Food, art, wine and whisky at the Mmm… McGregor Festival

Posted by Rachel Robinson on 10 September 2014

If food, wine, art and small quaint towns are things you love, then the Mmm.. McGregor Festival is the perfect place to spend a weekend.
McGregor Festival

What’s up at the Mmm… McGregor Festival

It’s six o’clock on a Friday evening and we are stuck in a traffic jam in McGregor. But not your usual Joburg rush hour kind of traffic; this was a rather festive kind of jam. The McGregor Unistars brass band were putting on quite a show on the famous “road to nowhere” and while the band trumpeted merrily on, children danced gleefully along the road and dogs ran alongside them. We had arrived just in time for the start of the Mmm… McGregor Festival and it was quite the welcoming party.

The McGregor Food and Wine Festival is now in its 13th year and this time the town decided to combine the usual fare with art. The result was a weekend packed with so many activities that it was difficult to decide which ones to attend! Of course one could just give up and quaff wine and pastries in the Marketplace, followed by a lazy afternoon napping on a stoep. This option was tempting, but we chose to get involved in as much as time would allow – there was no time for napping!

Whisky-tasting at The Post Office Whisky Bar

Friday night saw us at The Post Office Whisky Bar for “Quaff ‘n Quiz with broth.” The broth was delicious (and a bargain at R30), but we failed dismally at answering the questions. Did you know that the national fruit of India is the mango? I bet you did!

But we had a grand time meeting some of the locals and most importantly the owner, John Oldham, whose stories are almost as good as his whiskies. John opened his whisky bar and pub in the old post office building just over a year ago and on the shelves you’ll find close to 100 whiskies, some of which will set you back R200 a shot. I am no whisky connoisseur, but my personal favourite was the Monkey Shoulder. There’s a story behind that name, but you’ll have to ask John to tell you when you pop in! It’s heaven for whisky-lovers and John is only too happy to share his knowledge and passion.

Food art and paintings

First up on Saturday was “Creativity with Cuisine” at the Edna Fourie Gallery where Vicky Stott from Reuben’s at the Robertson Small Hotel demonstrated how to deconstruct pork belly (their most popular dish) and lay it out artistically on a plate with mashed potato and veggies. Afterwards three members of the audience were selected to create their own food art using one of Edna’s paintings as inspiration. While all this was happening Edna was deconstructing a painting that she wasn’t happy with. Apparently something to do with the pigeons looking like they were “falling out of the sky,” but it looked perfectly fine to me! You can follow her progress in reconstructing the painting on Facebook. Some of Edna’s pieces were displayed on the walls and if you like ethereal paintings, then pay her a visit.

Tasting the wines of the valley

I skipped the pork belly tasting and set off for the Marketplace, as my wine glass was looking a little dry. The Marketplace is held in the Dutch Reformed Church Hall (with a giant marquee outside as well) and for R75 you got a glass and could taste all the wines on offer. In the hall I sipped my way through rosé, red wine and bubbly, including offerings from McGregor Winery, Lord’s Wines and Tanagra Wine Farm (they also do grappa – the lemon-infused one is delicious). In between all the wineries represented, you could sample olive oils and chutneys and munch your way through very reasonably priced homemade pastries, quiches and even oysters!

Food stalls and siestas

Outside the hall were more food stalls (roosterkoek or bacon-wrapped prawns anyone?) and tastings, along with local crafts and flowers for sale. It was all wonderfully casual and unpretentious, with locals and Capetonians relaxing at the wooden tables, wine glass and Butler’s pizza in hand. There was a chap playing jazzy tunes on a piano and a dance floor for those who fancied a twirl (apparently the line dancing that evening was very entertaining) along with a comedy show with Irit Noble, chef challenges and street theatre in the line-up of Marketplace activities. As I said, you could just park off there and take it all in with a siesta in between!

However, we did no such thing. We cleared our wine-clouded brains by taking a stroll to Mill Stone Pottery where they were serving up delicious desserts on handcrafted plates. En route, we stopped in at various galleries and shops, sidestepped cyclists and waved out to fellow festival-goers (you could spot them by the wine glasses in their hands). The desserts on offer at Mill Stone Pottery were as creative as the jugs and bowls lining the shelves, but having had a huge platter overflowing with delicious pies and olives at Villagers for lunch, we skipped pudding and mooched about instead. For R30 we probably would’ve scoffed the lot if we had room in our tummies.

Movie night at Wahnfried

That evening it was off to what quickly became one of my favourite discoveries in McGregor – movies at Wahnfried. Upon arrival we were presented with a glass of wine and after a brief stroll through the pretty gardens, we settled down in the “movie house” for the screening of Babette’s Feast. It was like being at The Labia in Cape Town (complete with a glass of wine in hand) except this was in someone’s home in McGregor and there was a fireplace to boot. A film is shown at Wahnfried every Friday evening so if you are in town and enjoy nouveau-style cinema with a glass of wine, pop in. It’s free, but donations are gladly accepted.

Meeting donkeys and strolling through nature

Sunday’s excursion was “Spring Brunch in the Bush” at Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve just outside of McGregor. We stopped in at Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary en route to pick up our picnic packets (which were filled with yummy goodies including a salami and cheese roll, a quiche and a pasta salad). Of course we said hello to the donkeys while there, most of whom have a sad story to tell, but are now enjoying their twilight years in comfort.

After tickling donkeys behind the ears we took a stroll through Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve along the 3km Heron Trail which incorporates a Braille Trail, with information boards for the visually impaired. I thought this was a fantastic initiative, along with the wheelchair-friendly boardwalk at the end of the trail that leads to a bird hide overlooking a dam. Along the way we learnt from these boards about some of the medicinal uses for the plants in the reserve (renosterbos was used to treat bladder problems and kidney stones) and how the San Bushmen used the liquid from the Melkbos plant to make poison for their arrows. After dodging the thorns of the sweet thorn tree and skipping over puddles on the pathway, we stopped in at the first bird hide and tucked into our picnic lunch while looking for waterbirds on the dam. A short walk through Karoo succulents and brightly coloured vygies took us to the second hide where we saw a rather large tortoise. The reserve boasts 175 species of birds and you may spot a klipspringer or springbok too.

Just before returning to Cape Town we popped into Temenos, one of my favourite places to visit in McGregor (the gardens are wonderful), for “Art in the Garden”. It wasn’t a huge display of art, but there are certainly some talented artists in the town. The best part was that the artists would suddenly decide that they had had enough of displaying their work and would pack up and go home, because “it’s a bit quiet and I have other things I would rather be doing.”

This is the probably the best thing I took home from McGregor and the festival. Life is too short to be doing things you don’t really want to be doing and you should spend more time doing what makes you happy. I know that wine, food, art and small quaint towns are definitely things that make me happy, so I will be back for the McGregor Festival at the end of August in 2015. In the meantime I have McGregor Open Gardens (18 October 2014) and their Poetry Festival (24-26 October 2014) to look forward to.

Dog-friendly McGregor Festival

Being a dog owner the first thing I noticed about the Mmm… McGregor Festival was that dogs were allowed practically everywhere (except in the nature reserve, naturally). There were sausage dogs, Jack Russels and Airedale terriers, dogs on leashes, dogs in cars, dogs at the market and dogs in art galleries. Turns out that McGregor is an incredibly dog-friendly town with plenty of pet-friendly accommodation too. So next year, take your pooch with you to the McGregor Festival. He’ll also make lots of new friends!


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