Stellenbosch memories

At the end of 1985, as I contemplated the deep plunge from salaried employee to the variable income of a freelancer, my intention was to take whatever work came my way.

For once, I was in a ‘right place, right time’ scenario; writing commissions flowed in – there were few independent writers then. But I didn’t want to get tied down without exploring all possible options, variety was most definitely the spice of life.

An offer from Stellenbosch Wine Route (just the one back then) to run their Vineyard Trail walk celebrating the Route’s 15th anniversary, was just the sort of variety I was after.

The Vineyard trail was a lengthy if stunningly beautiful walk from Papegaaiberg (remember when it was covered in pine trees?) along the Bottelary Hills to Kuils River, taking in many vistas and vineyards along its 24 kms. I remember walking the whole route with a group led by Etienne le Riche; the Stellenbosch Wine Route event promised a more leisurely, less exhausting 10 kms, ending at Stevie Smit’s stone hut at the top of Bottelary Kop.

A walk, however dazzling the scenery, is still a walk and some need motivation; another attraction was needed.

As a child, my father used to compile a treasure hunt for my birthday, observed in summer, rather than its actual winter celebration. Dad was brilliant at dreaming up cryptic clues (rhymes or the like) which kept us youngsters running around trying to find the hiding place of a clue from the one we’d just discovered. A great barbeque was our reward.

A treasure hunt was my suggested fun component to the walk, one readily agreed to by those in charge. Now, I had to organise it and the clues; what had I let myself in for? The incentive to get to the end, as with my birthday parties, was, in this case, a braai; further encouragement for walkers came from various Wine Route members stationed along the way, offering their wines and other refreshments. The map shows each winery’s spot en route.

Dreaming up clues required walking those 10kms, looking for suitable landmarks. We ended up with 20, starting with ‘How long does it take for a good winemaker to rot away?’ The walk started behind Oude Libertas near the graveyard; not difficult to make the link and find the drum with the next clue. And so on. Some were in Afrikaans. My favourite (and a phrase I often use) ‘Moenie ‘n draadsitter wees nie’, obviously next to a fence that needed negotiating! With each clue, walkers had to answer a question about members of the Wine Route with the incentive of a case of wine as prize.

Armed with Passport (proof of payment – R11 pp! – and identity), Stellenbosch Wine Route sun hat and brochure, as well as all-important plasters, around 100 enthusiastic participants gathered at Oude Libertas Centre at 8am on Saturday, 5th April 1986, where Spatz Sperling fired the starting gun. As far as I remember it was a glorious autumn day.

Vineyard Trail map with Wine Route members tasting stations

Some found it difficult to get their heads around the clues and how they worked, but that and blisters didn’t spoil the fantastic gees with everyone making it to Stevie’s stone hut, lunch and generous quantities of delicious Stellenbosch wine.

It involved a lot of hard work and planning but was one of the most enjoyable events, allowing wine lovers to see Stellenbosch from a different perspective while enjoying its wines.

Stellenbosch Wine Routes today is too big for anything similar but there must be other fun ways of showing off Stellenbosch from a different perspective. Creative souls out there?

As much as I enjoyed being involved with the Vineyard Trail Treasure Hunt, which did generate plenty of media coverage, I decided it had to be either PR or writing, both couldn’t gel. Writing won.

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