My visit to my hometown Capetown started and ended on a high. From the moment my daughter picked me up at the airport in her new car that she had signed the papers on moments before,and we drove past UCT, my old house, and up past Kirstenbosch under an impossibly blue sky, past Constantia and Chart farm towards Muizenburg and St.James, I knew it was going to be special.
Capetown has days that I call champagne days,when the magnificence of the sky against the purple mountain, the green of the trees and the blue of the sea is made even better by a slight crispness to the 30-degrees-Celsius air. This Saturday was one of those.
As we drove towards the sea at St.James beach and then unloaded the bags into the apartment after storing the car in the garage, I was saying again what a glorious day,as we walked towards Olympia Cafe to have a glass of wine and food. ” Ya, Ma” said my daughter to me, in the way you would to a slightly slow child, “its CapeTown”. “But it’s beautiful hey”, I said to the the little flags of Kalk Bay fluttering gently in the breeze. “You, lived here” … she looked at me puzzled.” But hell, it’s gorgeous hey!” I said laughing as she dragged me into the cafe.
Sunday was spent in bliss after a night listening to the sea crashing on what seemed like the verandah, we rose, drew up the blinds on day from the Gods. We sat on the bench there looking out past the lighthouse at Kalk bay with the fishermen and onto, Simonstown and distant False Bay ringed with mountains. We had a lovely breakfast and watched the surfers attack the waves,and then once on the beach, flick their hair in the way that surfers have to.Then we strolled around all the little antique shops for an hour and did, actually did some shopping, pretty much bliss to me.
I was dropped off at the Vineyard Hotel on that Sunday ready to have lunch with Anne who was waiting for me. It was the sold-out MCC event at the Vineyard hotel gardens A place so familiar to me in every way, my office was across the way on Campground Road until 2003. I lived in Newlands. We came for lunch,drinks,coffee,dinners,always and for weddings and our conferences often.
The Vineyard hotel whose beautiful gardens and grounds give on to the Liesbeck stream which flows through Newlands and has that wonderful backdrop that Newlands has of being right under the mountain with Devils peak dominating every view. It’s one of my favourite spots and sitting in the garden with the gentle splashing fountain is recommended if you have had enough of crowds of people. Pretty much explains my life most days.
We were here for the MCC or Method Classic Cape for the uninitiated. The most delicious sparkling wines on the planet. From the richest salmon pink to the Brutist Brut. I worked my way through the close to 30 wineries who now make such delicious wines from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes and had set up on the lawns.Old friends and names that I Iove were everywhere. From my favoured DeVilliers family Boschendal *now DGB owned, the excellent Graham Beck, to one of my winemaker top tens, Klein Constantia from the other side of the peninsula.
The list of the wineries included. Saronsberg, Stellenrust, DomainedesDieux, DeWetshof, Villeria, Charles Fox, Waterford,Steenberg, Krone. Also spotted out and about were the famous and enormous Vineyard tortoises.
A live band in the garden provided the entertainment on a gorgeous afternoon.
I live and work in Europe now and am always so amused to hear people referring to those New World people who irrigate their vines. 1685 when Boschendal and some of the older estates were founded doesn’t seem that New World to me, It puzzles them. I prefer Southern Hemisphere. I work with and around the Franciacorta area of Italy which has its own denominated and controlled methode classico sparkling wines. Hand-turned for twenty four months in the bottle. So Champagne, Cape Classic and Franciacorta thats it as far as the top goes.
The GM of the Vineyard Roy Davies and his Food and Beverage team led by Matt Deitchman can be justifiably proud of this Sparkling event which looks set to be a fixture on my calendar. I have attended the Franschhoek bubbles festival quite a few times and this was just as lovely, not everyone can get out to Franschhoek from the deep South.
Roy told me about their own grapes replanted there on the banks of the Liesbeck in 2009 they were harvesting the next morning right down on the Liesbeck. Yes as it turned out they had started harvest in 2013 and this was to be their third harvest of the Semilion and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Harvest time was at 7am the following morning I could hardly wait. I elected to sleep over in Wynberg. The traffic from St James in the morning would be quite something. We went off to Annes place in Wynberg for a sundower on the fifth floor looking over Constantia and Muizenberg to the back. As as we got there I noticed that the mountain had started burning over toward Silvermine And OuKapseweg. By the time we had returned from the Alphen Hotel, where we had a good dinner outside on the patio and some really good reds from Thelema Stellenbosch, the mountain was on fire all the way across. Just as well I hadn’t tried to go back to Kalk bay I thought.
At 7am bright and early about twenty of us gathered on the banks of the Liesbeck, secateurs in hand, with all the crates laid out. There was orange juice and MCC chilled and ready in a silver wine cooler laid out on a table. We weren’t all novices, we were joined by Brian from Warwick and Carlo from Klein Constantia. Five wine farms are involved in the Liesbeck project. Meerlust, Simonsig, Warwick, Waterford and Klein Constantia. More experience one couldn’t possibly wish for. We set upon the rows with dedication and soon all the crates were full and the vines bare. I got a great pair of secateurs.
Past vintages of The Liesbeck grapes
I had helped with harvests in Italy and I assure you there was no laid on drinks or food, you maybe got a sip of water under the beating sun, and then at lunch trooped inside for a pasta lunch. Of course this was much more fun, and after the grapes were safely stored we went up to the lovely, open and sunny swimming pool room for a full breakfast with more MCC with the team. We were joined by Roy and some of his Food & Beverage and marketing team over a lovely breakfast, were I chatted with George Petousis CEO whose family are careful and proud custodians of the Vineyard hotel, the Oudewerf hotel and the Townhouse. We spoke about the heritage buildings of Capetown and how sad I was that the Alphen had lost some of its centuries old patina now.
As we drove back to Kalk Bay that morning hoping that the road wasn’t closed, it was slowed to a crawl, I looked over at Rhodes cottage as two helicopters filled the sky with the whoop whoop whoop sound of the rotors and a spotter plane flew overhead. A sense of foreboding came over St James Beach. I stood on my veranda watching three helicopters with the most expert of pilots come down over the railway line like dragonflies dipping down into the shallow waters of Kalkies harbour. They scooped up the water in suspended buckets and then moved over to the left past my kitchen window to dump the water in the fire starting to cut over the ridge behind me. This went on for two hours or so like clockwork. I sat drinking the la Vierge Chardonnay from Hermanus on the verandah with handfuls of biltong.
That night I had yellowtail cooked by a young Australian at the Annex resturant in the old Majestic hotel. Kalk bay was calm again. I walked down to Harbour House for lunch the next day, and as I crossed the traffic lights to go into the harbour noticed a puff of smoke from the other side above Boyes drive which they were now closing.. I watched a small plume of smoke from the other side of the mountain turn into a raging inferno in the space of twenty minutes fanned by the winds which had got up from the north. Black billows of smoke streamed over the mountain. No helicopters could fight it from this side, the wind was wrong, the smoke too thick. They were fighting it from the Hout bay side. I watched with a bunch of assorted people, the staff, the chef, over lunch, (beautiful fish and wine from my great table as always), until 4 pm as they fought it with water and it raged on. All I could do was photograph it. I felt helpless for the wildlife that was caught in that awful fire raging across kilometers of mountain every minute.
That night as I prepared some tea while looking out of the kitchen window I saw the fire had cut down the mountain just behind us no more than two hundred metres away and with the wind change, had now jumped Boyes drive and was right behind the houses and ash and shoot were so thick in the air I had to close up all the windows. I watched as darkness fell and the mountain burned towards Muizenberg never sure if the houses including me would be evacuated. Behind me people started packing up their pets to get out if it came into the trees behind them. I listened to the radio for updates . Boyes drive was closed. Main road became still, we were cut off. They were fighting fires over the entire mountain now it had gone as far as Constantia,Tokai, Steenberg.
That night the moon was full, I photographed it on the sea orange and red with all the smoke. The heat was incredible it had been 42C most of the day in Capetown. No one slept. The next morning the fire was still smoldering there. I walked down towards Muizenberg to see if it had burnt down towards Rhodes cottage. It had, it was right in the trees and brush behind the houses. I walked past the beautiful thatched roof Anglican church still intact. The sprinklers on the thatch roof of Rhodes cottage weren’t working? I stopped to talk to the fireman fighting the fire with their hoses from the house next door. It was right down in the garden. I thought back to 2000 when I was living in Constantia and it came right into my garden we fought it with wet sacks hosepipes and sand. The sprinklers on the thatch roof of Rhodes cottage weren’t working! I stood in the garden with the caretaker as the garden hose was employed to wet the building at the back. How close this fire was, you could feel it, smell it. The helicopters right were over us bombing it with water as we stood helplessly in the garden hoping against hope that the flames or sparks did not reach that dry as-a-bone-roof.
It felt like an apocalypse, It was, for those fighting it. All night vigils had been held for rain. We need rain now ….and at that very moment, drops started failing from the sky, at first we thought water from the helibuckets, but no , bigger drops. As we stood there, they beat harder and harder on my head, a better feeling I have never had. I smiled with them, bid everyone farewell and started walking back towards Kalk Bay, The whole Peninsula breathed a sigh, cars halted all along the main road were hooting in celebration. People were mouthing “Its Raining!” by the time I got to my breakfast cafe I was drenched, what a morning. I had some amazing shots. Later a burst of ten minutes of rain gave the answer we had all been waiting for, the rain had helped. The battle wasn’t over but we were winning. Part 2 to follow.
Copyright Donna Jackson 2015 on all words and photos.
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