Twice a month until the end of March Drostdy Street in Stellenbosch is transformed into a jostling hub of wine, music and food, writes DAWN KENNEDY.
Put a frame around a picture and you have art. Put a frame around a street in Stellenbosch for a limited amount of time, and you have a street soirée.
At 5.30pm there are just a few desultory shoppers on Drostdy Street, some red and white bunting, a few straw bales and no sign of action. Do I have the wrong address, I wonder? Feeling sure that this party will be a flop I get my glass and a bunch of food coupons. Then, boom, at 6pm, the oak leaves start to vibrate with the buzz of conversation as people fill the street, a guitarist strikes a chord and starts singing and suddenly Drostdy Street is a blur of people having the time of their lives jostling to sample wine and take selfies with raised wine glasses.
To Stellenbosch residents the street festival is an iconic event that marks the beginning of summer. Held twice a month until the end of March it brings office workers, eccentric locals and winemakers together to mingle, swap stories and sip wine.
This is wine country. Over 200 wine estates circle the region and the populace is always ready and willing to drink it. The Greek philosopher Plato would have loved Stellenbosch. He was of the opinion that “Nothing more excellent or valuable than wine has ever been granted by the gods to man”.
At the festival, for R70, you can sample unlimited wine. At least 16 farms offer tastings. Do the maths and you will discover that’s value for money drinking which probably explains the inordinate amount of young, attractive student folk in attendance.
The appeal of the street festival is that it saves you from travelling from farm to farm. Of course you won’t get lush green lawns or lavish views across vineyards or hammocks strung between oak trees, and playing boules is not an option, but you will save petrol, get to sample upwards of thirty wines and you won’t have to worry about driving over the aptly named Helshoogte Pass.
So, if it’s just the wine you are after, skip the scenery and come to the next street soiree.
Elmarie Rabi, project manager for the Stellenbosch Wine Routes insists that it’s not just wine that the festival goers are after.
“Stellenbosch has a unique way of living that people find hard to resist and are willing to travel for. People come from all over to experience these street soirees,” she says.
Just shy of an hour through the event the 600 allocated wine glasses have sold out and people are still arriving.
“All these people coming up the street are making me so nervous,” Elmarie confides as a bunch of thirsty looking guys head in our direction.
Running out of wine glasses is a crisis for Elmarie, but running out of samoosas is a tragedy for me.
My loss is the samosa stall owners gain. Hailing from the rural settlement of Jamestown, the intrepid mother and daughter owners of Mistress of Spices have been frying up a storm. In one hour they have sold 1 000 samoosas and 600 mini moons. Mistress of Spices is one of those Chocolat feel good stories. After her husband’s death in 2007 she languished until she decided that a stall would be a good way to encourage her mother to get out of the house and socialise. Using recipes that have been passed down through generations of Tamil Nadu women, Mistress of Spices started selling southern Indian snacks at the Stellenbosch Slow Food Market.
They soon became regulars on the market scene and now have a successful business with a steady stream of catering orders between market events.
Denied a samoosa, I decide to try some fine dining and head towards the Neethlingshof wine estate stall.
“I like to use iceberg lettuce,” the white capped chef tells me in what to my untrained ear sounds like a Trainspotting accent but which I learn hails from Dundee. Chef Archie Maclean whips up a Caesar salad from the new bistro menu at the Six Flowers restaurant, named after the emblem that embellishes the beautifully preserved 200 year old Cape Dutch homestead.
Suddenly I spy someone eating oysters! I am weak for oysters. I can never, ever imagine being able to resist them. Eating oysters makes me feel like some kind of merqueen ocean goddess. My love of the bivalve mollusc began in Paris, where fishermen shuck them on the streets, and has stalked me all the way to Cape Town.
But in all my oyster loving years I have never eaten oysters on a polystyrene plate with a plastic fork. Will that work?
I trade my entire cache of coupons for six oysters.
Enjoying the salty, slimy tang of an oyster sliding down my throat I look up and notice the Moederkerk. Gleaming like a wedding cake, its neo gothic tower seems to look down, disapprovingly, on my oyster indulgence. In fact, it seems to keep a watchful eye over the entire event.
Which is maybe why, when at 8pm, as though the clock struck 12, everyone vanishes?
For someone raised in Ireland, this abrupt and prompt ending of a party is quite a remarkable feat of good behaviour. No-one is insisting that the street musicians, who included Danny Boy in their repertoire, sing another round, no-one is crying into their wine glass and there’s not a flying fist in sight.
Once the party is over there’s not one piece of litter on the street and if it wasn’t for the salty oyster tang on my tongue, I might wonder if I’d imagined the whole event
Ah, Stellenbosch you sure can hold a civilized street party!
l Elmarie Rabe 021 886 4310