The City of Gold’s elegant garagiste winery
Yes, there is a winery in Joburg. A very small one. It’s a little part of one of the largest parks in the country, which is full of Jozi wine and other food surprises, including an urban farm for charity.
The writer supports Nosh Food Rescue, an NGO that helps Jozi feeding schemes with food “rescued” from the food chain. Please support them here.
For years I was an avid fan of Joburg Wine, made in what had been the garage section of a boutique hotel in Rivonia. I liked to joke about its being the most elegant garagiste winery. Glen James and Sara Webster used grapes from their own farm in the southern Cape and went to work on them up here. Sadly for me, Glen and Sara eventually left Jozi to live on their farm and I lost the wonderful Joburg Wines that made such great gifts. The bottles were stunningly labelled and the wines were pretty good.
However, the Gerakaris Family Wine bottle labels also feature a clever barcode in the shape of the Jozi skyline. They may not have their own wine estate and so buy grapes in from the Swartland or Elgin, but their major asset as a licensed winery is a seriously well qualified and experienced winemaker.
Kath Gerakaris, originally from New Zealand, drawn to the wine business on her international and South African travels, returned to her home country for a post-grad diploma in viticulture and oenology. She worked in the Cape with the strong, individualist winemakers at Thelema and Flagstone, then Whalehaven for three years before meeting her husband Milos, moving to Jozi and starting her own winery with all the undaunted confidence of the pro she’d become.
She and I sit in the winery’s herby garden, in Delta Park’s sunshine, tasting Kath’s excellent chenins and syrahs, talking to the cats and making short work of a cheese board.
It turns out that the wines are named after the children. I remember drinking some Elli once at the Great Eastern Food Bar in its Melville incarnation. The next time I wanted it, I was disappointedly told it had just been a very, very small batch and was all finished.
I haven’t seen it again until today. I fall upon it. It’s a chenin, a wine that truly interests me, this one unwooded but slightly aged. The younger one is named after daughter Ella’s Greek diminutive, Ellaki. Tom and Thomas are the two shirazes, named after the son. All the wines, including the fresh-wine experiment 1209 that Kath makes, are chenins or syrah, as she prefers to call her shiraz.
That cheese board featuring specially women-made South African cheeses from Linden’s Gourmet Cheese, is what prompts me to think about all the other interesting food created, grown and consumed in the REEA part of Delta Park. There’s a good deal of it, the more I consider, starting with the restaurant itself. Blondie’s The Tide is High is playing and there seem to be so many unusual people on these REEA premises to be Number Ones.
Among the REEA businesses is co-operation too, some fairly obvious like Gerakaris wines being served and sold at the Delta Park restaurant, really called Don Quixote, though I’ve yet to hear anyone use its real name. Interestingly, the major part of the Gerakaris business is doing tastings for the public, even more than supplying restaurants.
The REEA Foundation, started 86 years ago as the Rand Epileptic Employment Association, is a much loved and well managed NGO today. It cares for adults with epilepsy and associated illness, who are not lucky enough to have proper accommodation and medical care. It also operates an HIV/AIDS orphan outreach programme, food security programmes, the part that interests me particularly, for disabled or disadvantaged people, as well as a day care programme for people with neurological disorders, plus a literacy outreach programme.
As Alex Sheffield, the jaunty manager of REEA, tells me, businesses like the winery, the restaurant and the others, especially the Colourful Splendour plant nursery, pay fixed rentals to REEA on whose property within Delta Park they stand, as well as a percentage of their turnover where possible. Horses are bitless and employed for riding. Many are also stabled here, unusually centrally for Jozi owners of horses.
Airy and outdoor eateries, like the Delta Cafe are super-attractive now and the so-called Don Quixote, is a casual place in the park for families, even dogs on leashes. I am only now discovering the full extent of food possibilities here in this section of the park. It’s all been an unnecessarily well kept secret and, as I find, the breakfasts are good and I ought to have known about them long ago. It appears my friends like to meet here for easy drinks and fresh foods.
Much of that fresh food comes from a bunch of interesting young people from all walks, on the REEA property. They are Straight From the Ground, producing and collecting food from other small producers that is organic. Before Covid times they would sell what they had at a weekly market but now they supply lovely lucky-dip type winter-produce boxes to people on their supply list, packed with leafy vegetables, potatoes, turnips, carrots, black-eyed peas, ginger and eggs. Now they’re starting to plant specially for the boxes, concentrating on more African indigenous produce, Mpho Ramathe says.
They want more remedial action with water and soil on the one hand and they want equally supportive relationships between the farmers and the suppliers or consumers on the other. It’s an initiative that is good to the core, idealist and lovely, the sort of thing we should respect for people actually doing the fair, based-on-trust work that we’d really like to see if some of us weren’t so cynical.
At this point I find a few minutes to dash into the REEA bookshop. I’ve heard it has a handy selection of food books and I’m always keen on those. I also want to see if I can find old pie making rings and moulds among the kitchenware at the REEA vintage shop but someone’s calling and I leave both for now.
Alex introduces me to Lyndon Joseph. I’ve been wanting to meet the Mushroom Man as his business is called. He and Famous Ndlovu left their plumbing and bricklaying careers apiece to produce deliciously fresh, grey oyster mushrooms in a pretty small “farm”. Layers of dampened straw and the mushroom spores on corn barley as a carrier, alternate in 10 kilogram bags, hanging within the mushroom house in humidity. The bags are then neatly pierced, to allow the mushrooms to pop through, blooming forth like magic. The Mushroom Man supplies many of the high-standard vegetable outlets in Johannesburg.
As Lyndon says, both of them make an adequate living from their business on the REEA premises, built incidentally by Famous. Lyndon also mentions that he doesn’t want a Ferrari and that he could increase, even double the mushroom production quantities but finds it works best, to everyone’s comfort and benefit, just as it is.
He looks happy. It occurs to me that everyone I’ve met today does. That’s surprising in a big city. Or is it?
I am slightly sad at finding both the bookshop and the charity shop closed by the time I return and get to them. But I know where they are now. This is valuable in itself. I’d never before have guessed all this was here in Delta Park, this REEA part of it. DM/TGIFood
REEA www.reea.org.za 011 788 4745
Gerakaris Family Wines 072 638 7636
Delta Cafe www.deltacafe.co.za 010 900 3850
Straight From the Ground www.straightfromtheground.org 074 694 4623
REEA Bookshop www.bookshop.reea.org.za 011 788 4745
REEA Charity Shop 084 312 3810
The Mushroom Man 082 446 3783, [email protected]
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