Discovering that in the Cape Winelands, the Beat is On
Well-known Cape Town entertainment writer Bianca Coleman took a trip to Backsberg Estate Cellars in Paarl to check out the vibes at this popular wine farm’s Picnic Concert Series. And finds wine tourism to be rocking.
OVER the past few years, wine tourism has become a significant sector of the market for visitors to Cape Town as well as locals.
Although there are many farms and estates with centuries of history, enjoying the wide variety of fabulous wines grown and made in the Western Cape region is relatively new. Twenty, maybe even 10 years ago, offering simple wine tastings was enough but with the growth of the industry, competition has grown exponentially and much thought has gone into expanding attractions.
Tastings have evolved into pairings – wine with chocolate, biltong, pizza and just about any other food you can think of – and more and more farms provide activities to entice guests to come spend a day with them.
Live music concerts are a popular feature, and on any given weekend you can take your pick from a diverse selection of genres. Nothing goes better with some chilled tunes than a picnic, and these two elements are combined at Backsberg Estate Cellars in Paarl, with its annual Picnic Concert series, presented by Good Housekeeping, which take place on Sundays until March 19.
The first series took place in 2010, when Simon Back, CEO of this 100-year-old family-owned farm, saw a gap in the market. “Having gone to UCT and experienced the Kirstenbosch picnic concerts, I felt, at the time, that there was nothing similar in the winelands. I wanted to create a smaller more intimate version on the farm,” he says.
“Essentially we are a short 40-minute drive from Cape Town, in between Stellenbosch and Paarl. Set in beautiful surrounds the concert is an awesome way to cap off a weekend. It’s an intimate atmosphere, where you can chill on the grass with friends and family, enjoy great wine and food, and listen to leading South African musicians.”
We went along to see for ourselves, and everything Back says is true. It’s a mid to late afternoon vibe, so when we got there we first went to the wine tasting centre where we found some fabulous wines at excellent prices. Personally, I cannot visit a wine farm without buying at least a case, mixed or otherwise, for my home collection. Friends have hinted at an intervention, but I’m not listening to them.
With our purchases safely stashed in the car, we strolled over to the concert area. Those who had arrived at 3pm when the gate opened had already spread out their blankets and camping chairs in the dappled shade on the lawn. Some had brought their own picnics, while others availed themselves of the picnic boxes available at the farm. These have to be ordered in advance, but even if you decide to do this on the spur of the moment, there are other yummy things to eat, like juicy burgers and chicken mayo tramezzini. Knowing what children are like, they’re probably going to be quite happy with some French fries and a chocolate brownie.
Speaking of children, there is another large grassy area adjacent to the concert space, where there is a jumping castle and plenty of space for them to run around chasing balls and each other, and generally suitably tiring themselves out. This setup also means they pretty much stay away from the adults (while still in plain sight) and don’t bother the grumpy ones like me, who don’t particularly like such youthful enthusiasm (except from a distance).
You’re not allowed to take your own alcohol, which is quite fair; a well-stocked bar is set up full of the estate wines – and a jolly nice MCC brut – at the same excellent cellar door prices.
We popped open a bottle of the bubbles, and sipped it along with the goodies in the snack box which included a rustic loaf of sourdough bread, cold meats, pickles, olives, brie from the neighbouring Dalewood farm, fruit, and chocolate muffins.
We’d specially chosen that particular day because the Blues Broers – one of South Africa’s longest-standing and most popular blues bands – were playing, and it was an excellent choice as they took us through till sunset with their original songs.
Tasked with selecting the lineup for these concerts is Maggie Frost-Nagel, wife of Blues Broers front man Rob Nagel – he of the magnificent and extravagant beard and player of the blues harp (harmonica) – and a true rock star in her own right; to drop a name, she is the mother of guitarist extraordinaire Albert Frost.
The bands and artists this season included the Nomadic Orchestra with their large horns section and instrumental tunes, the aforementioned Blues Broers, the Valiant Swart Band and Akkedis representing Afrikaans singer/songwriters, and Taxi Violence to attract a more rock n roll audience and present their new acoustic tunes.
“I wanted an eclectic mix in the bands to attract people with different musical interests to attend,” says Frost-Nagel. “And also to present those who want to attend all the concerts with an interesting diversity in terms of instrumentation and genre.”
These days, competition is particularly fierce in the music industry in terms of venues as well as bands vying for the same audiences, says Frost-Nagel. “These boutique afternoon concerts in the winelands have opened the music scene as family friendly events that mostly also provide some form of entertainment for the children as well.
“Interestingly enough, groups of people have been getting together to celebrate birthdays with other music enthusiasts. The cellars are afforded the opportunity to introduce their wines and offer fine fare to those who do not want to pack a picnic basket,” she says.
“And all that with a scenic drive into the magnificent winelands surrounded by the majestic mountains to give you a break after a hard week in the city.
The last concert for 2017 is this Sunday 19 March, featuring Taxi Violence.
Tickets for the concert series are available through Webtickets for R120, or R150 at the gate. If you buy beforehand from the farm, or after having lunch at the restaurant on the day, the cost is R100. To book a picnic box, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The gate opens at 3pm, and the music begins at 4pm.
For more information call 021 875 5141, or go to www.backsberg.co.za. Backsberg Estate Cellars is on the Klapmuts Simondium Road in Paarl, between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.