Be it biltong, art, wildlife, sport or Pink Loeries, festivals of all themes and styles in small towns are a way to enthuse locals and give visitors a taste of the particular attributes of a place – in the case of Calitzdorp, the Winter Festival last weekend showcased the Klein Karoo town’s warm, friendly hospitality and community spirit.
Undefeated by a lack of corporate sponsorship and government support, and loss of the right to call their signature product “port” (thanks to trade agreements with the European Union that limit the name to fortified wines from the Douro region of Portugal), the people of Calitzdorp pulled together and pulled off a heart- and tummy-warming festival of local colour, music, art, dance, sports, food and, of course, a whole lot of wine.
Chilly mornings gave way to balmy days and a host of events and activities to choose from – so much so that choices were difficult: local resident (and the town’s newest winemaker) Stan Slogrove performing classic rock on the Dutch Reformed Church organ, “Krismis” dinner and cabaret at the old railway station, or a medieval party in the Boplaas cellar?
From a wine-tasting with the passionate and enthusiastic winemaker at De Krans, Louis van der Riet, we hot-footed it to the church to catch Slogrove pulling out all the stops for a grand Bohemian Rhapsody finale, and an audience that just didn’t want to let him stop playing, and then on to the railway station for a Christmas-themed long table with a hearty “bord kos” and cabaret by the highly entertaining Emile Minnie and talented songstress Hanmari Pretorius from Cape Town.
They weren’t the only visitors from Cape Town – the Festival drew a healthy crowd from as far afield as Joburg, as well as the mother city, Oudtshoorn, George and around the garden route and Klein Karoo, all met by a warm welcome from locals out to have fun and celebrate local culture and products.
Each of the Calitzdorp wine cellars hosted tastings, food pairings, live music and events, while the old railway station was the centre of activities from draadkarretjie and riel-dancing competitions to market stalls and tastings of all kinds of local produce.
With the tracks not repaired after being damaged in the big flood of 2000, the station has been transformed by partners Cheryl de Villiers and Mike Archer, offering cosy accommodation in the old ticket office, as well as safari tent camping and backpackers, a venue for anything from film shoots and art exhibitions to weddings and conferences, and fireside warmth in the railway-themed pub.
Calitzdorp is situated in the fertile Gamka Valley and despite not having had rainfall of any significance since 2014, the area’s bountiful grapes, olives and fruit, especially apricots, are transformed into jams, jellies, pickles and more, while ostrich and venison feature prominently on menus too.
In addition to flowers, mohair knits, beautiful shweshwe cushions and comforters from local designer Calitzy, a treasure trove of second-hand books, the market stalls proved to be a slice of foodie heaven. We tasted and shopped our way through local producers such as Du’SwaRoo’s olives stuffed, smoked and spiced, tapenades, port and plum jelly; sauces and jams from Die Spenskas and Sue Chef; as well as biltong and charcuterie from Knysna, and craft beer and gin from Cape Town.
A little further afield, Almond Acres was offering fresh produce from local farmers alongside soups and warming gluhwein, a super stop on the way to Axe Hill for port, wine and lunch on the roadside stoep.
After a lull since the death of founder Tony Mossop in 2005, Axe Hill is coming back into its own under owner Mike Neebe, making a delicious white port and experimenting with table wines from red Portuguese grapes and whites from chenin and viognier. He’s still beaming after his 2010 Late Bottled Vintage port recently “gave a big hiding” to a Portuguese counterpart in a comparative tasting of ports by the Sommeliers Association in Cape Town.
For the energetic, the weekend ended off with the inaugural Calitzdorp MTB Classic, a 60km race through the scenic Groenfontein that drew an enthusiastic field despite the icy early-morningchill.
For the less energetic, the grand finale came in the form of the Long Table Brunch at Calitzdorp Cellars, a tradition started in the previous Port Festival, where the ladies of the DR Church lay on a sumptuous feast as their contribution to the festivities.
“The more deurmekaar the world, the more we need to come together, talk, share and eat beautiful food,” said organiser Briëtte Barry, and she and her team certainly pulled off an opportunity to do that.
Platter after platter of delights emerged – port-infused mushroom soup, carpaccio, patés, olives of course, the tenderest rare beef fillet, delicate savoury tarts, breads, all accompanied by wines from De Krans and Calitzdorp Cellars, bubbly from Boplaas, and ending off with an array of bite-size chocolate and fruit desserts.
The hugs of old friends reuniting, the laughter and chatter of festival-goers crammed cheek-to-cheek at the long tables, the sense of warmth and sharing, all somehow summed up the theme of this wintry festival that can only go on to greater things from here.
The Calitzdorp Winter Festival last weekend highlighted the ever-inventive capacity of wine and food people to innovate and offer new ways to experience their products.
Popular TV personality, chef and cookery book author Francois Ferreira delighted guests at De Krans with an entertaining pairing of biscotti with wines and ports.
Unlike some of the stranger pairings out there – salt, chocolate, ice cream, you name it – this one has roots in tradition, with the custom of dipping biscotti in Vin Santo dessert wine. Ferreira and fellow garden route foodie Denise Lindley developed the mix of sweet and savoury recipes and pairings, along with De Krans winemaker Louis van der Riet.
A buttery herbed biscotti perks up with De Krans Pinotage Rosé – “dancing together like a cha-cha”, says Ferreira, while boere-meets-Portuguese in a biltong biscotti dipped in De Krans Touriga Nacional. This was a favourite, the spicy and meaty notes of wine and biltong playing together nicely.
The biscotti pairing is a regular offering of the De Krans tasting room, along with the option of a port-and-dessert tasting.
In addition to a good selection of local restaurants, the bigger wineries – Boplaas and Calitzdorp Cellars, along with De Krans – have all introduced bistro-café-deli type offerings that add to the winery experience.
Boplaas has a distinguished track record in brandy-making dating back to 1880 and introduced a Distiller’s Lounge to the festival, with tastings of their excellent pot-still brandies plus their new venture into craft gin and whisky.
For wine lovers, the most exciting development coming out of Calitzdorp is the increasing range and quality of table wines in addition to their famed port-style wines.
Wines made from the traditional Portuguese grapes have tended to be heavy-hitting, very big and bold, and often far too “porty”. That’s changing, with these red wines, single varietal and Calitzdorp blends, now displaying lighter body, elegance and finesse, with balanced oak spice and fruitiness and lovely savoury notes reminiscent of Pinot Noir.
Strengthening Calitzdorp’s claim in fine wine, De Krans Tritonia red from Portuguese grapes swept away competition from better-known styles to take the Old Mutual Trophy for best red blend recently. Their Tritonia White, a fab food wine blending Verdelho and Malvasia Rei, earned a very respectable silver.
Calitzdorp is about 420km from Port Elizabeth, a drive of about 4.5 hours via the scenic and industrious Langkloof.
On the N2 from Port Elizabeth, take the Kareedouw turn-off shortly after Humansdorp and follow the signs for Oudtshoorn. From Oudtshoorn, it’s an easy 25 minutes on the R62 to Calitzdorp.
The Langkloof is the most logical route, and it’s an easy and pretty route, but you can also go via the N2 to George and over the Outeniqua Pass to Oudtshoorn, or the Baviaanskloof route via Steytlerville and De Rust.
Accommodation in the town and surrounds offers all kinds of options: camping, glamping, eco-friendly, back-packing, through to the quirky (the comfortably appointed former ticket office of the Calitzdorp Railway Station), and more luxurious four-star options like The Queen of Calitzdorp, an old hotel newly renovated in the historic centre of town, or minutes away in rustic locations like Calitzdorp Country House and The Retreat at Groenfontein.
We stayed very comfortably at Welgevonden Guesthouse – warm hospitality, a farm-style feel close to town, comforts like hot-water bottles, mohair blankets and heaters to beat the chill, access to DStv and WiFi, plus local foodie treats to complement stylishly presented hearty breakfasts. For more information, contact owner Briëtte Barry on firstname.lastname@example.org or (044)213-3642.
More info: Calitzdorp Tourism – (044)213-3775; email@example.com; www.calitzdorp.org.za or see lots of locally run websites such as www.calitzdorp.co.za for insider info.