No thronging masses; no queueing for hours just to refill your wine glass… At this year’s Constantia Fresh Fine Wine and Food Festival, the living was deliciously easy. The type of ’do where guests arrived in Ubers instead of tour buses; where you could stake out a shady spot on the lawn instead of perch at a table inside a stuffy tent; and where the food was as impressive as the wine.
In the irony of all ironies, this year, the biggest worry on Constantia Fresh Wine Festival’s organisers Annareth Bolton and her sommelier brother Higgo Jacobs’s minds was that the day would be rained out. In the middle of February. During the worst drought Cape Town has experienced thirty years. “The day is usually a scorcher, and here we were suddenly panicking that all our guests would get soaked,” she laughs. “But at the end, everything just worked out perfectly. The rain stopped early afternoon, everything was washed clean and cooled down and all of a sudden, it was just really… fresh.”
For the uninitiated, Constantia Fresh is an annual wine festival held on the lawns of Buitenverwachting in the shade of towering pines. Think of a relaxed, communal picnic with some of the finest wines and food in the country, and you’ll have a pretty good idea. Since it’s held at the height of summer, the focus is – and has been, for the past 8 years – on fresh, crisp white wines, bubblies and a smattering of refreshing reds like Pinot Noir from winemakers of the Constantia Valley, as well as a handful of producers from Elgin, Bot River, Hermanus and Napier.
“The reason it’s called the Constantia Fresh, is because the wines of the valley have a lot of cool-climate influences thanks to the South Easter blowing from False Bay,” explains Higgo. “The result is wines that are really elegant, with lots of natural acidity and crispness.The wines from the other participating wineries from further afield that we invite share these characteristics. You’ll never find heavy, robus reds at the festival. It’s the middle of summer!” If you’re not a fan of white wine (pity, since the valley’s most famous for its award-winning Sauvignon Blancs) there have also been some craft beer, cider and artisanal gin producers offering libation in recent years.
By far the coolest part of the fest – apart from, you know, the cosmopolitan crowd, beautiful setting and free-flowing vino – is the fact that your ticket not only gives you access to all the wines you want to sip, it also covers food made by some of the finest chefs in the country. No swopping cash for tokens, no elbowing fellow hungry imbibers out of the way; just delicious, made-to-order plates to go with whatever happens to be in your glass.
“Not charging customers for every dish they want to try contributes to the laid-back, communal vibe of the festival, and also takes away the stress from us chefs” says Glen Williams, chef-owner of uber-popular Constantia-neck eatery Foxcroft, who was invited along with a host other local chefs to treat revellers’ taste buds this year. “We decided to do riffs on two desserts that have done really well at the restaurant: our Ferrero Rocher macarons and a compressed strawberry dessert with lemon curd and matcha.” The result? Oh, only the most amazeballs macaron ice cream sandwiches you’ve ever tried, no big deal. “We paired the strawberry ice cream sandwich with Silverthorn’s The Genie MCC and the Ferrero Rocher one with Clemengold Gin. It ended up working really well.”
“This year, the food was just out of this world,” says Annareth. “There was even this Michelin-starred German chef called Jan-Philipp Berner, who happened to be in the country for another project and approached us to cook for the festival. At the stage he asked us, we were already fully booked and had paid all our chefs, so he offered to come cook for free!” The West Coast oysters with cucumber, Citrusdal lemon and dill that Jan-Philip ended up plating blew everyone’s minds. “At the beginning I thought, how difficult can it be for a Michelin chef to serve oysters; you just shuck them!” laughs Annareth, “But what he did was just so incredibly refined and beautiful.”