Home > Entertainment, Food, Travel, Wine > Libertè, egalitè, fraternitè! The Franschhoek Bastille Festival

Libertè, egalitè, fraternitè! The Franschhoek Bastille Festival

the revellers celebrate freedom in true French style by raising a glass

Eppie and I were well and truly muffled up when we left Somerset West for Franschhoek on Saturday. With the hint of winter’s steel in the sunbathed air justifying the layers, we were looking most forward to a day in Franschhoek, celebrating everything that is French, but particularly the sentiment of freedom that has become synonymous with what happened at Le Bastille on that fateful day in 1789 when the rabble of Paris stormed the hated symbol of the French monarchy, and started the French Revolution.

As we approached the “French Corner”, winter’s cold white footprints were clearly evident on the surrounding mountains, further affirmation of the Michelin-man mode of dress we had adopted.

The traffic backed up some six kilometres out of the town, which made me realise that arriving an hour after the show opens is not necessarily the way to avoid the rush! (Note to self: arrive at least an hour before opening time next year!)

Parking was of course at a premium, but by looking carefully between the plethora of red and blue berets, we were able to spot a parking area close to the main marquee with space available. It was in fact the last spot, and from what I could see, the enterprising owner of a house adjacent to the church, had laid out parking bays in an open grassed lot on the main road, and for R30 offered reasonably secure parking plus clean toilets!

Berets, berets everywhere...

Come to think of it, somebody must have also made a truckload of money out of selling the ubiquitous French headgear which was so abundantly in evidence. It’s not really the sort of item that you buy in preparation beforehand, now is it? And am I being obtuse, or is there a reason why I saw no white berets, only red and blue? After all, le tricolour et rouge, blanc et bleu n’est pas?

The streets were thronged with festival goers, and despite the fact that the main marquee only opened its flaps at midday the rest of the village had obviously been at it since early on.

The lawns outside the church, behind which was located the main marquee, were liberally bedecked with jumping castles, and many by now wilting parents were sitting gratefully on the grass while their offspring gave the jumping castle minders nightmares as they cannoned off each other, and sometimes fell right out of the secure play enclosure onto the hard ground. But kids being as resilient as they are, it was usually a case of “dust off and back into the fray.”

Joshua Berry catches forty winks while mum Laura enjoys the ambience

The Pierre Jourdan SPCA Boules Tournament was already well underway as we crossed to the marquee entrance, and if there was any tension amongst the competitors, it was clearly not evident. Takwan von Armin later opined to me that whilst it was enjoyable, it was far cry from a game of boules in an oak tree shaded village square somewhere in Provence.

Having navigated a queue of festival goers at least 150 people long, who had foolishly not bought their festival tickets online, we managed to get into the main marquee where the party was well and truly under way.

The din was indescribable and the hothouse atmosphere (from either close-order body heat or the sun striking through the opaque side walls of the marquee, or perhaps both!) encouraged us to quickly strip down to one layer only.

Jo van Staden's delicious profiterolls: much needed sustenance

We quickly figured out that the human traffic was moving more or less in a clockwise direction, so we fell in line (walking against the flow was perilous, to say the least), and in short order had cycled past the likes of Rickety Bridge and ended up at the Dieu Donne stand where Jo van Staden was whipping up delightful eats. We settled on a trio of profiterolls filled with lamb curry, chicken and mushroom, and hunter’s casserole supported by a glass of the estate’s wooded chardonnay. Just the blotting paper we needed for the rest of the trip round the tent.

The marquee went by in a blur of wine estates and food offerings – Haute Cabriere, La Petite Ferme (Mark Dendy Young had his 2010 rose on offer; 95% Merlot and 5% Sauvignon Blanc, all zippy acidity aided and abetted says Mark by the 5% Sauvignon Blanc, on brisk bright red berry fruit and dry undertones), Porcupine Ridge and Le Qaurtier Francais (with the inimitable Margot Janse personally in attendance) to name but a few.

Cathy Marston wafted past at one point, and kindly pointed us at the Rickety Bridge table where a bottle of 2008  Shiraz, which cracked a second in the WINE Magazine Global Trader Shiraz Challenge (well done Wynand, jou doring!) on Thursday, had just been opened.  Since I was still very aware of the large official looking vehicle parked on the side of the road in the vicinity of La Motte on the way in, emblazoned with “Mobile Roadblock Unit” and “Electronic Alcohol Monitoring Unit” and had agreed with Eppie to be the “Designated Dave”, I’d already largely stopped drinking so it was up to her to sample it. “Absolutely lovely”, she said with a glint in her, draining the last drop from her upended glass. No sip and spit for this girl!

Outside was almost as crowded as inside...

A brief detour outside where all the tobacco addicts were indulging in some bronchial refreshment, and back into the fray for the final leg, which concluded with a stop at the Glenwood table where DP Burger’s Vignerons Selection Wooded Chardonnay was as complex and enticing as ever.

It seemed that the music, which had been a constant accompaniment above the general uproar, had by now doubled in volume, clearly in order to be heard over the rising hubbub of joyous festival goers as they wafted in groups from table to table, coalescing, shedding members, picking up new ones, with everybody having a generally good time.

As closing time approached, we took our leave of the festival for yet another year, and beat a rather weary retreat to the car, for a lovely scenic drive over the Franschhoek Pass, and back home to Somerset West via the N2.

And just as we were leaving, things were REALLY hotting up...

Parting shot: a tricolor paraglider soaring above the Franschhoek Pass on the way home

The ticket price for the main marquee of R100 is a shade steep. You get a halfway decent tasting glass, and only five tasting vouchers. If the glass cost R20 it’s a lot, leaving each sup of wine costing R16. Most of the tastings were fairly generous, but they were clearly not R16 worth. A number of estates didn’t bother to ask for a tasting ticket, whilst others insisted, making it confusing and sometimes embarrassing for festival goers. It is clear that the whole tasting voucher system needs to be reviewed, and preferably before the next Bastille Festival.

Water was hard to come by in the marquee tent. Granted, there was a water kiosk at the entrance, but by the time I needed a bottle it was sold out and closed. (Note to self: take your own water next time!).

Other than that, it was a great day out, and well worth the drive from Somerset West. Vive la France!

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  1. Cathy
    July 22, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Hi Norman,

    It was good to see you too! I totally agree about the tasting vouchers – and it wasn’t helped by the fact that the original press release said there would be 10 of them either! I still think there were about 300 too many people in that tent and if I go next year, I’m going to be off on my own tour of the estates rather than the tent. Hopefully I will also be able to drink as well – how does it happen that the 2 wine journos are the ones who end up driving whilst spouses get sozzled??? Something not right there at all!!! x

    • July 22, 2010 at 3:01 pm

      I agree with you. Far too crowded, hot and stuffy. One of the estate owners admitted to me that he really only does this each year to show solidarity with the community. He said it costs them and they seldom see direct benefit. Makes you think, doesn’t it? And on the driving issue: I’m going to the launch of Eben Sadie’s “ouwingerdreeks” on august 9, and since we’re returning from a long weekend away, Eppie will be with me. Guess who’s driving home from Riebeek Kasteel? 🙂

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