I recently spent a few days in the Cape Winelands as part of the #MeetSouthAfrica local blogger trip. We ate a lot (you already know this) and drank a lot. We also rode bicycles, watched epic sunsets, and met a cute, aggressive, cork-nibbling parrot. I took many photos.

I had never been to the Cape Winelands before and it didn’t take me long to discover that this is one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa. After an insane day of traveling from the Drakensburg to Durban to Cape Town, we arrived in Franschhoek just in time for a stunning sunset. We forced our hapless shuttle driver to pull over so we could run across the highway and take pictures.

Dane on tracks

Sunset, mountains, and train tracks: The Instagram trifecta. Just ask Dane Forman, our resident #MeetSouthAfrica Instagrammer.

Gramming on tracks

Di Brown of the Roaming Giraffe will probably never forgive me for posting this. Di, you’re a serious sunset photography die-hard and the world needs to know this.

The next morning, our first stop in Franschhoek (note the crazy spelling of Franschhoek — it took me a few days to get this right) was the Haut Espoir boutique wine estate. Haut Espoir is run by a very interesting guy named Rob Armstrong who, besides being larger than an average giant, is a former archeologist and champion of biodynamic farming.

Rob Haut Espoire

Rob, the biodynamic-farming giant, on his jaw-droppingly beautiful wine farm.

Haut Espoire Vineyard

Grape vines at Haut Espoir.

Rob took us for a walk around the farm and explained his family’s efforts to remove all alien plant species from the land and grow their grapes free of pesticides. He also gave us a quick botany lesson and introduced us to several species of fynbos. (More on fynbos in a future post.) Then we went inside and sampled some wine.

Haut Espoir glass

The wine we tasted was fittingly named “Gentle Giant”.

After Haut Espoir, we drove about 40 minutes from Franschhoek to Stellenbosch, had lunch, then did a cycling tour of the winelands with Bikes-n-Wines.

I’m always up for a bit of exercise after a big meal (or a dozen big meals in a row, in this case) so the bike ride sounded great. However, cycling straight uphill for 40 minutes, in the sun, at 1:00 p.m. on a blazing-hot day, after eating heavy food and drinking wine, was a bit insane. There was nearly a blogger mutiny about halfway up the hill (which felt like Mt. Everest). But we all made it up and laughed about it later.

Walking bikes

I shot this just before the near-mutiny. I’m proud to say that I made it the whole way up on my bike (with a few stops to gasp for breath), but that’s only because I’m stubborn.

Vineyard cycling

Kat makes it look easy as she reaches the crest of the mountain-hill. Trust me though: It wasn’t. The scenery, however, was beautiful.

Our first vineyard stop was at the top of the mountain, but we were all way too tired to drink wine at that point. I can’t even remember what that first vineyard was called. But after a few minutes of coasting downhill we reached Lovane, our second vineyard of the tour. Everyone was in a better mood by then and we really enjoyed our tasting. After Lovane, we coasted downhill to the Bikes-n-Wines office and called it a day.

Lovane

I love taking photos of wine being poured, although I hated lugging my camera bag on that blasted bike. Lovane’s wine was great.

That evening, after an hour or two of recovery time in our hotel rooms, we drove to the top of the Franschhoek Pass and watched another amazing sunset.

Kat gramming

Kat keeps showing up in my photos.

Franschhoek sunset

The Franschhoek Pass is rather pretty at sunset.

The next morning we took a quick break from wine-drinking and drank some coffee. We visited Terbodore Coffee Roasters in Franschhoek and received a fantastic coffee lesson from Jomo, Terbodore’s master roaster. I learned that light-roast coffee actually has more caffeine than dark roast coffee. Who knew?

Jomo coffee

Jomo and his coffee-roasting machine. 

Beans roasting

Roasting beans.

 All coffeed up, just shy of 11:00 a.m., we headed to our last wine-tasting at Black Elephant Vintners. I was feeling pretty tired of wine at this point, in fact I was feeling pretty tired, period.

But, wow. Black Elephant turned out to be my favorite experience of this entire crazy trip. Largely because of the parrot.

Kevin and Kulula

Kevin Swart, proprietor of Black Elephant Vintners, and his parrot Kulula. “Is he friendly?” we asked Kevin. “Not really,” Kevin said. We took his word for it.

Kulula on leg

Friendly or not, Kulula is the cutest bird I’ve ever seen.

I loved everything about Black Elephant, which incidentally is not a vineyard: Black Elephant buys its grapes from other vineyards around Franschhoek and makes interesting wine out of it. But anyway. I loved Black Elephant’s quirkiness, I loved Kevin’s attitude and the way he explained his business, I loved all of the animals underfoot, and I loved the wine. I bought four bottles and I’m not even a big drinker.

Black Elephant

Black Elephant champagne, in a black bottle with black-on-black labelling. So pretty. Each of Black Elephant’s wines has a uniquely designed label and name, all totally different from one another.

Did I mention I loved the parrot?

Kulula cork

I mean, really.

A tasting at Black Elephant is my number-one recommendation for Franschhoek. If you like wine and quirkiness and parrots, and if you like to laugh a lot, then do it.

Curtain call

The end. Curtain call courtesy of Dane and Kate.

More #MeetSouthAfrica posts to come.

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