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Elaine Jones visited Mont Rochelle during our Harvest Festival in April this year. She subsequently shared her experience with us! Elaine is an independent travel writer who enjoys passing on her stories and taking beautiful pictures from destinations across the world. Thanks very much Elaine for sharing your Mont Rochelle story with us.
Growing up in the Cider orchards of Somerset, and now having lived for many years amongst the abundant Vineyards of Spain, I thought I had participated in, and knew all about Harvest Festival....The time when the crop was safely gathered in, and all the villagers would gather to eat, drink and 'Praise the Lord' for the successful yield.
How surprised I was then on a visit to the beautiful wine lands of the Western Cape this year to "by chance" encounter the Harvest Festival at the most stunning vineyards and winery of the magnificent Mont Rochelle Estate. Situated deep into the stunning Franschhoek Valley, surrounded by craggy mountains this area of South Africa just one hour outside Cape Town is indeed surreal. Mont Rochelle occupies a prime site in this valley with it's beautiful Wine estate, and acres of immaculate vineyards.
To wake up in the morning, and hear nothing but the sounds of bird song, the wind rustling through the leaves of the vines and orchards, the occasional tractor chugging past, and the constant crowing of cockerels is magical, and indeed as close to heaven as I wish to be at this time of my life.
What a view over the Mont Rochelle vineyards
Habitually, I am a late riser; however, after a brief encounter at dinner the previous night, I was filled with anticipation about the day's Harvest Festival, and at the first crowing of a distant cock, I was up and preparing for my days toils.
Our excited group were met at the Mont Rochelle Country Kitchen for a sumptuous breakfast on the shaded terrace, and whilst surveying the awesome scenery, of which you could never tire, we introduced ourselves, whilst enjoying coffee and croissants. Inevitably the house wine was on offer even at this early hour, and had it not been for the arrival of Dustin, the Winery Manager, we could perhaps have indulged in that decadence all day.
However, not to be, we had work to do, and as Dustin advised us, today we would complete the entire process of turning grapes into world class wines.
Our initial briefing completed, the transport arrived to take us out into the vineyards, a tractor and trailer, accompanied by much merriment from the group. Once we arrived at the designated harvesting area, we were provided with secateurs and given a detailed lesson on how to pick grapes, without damaging the crop, and certainly without losing any fingers, definitely an art there!
Fancy a bunch?
Slowly we moved through the neat lines of vines, always planted with meticulous precision, picking large clusters of deep purple grapes and placing them in large crates, of course tasting a few as we went along, delicious! As the sun grew ever warmer, and we started to feel a little back ache, relief was at hand with more bottles of chilled Chardonnay from the very vineyards where we were toiling. Just wonderful.
Grapes harvested, it was now time to return to the winery, to understand the fermentation process that would result in today's work being served at the best dinner tables in 2018. Huge stainless steel vats, would store the fermenting grapes, which would be tasted regularly, although at this early stage last year's crop was not particularly palatable, with its murky appearance and very yeasty flavour, but as the fermentation moved on until finally stored in vast French oak barrels we could identify the end result.
Let's go grape picking!
By now, our harvest had arrived by tractor back at the winery, so it was time to start the process for this year's vintage, the grapes were passed through'a machine that quickly removed any leaves stalks etc, and sorted the pure grapes into a large plastic bin....then this was it, shoes off, and into the bin to the trample the grapes as hard as we could. Fortunately, this is not the standard way of crushing the fruit in this winery. In today's world it is all performed mechanically, however, it was great fun to indulge in the early methods of wine making.
Our final task on this Harvest Festival was to blend the wines, using a mixture of Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot fermentations; we were left to mix for ourselves our favourite blends in readiness for the next vintage.
One young couple who were with us from New York City and looking forward to their nuptials there later in the year, were at that stage deep in conversation with Dustin to have their own blend bottled with their own labels to serve at their wedding, what a wonderful experience for them.
Dustin blending some wine in the Mont Rochelle wine cellar
By now, we were all experienced Viticulturists and Wine Makers in our opinions, and firmly of the mind that we had worked hard enough for one day, and time for some recompense. As one would expect, Mont Rochelle rewarded us finely for our labours with a wonderful lunch quaffed back with a selection of their excellent wines.
So, we spent a lazy afternoon on the shaded terrace, with the most spectacular views, enjoying the good food and wines, and new friendships we had formed, sharing our newly found knowledge of wine making, but as the late afternoon shadows fell, all agreeing that there could not be a better way to enjoy a Harvest Festival.
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