It’s been a few years since I embarked on my first wine tour through the surrounds of Stellenbosch. Those times bring about dreamy memories of carefree shenanigans, excessive tasting, roadside piddles and poorly executed handbrake turns. This past weekend saw a reunited gang head out on one of our infamous binges – and it gave me great pleasure to relive episodes of utter abandon in an area which is hard not to fall for.
What really impressed me was the abundance of styling youngsters serving the thirsty patrons. Never have I been so at ease amongst throngs of demanding tourists. The lads and I – who have hardly graduated from the tasting room arena – couldn’t help but laud this exceptional performance. As wine descriptions were flawlessly recited, we sat back and observed tasting glasses topped with impressive proficiency. However, as slick as the service was, it did come across as rather robotic –which lead us to think of how the rules of engagement in a crowded tasting room have changed.
If you happened to have worked in a tasting room regularly frequented by foreigners – as most of us had – you were bound to have witnessed your fair share of comical madness. I myself had the enlightening experience of working alongside a chap whose skills in the tasting room were unrivalled. Entertaining? Yes. Unorthodox? Most certainly. With his smooth-talking, lascivious tongue, he preyed almost exclusively on the older woman of the crowd. I’d always hang around while he was doing his thing and often wondered how his outrageous manner got him the top salesman month after month. It was too easy for the man. He could sell ice to an Eskimo. I wouldn’t be far off in saying most of these wooed vixens would lay a fat kiss on his cheek – often to their respective partners’ disgust – before he helped load their tiny rent-a-car and sent them packing with an enthusiastic goodbye. The rest of us would just hang around in despair, counting our measly tips. Soon after, I decided to hang up my tasting room shoes and started to hit the hard graft at a cellar on the other side of town. It wasn’t until a few months later when I returned, weirdly hoping I’d be treated with the same sarcastic affection. Not to be. It transpired that Simon (the frisky wine salesman) had been giving family discounts to most of these old fruits and, consequently, was sent packing himself.
Anyhow, in what turned into a slurred, contemplative discussion, fuelled by possibly the most succulent glass of Grenache noir I’ve ever had the honour of consuming, it became clear to us how the South African wine industry is straightening its tie and polishing its shoes in preparation for a grand re-entry into the global wine scene. It’s coming, and we can feel it. The pride and passion was tangible. The wine was delicious. The scenes were heart-achingly authentic and the lovely young ladies ensuring no glass was empty, well, they were doing their bit too.