Franschhoek Wine Tram Tribulations

Doug was not like the regular, more distinguished guests on the Wine Tram. This classy, wine-tasting tram is more suited to wine lovers wanting to taste the best of Franschhoek, but Doug NEEDED another drink.

Franschhoek Wine Tram

Preferably an unwooded Chardonnay. Blunt force trauma not being an option, I wanted some tranquilizer darts. Preferably fast-acting, Diazepam-tipped ones which would knock him out for the day. Because he wouldn’t let up.

These things happen and unseasonable people occur sometimes on excursions. And tram and tractor tours.

I looked at the stylish hostess and she shrugged, indicating that, sadly, she had no means of incapacitating him. No anti-personnel, self-defence weaponry handy.

No Zulu wooden blowpipe or sub-Saharan barbiturate delivery system which would allow me to administer an antidote to his interminable anecdotes.

Franschhoek Wine Tram

You can choose your friends and you can hand-pick grapes, but you can’t pick the person who chooses to sit next to you. The Franschhoek Wine Tram tour has mostly wine-educated foreigners riding on her, and she’s definitely the best way to see the gastro capital of South Africa’s Cape winelands, but I got Doug.

I had been luckily enough to be one of the first onboard back in October 2017 when the balconied double-decker Blackpool Corporation-style tram was first used. Full fare for the day is R240.

The tracks were laid by fruit farmers in 1904 down the French Corner and former Elephant Corner (Oliphantshoek), forty minutes from Cape Town, and now connects oenophiles with twenty-six of the valley’s fifty wine estates – some of the oldest and best in South Africa.

The service makes use of open-sided buses to travel to estates not located next to the railway. The 5m high trams give passengers “a unique and unparalleled vantage point from which to survey and experience the local countryside and discover the true essence of the area”.

Unless an English inebriate sits beside you all the way. His face was rich garnet. When the sun came through the clouds over the Dassenberg mountain it turned bright ruby. When he laughed at his own bad jokes it went Syrah-like. Obsessive puns caused a Pinotage flush.

His nose was prominent and red berry compote. An inelegant nose with a chicane in it. At every stop I felt the irritation and impatience fermenting inside. I tried some crisp acidity but it didn’t work. He was the life and soul of the wine tram. He believed. He never shut up.

You could see the family of Swedish missionaries, including a son training to be a prison officer, giving him the “sectioning” eye.  The couple from the Isle of Man wanting to give him a long lingering finish. To follow him down into a wine cellar, lock the door and throw away the key. To curate his disappearance.

Even though we were upstairs upfront, he was a pain in the rear.
He had been on the tram all day. For two days. He had had “Turkish Delight” (lokum) and chocolate pairings.

He has done olive tasting and undergone the “biltong” and “droewors” experience. And the whole immersive Western Cape Province wine experience. Which meant he couldn’t say Stellenbosch.

Franschhoek Wine Tram

He didn’t have good balance either. His breath was a heady bouquet – 10% Colombard, 10% Cape Riesling, 25% Steen (Chenin Blanc), 30% Merlot, 5% Cinsault, 18% Pinor Noir and the rest chuck beef, dried sausage and charcuterie platter.

Being naïve in South African wines and a Franschhoek virgin, I wanted to sample the super quality wines and pedigreed excellence of the terroir first settled by the Huguenots in 1688 and render Doug paralytic before he did it himself. At last he nodded off, discombobulated.

Spitefully, I finished off his artisanal cheese and melba toast. And Merlot.

The wine tram is the brainchild of railway enthusiast David Blyth who started the service in 2012 with a green 1890-styled single-decker bio-diesel-fuelled open-sided 32-seater tram with flip-over benches, allowing visitors to enjoy the views in both directions.

They’ve added two double-decker trams to the service and transport just over 100 000 passengers a year.

Golfing holiday makers hopped on and Koreans hopped off. Depending on the line you travel on, and the time you depart, you can visit six wineries and enjoy wine tastings from between 50 and 150 rand.

Rickety Bridge winery, overlooking Wemmershoek mountain, goes back to 1797. Sipping “Paulina’s Reserve” and the handiwork of Wynard Grobler, you can play boule while waiting to catch the next tram. The restaurant serves venison casserole and complemented by chevin cheese. You are watched by a sculpture of a white rhino.

Franschhoek Wine Tram

The 300-year-old, 47-acre Grande Provence heritage wine estate has its own sculpture garden. Two large nude men with no discernible genitals greet tram passengers. The work of Anton Smit tellingly evoking themes of suffering, reconciliation and sublimation. Doug snored beside me.

At Grande Provence you can blend your own. But it won’t compete with their “Angel’s Tears”. The vineyard sells Namjii fertility dolls. Presumably for those who over-indulge and risk viticultural droop.

I helped myself to Doug’s cheese platter – Foxenberg, Crottin, Hilton Blue, Dalewood Landquedoc and his drunken pecorino curdled ewe’s milk soaked in Cabernet Sauvignon must.

Grande Provence also offers West Coast oysters with “Cap Classic” sparkling and vintage “Brut”. You are a heathen if you don’t accompany them with a “daikon” radish. And it’s an unpardonable sin not to order “yuzu” superfruit pearls.

The Grande Provence has a music school. Corsican Thierry Heberer’s Holden Manz winery has a yoga studio. Most of the wineries in the valley have accommodation and wedding facilities.

At the 1694 La Bourgogne Farm on Excelsior Road you can try marrying “White Honey” (Semillon) and truffles as well as “Tram Red Blend” and “Plodka” plum spirit.

Doug woke up briefly. He couldn’t remember if he had been to “Allée Bleue” and had any of its very approachable entry level “Blue Owl” or ultra-premium “L’Amour Toujours”. He certainly couldn’t pronounce the name of the winemaker, Van Zyl du Toit.

We left him asleep on the terrace under some 150-year-old oak trees.
The “Pink/Grey Lines” include a number of estates that offer MCC (Methode Cap Classique) and the “Orange/Purple Lines” visit Babylonstoren, with its 13 different grape varieties.

Franschhoek Wine Tram

Good things were said on the tram about the rotisserie and table menu at Leopard’s Leap. Especially the Laingsburg lamb. Passengers swapped restaurant recommendations – “La Petite Colombe”,  “Le Coin Francais” and the “Marigold” Indian restaurant.

A couple from Belgian recommended Vrede en Lust and Plaisir de Merle under the Simonsberg mountains. Passing more vernacular Cape Dutch farmhouses, they said that Allée Bleue (1690) grew “tatsoi” (spinach mustard), alpine nectarines, Purple Majesty, Songold and Sun Kiss plums.

An Italian couple had bought from “La Bri”. They showed me a bottle of Merlot prettily labelled with pink March Amaryllis Belladonna and a Cabernet Sauvignon with white Watson. They said the “Green Line” was the best.

Like me, they were staying at Leeuw Estate which owns the town’s “Tuk Tuk Micro Brewery” and “Marigold” Indian restaurant. Sir Richard Branson is your next door neighbour.

As well as walking tours of the hotel’s Sauvignon Blanc vines and statues by Deborah Bell, Otto du Plessis and Angus Taylor escorted by assistant farm manager Johann Moolmann, in the manor’s  exclusive wine studio you can utilize your taste buds, palate and liver more by sampling award-winning wines by Andrea and Chris Mullineux.

Franschhoek Wine Tram

Your sommelier is a man called Admire. Through whom you learn to appreciate the finer nuances of Swartland wines and try and detect the nose of sun-ripened pears and wet granite in Kloof Street and the subtle tannins of single terroir “Schist” Syrah. Shale is an acquired taste.

Goodness only know what aftertaste wino Doug woke up with. If he woke up at all. Doing the Orange, Purple, Green, Blue and Yellow lines all in two days isn’t very refined. Whereas Franschhoek most definitely is. But Doug hardly noticed.

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Story by Kevin Pillay

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