Thursday, 21 December 2017

Q&A with Christiaan Nigrini – my internship in the Douro Valley, Portugal

Assistant winemaker at Asara Estate, Christiaan, finished his studies at Elsenburg in 2016, and thereafter started working on the farm. Earlier this year he went on an internship to the Douro Valley in Portugal to learn more about winemaking in their country and to gain some knowledge and skills to bring back and use at Asara.

We asked him a few questions to find out more:

How long was your internship?
Five weeks. I had plans to travel in between work, but harvest season starts earlier in Portugal and the red grapes took longer to come in, so we ended up just staying in the area. Luckily it is a beautiful town with great people, so I didn’t mind being there for longer.

Which wine farm were you working on?
The farm is situated in Portugal and called Quinta De Sequeiros. We were four students working there, one girl from another country and two holiday workers from Portugal, which helped me learn to speak some Portuguese. We also stayed in our own little ‘apartment’ in the cellar which was quite cool – it was the cellar at the bottom and then the flat on top.

What new cultivars did you work with/ learn about?
Port is huge in the Douro Valley and they’re pretty famous for it, so that’s something I learned quite a bit about. Port is to Portugal what champagne is to France. However, in their country you need a license to work with port, which we didn’t have on the farm, so we visited a lot of other cellars but I didn’t work with it myself.

They have a few strange cultivars - some of which they don’t even know themselves as the people who identified them long ago don’t work there anymore (they’ll now just call that a “field blend”). Other than that, they have a similar manner and style of making wine to ours.

What did you learn that you think can be implemented at Asara?
The winemaker whom I worked with won the award of young wine maker of the year last year, so it was amazing to learn from her. She’s very focused on what she tasted in the vine as she believes that that is how the wine will come out.

She also taught me that just because you’re a winemaker, doesn’t mean you also have to be a sommelier. As a winemaker, people will always ask you what you think of a wine, but sometimes it’s okay to just say it’s nice and enjoy it. I also learned how someone can really mess up a ‘braai’ ;)

What did you enjoy most about the trip?
This is a difficult one, as there are so many things. I guess the first thing is just arriving at the airport and knowing that nobody knows you and that you can do and be whoever you want. Then definitely the travel that comes with it – it was also my first time travelling alone so I learned a lot.

The night life was also pretty good, and sometimes we stayed out until 6am, even after some of the other students went to bed.

What did you think about Portuguese food?
It’s interesting – and very traditional. The family has a chef on the farm which makes all the food, so we had a lot of the same things and it was almost always traditional food. It’s a lot of seafood (a type of fish called ‘Baccalau’ that has a thousand different ways of making it), smoked pork and homemade bread. Nothing really weird 

Top tips for anyone wanting to visit the Duoro Valley?
Make friends with the locals. They’re not difficult to get along with and if you seem eager to learn about their culture, they’ll be more than willing to help. There can be a bit of a communication gap sometimes, but if you do things their way, they’ll accept you. Make an effort to learn some Portuguese words, so that they’re more approachable.

It really was an amazing trip and the family that I stayed with is very friendly and family-orientated, so it now feels like a second family. I’ll definitely go back again someday.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Sip & savour SA’s best gins

As some of you may know, we like to set trends here at Asara Wine Estate & Hotel. We have a rare combination of incredibly high standards, and warm hospitality - which we’d love you to experience first-hand at our first ever gin festival. It’s called PureGin, and is taking place on our beautiful lawn overlooking the vineyards on 16 December.

Why December?
The end of the year calls for elegance and celebrations in the summer sun with friends. So put on a pretty dress, hat and heels (or chinos and a blazer if a dress isn’t really your style), and leave the rest to us.

Why gin?
Firstly, it’s something we’re incredibly passionate about. Like Asara, great gin is sophisticated, best enjoyed with great company and allows for a personal experience.

Our collection of both local and international gins at Sansibar Gin Lounge has grown exponentially this year. We now stock over 350 gins, and our barmen can tell you about every single one. They also pride themselves on being able to make a unique drink to suit your taste and the style and botanicals of your selection.

Secondly, we’ve been lucky enough to get to know several of the up and coming artisan gin distillers in South Africa, and are incredibly proud of the world class gins they are producing. PureGin is a perfect opportunity to showcase these brands, and give them the exposure they need to win the hearts of local gin lovers. We’re sure your new favourite drink is waiting to be discovered at the festival, and it’s our mission to help you find it.

You can look forward to trying gin and meeting the gin makers from Hope on Hopkins Distillery, Southern Cross Gin, Mayine Premium Gin, Boplaas Family Vineyards, Ginologist, Trouvaille Spirits and Stellenbosch Distillery. Each one is unique and brings something unusual to the party. Our friends from Barker and Quin Finest Indian Tonic Water will also have a stand, and there will be a limited selection of Asara wine and soft drinks for sale.

What else is there to look forward to?
Did we mention the live band? It will be the perfect backdrop to the festival, and set the tone for a day to remember. The picnic baskets are also likely to be a highlight – with our chefs already hard at work perfecting the selection in each one. We have meat, fish and vegetarian options, and will have a long table constantly being replenished with a selection of freshly baked breads. Our ice-cream van will also be ready and waiting for those of you with a sweet tooth!

How much are tickets?
Tickets cost R375 per person, and include a branded glass to take home, two gin drinks, and a picnic basket filled with delicious treats (which will be kept cool until you are ready to eat it). Buy them on Quicket for a day of pure pleasure on 16 December.

PS – keep an eye on the festival Facebook event for more information.