Newsletter from Pietman Retief - March 2017

In step with the Winelands seasons

The spectacular natural beauty of the Cape Winelands in autumn is a reminder of the cycle of life and the seasons in the vineyards, as climate, soil and the efforts of those who tend the wines and work in the cellars combine to produce delightful and distinctive wines.

The end of summer also brings an end to the harvest, with the grapes delivered from the vine to the cellar. As the season turns - and the vineyards and oak trees blaze with red, orange and yellow - visitors to the many estates and cellars are enjoying pleasant sun-filled, windless days. After the heat of high summer fades, it's the perfect time of year to plan a trip to this southerly wine region.

The 2017 harvesting season was again spectacular, even with the serious lack of water we are experiencing in the Cape. To see the grapes picked in heat reaching 40*C, transported to the cellars as if made of gold, and handled gently as a newborn baby throughout the fermentation process is a sight to behold. And nowhere is this done better than at the famous wineries at Kanonkop and Muratie in Stellenbosch.

Autumn is also the perfect time to sit and savour mountain and vineyard views at the many world-class restaurants situated in the Cape Winelands. The Cape is increasingly highly rated for its cuisine and currently six of the top 10 restaurants in the country are situated in the Winelands.

For art lovers, too, there is much to experience with a continuing explosion of art in both Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, and some of the best works that South Africa can offer on display in some 40 art galleries. The sculptures in the streets of Stellenbosch are renowned.

After a day spent at the wineries, Stellenbosch offers a wealth of cultural activities and events throughout the year. For a change of pace, stroll through the Botanical Garden, in the heart of the historic town, with its superb Bonsai collection, and explore the streets of the shopping district lined with restored examples of early Cape-Dutch architecture.

The number of visitors to Stellenbosch has reached a new high, with a calendar of events that includes a uniquely South African biltong and pinotage festival, and a strawberry festival. The university's cultural festival offers more than 600 performances, and there are regular world-class performances from, among others, the Stellenbosch symphony orchestra and a number of choirs. A number of the wineries also offer musical entertainment, along with special wine experiences, throughout the year.

As the Winelands enters the winter months, everyone is hoping for a good rainy season to replenish the dwindling dam levels and to ensure the vineyards receive sufficient rain and cool temperatures to prepare for the next season. But visitors from the northern hemisphere may be surprised to learn that even our wettest months still have more sunny days than a typical British summer. With roaring fires, cosy tasting rooms and great food and wine to enjoy, there are many who believe winter is the best time to visit the Cape Winelands. It's also the ideal season to enjoy the new hiking- and cycling trail in the mountains between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.

As spring arrives from August-September, so the famous gardens at estates like Rustenburg and Tokara will reopen to visitors and the indigenous proteas, clivias and agapanthus will begin another season of colourful performance. It's also time to try the new-season wine releases.