Ah, Richmond on NASCAR weekend, what’s a car-bored girl to do?  Turns out that for the past ten years a great alternative event has been taking place about 30 minutes west of the city

The South African Food and Wine Festival is the brainchild of the folks at Greyhaven Winery, one of the many vineyards turning Virginia into a major wine-lover’s destination. One of their winemakers is a native of South Africa and has worked hard to bring a little piece of his homeland to Gum Spring.

This was our first year in attendance and our overall impression was positive.  There was a substantial wine tent sampling South African vintages from a number of wineries and distributors. In fact it was very nearly too much of a good thing (is there such a thing?) as with nearly 40 vintages to try and no spittoons available, the one-ounce pours added up quickly.  After traversing only one side of the tent I had to stop for a substantial food and water break before completing my virtual tour of the vineyards. Additionally, anyone buying $75 worth of wine (and lets face it, that’s not hard to do at an event of this size) got a ticket to a VIP tasting in the cellar of the winery’s lovely Tolkeinesque tasting room, where a variety of higher end wines were also available for sampling and sales. That was another 15 or so tastings (I lost count, wonder why). It’s a great value and a fabulous opportunity to try more different vintages than many of us would otherwise see in a year, but a designated driver is absolutely essential if you plan to try more than a fraction of what is available as you can easily consume the equivalent of two full bottles of wine, even without making any by-the-glass purchases of vino or fabulous lychee sangria.

Food was excellent, but somewhat on the pricey side, entrees started around $10 and went up from there.  Between us we were able to try the Peri-Peri Shrimp (excellent large fresh prawns, but definitely needed the addition of some of the sauces and chutneys available to really pop), Mixed Grill of chicken, sausage and lamb (again, really needed the addition of the sauces, but the South African style Boerewors sausage were definitely different and good), Samosas (spicy and outstandingly good), and fried Oysters (smaller than I would have liked for the price, but uber-fresh and tasty as he was shucking them on site to fry). There was also a stand sampling and selling several different styles of Biltong, a dried beef product typical of South Africa.

I preferred the market tent to the food stands. Prices for typical South African condiments, spices, and sweets were all very reasonable and I was able to pick up a good variety of stuff to mix things up at home.  There were also some nice handicrafts available, again at reasonable prices.

There was a stage set up with a variety of live and recorded music playing throughout the day, setting the tone for the festivities and while I was not paying particularly good attention to what was going on, it seemed to be very popular as a large percentage of the crowd has set up on lawn chairs or blankets on the hillside to watch and listen throughout the afternoon.

Speaking of lawn chairs, one regret we had was our failure to bring any with us.  Seating is extremely limited, with only about 8 tables available under a small tent near the food stands. Chairs or a good blanket are a must. This is also not a particularly family-friendly festival. It is small, set up in a limited area and the only available diversions for the kids consisted of a single inflatable slide/bouncer and an old-fashioned 1970s style playground that is there on site (which incidentally contained the first playground Merry-Go-Round I have seen in a good 30 years, anyone else remember spinning as hard as they could until they either threw up or flew off the side?).  Other things to note is that there was only a $5 difference between a tasting and non-tasting ticket, which means that, with the cost of food added, it can be a very expensive day for either a child or a DD. Tickets on site were $30 or $35 respectively, but were available for $10 off if pre-purchased through the website before 9 September and were a bargain $13 and $15 back in June (yeah, missed the boat on that one).

So leave the kids at home, bring a good chair and a designated driver and sign me up for race weekend next year!

More information is available here. I need to bookmark this one so I don’t miss the early bird tickets.

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