Since our very beginnings, humans have been storytellers. And if there’s one thing visitors recall from their trips to Stellenbosch Wine Routes, it’s their tales.
There’s great irony in one of the high-tech displays at !Khwa ttu, a heritage centre of the San people located on the Cape West Coast of South Africa. Situated in one corner, the experience invites visitors to sit and activate a video screen. Out of the dark, the crackle of a fire first emerges and then light. The glow of the flames creates a cocoon in which the only other is the storyteller. Then begins a tale of celestial bodies, beasts, the land and great, great spirits.
The language is familiar, yet not understood – a gentle stream punctuated by clicks and modulations in pace and volume. A recorded interpretation plays in the background. For the listener, the world outside soon disappears and even words become irrelevant. It is utterly absorbing, not least because of the centre’s glimpse it provides of the last hunter-gatherer societies on earth. The history of the continent, its geology and the planet’s very first hominids that emerged here, is given a brief introduction in an adjoining hall.
Here, a few kilometres from some of the Cape’s finest vineyards, is one of the oldest and greatest examples of storytelling, in its most glorious simplicity. “The story of the San is one that many people across the world might not know, but it is one that everyone will recognise,” says an inscription at the centre. “It is our story – the story of humankind.” More than that, !Khwa ttu reveals the great treasure of African heritage and a hallmark of the South African tourism experience.
The wines from Stellenbosch shares this DNA and evident whether you visit wineries in person; browse their websites; or even encounter the produce somewhere far from the vineyards. While techniques and delivery methods have changed, the essence – the power to move and provoke a sense of connection through the story – has remained consistent.
Storytelling is context
To the reader or listener, a story is about more than just the subject. It’s a window to a world. Waterford Estate for example, goes beyond a listing of its wine drive safari, wine walk and variety of premier food and wine experiences and extolls the “sense of place” of its location in the Blaauwklippen Valley.
Jordan Wines talks about the history of the farm that goes back over 300 years. Gary Jordan, co-owner with economist wife Kathy, is a geologist, so there are no surprises that the story of the Jordan soils is traced to their evolution from 600 million-year-old Cape Granite.
Context goes hand in hand with perspective. Hartenberg Estate cellar master Carl Schultz firmly believes that “wine doesn’t like change” and that unruffled custodianship of the land in its recent history has allowed for the healthy accumulation of knowledge and experience.
Still, the property has a long history going back to 1692 and while it treasures its heritage, perspectives have widened as with many wineries. The Mackenzie family that acquired the property in 1986, state as an aim to “leave Hartenberg in a better condition than when we started”. As a result, a 65ha wetland on the 170ha Hartenberg is nurtured and protected in line with this vision of the future.
The story is a strand in fabric
No story is an island, and neither are the activities of a place like Spier. The grand old farmyard or opstal has a long history as a prominent destination for visitors to the winelands thanks to diversity of restaurants and dining options including picnics; and, a myriad of out of the ordinary art experiences; a raptor centre; vineyard Segway tours and a craft market. Every aspect is a link to the wider story of South African wine, its eclectic diversity, transformation, sustainability and role within the international community.
It’s about the people
At its essence, story is about connection between narrators and the listeners – about people. And here, the quality of wine is rarely extolled without reference to the hands behind the harvest.
Among the many examples, Muratie Wine Estate weaves its own story from the tale of a tree at the winery that was planted by early ancestor Ansela van de Caab, over 300 years ago. “At Muratie, the passion for preserving our rich heritage, and the wonderful human stories that are woven into the very fabric of our history, are matched only by the way in which we produce our fine wines,” it declares on its website.
Feel it in the gut
Tied to this human element, the power of story lies in authenticity too.
Rust en Vrede owner Jean Engelbrecht writes on his site: “The Cape Dutch buildings on the property date back to 1780 and today they all have National Monument status. They are used on a daily basis and I still live in the Manor house where I grew up. My mother lives in the Jonkershuis, and the original winery is now the Rust en Vrede Restaurant.”
For more on the Stellenbosch Wine Routes visit wineroute.co.za
For more information on the area: Cape Town | Cape Winelands