So I avoided the Underbergs, the Jagermeisters and the unnamed grappas – so how come I was a tad queasy at 7am the following morning? Oh yes, that would be the on-tap Stellenbosch Ridge I’d consumed, vaguely believing that vats of that contained less alcohol than shots of spirits. Sigh. Anyway, up at 7am we all were, ready for a day out at the beach. In Swakopmund. A distance of 700km away from Windhoek. And of course we were going in a private, 14-seater plane. As you do.
I know that private planes are very posh etc etc, but I must say that when it comes to air travel - the bigger, the better in my book. I felt every air pocket, every tweak of the wing, every jolt on the way – great views, yes – but not so great the morning after a vast vat of red wine. Still, not much you can do except grin and bear it – and clench your teeth tightly.
Having landed in Swakopmund, it immediately became clear that we weren’t going to be rolling up the trouser-legs and knotting hankies on our heads whilst building sand-castles on the beach. We were met by Marius and his colleague who piled us into Toyota Landcruisers and off we went for a spot of dunes bashing. The dunes outside Swakopmund are part of the Namib Desert and are an estimated 55 million years old, making it the oldest desert in the world. The sand is particularly fine, with all the particles worn into spheres instead of crystals, and the dunes are a major tourist attraction and source of income for Namibians and as such, are carefully controlled and protected.
Marius is clearly an old hand at the dunes and swooped us confidently and carefully up and down preferred pathways. The scenery is mind-boggling and endless – we knew we were only a few kilometres from the town, but it felt as if we were in another world entirely. And, although it did nothing for the flight-induced queasiness, it was an experience I wouldn’t have missed for anything.
By the time we headed off for lunch, I had firmly decided within myself that a) I wasn’t going to drink, possibly ever again, and b) I would just nibble on some dry bread so I would be okay for the journey back. Marius drove along the main road and then suddenly, and without warning ducked off to the right and headed along a deserted beach. A few kilometres down, and a Bedouin tent appeared on the horizon – rather like something out of Lawrence of Arabia, but with added portaloos. Yes – this was lunch – an insane combination of starched table linen, good glassware, ice buckets, fine wine and seafood so fresh, it had clearly just swum out of the sea of its own accord only minutes previously.
We were there to launch the second wine from Jean’s new range – the Donkiesbaai Steen 2011. Not a Chenin Blanc, but a Steen because, as Jean says, it’s the Afrikaans word and he’s Afrikaans so there you go. Using grapes sourced from Piekenierskloof, it’s a combination of tank and barrel-fermented and is deliciously fresh and rich at the same time. Again, it’s not available for tasting at R&V but if you have R200 to spare, I promise you that it’s a great option. And the bottle has the biggest punt in the world for what it’s worth.
As a food partner, I would say it’s unparalleled. Or perhaps that was because the food itself was. We ate the best oysters ever. Full stop. And the best panfried Kob ever. Also full stop – I had no idea that fish could taste like this. It’s saying something when the perfectly decent crayfish paled into insignificance against them, as did the delicious snoek and other fish of the day. All fabulously braaied by chef Etienne Fourie after being caught by champion fisherman, Shane Milne.
And so back to Windhoek on the tiny plane – mercifully sleeping all the way. At the wine show at the restaurant that evening, we tasted wonderful wine from Chris Keet (ex-Cordoba), De Grendel, Waterford and Paul Cluver amongst others before hoovering down another bottle of the Donkie and heading for an early night.
If any winery out there thinks it can beat this as an incredible launch experience, let the records show that I am willing to consider all suggestions. And on another note, if you want a really good cure for wine-and-travel-induced sickness, then it takes a bit of bravery, but there ain’t nothing to beat half a dozen ridiculously fresh oysters and a bottle of good Chenin. Unorthodox perhaps, but I reckon Jean Engelbrecht would happily take this as a great compliment to a fabulous weekend.
PS - as soon as I get the hang of the new blogs, I'll post a gallery