Raining? In February? We had to risk it – the fig season is over by the end of the month. So a bunch of Slow Foodies trekked out to Hoogwater farm in Wolseley. Hoogwater has an old, rather wild fig orchard, as well as peach and pomegranate orchards, a handful of cows and a donkey called Bubbles. On this small farm Charles Ochse indulges his real passion in a converted garage – wine making. We were directed straight to the little cellar, where we could keep out of the rain and warm ourselves with his Ladera wines.
Charles has made wine everywhere from DGB to Parras de la Fuente in Mexico, the oldest winery in the Americas. It was one tipsy night in Spain that a friend suggested Ladera for his own dream wine range. Ladera means hillside in Catalan – for Charles it had a special resonance; his grandfather’s first farm was called Die Heuwel (the hill). The wine tasting started with his Blanc de Noir, made with pinotage grapes (we also had a chance to taste the mos, or just-fermented juice, of this wine) followed by what he describes as his ‘most stressful wine’, the Wild Child Chardonnay. Charles intervenes as little as possible with his wine, adding just a dash of sulphur. Once the chardonnay goes into the barrel, he has no control over it or how it turns out – hence, the Wild Child. The final wine we tried was his shiraz. Charles became so enthused that we ended up doing a vertical tasting, starting with the 2009 (with grapes sourced from four bush-vine vineyards in Malmesbury and trellised-vine in Paarl) to 2010 (where the vineyards were whittled down to two) to 2011 (made purely from the block Charles considers the best of the four). We were definitely warm by then!
With our appetites whetted, and the rain still coming down, we went straight to lunch. Madri, Charles’ wife, had prepared a gorgeous farmstyle feast. Fresh figs and grapes, nestled with roasted plums and cinnamon-crusted pears, fresh breads with a variety of cheeses and cold meats, groenvye konfyt, a zesty broccoli and pecan-nut salad, Italian potato salad, homemade chicken liver pate, caramalised onion spread… all washed down with lemonade and Ladera wines.
If you’d like to organise your own day-trip out to Wolseley, Madri can make up a picnic basket for you to take out into the orchards. Call Charles on 072 536 0055 or Madri on 083 726 2803 to order your basket and book your fig picking. Co-ordinates are 33″28’20.66S & 19″11’27.45E. But you’ll have to wait until next season!
Finally, the skies cleared, the sun started sparkling off the trees and we got out into the orchards.
As soon as you step into the orchard you smell the sweet dustiness of the sun-warmed figs. The fig trees are endearingly characterful, gnarled with large, blowsy leaves.
The figs were abundant – “There are so many even the birds have hardly made a dent!” one Slow Fooder was heard exclaiming – and we quickly filled our punnets with juicy ripe figs and hard green ones for preserving. At R5 a punnet (about 700g) some people got very excited, taking up to six punnets – they must have had plans for them! At least two of us made this salad: http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/salad-recipes/the-easiest-sexiest-salad-in-the-world.
Selecting the best figs (about the size of a child’s fist, slightly yellow with a bursting pink ‘star’ at the base) kept us happily busy for about half an hour. The kids loved it too!
Then it was back to the farmhouse for koffie, koeksusters and a bit of a kuier, before weaving our way back home through some of the Western Cape’s most breathtaking scenery. What a day!