In South African wine
on 17 Jan 10

This is a story, I hope, about wine, travel, adventure, friendship, passion, and, if all my dreams are realized, at least one elephant. I leave Sunday afternoon for Stellenbosch, South Africa, where I’ll be a cellar/vineyard intern at Blaauwklippen Vineyards for the 2010 vintage. Having never been to South Africa, with only a year in the wine industry and one harvest under my belt, I have no doubt I’m in for a solid ass-kicking, and being a compulsive writer I thought it might be nice to document the experience so those of you reading this can have a few laughs at my expense to warm your cold winter months.

Some background. Back in July, restless with my personal life and longing for a wine-related adventure, I absentmindedly googled a few Southern Hemisphere wineries to look for temporary positions. I somehow ended up with a job offer at Blaauwklippen despite the fact that I had no idea how to pronounce the name of the winery until the winemaker said it during my phone interview.

Now, after months of waiting, drinking boatloads of South African wine for "research", making friends annoyed and family members nervous with excerpts read aloud from Lonely Planet, more wine drinking, fingernail-biting while waiting for visa approval, and checking the Stellenbosch weather forecast when it's too cold in Buffalo to step outside, I'm now within 24 hours of departure. It's time to face the stuff I'm not so good at: organized packing, last-minute logistics, and goodbyes.

Suitcase

For starters, packing. Current contents of my suitcase: my very own set of vineyard clippers, a cocktail dress, and a bottle of Schulze Vidal Ice Wine to show my South African coworkers what Niagara wine is all about. That should fix me up for a couple of months, right?

By last-minute logistics, I mean planning my last few meals and drinks in the US. Though I’ve been sure to clock in some time with wings, beef on weck, and other Buffalo delights in the past few weeks, I want to drink something I know I won’t find on the big toe of Africa: great pinot noir from my home wine region of Niagara, made by a couple guys I’m lucky to call my coworkers and friends. So I made sure to show up at the winery for some single-vineyard 2008 pinot and hugs.

Which brings me to goodbyes.

In short, I don’t handle ’em well, so instead of drawn-out, tearful drama sessions I’m in favor of quick, fierce hugs followed by self medication at home in the form of Bob (Dylan or Seger)-heavy mixes and wine. And indeed, now that I’m home, Dylan is on the box and I’m knee deep in a bottle given to me by a dear friend: Altos de Luzon 2005, a blend of 50% monastrell, 25% cab sauv, and 25% tempranillo. I’m not in the mood for excessive tasting notes at the moment – let’s just say it’s dusty, sexy, lusty and exactly what I need as a wine to mull over while I finish packing and preparing for this new adventure.

My next post will be from Africa – until then, pray for my ability to survive limited airline beer/wine/culinary choices. Cheers!

Julia Burke reviews South African wine and writes about social justice, the South African wine industry, and her own adventures in winemaking.