By Lafras Huguenet
It is bitingly cold mid-morning and we were sitting in The Coop, our local tavern in Vermaaklikheid on the banks of the Duiwenhoks River in the Southern Cape. Colonel Zaccharias Snodgrass, his bulbous nose red from the ‘flu and his morning gin, sniffed, leaned back and sneezed. Tielman Kempen was blowing onto his palms and Stienie Greyling cut another piece of biltong with his Joseph Rogers.
As usual, Dolf let his statement hang in the air like the kind of lazy summer fly that would have been hanging around here had it been February instead of July and we were not freezing our wrinkly scrota off. “And what would they be,” Stienie said, always keen to trap the fly and indulge Dolf.
“Oh, the two things colder than our Vermaaklikheid winter?” Stienie chewed and nodded. “Colder still,” said Dolf leaning next to the coffee urn, “is the stare of a Cape buffalo.” The Colonel blew his nose. “I’ve hunted buffalo,” he said “in Kenya Colony.”
“Well then you’d have seen how the look at you,” Dolf Continued. “When a buffalo looks at you, he stares at you as if you have been owing him a lot of money for a very long time.”
We nodded, picturing this, yet wondering how Dolf had ever made it close enough to see this look in the eye of Cape buffalo on the open veld. During last month’s partridge hunt, Dolf had dropped his .22 rifle and ran away after being startled by a rock-rabbit chasing a piece of cheese that had fallen from Dolf’s lunch-box.
“What’s the second coldest,” asked Stienie with a sigh.
Dolf smirked and brought a slender bottle of golden liquid from beneath the table. “The second coldest, is the feeling you get when you read wine farmers want to grub their Muscadel vines.”
Tielman raised his hand. “Never believe what you read in the press,” he said. “Yesterday Die Burger wrote Charlize Theron does not like koeksisters. We shook our heads solemnly. The Colonel ogled the bottle with watery eyes which could have been hiding tears of joy at the prospect of a snort. “Muscadel, hey? Made from the glorious Muscat de Frontignan grape.”
“Not just any Muscadel,” said Dolf. “Made at Rietvallei Estate outside Robertson. And what’s more, from a vineyard planted in 1908.”
Stienie pointed at the Colonel. “Ah, and young Snodgrass was probably around to oversee the planting.”
But as Dolf opened the bottle a silence fell. Just the howling of the northerly wind, the rattling of The Coop’s loose window-hinge and the slight reverberations of Tielman’s pacemaker. Recently installed. The liquid splashed into the glasses with sunny charm. An intoxicating aroma filled the room, an aroma with the kind of effect only a good wine and a well-perfumed bridge player from Huis Siel-en-Rus has.
We gladly accepted the glasses Dolf passed around. We sniffed first. “Tobacco and spice, with layers of honeyed ham,” said Stienie. The Colonel took command. “I detect a brisk hit of wounded French soldier – they always went into battle well-scented – and there is a good whiff of burnt treacle, such as we had at Eton.”
As the wine, thick and rich and sweet, went into our mouths we looked at each other. The Rietvallei Muscadel was making the world a better and a warmer place. Sun shone through the delicious spice and syrupy and fruitiness. The healthy alcohol-level hit our bloodstream, raced to our hearts and sent energy and verve and life through our veins.
I swear I could hear Tielman’s pacemaker playing the hit-song “Summertime”. Dolf raised his glass. “To Muscadel and a warm cockle in the heart,” he said. “To the year of grace, 1908, when these vines were planted on Rietvallei,” the Colonel ventured. I sat back and looked across at the men, heard the wind howl and the cold rain begin to blast against the tin roof, here in the rugged Cape country, and took another sip of the life-affirming wine. It is the kind of wine that makes every year seem like a good one, and the ones to come warmer still.