with the juice. Still, once we added yeast, the thing fermented like crazy. The sugar level was so high going in that the little yeasties must have been in heaven. While standing on top of the tank doing punchdowns, I could feel the heat (a byproduct of fermentation) coming off of the skins. A critical moment in the young life of that wine happened early last week: when tasting it, we discovered that because it had so much sugar in it, it tasted a little bit like port. "Let's make port!" we decided. So, we learned how to make port and scrambled to get it done. While I was making deliveries in Cape Town on Tuesday, Kris tracked down some "brandy spirit," which is added to the wine to "fortify" it. The idea is that by adding this high-alcohol liquor to the wine, the yeast in the wine is killed, ending fermentation. (It's bizarre to me that yeast can't survive at a certain alcohol level, given that it is usually the creator of that alcohol. Poor little guys (I wonder why I am always sympathizing with yeast).) Anyway, Kris ran to KWV, an enormous wine supplier in South Africa, and got 17 liters of brandy spirit to add to the wine. He had to fill out a ton of paperwork to get that done, and also get official permission to fortify from the governing body of South African wine. All for this little tank of port. We will see how it turns out. Even though it was thrown together at the last minute, we pretty much followed the correct procedure for making port. I guess traditionally you're supposed to fortify it at a slightly higher brix (sugar level), but we were still probably in an acceptable range. A slightly less sweet port sounds pretty good to me, though 300 liters of any kind of port sounds kind of nauseating.

Anyway, all the wines are now into their barrels and the next step is to taste them every month or two to see how they progress and when we might want to take them off of the oak.
Here's a picture of Kowie (the consultant winemaker shoveling mourvedre skins out of the tank after the wine was put into barrel.
Unfortunately I don't think I will be around for when any of them are ready to come out of the barrel, but I'll at least get to hear updates as it happens and ultimately try the final product. I'm excited to try them all as soon as I can, but also interested to see how the cab changes as it ages. Planning to get a bunch of it to cellar, then have a bottle every year or two to track it. Wine as a long-term game is a cool concept to me.

Anyway, we are close to business as usual here. I just about finished calculating the farm and cellar's carbon footprint for 2009, which is an interesting project. The goal is to put policies in place to keep better data for calculating our 2010 footprint, and ultimately see what steps we can take to reduce/eliminate it. Because of all the plants on the farm to offset a lot of the CO2 we produce, having carbon-neutral wine production in the near future is not out of the question.

Had the weekend off this weekend, so we headed over to the west coast to a place I've been wanting to visit, Langebaan. There is a lagoon there, and during the summer they get a constant strong wind. Everyone seems to agree that it is the best place to learn to kitesurf. So Kris and I went that way. We decided that camping was the way to go, but the only camping spot in Langebaan proper was booked when I tried to make a reservation the week before. We ended up booking at some caravan spot in the nearby town of Saldanha. It is a cool little fishing village -- way fewer water sports and therefore much quieter and less-touristy than Langebaan.

The drive there was about 90 minutes from Paarl, through tons of wheat fields. Apparently wheat farmers have a disproportionately high suicide rate. I didn't believe that at first, but after an hour of seeing only wheat fields I started to buy it. There just isn't enough stuff to do or look at on a wheat farm, as far as I could tell.

We got to Saldanha and found ourselves in a somewhat-bizarre caravan park run by the Saldanha municipality. Lots of people were staying in the rustic little cottages that were available for rent. Other people, like us, rented 30x30 ft patches of grass to camp on. Unlike us, though, they set up massive tent mansions. One guy even had a satellite dish and a flat screen tv at his camp site. We decided on an oceanfront piece of property and set up camp -- easily the smallest and least impressive setup around. Here's a picture of our view of Saldanha bay from the campsite, and a shot of the tent/car:

We grabbed dinner in the small "downtown" area of Langebaan right by the beach -- brought in a nice bottle of the Glen Carlou Gravel Quarry Cab and amused myself with creative ways to position ice around the bottle to keep it cool. Without much to do in, we stopped by the little Mykonos casino on the way back. They had two blackjack tables and a roulette table -- not exactly a large-scale operation. Still, we entertained ourselves by jawing at Devon, the dealer. Also enjoyed this really drunk German guy at our table that was guzzling white wine when he wasn't spilling it all over the table. And we won money! We made a large scene while leaving about how much fun we had and how we won money, providing some free advertising to Mykonos.

Saturday was a long sluggish day after not a great night of sleep in the new tent. We grabbed a small breakfast at a BnB in Saldanha, which had a nice porch area overlooking the bay. I checked in with one contact for a kitesurfing lesson, who said that the day was a no-go due to lack of wind. Without a real plan, we headed into Langebaan to see what we might be able to do. We got to the beach there, and saw a bunch of kites up! Went around to a few places, all of which were totally booked for lessons. Finally I found one place that would give me a lesson in the afternoon. An hour later, the guy called me to cancel. Damnation! No lesson for me.

Finally, realizing that the wind was dying down even further, we resolved to do something to save the day from being a total waste. We rented a couple kayaks from Cape Sports Center and cruised around the lagoon a bit. We passed by tons of fishermen, both out in boats and casting long lines from the shore. Most notably, we passed two guys who were simultaneously struggling with these enormous creatures thrashing about in the shallow water around them (presumably already hooked and reeled). They each called over a couple of buddies to tame the beast, and eventually picked these enormous fish out of the water. Each of them about 3-4 feet long, and looking like they weighed about 100 pounds. Then I saw their big dorsal fins! I'm pretty sure those guys had just caught a couple of sizable sharks from shore. That was all well and good, until they unhooked the big fellas and let them go into the water. Now, I don't think that these sharks were big enough or scary enough to knock over some kayaks and eat the people inside of them, but I wasn't too thrilled about a couple of pissed off medium-sized sharks who had just been traumatized by a group of humans coming towards me. We high-tailed it back and returned the kayaks.

Read on the beach for a while, then watched the Stormers (the Western Cape Super 14 rugby team) beat the Cheetahs. SA loves its rugby. Ate dinner that night at Froggy's, the one restaurant recommended by the travel guide. The onion and brie tart was the highlight.

Though exhausted, we dropped by the casino again for a repeat of the previous night (including more winning!) then got back to the campground. Despite a lively atmosphere and loud beats coming from our neighbors, and fell right to sleep. Woke up in the morning to loud children and birds, ate a pantastic breakfast at Pancakes Galore in Langebaan, then closed up camp back in Saldanha to sounds of hymns coming from a choir that was apparently staying for the weekend in an RV at a campsite just across the path from us.

With no wind again on Sunday and none scheduled for this morning, decided to head for the Blue Rock cable wakeboarding park on the southern bay. Excellent choice -- the weather was nicer, and it was a really cool concept. A big mine was filled with water, and a cable extends around its perimeter which drags ropes around it. You can wakeboard, waterski, kneeboard, etc. If you fall, some guy comes around in a boat to scoop you up and bring you back to the start. We rented a couple of wakeboards and got going. After about 6 times of getting thrown onto my face immediately, I finally managed to get going and get around to the first turn. Having never done any board sports, I'm still not totally comfortable on a board, though, and never made it past the second turn. The dude in the boat had his work cut out for him with me. Still, it was an excellent time and I think one more session will have me much more comfortable on a board. There were some kids there who were doing some really cool stuff -- lots of jumps, flips, spins, etc -- very cool to watch. Here are a couple of pictures of the place that I took while Kris and I had a beer after a couple hours of wakeboarding. Someone needs to recreate this place in the US somewhere.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Big day today!

Last day of harvest. Whoo! Less waking up in the 4-5 a.m. range. We started the morning by getting mourvedre into the final small tank for Kris and I to turn into wine.

The excitement then continued -- fermentation for the Dear Leader cabernet sauvignon has been done for a couple days, so today we got it into the barrel. Though usually the cellar uses 225 liter oak barrels, this one was 300 liters (around 400 bottles of wine?) -- the plan being to get the entire tank into that one barrel. Though usually one would pump the juice and then press the skins from the tank to get the rest of the juice, we thought/hoped that we'd be able to get enough liquid from the tank without having to press the skins. We were right, though just barely. We ended up having to spend about 15 minutes pressing some of the skins by hand to entirely fill the barrel. We thought about going shoeless and stomping the juice out like in the good ole days, but decided against it.

Anyway, the DL cab is in the barrel, where it will mature and increase its complexity for the next 12-18 months or something like that. The one concern that we've had in tests of it is that its acidity has been really high. Certainly not the end of the world though -- it does mean that it will probably age well. Note to self: have some kind of a wine cellar in which to age it by 2012.

Harvest finished up with the rest of the mourvedre, and then the remaining shiraz from block 3. That's been a lousy block in terms of grape quality, but we decided to fill the tank that the cab had occupied with it. If it turns out ok, Kris wants to make some sweet wine and give it as a gift to some of the workers here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Update and Death March to Kanonkop

Busy busy busy. Harvesting has been going strong for the last week or so. Every grape varietal seemed to become ripe for the picking at the same time, so we've been trying to get them off the vine and sorted as quickly as possible. This has meant harvesting for pretty much every day except Sundays for the past couple of weeks. Today we are finishing up the shiraz, tomorrow we'll finish up the mourvedre and that will be all for harvest! At this point I'm pretty excited to be done with it -- I could use a while of not having to wake up at 4 or 5 a.m. every day.

Was able to spend the day with Cousin Cy and Alli on Friday, which was very nice. After a few days in Camps Bay, they came out and stayed at a bed and breakfast in Stellenbosch. They came and met me for a late breakfast on Friday after I'd been sorting grapes all morning. Then I gave them a tour of the cellar and the farm, before we came back and I put them to work! They sorted grapes for an hour or two, switching back and forth between the two tables and getting nice and sticky. They have real potential as grape sorters -- with minimal instruction they quickly became among the top grape sorters on the tables. Overachievers. Then we did a quick tasting of all the Noble Hill wines, they bought some wine and some olive oil, then we went for a run around the farm and up the big hill to Kris' new house (which now has rafters and looks almost house-like). Cy and I took a quick swim in the upper dam, and I had to take off to go with Kris to a wine tasting event and the University of Cape Town. Unsurprisingly, the UCT wine club drank a lot of wine. Cy and Alli fly back to London today -- it seemed like they had a nice time.

While harvest happened this past Saturday, we also hosted a wedding here. The groom's family is Dutch, the bride's family is South African, and the bride and groom live in London. Everything went off without too many mishaps. I tended the bar for pretty much the whole time, which wasn't too bad. Still, I was on my feet from about 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., which was tiring.

On the winemaking front, we now have two of the three tanks filled. The cabernet has been in the tank for a while, and is now almost entirely dry (the sugars have fermented). Its balling is at -1.4 right now. A 300 liter oak barrel has arrived for the cab, so we'll get that wine out of the tank and into the barrel in the next couple of days. Then it will sit in the barrel for a while -- something like 12-18 months. The shiraz just went into the tank on Friday. The grapes looked nice while we were harvesting it, the juice tastes good, and the color looks bright and fresh right now. We did our first pumpover for the shiraz today, and that will go on for a while. Should get the mourvedre in the tank tomorrow and we'll be doing pumpovers and punchdowns on that as well.

Yesterday (Sunday) Kris and I had the day off (not the whole weekend due to the wedding). I had hopes of going up to Langebaan to kitesurf, but reported that there was no wind up there. Hopefully I can get there in the near future now that harvest is finishing up -- it's been too long since I've made any progress on that front. We went to Olivello for lunch (delicious buffet) to form a plan B, and decided that even though the temperature was in the 90s, we would hike up Kanonkop, the mountain right behind the farm. Here's a picture taken about 20 minutes into the hike:

"Death March!" was our rallying cry. We decided to bring Kuba and Coco the dogs along with us, along with a ton of water. We filled up every empty water bottle we could find until we had a backpack full of water for us and the dogs. Though normally roughly a three hour hike, it ended up taking significantly longer because of Kuba the dog. He realized pretty quickly that our intention was to continue to head uphill, and refused to keep up with us. Instead, he plodded along well behind us until we turned a corner and were out of sight ahead of him. Then, fearing being left behind by the pack, he would begrudgingly jog to catch up. Rinse and repeat.


We finally made it up to the top, and were treated to a great view. We saw a nice view of the winelands and where we had just come from, and also saw the other side of the mountain, which has a great view of the layout of Cape Town and the suburbs. It was clear enough to see all the way to Cape Point, all of Table Mountain, and the whole surrounding area. Sadly, because the hike up took so much longer than expected, we didn't get much time to enjoy the view and had to start our descent to make it back before it got too dark.

Here are a couple of pictures from the top. Coco (pictured) made it all the way up, but we had to leave Kuba for the final ascent.

The descent seemed to be going more quickly because Kuba appeared happy to head downhill. He is big enough that his momentum would just carry him down, and the most energy he had to put out was to stop himself. But, when we were about 4/5 of the way down, I looked back and Kuba had stopped completely. He laid himself on the ground in the middle of a path and wouldn't budge. We went back and forth between being annoyed with him for being so lazy, and worried about whether we'd asked too much of him to go on such a long hike in the hot weather (though only the beginning part was hot -- it cooled off quite a bit as the day got later and our altitude went up). Were we going to have terrible regrets about calling the hike a Death March? All four of us had been drinking tons of water, but we hand fed him three liters of water. Still, he refused to get up -- even when we physically picked him up, he would actively dive his head back towards the ground (ironically spending more energy than it would have taken him to just stand up).

Kuba being super lazy:

Finally, after an hour, when it was nearly pitch black, we wondered if maybe our ascent strategy of just walking ahead of him to make him fear losing the pack would get him moving. Success! He got up on his own and trotted to keep up with us as we walked back down in the dark. He got the full pampering treatment when he got back -- Kathleen draped wet towels on him -- and the adventure was over. Reports are that both dogs are extremely lethargic and appear to be really sore. Lazy pups.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Exclusive pumpover video! Filmed yesterday during the last pumpover for the cab. The balling has been shooting down, so we have stopped pumpovers to avoid over-extraction. I haven't tried it today, but supposedly it now kinda tastes like wine, though it still has some sugar in it.

Sadly the video cut out during most of the actual pumping part of it. But you can see the tanks, and the really exciting setup and cleanup processes! Plus the soundtrack is money.

The shiraz harvest started today, so we will have the second tank full of shiraz sometime this week.

Didn't participate in harvest today. Instead ran an errand, then tried to go to this cable pull wakeboarding lake (like wakeboarding without a boat) in Strand, but it was closed. Tomorrow is a large day of deliveries. Cousin Cy and Cousin-in-law Alli are in town staying at Camps Bay, so hopefully I can meet up with them for lunch while I'm in Cape Town. If not, they'll be out in the winelands staying in Stellenbosch later this week.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Great ideology creates great times!

Continued pumpovers and punchdowns yesterday. That process is getting much easier because the the skins all rise to the top pretty quickly, and stay up there. Balling has started to go down quickly (20.5 yesterday, down from 23.3 on Friday) and temperature is rising nicely (24 degrees C up from 20). This means that the little yeast dudes are doing their job by eating up sugars and crapping out alcohol. Good to know that we're not just, as Kris likes to say, making really expensive grape juice. It's looking pretty good all in all. The color is a nice, vibrant deep purple.

We've also begun an informal process of leisurely removing the seeds from the tank. They tend to settle at the bottom and come out in a clump at the beginning of a pumpover, so we've started to just set them aside. They don't add anything to the wine except for some unwanted tannins (as opposed to the desired tannins from the skins).

Today we added 80 grams of ammonia for the yeasties to munch on, and 80 grams of grape tannins because that's what we were told to do. I was on top of the tank for the first pumpover today, and the wine smell was incredibly strong. People like to swirl in the glass and stick their nose in, but I think the best way to catch the aroma of a wine is to put your nose directly above 800 liters of it.

Yesterday was pretty eventful. After a day of hanging out around the office/tasting room, I'd just headed back to the cottage and thought about going for a run when I got a call from Kris asking for help back at the cellar. I rushed back to find that the barrel cellar, down under the restaurant and home of about 250 barrels of maturing wine from the 2009 vintage, was under about 6 inches of murky water. Really gross-looking stuff. We quickly set up the pump to pull water out and send it into the drain out back where harvest takes place. It went to work for about ten minutes, when I heard a loud cascade of water coming from the back corner of the room -- all the water that we were pumping out was circulating right back in. Bleh. We switched to pump into a different drain, and eventually diagnosed the problem -- the roots of a tree outside had grown and created a blockage in one of the drainage pipes, so that all of the wastewater from the cellar was diverted directly into the barrel cellar. This included water, cleaning chemicals, grape skins, sand, dirt, and who knows what else. The chief worry was that all the stuff in the wastewater would get on the barrels and seep into the wine, ruining the entire '09 vintage. Having seen all that goes into harvesting (still with 1/2 the farm to go) and winemaking, I can confidently say that it would have totally sucked. Spent the evening pumping and cleaning.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Added 450 grams of tartaric acid this morning at around 6:30 while doing a pumpover. Got a bit better at the pumpover process, though we had some trouble because grape skins kept coming out the bottom while we were trying to pump only liquid to the top. Supposedly by tomorrow it will be easier because the skins will have risen completely to the top of the tank.

We'll do pumpovers at around 1:30 this afternoon and 10 this evening. Hopefully we'll get the punchdown contraption, too, and do a couple of those.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Makin' wine, entry one

Think I mentioned earlier that Kris recently bought three 600 liter tanks in the cellar for a personal winemaking project. He's brought me on board for this project, so now we're makin some wine!

It began on Tuesday -- the first bit of the cabernet sauvignon harvest came from block 4, and went straight into the first little tank. I was making deliveries at the time, but I got an invite to a Google document giving the critical stats for day one. The balling (sugar level) into the tank was 24.7. Temperature going in was 22 degrees Celsius. Rest of the info is here:
Harvested from Block 4 Rows 1-3
Pallet 1 (30 crates, 511kg, 25ºC) arrived at Cellar 1216
Pallet 2 (26 crates, 415.5kg, 25ºC) arrived at Cellar 1220 Grapes stored in cool room, sorting began at ~1530 and ended at ~1700
Sorting focused on usual stuff plus added emphasis on micro-berries; quality is good overall
Only sketchy moment was when it started drizzling mid-sort; hopefully impact is minimal
Total taken into tank C aka "Dear Leader" estimated at ~ 773.2kg
Added 12gm Lafase HE Grand Cru
Added 100ml 18% Bisulfite
Added 600gm Vin-Oak MT
Added 450gm Tartaric Acid

The naming scheme for the three tanks is still up in the air. Kris favors naming this tank "Dear Leader" and putting a picture of Kim Jong-il on the tank, though we're not sure whether the Korean Noble Hill distributors would think that is ok. This led to a conversation suggesting various other crazy world leaders as names for the other two tanks. Nothing was settled except that we aren't naming the other two tanks Mugabe and Allende. Those dudes aren't funny.

This evening we added yeast -- 150 grams. I have been nicknamed the yeastmaster, though sadly I don't think that will fit on a vanity license plate. We brought 1.5 liters of a mixture of water and must (grape juice/skins) up to 35 degrees C, then added special winemaking yeast to it. It frothed up and kind of looked like the head of a freshly-poured glass of Coke. Smelled like bread (well, like yeast?). Let it sit for ten minutes, then added more must to bring the temperature down, then added it all into the tank.

Also, learned how to do a pumpover this evening, and did our first. A pumpover is a way of mixing up everything in the tank, and giving it a bit of oxygen. That's my understanding at least. Anyway, we shot the must out of the tank into a big bucket and set up a pipe in the bucket, attached to a pump, attached to another pump that goes into the top of the tank. Spent ten minutes shooting must through those pipes using that setup. Starting tomorrow, we'll do three pumpovers each day, and three punchdowns each day (pushing down all the skins in the must to the bottom of the tank). Also adding another 450 g tartaric acid.

Also, more cabernet harvesting tomorrow! Better finish up this Glen Carlou Grand Classique and head to sleep!

Long week

Started a big one -- cabernet sauvignon harvest began on Tuesday. Long day, including a brutal Tuesday -- up at 3:30, sort grapes til 11:30, deliver lots of wine until 5ish, etc. Hoping to finish up this big block tomorrow.

Played pickup ultimate on Monday after trying to kitesurf but being thwarted by the lack of wind. Luckily that meant a less windy day for frisbee. Thinking about switching gears on kitesurfing a bit. New plan is probably to work on my board skills by going to this cable pulley wakeboarding place in Strand for a couple of hours. Then maybe a trip to Langebaan, a lagoon north of here a ways. Learning in a place with waves is really tough -- a calm shallow area is pretty ideal for getting started. Think it'll be worth the extra drive and somewhat higher expense.

Also, just bought plane tickets to France/Italy/Paganello. Pretty pumped for that.

Temporary shutdown on the pictures front. I had the camera in my pocket went I went into the Bay Hotel pool on Sunday. That was dumb. Hopefully I'll get that (or a replacement) up and running shortly.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Kris and I had our second weekend off this past weekend. Nice to have some 100% free days to kick around and do stuff. Also kind of nice that they are just infrequent enough that we feel obligated to try and make the most of them.

I'd been texting with the kitesurf school people all week, getting wind and weather updates, and they finally told me on Friday that things were looking good. Headed to Muizenberg in the early afternoon to find a pretty strong and gusty onshore wind. Headed right to the water and spent the next two hours making all of the various beginner mistakes and either getting pulled onto my face or not getting powered enough to get up on the board. Swallowed a ton of water. Waterstarting is definitely the hardest thing that I've had to learn. There are just so many things to remember -- how much power to give the kite, face the front of the board downwind(ish), don't pull on the bar, front leg straight and back leg bent, etc. One of those things where until you've gotten it right enough times that it all becomes natural, you have to think through every element every time. Hard to do. I did manage to get up on the board a few times, which was just enough excitement to get me heading back there for another lesson this afternoon.

Met Kris at the gym from there, grabbed some sushi right off of Long St. (which was swamped with people on a Friday night -- we couldn't even imagine what it will look like during the World Cup) then back to Paarl.

Had big plans to go Kayaking down the Berg River on Saturday, but it was oppressively hot. 100, or something like that. Decided that the day would be better spent in air conditioning, so we called an audible and went wine tasting.

First went to L'Ormarins in Franschhoek, which is a big old estate that started in the 17th century. They have a Motor Museum with tons of cool old cars, which we checked out. I don't know squat about cars, but some of the older ones from the 20s and 30s were pretty sweet. They then took us in a golf cart through the estate up to their tasting room, where we tried three whites, three reds, and their port. Of the whites, the Anthonij Rupert Nemesia blend was great. Their sangiovese is nice and tomato-ey (had had it with dinner a few weeks ago). Their bordeaux blend is super smooth, though without much body. I loved their port -- had some savory flavors that made it taste like something other than pure sugar.

Went from there to Glen Carlou, a farm right on our road which has a much more modern feel than L'Ormarins. Briefly checked out their art collection then tasted their wines - there were a lot. Their gravel quarry cabernet sauvignon was great but pricy. Their regular cab seemed like a better deal. By this point we had drank a lot of wine, and called it a day. Headed back to Noble Hill to take the doggies for a swim in the upper dam, which is always a highlight. Went from there to see some polo match at Val de Vie, and had some delicious food on the deck overlooking the polo field. Stayed after the match for a while and snuck into some wedding photos that were being taken as a wedding party was dying down.

Sunday, headed to Camps Bay to check out the scene. It was very windy and too crowded, but we made the most of it by sneaking into the Bay Hotel to go hang out by their nice quiet pool. The key is to pick the fanciest establishments possible and look like you know what you're doing. The theory being that the staff at a fancier place is less likely to harass you because they know that if they question someone who actually belongs at the place, there will be hell to pay. (We also later tested this theory at the Taj downtown when we were looking for a place to take a leak - another success). Spent all afternoon reading, drinking coffee and water, and pretending to belong.

Here's a view from the lounge chair at the Bay Hotel pool:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


The clouds creeping over Kanonkop, the mountain overlooking the farm, looked really cool. Picture doesn't quite capture it. Oh well.
Also, mom demanded that I put myself in pictures. Here is me.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Got up at 3:30 this morning for the savignon blanc harvest. After lots of cleaning and a few technical difficulties, we got going at around 8 or 9 and harvested til around 4:30. Here's what harvest looks like:

That's the farm in the background. The further table in the picture is where the grapes start out in bunches, then get sorted. Raisins and bad bunches get thrown out. Then the grapes go through this gauntlet of machinery that moves them around like the ball in a game of mouse trap. They go through a big de-stemmer machine, then emerge at the table in the foreground of the picture, where they get sorted a second time (this is where I tend to spend most of my time). Here's a picture of the second sorting table from today:

Smaller stems, any unwanted grapes, and the occasional ladybug get removed. Then, the juice and grape skins get sent over to the big press which, when it is full, presses out the rest of the grape juice into a bin underneath. That juice is outrageously sweet -- the sugars are what eventually turn into the booze. From the bin, it gets transported to one of the big tanks in the cellar. (Red wine is a bit different -- the juice spends time in the tank with the skins before getting pressed). From there, the winemaking process starts. Don't fully know what goes into that yet, but I will. I did some yeast-adding at one point last week. Plus, Kris recently got three small tanks that we are going to use to make some very small batch wines on our own. That should be really fun, and a good way to get to know the full process.

Totally unrelated: listened to the radio while briefly in the car today. A Cape Town station had sent one of their "reporters" to Dallas for the NBA All-Star game. His report was amusingly bad. He kept raving about all the superstars he saw, but could only think of Lebron James, and "Dwayne Howard" when asked to list them. He also said how amazed he was when "Nate Johnson" of the Knicks won the slam dunk contest. I briefly felt really smug after hearing that awful report, until the gas station attendant made fun of me for having no idea about some big rugby match that happened last weekend. Oops. Think I'll at least learn the rules of that sport so I can know what people are talking about. That and cricket.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Oubaii and Garden Route

Kris and I took an extremely quick trip down the Garden Route at the end of last week. I didn't know too much about the area except that it is considered a thing to do, and that there’s more green stuff there than in most parts of South Africa.

About 4 hours into the 4.5 hour drive I fell asleep while reading in the passenger seat. I woke up when we slowed down at some security gate to enter Oubaai. I was disoriented both because I was waking up from a short nap and because Oubaai is a totally bizarre place. It is a very new, planned-feeling golf community that is basically centered around a golf course designed by Ernie Els within the last ten years. There are a bunch of vacation condos there, a Hyatt that opened in December, and a bunch of high-end shops to go along with them. So everything is very well-manicured and fancy-seeming, but there was almost no one there. The Hyatt hotel staff outnumbered everyone else that was around by about 5:1.

We went immediately to the meeting with the wine shop right by the golf course, which went fine. It is owned by an enthusiastic husband and wife duo who love their wine. She had been an attorney until giving that up to open this shop. That went fine – they are interested in distributing Noble Hill in the area.

From there we checked into the Hyatt and went up to our room, which was super nice. Hard to not enjoy a fancy hotel room, even in the creepiest of locations. Here are a couple of pictures of the balcony outside our room. As far as we could tell, most of the condos pictured were entirely unfurnished.

By the time we got there, had the meeting, and settled in, it was too late in the day to do anything like go check out the nearby beaches or see the town of George, which is like 15 minutes from there. (George didn’t sound too exciting anyway. I don’t have the guidebook in front of me, but it said something like “Unless you are a golfer or a steamtrain enthusiast, George isn’t a particularly exciting place to go.” I am neither a golfer nor a steamtrain enthusiast). We resolved that there would definitely be at least 16 hours worth of stuff to do to entertain us in Oubaai, so even though we were setting ourselves up in the premise of a horror movie we decided to hang around there. Trip to the hotel gym, drinks at the bar, dinner at the hotel restaurant. Dinner was bad – the restaurant lights dimmed and brightened drastically every 7 seconds or so. They claimed that it was on an automatic timer that had Gone Rogue, and that it was supposed to dim and brighten every 20 seconds or so. I think even that would have been terrible. We ate our overcooked food in elongated strobe lighting. Then watched Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. Big delicious room service breakfast in the morning almost made up for the bad dinner.

Because we wanted to get back to Paarl in the afternoon (merlot harvest was still going after starting the previous afternoon), we took off right after breakfast, but managed to make a couple stops along the way to actually see some less phony towns along the garden route.

First, we went down a winding hill from Oubaai to Herold’s bay, a tiny little beach town that had a bunch of vacation/rental houses, a hotel or two, a couple little shops, and a beach. Granted it was a Friday during the day, but it was also not very happening. Despite it being an ok beach day, there were about 5 people on the beach. Here are a couple of pictures from the beach. We stopped there for about 10 minutes to look around before moving on.

Mossel Bay, a larger Garden Route town, was also on our way back. It had a seemingly endless stretch of beach that went all the way around the big bay. We almost decided to just give up on getting back and making a beach day of it, but decided not to. Instead we grabbed a cup of coffee where we had a nice view of a few surfers on the bay and a cool little lighthouse. Here’s the view from there:

Made it back to Paarl in the afternoon, and had a pretty busy weekend. Went out to the Funky Buddha in Paarl, the town’s only nightclub (more on that some other time, maybe). Medium-busy on Saturday working in the tasting room. Dinner with some of Kathleen’s friends at the new Bombay Brasserie in the newly built Taj Hotel in Cape Town. Very busy Valentine’s Day – fully booked in the restaurant and for picnics, so I helped make picnic baskets, ran a tasting or two, helped Vivi the guitar player/singer settle in before she minstreled her way around the restaurant and lawn, and ran a couple of errands. Now off to Col’Cacchio in Franschhoek for dinner. Will get to check out how Franschhoek is doing. There was a huge fire there for a few days in the last week or so – we could see a red glow over one of the mountains for a while, then lots of smoke, then little bits of ash were falling on us in Paarl. I suspect it is soot-city over there.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Update 1

I type this from the passenger seat of Kris’ Toyota Tazz, en route from Paarl to George, a South African town on the Garden Route. Google lists it as a five hour trip heading east, though we’re hoping to do it in four and change to get to a meeting with a wine shop in George that wants to be the Noble Hill distributor in the area. It is a hot and winding drive through lots of valleys – a mix of dead-seeming plains, the occasional ostrich farm, and rows of grape vines. Kris points out that the vines are generally poorly kept – we suspect they are owned by some of the large-volume wine producers who sacrifice care and quality for the ability to have a ton of land and produce a ton of wine. We’ll get to George in a few hours and hopefully get to check out the Garden Route a little bit tonight and tomorrow morning before trying to get back to Paarl tomorrow mid-afternoon.

I couldn’t find my digital camera before I left for South Africa, so most of my early adventures have gone unrecorded. I’ve taken possession of Kris’ camera, though, so my hope is to do a better job of recording my time here with words and pictures (I’m not secure enough/disciplined enough in my writing to do it with words alone). I’ll do my best to spend this road trip getting up to speed.

I arrived exhausted and jetlagged from my Etihad Airways flights (NY – Abu Dhabi – Jo’burg – Cape Town) early on a Friday morning. Kris picked me up and we ate some breakfast in Paarl before heading back to the farm, where I started to get settled in. They have me staying at the guest cottage on the farm, which is where Kris had lived until I arrived. He’s now moved back into the main house with his mom, Kathleen. I felt bad for giving him the boot, but he is in the process of having a house built for him at the very top of the farm; it will be ready in May.

The cottage is great. It has a nice-sized bedroom, a living room/kitchen and a bathroom. The only thing missing is a stove in the kitchen, but I’ve been getting along easily without that. Here's a bad picture of the view from the porch:

The farm itself is stunning. Having been there for three weeks now, I note myself starting to take the views and scenery of it for granted from time to time. I try to remind myself to look around and appreciate its beauty as much as possible. No matter where you are on the farm, there are views of the (well-manicured) rows of vines, hills of Paarl and Simondium, and mountains in the background.

The cellar, tasting room, and restaurant area is also beautiful. Kris and Kathleen take pride in their attention to detail, and the result is a really great place for customers to come to taste the wine, have a picnic, or eat breakfast/lunch at Cosecha, the restaurant (Latin American cuisine, very tasty).

As Kris had predicted, I’ve been working on a wide variety of tasks since I’ve been here. I’ve spent a few days working in the cellar with Rodney (the cellar manager) and his crew. We’d mostly been getting ready for harvest, which started just a few days ago. This involved lots of cleaning and organizing things. They just built a bunch of cold storage buildings for keeping crates of wine, barrels, and other stock for the restaurant and winery, so we spent a while getting the loose crap out of the cellar and into its proper place so that there would be lots of room for harvest to go smoothly.

On the slightly more lawyerly front, I’ve taken on a project of improving our compliance with IPW, an overseer of wine farms in South Africa. They audited the farm last September and we got an acceptable score with room for improvement. This has involved checking out our operations and making sure that we’re using proper practices to make good wine, keep full and appropriate records during the process, and minimize/eliminate the cellar’s negative impact on the environment. This is and will be an ongoing project – most recently, with the start of harvest, I’ve got us keeping relatively detailed records of the status of the grapes that we harvest (temperature, weight, time, etc).

I’ve also done a small amount of work around the tasting room. Kris and Kathleen have decided to start alternating weekends of work, with Kris and I working the tasting room every other weekend. I can’t say that my skills at talking about wine are any good just yet, but I’m at least starting to get a better handle of the wines that we are currently tasting (Sav Blanc, Merlot, Cab, Shiraz-Mourverdre, the 1674 – a Bordeaux-style blend, and the recently bottled Chardonnay ’09). The plan is to try to do a bunch of tastings while I’m here since there are so many nearby farms and get my taste buds up to speed without becoming a “wine douche” (as Erin has delicately termed it).

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’ve been going on deliveries around Paarl, Stellenbosch, and Cape Town. I went with Kris for the first few days while I got used to the protocol and the city, then went on my first solo set of deliveries on Tuesday. This has given me a nice opportunity to see and get to know our clients (restaurants, hotels, and liquor stores mostly), and also figure out my way around Cape Town. The plan on delivery days is usually to head into town around midday once rush hour has ended, make the deliveries for a few hours, then go to one of the Virgin Active gyms in Cape Town to wait out the rush hour traffic going back out to Paarl.

Harvest got started on Monday, when we harvested the Chardonnay. Monday was a long day – we didn’t start harvesting until around 8 or 9 a.m. after cleaning all the equipment. We were also somewhat understaffed on the grape sorting tables, so we worked through until around 10:15 p.m.. My only meal that day was breakfast at around 10 a.m., so I was pretty grumpy by the end. Worse, pretty much everything in Paarl was closed by the time we got done – a drive-thru McDonalds finally saved the day, though. The Chardonnay harvest continued on Tuesday, though I was gone for deliveries. When I got back, things were pretty crazy because Solly, one of the cellar workers and a good dude as far as I could tell from the lots of work we had done together and small amount we’d been able to communicate with each other, had gotten his hand stuck in the big press machine. Apparently it was very bad – broken bones and severed tendons. He had surgery that evening and has another one scheduled for Saturday. Hopefully he comes out alright. It was a sobering reminder to everyone that enormous farm equipment is dangerous.

Harvest continued today with Viognier this morning, which was only about 1.5 tons. Merlot harvest was about to start as Kris and I left for George. The harvest period in all should continue for about another month.

My plans for entertainment while I’m here were to check out the Ultimate scene in Cape Town, and also to learn how to kitesurf. Both have gone pretty well so far.

For Frisbee, I got in contact with the powers that be in the CT community and found my way onto a team called Chilli – apparently they’ve won the last couple of national championships here. I went out to one day of summer league to play with them against the University of Cape Town (UCT) team. The quality of play was certainly lower than in the states – my 2009 WUDI summer league team would give Chilli a tight game -- but it was nice to get out there and throw around. The Ultimate community is a great tool for travel; it’s just big enough that there is a place to play pretty much anywhere you go, but small enough that it is easy to get involved. At summer league there was one Dartmouth dude that I hadn’t met before and an Oregon dude that I’d played against a zillion times in college.

I’m pretty excited about kitesurfing right now. I resolved to learn it while I was in the Bahamas and saw that it is possible on both the ocean side and the bay side there and heard that it is popular in Cape Town. I found a place in Muizenberg that will give you lessons and then deduct the cost of those lessons if you decide to buy the equipment – pretty perfect for me, since I’d been planning to learn and then buy the equipment anyway if I liked it and was decent at it. Only questionable part of the operation is the fact that one of the instructors, who now just works at the shop, has a broken ankle from kitesurfing. Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, especially for someone who already has mush for ankles. I’ve taken two lessons now with this Polish girl Patty. The first was on an extremely gusty day. I just learned about the kiting part of things on that day, and practiced kiting on the beach with the training kites and then a very small kitesurfing kite. Kris joined me for that lesson, though he couldn’t make the second – he isn’t quite as enthusiastic as me about it, but I might get him to come out again. In the second lesson, I got out into the water and did some body dragging – using the kite to pull me through the water while I lie on my stomach. I got decent at that and had a bit of time left in the lesson so tried to add the board to things. That didn’t go so well. My hope is that by my next lesson (sometime next week?) I’ll have the whole thing down and will be able to get out there on my own. I think it’s going to be really fun, and is something that I’ll be able to do in lots of places.

Aside from those ongoing fun activities, we’ve had a few other noteworthy adventures. On the Tuesday after I got here, there was a beginning-of-the-year management meeting, followed by a sail on a large boat out in the harbour leaving from the V&W Waterfront. The view from the water was great. It was my first time seeing Cape Town, and I got to see the whole city on a beautiful day with big-ole Table Mountain in the background. The plan had been to sail around Robben Island (where Mandela was imprisoned), but we saw that there were whales around, which was rare for so late – usually they aren’t in so close past November. We saw 6ish whales, and got within around 50 meters. While on a cool sailboat, eating delicious snacks and drinking wine. Then we all went out for dinner in Cape Town. Here's a view from the bay that I stole from the internet:

The stadium in the foreground is Green Point Stadium, built for the upcoming World Cup 2010.

Last weekend, on our first weekend off, Kris and I took a trip down to Cape Point. On the way there, we went on this great scenic route along the water – Chapman’s Peak. We stopped once because the view overlooking Hout Bay was too great to drive by. We went and parked at the Cape of Good Hope, the “southwesternmost point of Africa.” From there we the hiking path and went along a ridge overlooking the water. Views were great. We saw Diaz Beach from the path on the mountain, and decided to climb down to it because it looked so nice. Bad idea. The wind picked up the sand and launched it at us – tiny little particle bullets stinging every bit of exposed skin. The only escape was down by the water, which was freezing-ass cold. Once we escaped from Diaz we hiked over to Cape Point (which informed me that I’m ~15,000 km from New York) and down to the lighthouse point. Good views all around. Wish I had a camera then – oh well. We saw some baboons on the drive back. There was a mother and some really cute little ones in the road in front of us, which we admired. Then this huge alpha male baboon stood up from the side of the road looked at us, and started walking towards us in a way that seemed angry to me, though it probably is just the way he walks anywhere. “Don’t make eye contact!” I said. We didn’t, and he passed on by as we high-tailed it back to Cape Town for dinner and then on to Paarl.

Here's a picture of the painful Diaz beach, probably taken from around Cape Point, with the ridge overlooking the Cape of Good Hope behind it:

Also found on the internet using the same google image search, here are two pictures of Cameron Diaz on a beach:

Here are some Cape Point baboons lifted from someone else's blog (I'll start to create my own pictures now that I have a camera):