Stellenbosch Wine Festival 2011 review

I’ll start with my conclusion. If next year’s Stellenbosch Wine Festival is anything like this year’s, I’m not going. It was not an enjoyable experience.

The festival is just way too crowded and while there was every description of people there, it was mostly young students everywhere you looked. It was almost impossible to get a taste of wine as you had to queue at each stand and then you couldn’t ask questions about the wine or learn anything as you needed to move out the way for the next person.

After eventually becoming frustrated, we decided to relax outside and enjoy a bottle of wine and soak up the sunshine. Finding a space to sit was impossible, so we found a space on the grass. I went off to try and buy a bottle of wine. You may wonder why I say try, it’s because it was definitely not easy. You can’t buy wine at the stands, only from the central ‘bottle store’ (to take home) or from the central bar (to drink there). However, the queue for the bar reminded me of trying to get a beer at a concert. It took about 20 minutes to get served, and they had run out of most of the wines. I managed to get one of he last bottles of cold white wine but it was not even 2pm yet so for the rest of the afternoon people could not buy cold white wine and they also ran out of ice even before I got to the bar.

What should have been a relaxing afternoon activity turned into a very stressful afternoon. I was quite happy when the time came for me to leave. I tried to use the toilets on my way out but there were so few of them the queues were miles long. In fact, guys were urinating against the wall behind the school building. I can’t imagine the school would be too excited about that.

I have this same complaint with many other festivals too. The tent at the recent Franschhoek Bastille Festival was too crowded as well. It’s a common problem and something needs to be done.

My suggestion is that there needs to be a different experience for the more discerning visitor. The festival could offer different experiences on Saturday and Sunday. The Saturday remains as it is now, a big jol and the Sunday is for those who are actually interested in the wines and in a relaxing experience. The tickets for Sunday would be more expensive and the wines on offer could also be of a higher calibre.

Alternatively, one of the three tents could be a ‘VIP’ tent with the high end wine labels and additional seating, etc. Tickets which include access to this section cost extra and there are a limited number.

I don’t know if these suggestions are feasible, but I would suggest something similar for a lot of other wine events. I must admit that the organisers did try to move the students away from the main tent by having a ‘party’ tent further away with music and more seating, but I don’t think it was enough.

I hear that there are changes planned for the Stellenbosch Wine Festival, so my suggestions may be irrelevant. All I know is, if it’s the same next year, I’m avoiding it.

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4 Responses

  1. Michelle says:

    Hi – we went on the Sunday with the promise of a family day, the website mentioned a play area for kids. Lovely stuff for parents.We got there at about 11am so was not crowded and fairly easy to taste etc. Think all the students were still sleeping!

    The dissapointment came when we went to the kids area – a badly fenced off area that had kids of all ages rnning around like mad things and a room with some tables and colouring things and glue and glitter. There was a jumping castle but it was overrun wiht 7 and 8 years olds.

    In summary – it was a few things thrown together and not at all well supervised – I stayed there for about 10 minutes with my 3 year old, I would not have trusted my kids wiht the few supervisors there were!If you say you going to do a kids area do it properly – like the kids area at Kirstenbosch Concerts – they are great! Charge extra if you have to – parents are quite willing to pay for well planned and supervised play areas. Happy kids, happy parents!

  2. Maggie says:

    Dax, we went on the Thursday evening for the “Connoisseurs” Evening (cost R160 pp) and it was great; snacks on platters everywhere, enough seating, wide open spaces & most of the wine makers were there in person. For only R40 extra, a whole different experience! Having lived in Stellenbosch for years, I wouldn’t advise anybody to go on either the Friday or the Saturday; Sunday’s a safe bet if you don’t mind the “parents-with-children-crowd”.

  3. Simon van der Stel says:

    Dear Mr. Dax

    I was there on the Sunday and walked among all the other Drunk Souls. The Saturday was crazy and the only downfall was, drunk student everywhere you look.
    The Friday and Sunday is more for the serious wine lover and the Saturday is for the Students…
    It is a great place to be at, because i don’t have time to travel to all the wine farms with horse and cart. Finding all the estates under one roof was a blessing…

    PS: Some wines are just plain *** but i will give the Festival a 8/10…

    Regards
    Simon van der Stel
    Founder of Stellenbosch

  4. Julia says:

    I completely agree with you. These festivals become so greedy for numbers and the atmosphere is lost through general chaos. There should be an established no of pax allowed in which is comfortable for all and then it should be sold out. As you say even make the tickets more expensive. This is such a common events mistake. Rather turn people away and have those that attended leave happy and content opposed to upset the majority and deliver a bad event.