Photos and Story By Mike Walsh

The Cape of Good Hope, South Africa was first settled when Europeans of the Dutch East India Company in 1652 set up a victualing station and repair facility for their merchant ships journeying the long passage between Europe, India, and the Far East. Jan Van Riebeck, the first commander of the Cape who had previously been a ship surgeon persuaded his employers that wine was beneficial for the treatment of scurvy. The first vineyard was planted in 1655.

Every city has a thousand stories to tell. Cape Town, South Africa tells the story of Dutch and Portuguese explorers and spice traders who brought in French winemakers to plant grapes when the turmoil of the Reformation in 16th century Europe was driving the farmers to migrate out of France. The year 1688 also saw the arrival of Huguenot refugees from France. These independently minded growers moved to South Africa with the promise of land in this rich, new African country. By the early 1700's, South African wines were held in high esteem.

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Cape Town also tells the story of Sir Cecil John Rhodes who settled Rhodesia and created De Beers Diamonds. Thousands of immigrants moved to the Cape for sudden wealth. It also tells the more modern story of Nelson Mandela in prison, on a small island off the coast near Cape Town harbor. Modern Cape Town will tell the story of some excellent wines and winemakers, as well as stories of the luxurious settings of South Africa's beautiful hotels and popular restaurants.

The Bay is the size of San Francisco Bay with a better, warmer climate. The wine growing regions on the end of the African continent have cooling ocean breezes and micro-climates, which are so excellent for growing great wine grapes. Today, all these stories lead the South African wine business & winemakers into the future with a long and interesting wine making tradition. This is a tradition that is hundreds of years longer than the other New World wine areas, and it shows in the elegant old hotels and winery properties that are in some of the nicest locations in the world.

Cape Town is all these influences rolled into one bustling traditional looking city. The hotels are a rare wonder with first class service and haute cuisine derived from a farming tradition going back centuries.

The sultry and warm California-like weather leads to great produce and wonderfully fresh foods and the native game provides exotic meats and fowl as the norm.

We had embarked upon what is to become a truly unforgettable and unique adventure. Jeremy Wilkinson, President/CEO of Great Wines International (a leading importer of South African wines into the USA) personally leads two unique Behind the Scenes gourmet food & wine tours in April and September of each year. This time we are a group of wine writers, critics, wine distributors and wine enthusiasts & all virgin travelers to South Africa.

On Day One of this incredible whirlwind adventure, we land in Cape Town. We arrive at the Admiral Nelson Hotel (Nelly to her friends). The Old World elegance of breakfast with sandwiches and pastries were there to greet us as we walked in after a long flight. We were made to feel like long lost relatives as we sat outside, on the beautiful patio.

We relaxed until evening where we enjoyed High Tea on the verandah, a quintessential experience of the Cape's colonial era. Great Wines International then chauffeured us on to an adventure at Table Mountain, which frames the city of Cape Town. We rode the cable car to the very top of Table Mountain and saw the most spectacular sunset in recent memory.

You can see out across the horizon to the end of the earth. It's no wonder the Flat Earth Society exists, as we view this great expanse. The sun goes orange into the sunset and it is spectacular. Accompanied by an outstanding glass of South African champagne, being equally enjoyed by my fellow tour guests, I watch for the last seconds as the sun dips beneath the glassine seas and flashes a green strobe of light for an instant… then the sun is gone. The vision leaves me in stunned silence; stunned … too dull a word. This is a sight I've been told of but have witnessed for the first time. An instance of awe leaves us completely satisfied. The whole experience is beyond description without the gifts of a poet. All too quickly, we are on the cable car headed downward into the lights of Cape Town.

The view of the clouds and cliffs over Cape Town, are a stage for the performance of heaven. Harrowing, huge clouds rolling around rugged cliffs, then blowing off, and starting again. Cape Town has seen it all. At the Admiral Nelson Bar, we are served cocktails with a smile and wraparound full service comfort. Jeremy Wilkinson toasted us (many times) with “Jabula" and we are happy and content to be in South Africa!






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