Cape Kidnappers and the Farewell Spit

This post, along with my last post on Poverty Bay and the Bay of Plenty, is a result of my wandering mind while studying wine…I tend to wonder how “Poverty Bay” acquired such a name, and why Nelson (on New Zealand’s South Island) has a land feature known as the “Farewell Spit.” If these kinds of things inquire your mind as well…read on!

Farewell Spit: Nasa Satellite Image

Farewell Spit: Nasa Satellite Image

Sunny Nelson and the Farewell Spit

Nelson—a region on the South Island of New Zealand and a wine-producing area as well—enjoys one of the sunniest climates in the country, due to the rain shadow of the West Nelson Mountains.  Tucked behind an area known as Golden Bay, the region seems to be a wonderland for natural beauty and tourism (and it is). So why…does it include a feature known as the “Farewell Spit?” Just sounds nasty.

A spit doesn’t sound as weird when one uses the full  terminology: sandspit.  A sandspit is a type of coastal landform found along the coast where the direction of the shore changes, causing the ocean current to spread out and deposit sand. The longest spit in the world—at 68 miles long— is the Arabat Spit in the Sea of Azov (Crimea).

Nelson’s Farewell Spit (known to the Maori as Onetuhuna) on New Zealand’s South Island is approximately 20 miles long. It is made up primarily of sand eroded from the Southern Alps and deposited into Golden Bay. The name “Farewell Spit” was derived from the name given to the area by Captain James Cook as he departed NZ NelsonNew Zealand for Australia in 1770. The Cape was the last landform the crew was able to see as they sailed away, and the maps produced from his visit showed the area as the “Farewell Cape.”  The name stuck among English speakers and today the sandspit is known as the “Farewell Spit.” The New Zealand Department of Conservation administers the area as a sea bird and wild life reserve.

  • From the wine department: Nelson is one of the smaller regions in terms of wine production; with just 2,700 acres (1,120 ha) of vines, this region produces a mere 2.4% of New Zealand’s wine. The region, known for being the only wine growing area on New Zealand’s South Island that is located to the west of the Southern Alps, still enjoys its “sunny Nelson” reputation due to the presence of smaller mountain ranges that protect its west and south sides from excessive rainfall, while the Southern Alps cradle it to the east. Nelson grows a little bit of Pinot Noir, but focuses on Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc as well as a spattering of aromatic whites such as Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Gris.

Hawke’s Bay and Cape Kidnappers

Cape Kidnappers

Cape Kidnappers

Cape Kidnappers is a headland located in the south-east extreme of the Hawke’s Bay region on New Zealand’s North Island. A headland is a narrow piece of land that projects from a coastline into the sea; sometimes otherwise known as a cape, bluff, or promontory. Cape Kidnappers extends from Clifton–a small beach town and camping area–into the Pacific Ocean.

Cape Kidnappers takes its English-language name from Captain James Cook’s 1769 voyage to–and around–New Zealand aboard the ship Endeavor. With the caveat that this may be only one side of the story, it was named after an attempted kidnapping. As the story goes, when the Endeavor was anchored off-shore, a crewmember named Tiata was in the water beside the ship when a Māori fishing boat pulled alongside and attempted to drag him aboard. Sailors from the Endeavour opened fire on the fishing boat, killing and injuring several of the Māori. The surviving Māori sped off, and Tiata returned to the Endeavour. Cook, who described the region as having steep white cliffs on either side, thus named the area “Cape Kidnappers.”

NZ Hawkes BayCape Kidnappers is now a protected area and home to several colonies of the Australasian Gannet. The bird reserves are closed to the public, but may be viewed from the beach which is which is accessible by foot, off-road vehicle, or kayak.

The Māori name for Cape Kidnappers is Mataupo Maui, meaning “the fish hook of Maui.” Another name, used less often, is Tapuwaeroa, which refers to “long footsteps” left behind by the giant Rongokako.

  • From the wine department: Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s second largest wine-producing region (placing a very distant second behind Marlborough) in term of production. The region enjoys an overall maritime climate, but its location in the wider portion of the country means that it is, in spots, quite a bit sunnier and warmer than other parts of the country. For this reason, along with its now-famous gravelly, well-drained soils (particularly in the Gimblett Gravels area), Hawke’s Bay has a reputation for red-Bordeaux blends featuring Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as Syrah–mainly grown in the areas further inland. The areas closer to the coast produce Chardonnay and Pinot Gris as well as plenty of wine using NZ’s signature grape–Sauvignon Blanc.

Bonus question: Why is part of the ultra-cute town of Westport known as Cape Foulwind? Cape Foulwind is a headland on the New Zealand’s South Island, located close to the art-deco town of Westport (itself located on New Zealand’s west coast overlooking the Tasman Sea). The headland was previously named Rocky Cape, but was christened Cape Foulwind by Captain James Cook after a strong wind off the cape blew the Endeavour quite a distance out to sea.

References:

 The Bubbly Professor is…”Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas

 

Tannat Hero

Pascual Harriague in 1880 (Gobierno de Salto)

Pascual Harriague in 1880 (Gobierno de Salto)

Every good wine student knows that Uruguay is the fourth largest wine producer in South America. And every good wine student knows that Tannat is the leading grape of Uruguay – accounting for close to 45% of all vineyard plantings in the country, and producing a unique style of wine when grown in the vineyards around Montevideo in southern Uruguay.

But did you know that in Uruguay, Tannat is often referred to by the name Harriague? And that Don Pascual Harriague—a Frenchman from the Basque country—might as well be called the hero of Tannat?  As you may have suspected, there’s a story there!

Pascual Harriague was born in 1819 in Lapurdi—a traditional Basque province that is now part of the French Pyrénées Atlantiques département. In 1838, at the age of 19, he moved to Uruguay. Settling in the capitol city of Montevideo, he worked in a saladero del cerro—basically a meat processing/tannery facility—making meat jerky, lard, soap, and other products.

In 1840, Harriague moved to Salto, at the invitation of John Claviere, the owner of the Saladero Quemado Ceibal. He became a partner in the business and while living in Salto developed an interest in farming. Over the years, Harriague acquired a bit of land and found what might have been native grapes growing there. He tried to cultivate them for use in wine production, to no avail.

Photo of Tannat grapes by Pancrat, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Tannat grapes by Pancrat, via Wikimedia Commons

He then consulted Juan Jauregui, a viticulturist from Concordia (an Argentine city located just across the Uruguay River from Salto). Through this connection, Harriague acquired some grape cuttings from Madiran in Southwest France, a region not too far from his home in the Basque Country.

These grapes turned out to be the Tannat variety. Harriague cultivated the grapes and had his first successful harvest of Tannat in 1878. Harriague’s winery became the leading winery in the country, and its success led other farmers to enter the fields of viticulture and wine production. Soon, there were more than 90 wineries in the country, located mainly in Salto and around Montevideo (closer to the coast).

In 1888 the government of Uruguay awarded him the Medalla de Oro (gold medal) for the quality of his crops and his contribution to the industry of Uruguay. That same year, his Tannat-based wines won a silver medal at the Universal Exposition in Barcelona, and again in Paris.

After many successful years of viticulture, phylloxera eventually ravaged the vineyards of Uruguay, and Pascual Harriague returned to Europe. After his death in 1894 at the age of 75, his daughters, fulfilling their father’s wish, brought his ashes to Salto.

Uruguay has honored the legacy of Don Pascual Harriague in many ways. In 2001, the public high school in Salto was renamed Escuela No. 69 – Pascual Harriague.  In 2011, the municipality of Salto began to renovate some of Harriagues’s old cellars, which had been severely damaged by a fire in 1910. The cellars and the surrounding areas have been made into a public promenade—El Paseo Pascual Harriague—in honor of one of the leading pioneers of the wine industry in Uruguay.

References (all in Spanish):

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

 Uruguay map

 

Keeping Santa Cruz Weird

Santa Cruz

Visitors and residents alike (both of which I have been, at various points in my life) agree: Santa Cruz is unique. Witness the surfing santas, omnipresent drum circles, kooky politics, and even the tag line “Keep Santa Cruz Weird” (borrowed from Austin, Texas, which can also boast all of the above). Combine this with incredible natural beauty, a moderate climate, 29 miles of coastline, the University of California at Santa Cruz, the historic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with its Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster – and you have a heck of a place.

Viticulture as well has a unique place in this inspired environment. The area has been home to famous winemakers in the past, such as Paul Masson, Martin Ray, Randal Grahm and David Bruce; and it remains a vibrant center of wine production as well as a leader in organic and sustainable winemaking.

The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was established in 1981. It was one of the first AVAs to be established according to elevation, and largely follows – and sits above – the fog line along the coast. The region encircles the ridge tops of the Santa Cruz Mountain range – which reach over 3,000 (920 m) in elevation. The eastern boundary of the AVA rests at 800 feet (240 m), while the western edge, located close to the Pacific Ocean, extends down to 400 feet (120 m).

Santa Cruz 3However – the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, which is tucked in betwixt and between several other AVAs, is the only section of the coastal region from Santa Barbara to the San Francisco bay that isn’t part of the larger Central Coast AVA. As a matter of fact, it is “specifically excluded” from both the Central Coast AVA and the overlapping San Francisco Bay AVA as well.  Sounds a bit tough, doesn’t it?

The story goes as such: When the Central Coast AVA was first created in 1985 (four years after the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was born), it was much smaller than it is today, and, due to differences in topography and climate, did not include or extend above Santa Cruz. The southern boundary of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was (and still is) contiguous with the border of the Central Coast AVA.

However, 1n 1999, a petition was made for a new AVA, to be known as the San Francisco Bay AVA. It was proposed that this new AVA would include the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda (which includes Livermore), and Contra Costa, as well as parts of Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties – including the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. At the same time, it was petitioned that the Central Coast AVA be expanded to include this new San Francisco Bay AVA. The Central Coast AVA would, then, encompass virtually all of the area west of the Central Valley from the North Coast AVA on down to Santa Barbara.

santa cruz 2However, when the proposal was open to public comment, the TTB received almost 50 comments. Thirty-three of these were opposed to combining the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA with either the new San Francisco Bay AVA and/or the expanded version of the Central Coast AVA.

One comment claimed that combining the established Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, which many viticulturists and vintners had worked so hard to build the quality, reputation, and distinctiveness of, with the Central Coast AVA would cause “incalculable damage.”

Others stated that combining the areas of the Santa Cruz Mountains with such far-flung and diverse regions as Livermore and metropolitan San Francisco would “undermine the meaning of American viticultural areas.” Another respondent made the point that, culturally, people that reside in Santa Cruz do not consider themselves residents of the San Francisco Bay area, and that if Santa Cruz could be called part of the “San Francisco Bay Area,” then the North Coast AVA could be called the “Napa Area,” and the Central Valley could be called the  “Yosemite Area.” It was a vinous version of “hell no, we won’t go.”

Screen shot via http://www.ttb.gov/appellation/us_by_ava.pdf

Screen shot via http://www.ttb.gov/appellation/us_by_ava.pdf retrieved on September 26, 2015

The San Francisco Bay AVA was approved in 1999, along with an expansion of the Central Coast AVA (both were expanded again in 2006).

However, the boundaries of the new and expanded AVAs “specifically excluded” the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, as well as its sub-region, the Ben Lomond Mountain AVA.  And it remains so – keeping Santa Cruz weird.

Click here to read the official documents relating to the petition and public comments of the: Central Coast Expansion -Federal Register Jan 20 1999

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas – missjane@prodigy.net

Five Fast Facts about Brouilly

Photo of Louis Jadot Brouilly by Rob Ireton, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Louis Jadot Brouilly by Rob Ireton, via Wikimedia Commons

Five Fast Facts about Brouilly

#1 – Brouilly is one of the ten Crus of Beaujolais. It is the largest and most southerly of the ten Beaujolais Crus,  Although this large area contains a wide range of microclimates and soil types, most of the vineyards face roughly east and capture the bright morning sunshine as it rises over the Saone River Valley. The hills to the west shelter the region from some of the colder influences coming in from western France, while warm sunshine throughout the growing season means that the vines of Brouilly are among the first to be harvest in Beaujolais every year.

#2 – Brouilly is one of the few AOCs of Beaujolais not to be named after a local village; instead, it is named for Mount Brouilly. The vineyard area of Brouilly surrounds the mountain, and covers land in the following six communes: Cercié, Charentay, Odenas, Quincié-en-Beaujolais, Saint-Etienne-la-Varenne, and Saint-Lager.

#3 – The mountain itself, set somewhat apart from the hills to the west of Beaujolais, was named after a Roman soldier named Brulius, who is credited with planting the first vines here over 2,000 years ago. There is a small chapel at the top of the hill, built in 1857 in order to place the vineyards under the protection of the Virgin Mary.  A smaller, separate AOC, Côte de Brouilly, covers vineyards on the higher slopes of the mountain, and is completely surrounded by the larger Brouilly AOC.

#4 – The Brouilly AOC is approved only for dry, red  wines based on the Gamay grape variety. Interestingly enough, the décret for the appellation also allows for white grapes to be grown in the region, and up to 15% of the wine may be based on Chardonnay, Aligoté, or Melon de Bourgogne.

Mount Brouilly

Mount Brouilly

#5 – There’s a legend for that: Brouilly is home to a Lieu-dit (small vineyard area bearing a traditional name) named Pisse-Vielle. Pisse-Vielle which pretty much sounds like what it means, which is for lack of a better way of saying it, “Piss, old woman.’

The  legend behind the name goes like this: A pious old woman, who regularly goes to confession, had her first meeting with the town’s new priest. The woman had very little to actually confess, so at the end of their meeting, the priest gave her his typical salutation of “Go, and sin no more!” Unfortunately, in the local dialect of the town, the word for to sin (pécher) and (for lack of a gentler way of saying it) to pee (pisser) sounded quite the same – and she thought the priest had commanded her to “Go and pee no more.” (Poor thing!) She tried her best to comply, but her husband didn’t quite understand the command, and went to see to Priest. The husband and the priest quickly cleared up the confusion, and in his rush to convey the news, the husband yelled down the street towards his wife – “Pisse Vielle!” (“Piss, Old Woman!”) – “the priest said it’s alright!”  As these things usually go, the neighbors heard his cry, and have not since forgotten!

Five Fast Facts about Entre-Deux-Mers

Map of Bordeaux via The Society of Wine Educators

Map of Bordeaux via The Society of Wine Educators

Five Fast Facts about Entre-Deux-Mers

#1 – Entre-Deux-Mers is named after its geographical location (“between two seas,” sometimes translated as “rivers” or “tides”), which refers to its situation in the lands between the Garonne and the Dordogne Rivers. These rivers provide the location with a mild, maritime climate and soils made up mainly of  a mix of clay and limestone. The area closest to the eastern shore of the Garonne River has a good deal of humidity – enough for the production of botrytis-affected wines.

#2 – The Entre-Deux-Mers AOC appellation is only approved for white wines. 70% of the grapes must be the “principal varieties” of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Muscadelle, or Sauvignon Gris.  The other 30% may include Merlot Blanc (maximum 30%), and a combined maximum of 10% of Mauzac, Colombard, and Ugni Blanc.

#3 – The Entre-Deux-Mers area contains within it 7 different AOCs. These appellations are approved for a variety of different types of wine. They are:

  • The aforementioned Entre-Deux-Mers AOC (for dry white wines), which includes the sub-zone of Entre-Deux-Mers Haut-Benauge.
  • Cadillac-Côtes de Bordeaux AOC (botrytis-affected sweet white wines)
  • Graves de Vayres AOC (for dry wines, both red and white)
  • Loupiac AOC (sweet white wines, may be affected by botrytis)
  • Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC (white wines – dry (sec), off-dry (moelleux ) and sweet/botrytis affected (liquoreux)).
  • Sainte-Croix-du-Mont AOC (sweet, botrytis-affected white wines)
  • Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux AOC (may be dry, off-dry, or sweet/botrytis affected white; also approved for dry reds)

Grapes grown in the Entre-Deux-Mers area may also be bottled under the generic Bordeaux AOC (including the sub-zone of Bordeaux Haut-Benauge) or Bordeaux Supérieur AOC.

Photo of Château de Rastignac by MOSSOT, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Château de Rastignac by MOSSOT, via Wikimedia Commons

#4 – The area produces a lot of good-to-very good red wine, with the majority of the red grapevines planted to Merlot. The best of these wines are sold under the Bordeaux Supérieur AOC.

#5 – Just-for-fun fact: A house (now sub-divided into apartments) in the area, known as Château de Rastignac, was designed to look like the US White House. While the architect, Mathurin Salat, never visited the United States, it is known that our wine-loving third President, Thomas Jefferson -who had reviewed the original architectural plans of the White House – did visit the area and meet Salat during Jefferson’s service as the US Ambassador to France.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas – missjane@prodigy.net

Mother Muscat

MuscatIt is often said that Muscat is an ancient grape, known to antiquity since perhaps 3,000 BC. It is just as often claimed that Muscat was one of the grapes described by Pliny the Elder and his contemporaries as Apiane, named due to the fact that they were so sweet as to attract bees (api in Latin). It has even been claimed that Muscat was the original vinifera grape from which all others sprang forth – heck, I’ve even mentioned that in some of my classes.

But all of this talk is, alas, just talk, and not backed up by any actual history or botanical facts. It may be true – but then again, it may just be the stuff of legends.

It cannot be denied, however, that Muscat is an old grape. With at least 200 grapes going by the name Muscat Something, and dozens more showing the grapey-musty aroma characteristic of the family, we know that Muscat has been swimming in the grape gene pool for at least 2,000 years.

A student of mine recently asked me to give her a list of the main members of the Muscat family. At first I thought such a task would take hours, but determined to “keep it simple” – I came up with the following descriptions of some of the leading members of the Muscat extended family:

muscatbeaumesdeveniseMuscat Blanc à Petits Grains: The main Muscat – that is, the grape that gets the prize for consistently producing the highest-quality wines and the one that is believed (by actual botanists) to be the Muscat from which the other Muscats sprung is Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. This grape has a vast number of synonyms, most of which are really just translations, such as Muscatel, Moscatel, Frontignac, Muskateller, Moscato, Moshcato, and Muscat Canelli. This is the majority grape that is used in the vins doux naturels of southern France, including Muscat de Rivesaltes, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, and the similar wines of Frontignan, Mireval, and Saint-Jean-de-Minervois. In Italy, this grape appears as the star of Asti and Moscato d’Asti. In Greece, she is known as Muscat of Patras, Samos, and many other, more-difficult-to-pronounce wines.

Muscat of Alexandria:  Another ancient variety, considered to be very close to the top of the Muscat food chain, as a likely cross between an Italian grape known as  Axina de Tres Bias and Mother Muscat (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains). This grape is considered to be somewhat inferior to Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, and is often used to produce very sweet wines with moscatel-de-setubal_1orange or orange-flower aromas. Muscat of Alexandria (which, by the way, has no proven connection to the ancient city of the same name) is used as a minor grape in the sweet Muscat-based wines of southern France. In Italy, the variety is far more likely to be used as table grapes as opposed to wine, except in on the island of Pantelleria, where it is much beloved as the star of Passito de Pantelleria. Much of Spain’s Moscatel is Muscat of Alexandria, where it is used in Sherry, Málaga, and the surrounding areas for many styles of wine, including the sweet and fortified wines of the region. Muscat of Alexandria is also the star of Portugal’s Moscatel de Setúbal, and, as Hanepoot, is used in the fortified wines and brandies of South Africa.

Muscat Fleur d’Oranger: Actually a cross between Chasselas and Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains; often known as Orange Muscat. California, particularly the warmer regions, grows a good deal of Orange Muscat, where it makes its way into sweet wines such as Quady’s brightly-packaged Essencia and Electra. Delightful Orange Muscats are made in Washington State, Canada, and Texas as well. In Italy, Moscato Fior d’Arancio in the Veneto’s Colli Euganei is made with Orange Muscat, and the grape makes its way into many of Australia’s sweet wines as well.

Photo of Elysium via Quady Winery

Photo of Elysium via Quady Winery

Muscat Ottonel: Thought to be a Chasselas X Muscat de Saumur cross, native to the Loire. Used for both dry and sweet wines, mainly in Alsace, where it may be bottled as Muscat d’Alsace. Austria’s Neusiedlersee and Neusiedlersee-Hügelland are known for sweet, botrytis-affected wines produced using Muscat Ottonel (here known as “Muskat Ottonel”). Hungary uses the grapes, mainly as blending partners, in both sweet and dry wines. Other plantings are found throughout eastern Europe, including in Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Russia, and the Czech Republic. 

Muscat of Hamburg: Also known as Black Muscat or Zibibbo Nero. The origin of the grape is unclear, although there is an excellent story about an Englishman named  Mr. Seward Snow who created the grape by crossing Black Hamburg (Schiava Grosso) grapes with Muscat of Alexandria, thus producing Muscat of Hamburg as a “grandchild” of Mother Muscat (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains). Throughout the world, Muscat of Hamburg is used in a scattering of sweet red wines, and widely grown to be used as red table grapes. It is grown extensively in California’s Central Valley, where it is used to produce Quady’s sweet, dark dessert wine known as Elysium.

As previously mentioned, these are just the main branches of the 200+ members of the Muscat Family tree. Muscat is primarily known for sweet, dessert, and fortified wines, but we can’t forget the fact that Muscat is often made into dry wines (known for their hauntingly “funky” aromas of must, flowers, and fruit), as well as its widespread use in table grapes and raisins! For those of you practicing blind tasting, it is widely accepted that while all wine is made from grapes (well, at least the wines that might show up at a blind tasting), Muscat-based wines are among the few and far between that actually have “grapey” aromas in the finished wine. Try it and see!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…. missjane@prodigy.net

 

The Chocolate Block, Cape Cobras, and Braai

The Chocolate Block 2Here’s a hint for you folks out there that are not in the wine business:  People in the wine industry HATE to be asked about their favorite wine.  And we get asked all the time!! Just yesterday, at Kinko’s of all places….I am minding my own business, making copies of tasting mats, and someone who  just can’t help themselves forces me to admit that I am prepping to lead a wine tasting and the next thing out of their mouth is “So, what’s your favorite wine?”

There are many reasons we don’t care for this question.  First of all, my “favorite” wine is usually the one I am with.  Second, it changes all the time! Third, I really don’t want to offend anyone –and you never know who is listening! Finally, people usually only ask you that question because they want to tell you about their favorite wine, which is sometimes just painful to listen to….

Ok, thanks for listening to my rant. While I stand by the idea that “what’s your favorite wine” is a question wine professionals would rather not answer, over the years I have developed a pat answer that, while getting me out of many a squirmish situation, is also based in truth.

My standard answer to the question is: The Chocolate Block, a South African red blend produced  by the Boekenhoutskloof Winery in Franschoek.  Now, I will admit that my uncanny (and much-rehearsed) ability to pronounce “Boekenhoutskloof” may be part of the package, however, this is also an amazing wine, delicious and seductive, and like all good things…it comes with a great story.

Boekenhoutskloof Tasting RoomThe wine itself has a great story attached to it, which you can read on the Boekenhoutskloof Website. Suffice it to say the wine “has secrets to keep” and “inspired a graphic novel.” But as this wine is my personal favorite, you know there is a personal side to the story of the wine. It’s actually quite simple:  a few years ago, I was on an amazing, WOSA-sponsored trip through the wine producing regions of South Africa, having won a wine-related essay contest. One morning towards the end of our trip, our driver dropped me and my best friend/travel buddy off at the Boekenhoutskloof Winery in Franschoek for a tour and tasting.

The sheer beauty of the region, the technical ingenuity of the winery, and the amazing modern architecture of the tasting room built out over the vines were enough to make us swoon. We tasted through the winery’s range of wines, including Porcupine Ridge, The Wolftrap, and their iconic Boekenhoutskloof Syrah. They were all amazing.  Then our host brought out the big dog…The Chocolate Block, and we entered one of those rare yet coveted, zen-like trances accompanied by a feeling like, “this is so  good I have to just shut up and let this wine wash over me and just allow myself to feeeeeeeeeel it.”

Our host was smart enough to just let us zone out for a while…he was surely used to such things.  When the conversation started up again, he told us a bit about the scenery.  We were located on the edge of a vineyard, just a few hundred yards away from a stream. The stream was lined with Coast Silver Oak trees – a tree native to South Africa, we learned. My friend saw a group of people riding horses along the stream, sauntering under the beautiful trees, dreaming of African skies, and our host told us that horseback riding was an easy activity to sign up for. Perhaps we would like to ride some horses that afternoon?

Boekenghoutskloug WineryWe were about to say yes, but before we could, he told us a “humorous” story of how, just the week prior, a group of tourists had been riding by – just like the group we had seen, when a nest of Cape Cobras had fallen down out of the trees, onto the tourists, wrapped themselves around the riders, and spooked the horses.

Cape Cobras? There is such a thing as Cape Cobras? Turns out there is such a thing as Cape Cobras, and before anyone works the vineyard in the morning, they send brave people running down the rows of vines, banging pots and kettles together to make a joyful noise and send the cobras scurrying off. Ok. We feel better now.

Of course, we spent the last few days of our trip scaring each other with phony “Cape Cobra” sightings – even on the plane home- “Cape Cobras on a plane!”

So that’s my personal Chocolate Block story.  But the wine itself, based on a varying blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Cinsault, and Viognier, is delicious. It’s the wine I invented the tasting phrase “slips down your throat like the good Lord himself in velvet trousers” for. You can seek and find aromas and flavors of cherry, blackberry, cocoa (of course), coriander, cedar, red currant, marzipan, black plum, and raisin. The wine currently sells for about $22.00 in Texas.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net