The Feast of St. Vincent

Words: Malu Lambert

Try this Mosbolletjies recipe courtesy of Meerendal Wine Estate

February through March is the winelands’ time to shine. Wine estates roll out the red wine carpet and party-goers can expect everything from tractor rides around vineyards to stomping grapes and making their own wine.
Stellenbosch Wine Festival: 5-7 February
Taking place at the Coetzenburg Athletics Stadium in Stellenbosch, visitors can look forward to sampling wines from 77 wine farms as well as ten boutique wineries participating in the festival. Smartshopper cardholders can enter free of charge. Daily festival tickets cost R180 for adults and include a tasting glass. Tickets are now available online from
Robertson Wine Valley Hands-on Harvest: 6 February-27 March
The giant of all harvest celebrations this festival spans two months. Get ready for: grape picking, barrel tastings, grape stomping, harvest inspired menus, must tasting, live distilling and much more. Go to
Grande Provence Harvest Festival: 20 February
The day kicks off at 9am with coffee and freshly baked, farm-style muffins before visitors embark on a tractor ride, followed by grape picking, stomping, wine tasting and a cellar tour. Tickets are R650 for adults and R350 for children under 12. Booking is essential, so be sure to contact Barbara on 021-876-8600 or e-mail
Darling Cellars Crush Day: 27 February
Head to the West Coast for tractor rides to the vineyard, picking your own grapes, stomping contests, food markets and live music. Go to
Feast of the Grape: 27-28 February
Join Durbanville Wine Valley's weekend of harvest fun, hosted by 12 of the region’s wine farms at D’Aria Winery. Tickets costs R120 and include entrance to the festival, a wine glass and tasting coupons.
Eikendal Weintaufe Harvest Celebration: 6 March
Sample wines straight from the barrel and enjoy market-style food prepared by Cucina di Giovanni. Activities include tractor rides, cheetah viewing, lucky draws, golfing action at the dam and grape stomping. Tickets will be available at the gates on the day and cost R50 per person, which include a free glass and tasting from the barrel. Under 18s get in for free.

The Feast of St. Vincent is celebrated across the world during harvest, and likewise in South Africa. There are at least 30 saints associated with wine growing, but St. Vincent supersedes them all. The patron saint of winegrowers and winemakers, Saint Vincent of Saragossa was born in Spain in the third century and—like most celebrated saints—was martyred.

There are many legends as to why he got the top honours for wine among his saintly peers. One is the pronunciation of his name. In French ‘Vincent’ is pronounced somewhat like ‘Varn-song’. As such, it can also be understood to mean ‘wine blood’. That’s one reason. Another popular tale involves St. Vincent’s donkey, which nonchalantly pruned (read: chewed) some vines. This apparently revealed that grapevines should be pruned to ensure the plant’s energy is directed towards the fruit rather than into growing long shoots.

In the Cape Winelands this year the 22nd annual Winemaker and Distillers’ Mass (held as close as possible to 22 January, the official date of the Feast of St. Vincent) takes place in late January at St Nicholas’ Catholic Church in Stellenbosch. After which participants, wine bottles in-hand, head for a big, wine-y lunch at La Pineta.

There are, of course, many other celebrations that take place during this time—and they’re definitely not of the saintly type. The question is, what will we be celebrating this year?
According to current predictions, the South African wine industry can expect a smaller wine grape harvest in 2016, as in many of the wine producing regions winter and spring were drier than usual. The lower rainfall caused a decline in groundwater levels, causing the majority of irrigation dams to miss their expected marks. Added to this, a heat wave in October further increased water usage in vineyards.
However, there is a plus side to a dry season. Drier conditions mean healthier vineyards, with low instances of common fungal diseases and pests.

Though, as wine expert David Hughes points out, predictions can be capricious. “There will likely be talk about record tonnage picked, and most wine made,” he says. “Others will say great wines are in the works.” He says further: “There was a time when 1974 was considered to have produced the best red wines ever made in the Cape, while ’73 was rubbished. Meanwhile, ten years later when the rubbished ’73s were almost drunk up, some turned out to be fabulous.”
In any event, just remember to raise a glass to St. Vincent—or to whomever or whatever you like, only so long as you raise a glass filled with good South African wine.

Local wine anorak, David Hughes, says the most important tradition of the vintage in days gone by was ‘Die Na Oes’ (after the harvest). “The great end-of-vintage party when everyone ate and drank too much,” he says. Another custom was winemakers (men) didn’t shave till the end of the harvest, so by the end of the vintage all sported reasonable beards. “In fact, Tassenberg used to run a competition for the best, longest, scrawniest, reddest beard, among all other manner of odd prizes,” says David.

Must or ‘mos’, as it’s locally known, is the freshly pressed juice from wine grapes. Slightly sparkling must sometimes contains small amounts of alcohol (just double check with the winery you buy it from). Many wine estates will sell this during harvest time—just look out for the signs—and it’s a must try (pun intended) for any wine lover. When else will you be able to sip on Chardonnay juice?

If you don’t feel like drinking it, bake with it. Mosbolletjies are similar to brioche in texture, though a little sweeter, and are made with the juice, using the inherent yeast as a rising agent.