A recent outdoor dinner at Double Oaks Bed and Breakfast in Greensboro gave about 50 people an opportunity to taste the food and wine of South Africa.
The event was the brainchild of Andrew Woolgar, a partner in Elephants Corner Wines, which imports and distributes select South African wines in North Carolina.
The South African braai (pronounced BRY) is what we would call a cookout. Woolgar and Double Oaks chef Jared Hugg pulled out all the stops in what amounted to about a 12-course buffet served Saturday on Double Oaks’ secluded backyard patio on Mendenhall Street.
Woolgar, who regularly does wine tastings in the Triad, said he brought up the idea to Double Oaks owners James and Amanda Keith, who had featured Elephants Corner wines at their Wine Wednesdays tastings.
“I had done wine events at Double Oaks over the last three or four years. I suggested it to James back in February: ‘Let’s do a braai.’ I gave them some recipes, and I thought they did a great job.”
“I was really excited to do this,” said chef Jared Hugg, “because this was a lot of food I had never cooked before.”
And it was a lot of food.
It started out with passed appetizers of:
Biltong, air-dried beef with herbs and spices, a travel-ready food eaten by African bush hunters
Frikkadels, fried meatballs, passed down by Dutch settlers.
Main dishes included:
Piri piri chicken, whose name means “pepper pepper” in Swahili and whose seasoning carries a bit of heat
Bunny chow, a curry (usually lamb, but chicken in this case), served with roosterkoek, or grilled rolls
Grilled boerewors, sausages that chef Hugg made from scratch
Beef and vegetable sosaties — grilled skewers
Gatsby hot dog, a Cape Town specialty of sausage and French fries on a sub roll.
The sides included:
Jollof rice, a North African dish with tomatoes cooked in the rice
Alloco, fried plantains
Braaibroodjies, grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato and onion
Pap, a kind of porridge made with milled corn, similar to grits
Chakalaka, stewed vegetables and beans used as a relish or condiment for pap, stews and curries.
The dinner wrapped up with malva pudding, a chocolate sponge cake served with custard sauce and apricots.
And then there were the wines. Woolgar led a tasting that included a half-dozen wines from Elephants Corner’s portfolio.
Woolgar, 52, is a native of England who formed Elephants Corner last year with Clint Saint, a native of South Africa who runs Live Life African Safari Getaways, a specialized travel agency based in Winston-Salem.
Woolgar is a veteran of motor racing who worked with Formula One, NASCAR and other teams over a 25-year career. “Over the years I was very much interested in wine, but as a hobby. When I traveled to races in France, there were vineyards everywhere, and I started collecting wines.”
A few years ago, Woolgar started to transition into the wine business, working as a rep for Rickety Bridge Winery, whose owner, Duncan Spence, has a home in the Triad.
Saint and Woolgar started Elephants Corner last June and since then have built up a portfolio of about 30 South African wines.
In particular, Woolgar works with Wynand Grobler, Rickety Bridge’s former winemaker who now sources grapes from different areas of South Africa to make wine for De Kleine Wijn Koop.
Four De Keine wines were poured at the braai: Klipkers Rose, made from shiraz, mourvedre and grenache; Klipkers Red, a blend of shiraz and grenache; Hoendertande Grenache, served chilled; and Heimwee Cabernet Sauvignon.
Other wines poured at the braai included the Little Rock Blanc from Mont Rochelle Winery, a blend of 50% sauvignon blanc with lesser amounts of viogner, roussanne and semillon.
From Camberly Wines were the Prohibition red and white blends — the latter one of my favorites of the evening.
Woolgar said he likes working with small, boutique wineries. “Clint is the business partner, and he lets me build the portfolio and work with the vineyards I want to work with.”
Woolgar said that the South African wine industry has had a tough time during the pandemic, because the government there shut them down several times. That produced some delays in imports to the United States in the past year, he said.
Many U.S. wine drinkers are still unfamiliar with South Africa, so Woolgar spends a lot of time leading tastings and trying to educate people.
South Africa actually has a long history with wine. Back in the 1600s, French Huguenots brought grape vines to South Africa when they settled there. As a result, many vineyards even today tend to favor French varietals, including sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc, chardonnay, grenache and cabernet sauvignon.
South Africa’s signature red variety is pinotage, a cross between French pinot noir and cinsault.
Woolgar said that South Africa makes more chenin blanc than any other country. He also said that its most-planted white is sauvignon blanc and its most-planted red is cabernet sauvignon.
He said that maybe half of the wines tend to be blends, like most of the wines he poured at the recent braai.
In Winston-Salem, Elephants Corner wines are sold at such stores as Wine Merchants, Camino Bakery and Buie’s Market. In Greensboro, they are sold in such stores as the Loaded Grape, Jerusalem Market downtown, Bestway Grocery, Gate City Butcher Shop and Bodega Market.
The wines also are available in some restaurants, including the Prescott in Kernersville; Quanto Basta and Spring House in Winston-Salem; and Blue Denim, 1618, Lao and Café Europa in Greensboro.
Woolgar said he has tastings coming up soon in Greensboro: at Village Beverage on June 1, Double Oaks on June 13 and Loaded Grape on June 16.
“We’re becoming an outlet for these boutique wines that no one else is importing — so it’s been good timing for us. I just want more people to discover South African wines. And the secret for us is keeping the prices reasonable.”