Updated: Nov 18, 2020
There are festivals, there are festivals, and then there are WINE festivals. It is of course the latter that draws me like a moth to a flame. It is also something South Africa does with panache. They have wine and food festivals, fizz and oyster festivals, the Bastille day wine festival, Shiraz and charcuterie festivals, Shiraz and jazz festival, they even have famous bands hosting concerts at wineries. In short if you can imagine it, they host it.
My first accidental wine festival encounter was when I lived in South Africa, we used to go camping in Robertson, a little known but beautiful river valley a few hours in land of Cape Town. It was a small, quiet, one road kinda place back then but dotted with beautiful wineries, the perfect weekend escape (from idyllic Cape Town!)
It was the first weekend of June, a sunny winter weekend and we pitched our tent at our favourite campsite. Saturday morning we went to visit a winery and they told us that this weekend was in fact the inaugural ‘wacky wine weekend’. We paid 10 rand for a wine glass which hung around our neck on a lanyard and were told that included in the price was a tasting at each winery we visited, and as an added bonus there were ‘activities’ going on at each individual farm. I was immediately suspicious imagining ‘pet a goat’ and ‘guess how many sweets are in the jar’ type activities. Oh how wrong I was!
Depending which winery you visited there were picnics, live music, langarm dancing, potjie pots, oyster stops and braai’s being offered to accompany the wine tastings. At one winery they had a huge marquee and were showing the England vs South Africa rugby game - I was not to prove a popular addition to that particular marquee! It was such a fun, engaging and relaxed weekend and it provided the perfect setting to explore new wines, before buying your favourite by the bottle or glass before settling back to enjoy the entertainment. We were definitely coming back for more the next year.
Full marks to the marketing team behind the Wacky Wine weekend. By the time the following year swung round all the guest houses, B&B’s and hotels (of which there aren’t many) were fully booked well in advance. Word had got out, this was the place to be. We managed to get a few spots at the campsite and my goodness, it is still up there as one of the most epic weekends we have had. The air of celebration was palpable. Everyone was there from first time wine drinkers to well-known winemakers from other regions coming to relax and enjoy the wines and the entertainment. We moved from winery to winery making sure we started with the rugby winery, moving on to the braai winery, and with a few stops in between we saw in the early hours at the dancing wineries.
I am not claiming to remember my tasting notes for those final visits, however, it created such an association of enjoyment for anything from Robertson that everything from cheese to wine benefitted in the long term. What it really did was provide an incredible forum of unpretentious education for consumers who had little or no ‘geeky’ knowledge about wine. It was first and foremost fun and relaxed. Education was almost by accident with a focus on finding people their favourite wine by comparing and contrasting. There were no tasting notes, no monologues on oak usage, no talk of malolactic fermentation and yields per hectare. If someone asked for a dry white wine, they were offered 3 of 4 different wines to taste to decide for themselves which they preferred. Listening to them return to their friends and explain why they had bought the Colombard rather than the Chenin Blanc was such a pleasure to listen to – people were becoming genuinely enthused, eager to see the differences in the wines and to share their new knowledge with their friends.
Wine professionals could learn a lot about wine marketing from the Wacky Wine Weekend as it was soon attracting people who had never been wine drinkers, they were there for the festival, the wine introduction was an added benefit. With nothing else to drink they swiftly found a wine for their palate. To host an event that could appeal to winemakers and brandy drinkers alike is no mean feat.
So from what I can see, if you want encourage new consumers into the wine drinking world the golden rules are: don’t preach, let them decide what they like, have the rugby showing, provide lots of food and have everyone dancing like a loon by the end.
I’ve just checked the Wacky Wine Weekend website wondering if perhaps it was time to return for a final knees up once travel restrictions have been relaxed and am sad to see that after 16 years (sweet heavens how old does that make me?!) they have now stopped the festival. They are inviting the next crazy wine idea to give it a whirl! Wacky Wine Weekend. Gone but not forgotten.