The “Boozy Bloggers Picnic” at Warwick wine estate on Sunday was a disappointment in a number of respects, despite the bloggers (and other visitors) present having a good time on a perfect picnic Sunday.
WhaleTales has not written about wine estates much, except if they have restaurants on them. Warwick wine estate, on the R44 between Klapmuts and Stellenbosch, attracted attention because Chef Bruce Robertson, a previous Top 10 chef when he owned The Showroom, was contracted to put together the picnic at Warwick. When the invitation was received that bloggers were welcome to attend the picnic on Sunday, and that a generous special bloggers’ rate was offered, the booking was made immediately
Despite being a big fan of Chef Bruce, and enjoying meeting Warwick owner Mike Ratcliffe on the day, one left the picnic disappointed in that a golden opportunity had been lost by Warwick. Whilst the bloggers were on a special list, they were not told to sit in a defined section with other bloggers, so that they could get to know each other, and exchange information about this new medium. Not even Ratcliffe knew who the bloggers were and what they looked like. On a Big 5 wine safari drive during the afternoon, the Backsberg bloggers were on board, and at least one connection was made. Anel Grobler from @spitorswallow was also present, and came over to chat later in the afternoon. By this time Ratcliffe had left for his home already.
The vast picnic area is located around a dam, with lawns, and a section with tables under trees, as well as private “picnic pods”, resembling birdwatching ‘houses’, so one has a good choice. Unfortunately one is not told where one can or should sit. Also unfortunate is that one cannot see vines from the picnic area at all, so it feels less like a wine farm when one is there. When one goes on the drive there is no mistaking that Warwick is a wine farm.
The picnic is a little higgeldy-piggeldy, much like the character of the wine estate. The building houses the wine tasting section when one enters, and here the dissonance begins. On the right is a beautiful modern wine cooling “cabinet”, with glass and modern white shelving. In the middle of the room, along the wall, is a ‘mature’ wooden shelf with wine related gadgets for sale. Behind the ordinary wooden counter the wines are sold. It is a long room, not well filled, with wasted space at the back end of it. One walks through to the picnic section, and there is another ordinary looking counter, with a table behind it, filled with the picnics. It is a vast room, with a single table with things to sell, lost in the open space. A decor hand is clearly missing in this venue, all is functional but not particularly attractive.
Given this decor, a ‘gourmet’ picnic concept for this wine estate is ill-matched. One gets the feeling that the staff are very friendly, but things are not well organised. Time is a commodity the staff have, but maybe not their guests. The staff are still putting things together for the picnics when one arrives, even though they have taken bookings for them in advance. One pays and receives a most unusual “picnic basket”, nothing like one has ever seen before. A bottle of water is sold as is a cold drink, but no glasses are provided. No attempt is made to sell one a bottle of wine with the picnic – is that not what the picnic is all about? The wine sales department is in the first room, so the two departments do not marry their services and sales. The sweet picnic lady tells us that it is the first day that the guests have to collect their picnics – previously they were brought to the tables. Perhaps the former method would have caused less of a queue at the collection point.
We sit at a table under the trees, in what is meant to be the bloggers’ section, but see no one familiar, not that a list of names has been provided. We unpack our picnic: it has been cleverly put together in a stacked fashion, with two boards, one plastic and one wooden, a baguette wrapped in a massive “Warwick News”, a box of treats, a table cloth, and plates and cutlery, with a silver handle that clips underneath the boards, making one able to carry everything. The tablecloths are brightly coloured (ours a grass green polka dot). The cutlery is ‘green”, being biodegradable, made from “a starched (sic) based bioplastic”.
The box of treats contains the food in little plastic and cardboard boxes, and it is a treat to open them to see what is inside: a delicious “Bruce’s ‘lekker’ biltong and brandy pate”, hummus with peppadew coulis, a small camembert, charcuterie (2 tiny slices of smoked something), poached chicken breast with truffle mayo (chicken tastes bland, but interestingly cut in tiny round slices), “frikkadelle” with tomato bredie (not out of the ordinary), “tabouli” – a green salad with couscous sprinkles (difficult to eat), baby potato salad with yummy mayo), “maketaan” – a yummy watermelon and ginger preserve, a box of Maynards wine gums, and a ‘death by chocolate’ brownie (not very special). The most gourmet out of all this is the biltong pate. The food is more wacky than gourmet, and is enough. We hear bloggers mutter about the price of R 150 per head. The pink paper menu is not of a “gourmet” standard.
We buy a bottle of wine (we would have loved a Rose with the picnic, but Warwick only does a Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc on the light side), but receive no ice bucket on a 30+ C day. No staff come to the tables at all, to sell us more to drink. When we do see some, and call them over, they look at us in surprise that we could ask them for another bottle of water and for an ice bucket. But it is brought to the table. Do not expect any proactive service from the staff.
Verdict – Warwick is sooo laid back, that it does itself a disservice in not focusing on its wine sales. We left the wine estate knowing little more about Warwicks’ wines (except that there are 5 varieties planted on the farm, hence the Big 5 Landrover drives they do). The newspaper wrapped around the baguette was placed under the boards for later reading, and was cleared by the staff before one could think of reading it – it is massive, and one is more interested in the contents of the boxes than in the newspaper at that stage.
Great concept, but on the wrong wine estate, in that its design does not reflect “designer” nor “gourmet”, normally associated with Chef Bruce Robertson. Very child-friendly, and the kids get their own picnic box. Mike Ratcliffe is a very nice owner, and he came to check on us regularly, and very friendly staff. Very clean and modern bathroom, which is commendable. A lost opportunity by Warwick, in getting bloggers together and connected, the prime reason for them coming. A lost marketing opportunity in that the paper menu does not have contact details nor the web address if one wanted to book again or tell others about it.
Warwick wine estate, R44, Stellenbosch, tel 021 884-3144. www.warwickwine.com Twitter @mikeratcliffe
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com