A vigorous modern-day pursuit best lubricated by wine

By Tony Jackman 17 May 2018

Chris Marais http://karoospace.co.za/

Over the years, a great rivalry has built up between the different wine estates and the stoeps of their rivals, so they decorate their stoeps to the nines, and a related food stall culture has grown around it for obvious reasons. For some reason some of these seem to favour salty foods.

Stoep-sitting is not really an xtreme sport, although those of us who call the Karoo home find that it gives us a far more total workout than the hours gym bunnies spend flexing and preening in front of a mirror. And that Jane Fonda workout thing is like so last millennium. We Karoo stoep-sitters feel the burn in our elbows when we raise glass to lip, and when you’ve done 50 of these your biceps are coming among very nicely and your jaw is beautifully toned.

Not to mention the forward lurch. This manoeuvre happens when somebody else in your stoep-sitting team picks up your wine glass by mistake and, quick as a flash, you’ve leaned forward, retrieved the pilfered vessel, and given the culprit a sneaky klap on the cheek while shifting yourself back to Position A.

There was a lot of stoep-sitting going on in Graaff-Reinet last time we attended their annual Stoep Tasting wine weekend, a couple of years back. This town, which I like to call “Karoo Stellenbosch”, has more stoeps than most towns have residents. So Rose Wright’s idea to organise an annual Stoep-Tasting Weekend was bound to take off. From 50-plus visitors in their first year, the following year’s event saw more than 120 increasingly inebriated people traipsing from stoep to stoep to taste the products of wine producers who had brought their wines from farms as far-flung as (actual) Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Elgin and Calitzdorp. There were a mere 11 or so wine producers present then; now, for the newest outing of this most strenuous of wine events at the end of May 2018, the organisers say they have upwards of 80 producers and expect in the region of 2,000 visitors from all over the country.

The winemakers and their products are placed at a variety of guest houses in the town’s “horse-shoe” of old streets. This means you never have to stagger far to find another stoep to sit on, and there will always be viticultural victuals to refresh you after your latest exertions. Over the years, a great rivalry has built up between the different wine estates and the stoeps of their rivals, so they decorate their stoeps to the nines, and a related food stall culture has grown around it for obvious reasons. For some reason some of these seem to favour salty foods.

Photo by Chris Marais – Karoo Space

Like a teenager at a nightclub, you’re given a temporary tattoo on your hand to prove you’ve paid, so there’s no further forking out for your little tastes of many wines unless you want to buy cases of the stuff to take home. This in any event is reserved for the xtreme stoep-sitter who has no problem lugging great boxes of wine to his car boot before heading off for another round of exertions on the next stoep.

There are some unspoken rules of stoep-sitting.

It would be frowned upon to become drunk and unruly and pick fights with the other stoep-sitters. Or to be so in your cups that one of the organisers takes you home to his house and forces you to eat cold pizza and drink five cups of coffee to sober you up before you insist on driving the 136km home to your house in Cradock. In any event, modern stoep-sitters know the rules of safe driving and honour them most assiduously. So you wobble back to your guest house.

It also would not do to just go to one stoep and spend the entire day there, or the whole weekend, drinking endless little tastes of the same wine because you’re too lazy to get up and go to the next stoep.

It is, in effect, as much of a road-trotting weekend as it is a stoep-sitting one. The sight of little clutches of paid-up stoep-tasters with little bags hung round their necks containing their mobile tasting glass is a common one. You could also tell by the grace (or otherwise) of their gait whether they were newbies or had in fact already had several hours of arduous stoep-tasting behind them.

It does make sense, though, at some point, to make your choices. You can’t just keep walking from stoep to stoep when at least half of the point is to sit on a verandah and kuier. So, after Gordon Wright (he being the other half of Rose and author of his cookbook, Veld to Fork, and his new cookbook Karoo Food to be published in June 2018) had led us through an intense round of the entire circuit, we whittled our stoeps down to a manageable number, starting with the wines of Excelsior (on his own stoep) and moving through a host of others, accepting a tasting of wine at each one, before finally arriving exhausted at the Coldstream club stoep where Peter Bailey made us drink white port and other sweet delights.

The chosen stoeps were The Fledge & Company, Paul Wallace, the Drostdy Hotel and of course Gordon’s. The ethos of The Fledge is to make wines in what Leon Coetzee calls the “old skool” way, it being in his nature “to go against the grain”. These are qualities I admire, so was happy for him to put us through our paces, making us taste every wine, from Vagabond a.k.a. GeelSlang, a “rogue Rhone” varietal and Klipspringer (his chenin) to an old-style Fume Blanc redolent of the ‘80s.

Paul Wallace did not have to persuade us to taste more of his stupendously delicious Elgin sauvignon blanc. It’s called Little Flirt and it did not take him long to perceive that we weren’t going anywhere until we had proper glasses of the stuff and quite possibly one or more refills before we would go away. It was on his stoep that we were to have our most vigorous workout, other than the hour we had spent in the courtyard at the hotel, regrouping before the final assault course.

But after all your stoep-sitting exertions you really need a drink, so we poured into Gordon’s then restaurant (he has sensibly since moved on to more profitable things like curing meats for Taste of the Karoo and making the most sublime sausages), where he was to serve us a three-course dinner, the reward for all the physical effort. What happened was that all the winemakers collected all their leftover opened bottles of wine, plus some not yet opened but soon to be, and took them back to Gordon’s for the now undeniably inebriated punters to enjoy with chef Gordon’s food, made famous in his award-winning cookbook (nothing major, just best in the world at the Gourmand awards).

Photo by Chris Marais – Karoo Space

I was relatively sober enough to discern that you’re not going to find a better tomato tart anywhere, and his rosemary-scented springbok was slow-cooked to a point where the meat was soft, sensuous and so full of flavour.

The only workout you were good for by now was one involving fluffy pillows and much heavy snoring, as your mind assimilated the day’s many footsteps, elbow-lifting, sipping and all the pleasant banter in between.

The 2018 event is in Graaff-Reinet at many venues on the weekend of 25 and 26 May, from 15:00 on the Friday and from 16:00 on the Saturday. It’s possible you may need to refresh yourself most vigorously in the hours in between. There will be many wine estates, craft beer, gin, brandy and masterclasses. DM


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