Monday, September 28, 2020

Artichoke Festival at Ayama, Voor Paardeberg

 The view from Ayama wine estate across the Voor Paardeberg valley
We had been invited to visit and enjoy their annual Artichoke Festival

The old barn has now been converted into a large tasting room and function venue. 
In front of the tasting room is a huge field of artichokes, in season now, hence the timing of the  Artichoke festival. The owners, Ottilio and Michela Dalpiaz, are Italian from the North of Italy and they have planted all the things they love on the farm, from these artichokes, to olives, almonds - yes, they say they do want to make Amaretto in future - and some Italian grape varietals.  Both are trained wine makers. When they came to South Africa in 2004, they fell in love with the Cape and bought a wine farm called Slent which grew very good Chenin Blanc

We bought a 2 kilo bag of artichokes for R140 from their shop and have been enjoying them all week
We are sure that they still have a good supply, should you want to go and get some
As you can see in the photo, there are lots still on the plants
Wille and Tania de Waal of nearby Scali wine estate were at the festival
We have known these two for many years. We met when we were studying wine in the 1990s
The tables had been very carefully arranged with good social distancing and the staff were very vigilant for any misdemeanors. Lynne had her mask half off as she was enjoying a glass of the excellent Ayama 2017 Vermintino, planted in 2014. We and other media members were invited to a planting party and we each planted 5 vines in the vineyard. It was really good to taste the wine
We helped to plant the vineyard, the first Vermentino vineyard in South Africa in 2014
A nice credit
John planting his 5 vines, we each planted 5
It looks very different now with mature vines
Registration and wine buying on this table at the entrance
Another view of the venue
Outside, children were having fun with one of the farm's dogs, who was jumping over the low fence with them
Michela Dalpiaz
Red examples of their range of wines. Have a look on their website for details and prices: 
They are open Monday to Friday 10am – 4pm,
weekends by appointment
Like the mask! And the branded staff uniform is very smart
We were thrilled to have a chance to enjoy the first vintage, 2017, of Ayama Vermentino. It has almost a nose which reminded us of Riesling with its hint of terpene, richness, peaches and yellow oak. On the palate, full and crisp with layers of lovely ripe yellow stone fruit, good structure, with some grip from expected tannin, long flavours. It was absolutely perfect with the artichokes and, we suspect, will also match with lots of different foods. Ottilio told us that they entered it into a blind tasting competition in Sicily, where the judges described it as a perfect example of Italian Vermentino, not knowing it was from South Africa. And it won!
They also gave us a bottle of the 2017 Carignan which is as wild as hell, almost running away from the bottle, as Carignan can be. Violets, dark cherry and green leaves on the nose. On the palate, mulberry, cherry and plum flavours with tight tannins, good acidity, some leathery dark wood on the end. Great with food
Happy, smiling Ottilio Dalpiaz
We all had to fill in Covid declaration forms as we entered and these were then put into a lucky draw
for prizes of wine, their great olive oil and some of their Limoncello 
The first lucky dip prize of Limoncello went to Tania de Waal of Scali wine estate
All ages were there. This lady was celebrating her 97th birthday
This one has a long way to go
Tania and Willie were celebrating their 28th Anniversary
Time for lunch and the first course was a good focaccia topped with a delicate artichoke mousse, flavoured with lemon
We added some of the Ayama olive oil on the table and it was so good that Lynne bought a litre tin of the unfiltered for our home use. Very reasonable at R120
Michela telling us about the menu and the food
Woodstock Italian Seafood restaurant Pesce Azzurro prepared the food. The chef described it to us
The menu came with a recipe
About the festival
The wines with their prices
The team from Pesce Assurro talking about the food
Picking the winner...
of the second lucky dip prize, a magnum of Ayama Vermentino
The second course was a small Torta Pasqualina (Easter in Italian) made with artichokes
It is a traditional Easter dish in Italy and often contains eggs
Crisp pastry filled with artichokes, ricotta cheese, eggs and thyme. Good flavours but a little under seasoned 
Love the clever graphics on the Olive Oil tin label
Course number 3 was Lasagne alla Vignarola, another classic Italian dish of braised spring vegetables
Here layered between the finest pasta sheets were artichokes, peas and new season broad beans in a good lemon Béchamel sauce
Lovely flavours and textures and it sang with the Vermentino 
The 4th course: Lamb, Feta and Mint meatballs with sautéed artichokes
A little dry; it could have benefited from a sauce but had very good flavours
The Carignan shone with the lamb
Every wine farmer should have a Lamborghini. This one was originally owned by Michela's father
There was some music in and people got up and danced; this couple was outstanding 
We made a video of the Jerusalema Challenge performance by the farm's workers
Click on the picture to see it on YouTube
And some of the guests joined in 
Everyone was having a lot of fun.
These two fellows dancing together
And everyone could join in
Back to eat our dessert
Dessert was a Pannacotta flavoured with Cynar, an Italian bitter liqueur made from Artichokes and candied orange.  We wondered how they were going to do five courses of Artichoke and they so succeeded

Michela and Ottilio Dalpiaz at the end of a very successful festival. Although Michela confessed that her legs were wooden in the evening after so much standing
Time to head home after a really great day. Thank you to all at Ayama
And the cloud and mountainscapes were superb. You can see another Table mountain in the background
These are the high mountains near Ceres on which we see snow almost every year. We had to keep stopping to take photos
Bud break on the vineyards in the area, and, after our wet winter, so much good green

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