Yesterday Warwick wine estate launched its new Summer picnics, with a number of changes relative to last year. Earlier this week I was invited to a sneak preview of the changes, and was one of a panel of volunteer blogger tasters (with Nikki Dumas, Lesley Cox, Anel Grobler, Polly Howard, Cathy Marston, Maggie Mostert and Hennie Coetzee) to give feedback about the new picnic. I was critical of the picnic on a first visit last year, and was happy to see a number of improvements on my latest visit.
So what has changed?:
1. There is a new chef in the house! Mark Springhorn has left Vergelegen in Somerset West, to join Mike Ratcliffe and the Warwick team. Given that Chef Bruce Robertson, who designed the original gourmet picnic for Warwick, is on tour so frequently, he no longer is the consultant chef. Chef Mark has built on Bruce’s quirkiness, and added more of a “Spring-feeling” to the picnic.
The quirky picnic “basket”, consisting of a cutting board, a table cloth, a box with the food items, a baguette and the Warwick newspaper, cleverly held together with a handle so that one can carry everything, remains as is. The packaging containing the food is recyclable. The bread is certainly better than I remember it, and comes from Sweet in Stellenbosch. Inside the box is the following:
* Duo of cheeses: Simonsberg camembert and 12 month matured cheddar
* Chickpea fritters served with home-made tzatziki – this was the only dish that did not excite me
* Home-made rooibos and oak smoked Chilean salmon served with a buttermilk-dill dressing – oh boy, I have never seen such good looking deep-orange salmon cubes (looking like pumpkin), and with the most wonderful smoked taste – the absolute highlight of the picnic.
* Biltong, mushroom and brandy pate – more brandy and mushroom can now be tasted in this foundation element of the picnic
* Homemade apple, pear and pecan chutney
* Tricolour tower of basil pesto, sun dried tomato puree and hummus
* Honey cashew chicken salad with herb mayonnaise and orange slices – the oranges were a nice colour and taste touch
* Decadent chocolate brownies topped with white chocolate ganache and onto which was sprinkled cranberries and pistachios, incredibly rich, and looking like an early mini-Christmas cake.
* A box of Maynards wine gums.
The tasting panel ummmed and ahhhhed, enjoying all the elements. Chef Mark plans to change an item on the picnic menu every week, testing the customer response and reacting to it as the season goes along. When one books, special dietary requests will be ascertained. Vegetarian and kiddies picnic baskets are available too.
2. The price has stayed the same, costing R 299 for a basket enough for 2 persons. (One can order an extra baguette)
3. To address the congestion in collecting the picnic baskets inside the wine tasting building, a new outdoor picnic collection area has been created, which will also be where Jack Black beer can be bought on tap.
4. To address the issue of staff not checking on guests’ drinks’ requirements well enough in the past, a trolley with “flat tackies” and a bell will be wheeled around the vast Warwick picnic area, containing ice cream, Jack Black beer and Warwick wines.
5. “Picnic pods” have been built around the dam, shielded from the South Easter, with tables that have built-in ice buckets to keep the Warwick wines chilled. They differ in size, and can be booked to accommodate groups of picnickers.
6. The Warwick vineyards are hidden from the picnic area, but can be seen on a Big Five Safari (showing the five vine types grown on the wine estate). Grapes have now been planted close to the picnic area, and also at the entrance to Warwick.
7. A suggestion for Warwick to have a presence on Twitter, in addition to that of Mike Ratcliffe, was implemented the following day (@Warwickchef), demonstrating how responsive Mike and his team are in accepting feedback.
A picnic at Warwick on a gorgeous Winelands summer’s day is an enjoyable family outing, with good food and wine, and lots of safe space for the kids to play on the jungle gym, in the little shallow stream, and to just run around.
POSTSCRIPT 20/5: For winter Warwick has introduced a good value Tapas menu, and I popped in for lunch to try it on my way to Franschhoek today. There was very little happening there, and therefore it was a surprise to not see anyone in the Tasting Room nor in the next door restaurant/shop/picnic counter. I called, but no one responded. Luckily the waitress Vanessa came back inside, and showed me to a table outside – it was such a lovely warm day. A material serviette and excellent quality St James cutlery is brought to the table, and the lack of a tablecloth is a disappointment therefore. She brought a blackboard with the Tapas menu to my table, and the handwriting on it did not reflect the stature of this wine estate. Chef Mark Springhorn was on leave and owner Mike Ratcliffe is travelling overseas, so it was disappointing for me. I chose the Mixed cold plate (R35), which was only ‘mixed’ because it contained two slices each of cold meat (coppa and salami), two blocks of cheese and a sundried tomato relish. It was served with a basket of ciabatta bread, which was wonderful. Other Tapas options are: cheese soufflé, smoked camembert and chef’s soup, each costing R25; sole paupiettes, and chef’s salad, all costing R35; Venison samoosas and denningvleis each cost R 45. Sweet treats cost R25, for Persian love cake, and Brownies. Children are also catered for, with salami pizza, a cupcake that the children can make themselves, and ice cream, at R25 each. I enjoyed the LavAzza cappuccino. One can still enjoy picnics at Warwick, but must pre-book them in winter.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com. Twitter: @WhaleCottage