Note from Irene: This is Andras’ next offering on his and Laurel’s amazing South African honeymoon. I will be creating a slideshow/video of their adventures, but give me a little time. There are literally hundreds of photos to sift through, each more breathtaking than the last. Stay tuned and enjoy the adventure.
“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.”
― Paulo Coelho, Brida
The Next Adventure
The beautiful Laurel and I, sadly, got ready to depart Cape Town, The Mother City. It was with mixed emotions. We had come to enjoy the many pleasures that Cape Town and the numerous wine farms its surrounding areas presented. However, we were leaving for a safari in Sabi Sands, a 153,000 acre (65,000 hectares) private game reserve bordering the Kruger National Park.
Laurel made a deal with me when we planned our trip: The wine country surrounding Cape Town would be for me; the safari in Sabi Sands would be for her; Victoria Falls in Zambia would be for us. My hope was that I would enjoy the safari as much as Laurel had enjoyed the wine country.
This was going to be my first safari; it would be Laurel’s third. I had lived in Nigeria for a number of years as a child and traveled all over Africa, but I had never been on safari. Our destination was Mala Mala Rattray‘s Camp and the Londolozi Game Reserve, two reserves Laurel had never been. Laurel is an amazing amateur photographer, having traveled on her first two safaris with world-class, award-winning National Geographic photographers. I hoped we would get to see the “Big Five,” lions, rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, leopards, and elephants. Little did I know what was awaiting us.
The flight from Cape Town to Skukuza Airport in the Kruger took about two and a half hours. Our driver collected our bags and we began an approximately one-hour drive to Rattray’s. We had just pulled out of the airport driveway when we spotted a herd of about 13 impalas at the side of the road. I would soon learn that impalas in the Kruger are as ubiquitous as grains of sand on a beach. They are everywhere. We looked to the right, and there was a crocodile sunning itself on the banks of a small pond. Driving a little further, we suddenly came to a full stop. A Cape buffalo was strolling across the road.
We continued our drive, encountering various wildlife as we went. There was kudu, a wildebeest, a troop of baboons, towers of giraffes, and numerous birds, including vultures. We once again came to an abrupt stop. An adolescent male elephant standing about 10 feet high at the shoulder was blocking the two-lane road. I came to learn that juvenile male elephants are kicked out of the herd by the alpha female between 13 and 15 years old. The juvenile males will travel alone until they meet one or two older males who will take them under their wing (trunk) to continue their education. African elephants have a lifespan of 60-70 years. I also learned that you give elephants, especially juvenile males, their space. They, like their human counterparts, think they have something to prove. The older elephants know they are the biggest and the strongest. Thus, we waited until the male decided it was time to move on. It was remarkable. We had not been at Sabi Sands for an hour, and we had already seen two of the Big Five.
We soon arrived at Rattray’s, a beautiful camp located on the Sands River. Sabi Sands is located between the Sabi and Sands rivers, hence the name. We had a delightful afternoon lunch and took a rest, as the afternoon drive was to begin in a few hours.
Rattray’s has a well-stocked wine cellar, which the cellar master loved to show off. He selected a wine for us to enjoy during the early evening Sundowner. Sundowner is a unique safari tradition where the guide will find an interesting open space following the afternoon drive, which will allow us to get out of our vehicles (hopefully, with no animals nearby) and enjoy a drink and some canapés before dinner and watch the sun go down. The cellar master had chosen a Keet First Verse 2013 (Platter’s Guide ★★★★☆ and 14.50% alcohol) as a wine for our first Sundowner. First Verse is a South African Bordeaux style blend from Stellenbosch comprised of 41.00% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22.00% Merlot, 22.00% Cabernet Franc, 8.00% Malbec, and 7.00% Petit Verdot.
I love a good Bordeaux blend. The winemaker orchestrates the varietals to result in a mélange, a concerted marvel. On the nose, First Verse is a synchronization of spice, tobacco and floral aromas. On the palate, the Cabernet Sauvignon adds a rigid structure and delightful tannins. The spicy elegance of the Cab Franc adds notes of plum and cassis, and ripe mulberry flavors are released from the Malbec, which are offset by the red berry acidity from the Petit Verdot. Taken together, this Bordeaux blend is a harmoniously seductive powerhouse of a wine that matured in French oak barrels for 18 months. The only thing that made it better was enjoying it overlooking the incredible panorama of the Sabi Sands.
Rattray’s is a magnificent reserve. Each drive revealed a new menagerie of wild animals. Sighting the magnificence of a leopard feeding during the morning drive is quickly replaced by the sight of a pride of lions on the hunt for food in the early evening. The afternoon drive is always concluded by a Sundowner at a new locale within the reserve. My new best friend, the cellar master, insisted on bringing me into the wine cellar to select our wines for Sundowners and dinner. I was on my honeymoon, but I had to take one for the team.
Five remarkable days at Rattray’s came to an end. My bride and I even received a certificate attesting having seen all of the Big Five. However, it was time to leave for Londolozi. The two reserves are adjacent; they share a common road. What more was there to do or see? The answer was, plenty!
Londolozi has a very different feel than Rattray’s. Laurel and I checked in to our chalet to get ready for the afternoon drive. Our bed was adorned with rose petals in the shape of a heart. The main reception area included a bar and dining area high above the treetops overlooking the valley and the river below. You could see elephants with outstretched trunks pulling leaves from high branches, and you could hear other animals chattering in the background.
The manager at Londolozi is Kristy Jordan, a delightful, youngish woman (I cannot tell ages, but she looks 30, at the most). Kristy introduced us to Grant, our guide, and Jerry, our tracker. Grant is a giant of a man, standing about 6’6” and soft-spoken. He would prove to be a remarkable guide. Jerry is a legendary tracker. He can read animal tracks as easily as I can read a child’s book. At several points over the next few days, Jerry would leave his seat on the bonnet of the Land Rover and go into the bush to look at tracks armed with only a small stick.
We quickly found a pride of three male and four female lions and tracked them for several hours. We were the only ones on the drive, and Laurel and I felt that we did not need to do a Sundowner. However, Grant explained that we could join others who were nearby. As it turned out, Londolozi had set up white cloth tables and arranged a group Sundowner for about thirty people, including staff, trackers and guides. This Sundowner consisted of a traditional South African braai (grilled meats of impala, kudu, poultry, boerewors (sausages) and sosaties (skewers)), cheeses, fruits, and wine. The wines consisted of tasty South African sparkling, red, and white wines that paired very well with the braai. Suddenly, we were told it was time to leave. It appeared that the lion pride which we had tracked earlier had changed direction and were heading our way. Oh well, it was time for dinner anyway.
Dinner was a group affair in a kraal at Londolozi. Delicious soups, braai meats, and vegetables were served, together with copious amounts of wine. Kristy Jordan, Londolozi’s manager was making wine suggestions. Her knowledge of wine was very good, especially considering her seemingly young age. There was a very good reason. Kristy’s family owns the Jordan Wine Estates, not to be confused with the Jordan Vineyard & Winery of Sonoma.
Laurel and I had seen the farm when we were in Stellenbosch, but Ann-Marie Breen, our guide took us to DeMorgenzon Winery instead, which shares a common roadway (see Part 2 for a discussion of DeMorgenzon Winery and Kristy’s family farm). How ironic that we would end up meeting Kristy.
Kristy suggested we start with a Paul Cluver Elgin Close Encounter Riesling 2016 (Platter’s Guide ★★★★, 90 points Wine Advocate and 11.66% alcohol). This wine is from the high-elevation, cool-climate district of the Hottentots Holland Mountains of the Western Cape. I will resist the urge to make “Close Encounter” jokes, but this Riesling is one you will want to have an encounter of the first kind. (Ugh, sorry!) It is pale, straw-colored, and has a typical Riesling nose of green apple, lime, lemongrass, and tropical fruits and is delightfully fragrant. On the palate, it is bone dry, low in alcohol with high acidity, steely minerality, and stone fruit, spice, citrus, and floral notes, with the hint of petrol often found in Rieslings.
I asked Kristy if they were serving any of her family’s wines. Unfortunately, they were not. However, the more we engaged, the more intrigued Kristy became to show off her family’s wines. Kristy had her personal stash of wines. (It must be nice.) Do you recall how your parents packed a meal for you when you went off to university? In my imagination, I saw Kristy’s parents packing bottles of wine for her.
Kristy introduced a bottle of Jordan Wine Estate’s Mellifera Riesling 2016 (Platter’s Guide ★★★★☆ and 12.00% alcohol) for us to enjoy with dessert. This wine is made with 100.00% Riesling grapes. It was named after a breed of Cape honeybees to memorialized Kristy’s brother’s stinging encounter with them when he was a small boy. This is a Noble Late Harvest Riesling, meaning that it remains on the vine longer, making a superb rich dessert wine. Jordan Wine Estates will only make the Mellifera when botrytis cinerea, or noble rot, is present. Botrytis is a mold that causes grapes to shrivel and lose their water content, making it sweet. The Mellifera has a floral and apricot bouquet. The palate is stone fruits, particularly, apricot and peaches. It has well-balanced acidity adding to a long, rich, but dry finish. This is a very different Riesling from the Paul Cluver Elgin we had closely encountered earlier (I know I promised no jokes, but I could not resist). We were very sorry we did not stop at Kristy’s family farm.
Kristy introduced us to many different South African wines over the next week. She made sure that we had a diverse range of wines during our Sundowners and dinners. Perhaps it was due to the incredible animals that we encountered during our drives that made the wines even more distinct. Lounging on the balcony we could see zebras, elephants, and kudus stroll by in the valley below. Sitting in the Land Rover we sighted the Big Five, as well as a cheetah, giraffes, hippos and other amazing animals. This made the wine more enjoyable as we shared the day’s experiences with Kristy and other guests over cocktails and at dinner. Kaapzicht Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013 is one of those wines.
Kaapzicht (Platter’s Guide ★★★★☆ and 14.50% alcohol) is a full-bodied reserve Cabernet from Kaapzicht Estate Winery located in Stellenbosch. It is made with 100.00% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Kaapzicht is located approximately 19 miles (30 kilometers) from the Atlantic Ocean. One can see Cape Town and Table Mountain from the farm. Thus, the name “Kaapzicht” is apropos, as it means “a view of the Cape” in Afrikaans. Kaapzicht Estate was named as one of the top 20 Red Wine Producers in South Africa in the inaugural Top Wine SA Hall of Fame 2013. The Cabernet’s color is a deep ruby hue. The nose brims with blackcurrant, fennel and vegetal notes. The palate boasts a dry wine with firm tannins that masterfully integrates 24-months of fermentation in 50.00% new French oak with cherry, vanilla, and spices followed by warm chocolate, resulting in a wine of great complexity and depth.
A very different wine is Hermanuspietersfontein Die Arnoldus 2012 (Platter’s Guide ★★★★☆ and 13.95% alcohol), which is a medium-bodied five-way Bordeaux blend (60.00% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16.00% Merlot, 12.00% Malbec, 8.00% Cabernet Franc, and 4.00% Petit Verdot), fermented for 24-months in new French oak. This is the wine with the longest Afrikaans name in the world. It means Hermanus Pieters’ fountain, and it is located in Walker Bay. Ruby to garnet red in appearance, it has aromas of dark fruit, particularly, plums, together with spices, black olives, and licorice. This Bordeaux blend has a delectable mouthfeel with abundant tannins and a finish as long as its name.
Final Day Out at Londolozi
Grant, our guide, took us on our final drive at Londolozi. We were allowed to exit the Land Rover to track a herd of rhinoceros. This was going to be interesting, as a rhino had charged us only days earlier at Rattray’s. Fortunately, he turned at the last moment.
Hiking in single file, Laurel and I followed Jerry, our tracker, and Grant. We finally spotted three rhinos in a mud pool about 30-40 yards/meters ahead. We watched these large beautiful creatures for about an hour. We then trekked back to our vehicle. Moving to a safe locale, in celebration, Grant removed a wine saber and deftly sliced the neck off a bottle of sparkling wine. Napoleon Bonaparte once said of Champagne, “In victory you deserve it. In defeat you require it.” We toasted the victory of an amazing adventure.
I began this article by saying that the trip to wine country would be for me, and the safari would be for my bride. Well, I got the best of both worlds, and I could not wait to see what Victoria Falls would be for both of us.
(Part 8: The Falls!)
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