Reaping the harvest

The Cape winelands can aptly be described as picturesque … that’s what they look like most of the time, like a beautiful painting. A vision of rolling mountains and koppies sketched in relief; a crosshatch of vineyards stitching up the landscape; that endless blue sky with plump clouds slowly drifting across.
Something happens to this tranquil scene during the harvest. It is as if Bacchus himself presses ‘play’ on the scene. Grape pickers descend on the vineyard still-life like an army of bees. Tractors chug by heavily laden with ripe grapes. Wine cellars crank into action, and juice burbles through pipes and bubbles in tanks. Have you ever walked into a barrel-ageing cellar just after harvest? The rush and pop of the wine in the oak containers sounds like an aquarium.
Harvest 2015 has not only been reported to be early but extremely successful too. Though, whatever the harvest conditions, our wine industry always takes a moment to celebrate and bless each and every one.
While not all wine estates host official festivals, each will perform a ritual of their own, whether it’s a team braai (where lots of beer is usually drunk), or as simple as a blessing of the vineyard ahead of the harvest.
This time of year the wine festival calendar is jam-packed. The archetypal harvest hurrah is held on St Vincent’s Day on 29 January in Stellenbosch. To kick things off a mass is held in St Anthony’s Chapel, where prayers are said for a good harvest as well as a blessing for those working on the farms. Though each programme is different for participating wineries, festival goers will generally go on tractor trips through the vineyards, taking in the views and buzz of activity as grapes are picked and sorted in real-time. This is normally followed by a farm-style lunch, and of course plenty of wine. Many head to the Stellenbosch Wine Festival (late January). This year saw 70 different Stellenbosch farms take part with food stalls by top local restaurants, grape stomping, a kiddies’ area with a jumping castle and water slide, live music, plus a harvest parade through the streets of Stellenbosch.
Another Stellies stalwart is the Delheim Start of Harvest Celebration (end of January). Visitors tuck into grape must mosbolletjies (see below) as well as a picnic to be enjoyed riverside. There is, of course, also a grape-stomping contest.
Staying in Stellenbosch, Eikendal Weintaufe Harvest Celebration (beginning of March) is a harvest celebration that has all the hot favourites, from grape stomping and vineyard walks to cheetah viewing, live entertainment, prizes, face painting, and pony and tractor rides. Add to this plenty of food and wine too.
Also keeping things traditional is Môreson in Franschhoek. Billed as the Blessing of the Harvest (in early February), participants get sticky in the morning at the grape-stomping competition, followed by a feast at the farm’s restaurant Bread & Wine. In 2016, all who joined in on the stomp may return to collect their bottle of wine, made with from the juice they crushed with their feet.
Another Franschhoek festival that’s a must is the ATKV Oesfees at Solms Delta (21 March), which is by and large a music festival. Local musicians perform a range of traditional South African music genres, including Cape jazz, langarm, boeremusiek and ghoema. Keeping with the local theme, expect proudly South African dishes too, such as: ‘waterblommetjie bredie, lamb afval, roosterkoek, breyani, and snoek en patat’.
Over the mountain, Robertson Wine Valley’s Hands-on Harvest Festival features over 20 wineries and estates from the region. Taking place over seven weeks, from Saturday 7 February to Sunday 29 March 2015, visitors are invited to get involved in everything in the wine-making process, from grape picking, bunch sorting and wine blending to vineyard walks and cellar tours.
Along the coast, at Darling Cellars Crush Day (late February), wine-lovers enjoy a breakfast and then head off on a tractor into the vineyards to pick grapes, followed by stomping them. It’s a great festival for the kids – there’s a host of fun activities for them from face painting to a treasure hunt, waterslides and the like.
There are a number of other ways harvest is celebrated too. While driving through the winelands, look out for Hanepoot sellers on the side of the road. The sweet grape is South Africa’s answer to Muscat and is as delicious in a dessert wine as it is to eat. Or during the month of February, go pick your own at De Krans. The Calitzdorp winery opens up its vineyards to the public to pick grapes straight off the vine. Afterwards expect the customary braai with all the trimmings.
Many wineries also sell must (or mos) this time of year. This is freshly pressed juice from grapes – it is an amazing experience to try the flavours of , for example, Chenin Blanc in a slightly sparkling juice form (sometimes must has no alcohol, at other stages a little). A good idea is to keep an empty bottle in your car while cruising the winelands during harvest, so you can fill it up as soon as you see the ‘Must for sale here’ sign.
Another interesting thing that happens with must is a harvest treat called 
mosbolletjies: a sweet brioche-type bread made with the juice. You’ll find it on farm menus across the winelands, or you can take some must home and bake your own.
However you decide to celebrate harvest this year, whether it’s eating traditional pastries, on a tractor ride or making wine with your feet, raise a glass to honour our 300 years of winemaking history – of working the land, of community, of vinous vision.
– Malu Lambert
*Images were sourced from the featured wineries’ websites