Majeka House – a lovely place to stay near Stellenbosch


For anyone seeking a comfortable and relaxed place to stay while exploring the wineries of Cape Province in South Africa I can thoroughly recommend the Majeka House, just outside Stellenbosch.  Hidden away in a quiet residential area, the hotel provides a wonderful oasis of luxury in which to unwind at the end of a busy day of tasting!  With a warm welcome, beautifully hand-crafted rooms, great views, a relaxing pool, and the fine Makaron Restaurant (one of the top 20 in South Africa), it is a very special place to stay.

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Breakfasts are delicious, although I definitely preferred the anti-oxidant juice to the green revitaliser!  Also, beware the white pebbles in the birdcage at dinner – I dread to think of the teeth damage if someone bit hard on them!  As the above pictures illustrate, though, the food was innovatively presented, and of very high quality.  Make sure you book in advance, because the restaurant gets very full!

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My favourite South African Wines…


ThelemaA visit to the Cape Province of South Africa last week in order to help select wines for the Athenaeum provided a great opportunity to learn something about  recent changes in the wine industry in the Cape and to taste some of the really excellent wines that are now being produced there.  It is some 40 years since I last visited Stellenbosch and Paarl, and it is great to see the quality of wines now being made in the region.

Thanks to Stuart and George who arranged the itinerary, and the hospitality of many amazing wine makers, we had the privilege of tasting nearly 200 wines from Stellenbosch, the Cape Peninsula, Franschhoek and the hinterland of Hermanus.  While this represented only a small fraction of the many wines now being made in South Africa, it did highlight three significant things for me:

  • First, the quality of the wines has improved very dramatically indeed over the last 15 or so years.  There are without doubt now some really excellent wines being made in South Africa, and they are very good value indeed, with many of the best wines being priced at under ZAR 250 (£15) a bottle.  We scarcely tasted a poor bottle, and it was difficult to choose those that I preferred best for my list of favourite wines below!
  • Second, South African wine makers have definitely learnt and understood the importance of terroir. Given my geographical wine “upbringing” in Burgundy, I have always argued that the physical environment has a very important role in determining the character of a wine, and it is good to see the increasing differentiation that now exists in the planting locations of different grape varieties in the Cape area.  Many of the wines we tasted emanated from some of the cooler vineyard locations, higher up on the mountain slopes, in windier locations, and closer to the sea.
  • Third, South Africa’s vineyards have to be amongst the most beautifully situated in the world, with many of them being in very picturesque locations, as I hope the pictures below illustrate.  Whilst leafroll virus is a serious problem for grape-growers, it does have the merit of turning vines a beautiful red colour in the autumn!

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Despite the pleadings of my colleagues, I am still not convinced by many of the Chenin Blanc wines we tasted, perhaps with the exception of some of the sweet dessert wines.  I’m sure that some of my reticence stems from tasting too many rough Steen wines when I was younger!  While I recognise that modern good quality Chenin Blanc wines are indeed being made, I simply don’t particularly like them, finding the astringent flavours that I encountered in my youth all too often still to be present.  Likewise, I have to confess not really to liking wines made from the Pinotage grape.  All too often they too retain bitter flavours, and I found many of those we tasted to be rather unbalanced and poorly structured – with one delicious exception!

So, to conclude, my favourite wines, in alphabetical order of producers were:

  • 4Buitenverwachting (with MD Lars Maack)

    • 2009 Christine – excellent open fruity nose; 14.5% alcohol; rich, rounded, soft tannins; red fruit flavours; 45% Cabernet Franc contributes to tobacco and chocolate flavours (with 45% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot); well balanaced and good length
  • Chamonix (with Wine-maker Gottfried Mocke)

    • 2011 Pinotage – a very unusual wine made in a similar style to Ripasso, combining fresh wine refermenting with air dried grapes; half-picked very young and undergoes carbonic maceration; other half desiccated and refermented with first picking; grown at 440 m 9on Greywacke soils; 14.5% alcohol; kept mainly in one-year-old Pinot Noir barrels; dark red with complex green and dark fruit flavours; very soft tannins.
    • 2012 Chardonnay Reserve – 13.5% alcohol; 14 months in 228 l French oak; 30 year old vines which show character and personality; 80% barrel fermented with 20% in 600 l concrete eggs, which enable wine to be oxygenated and the lees stay in suspension for longer than using other fermenters; high acidity early grapes are put into concrete, with later pickings going into barrels; always goes through malo-lactic; tries to pick fruit at lower sugar levels to make wines more in a Burgundian style; 65% new oak used for this vintage, which remains very evident; need to keep for some time.
  • 5Cape Point (with Wine-maker Duncan Savage)

    • 2011 Late Harvest Noble 8 – only made when conditions are right, with some 2000 half bottles being produced in 2011; 160 grams residual sugar; 10.5% alcohol;  Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon botrytised blend; rich balanced fruit flavours; good length; acidity balances out the rich fruit; dried apricot flavours.
  • Delheim (with Viticulturist Vic Sperling)

    • 102009 Vera Cruz Shiraz – we had the last bottle in the cellar sadly; produced from bush vines; 14.5% alcohol; rich, intense fresh red fruits on the nose; fruity flavours of plums and jam; good length and complexity; their Vera Cruz wines are only made in years when the fruit is good enough; a powerful wine to be kept for a while.
    • 2013 Edelspatz Noble Late Harvest – botrytised Riesling from Simonsberg Mountain; good acid balance; not overly rich; classic slight petrol nose, but well structured and luscious flavours of honey and apricots.
  • Glenelly (with Wine-maker Luke O’Cuinneagain)

    • 12012 Oaked Chardonnay – light golden colour; blanche toasted 500 l barrels designed to keep as much natural fruit flavour as possible; fresh with good fruit expression; distinctive pear flavour, with slight citrus touches; richer and softer than their unoaked Chardonnay; good structure and depth.
    • 2010 Syrah – designed to be like a northern Rhône wine; 100% whole bunch fermented; purple-red colour; very clean, with slight smell of bacon; white pepper and floral aromas; relatively low alcohol at 13.9%; soft tannins, but needs time to develop.
  • Klein Constantia (Wine-maker Matthew Day)

    • 22013 Sauvignon Blanc – made with free-run juice from grapes from across the property; very pale in colour; up-front nose of gooseberry and blackcurrant leaves; 4 months in steel on lees; fresh in mouth, with balanced acidity on edge of tongue; quite light and eminently drinkable
    • 2008 Vin de Constance – classic dessert wine made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes, left to dry on the vine; good rich flavours of candied orange, with other fruits including a slight pineapple taste; good depth and length; balanced acidity.
  • Meerlust (with Chris Williams, Cellar Master)

    • 62012 Pinot Noir – a serious wine; lovely rich nose; has been made since 2004 on coolest hilltops, which catch the breeze being only 3 kms from the sea; vines grown on decomposed granite; picked at 4-6 tonnes per hectare; vinified in small batches, some with natural fermentation; has an interesting liquorice nose; quite soft tannins; needs keeping for several years.
    • 2009 Rubicon – excellent Bordeaux blend style wine (69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet France and 1% Petit Verdot); very rich and intense rich blackcurrant fruit flavours; complex; good length; well structured; definitely for keeping.
  • Newton Johnson (with Bevan Newton-Johnson, MD)

    • 32012 Family Vineyards Pinot Noir – really good wine, clean, well structured, medium length, and rich complexity of Pinot flavours resulting from use of grapes from three adjacent vineyards (20% from Mrs. M, 30% from Block 6, and 50% from Windansea); first made in 2008/9; red fruit rather than vegetal.
    • 2012 Windansea Pinot Noir – Pinot Noir from a single vineyard which has more clay than adjacent ones, giving a deeper colour; a bit closed and more restrained than the fruitier more open Mrs. M and Block 6; well structured with good acid balance; excellent finesse; red and black berry fruits.  A really excellent wine.
  • Spier
    • 21 Gables Sauvignon Blanc – hand harvested; made from grapes grown in Durbanville near the Atlantic on red gravel and clay soils; nose of new mown hay; acidity clearly felt at edge of tongue; but well structured; rich complex flavours of gooseberry and slight asparagus; 13.5% alcohol.
  • Thelema (with Cellar Master Gyles Webb)

    • 82011 Cabernet Sauvignon “The Mint” – made from the first Cabernet Sauvignon vines they planted, with eucalyptus trees nearby, which give the wine a distinctive minty nose and flavour; mid-red colour; well-balanced and good structure; will be long-lived.
  • Vergelegen (with Wine-maker Andre van Rensburg)

    • 2011 Merlot – the first 100% Merlot wine made at Vergelegen since 1998; although Andre sees himself mainly as a Cabernet Sauvignon producer, he believes they have the environment to produce excellent Merlot; lovely soft nose and very gently tannins; still a bit young, and lacking a bit in length, but overall very pleasant.
    • 72010 DNA – Cabernet Franc does well at Vergelegen, but the yield needs to be reduced down to around 4 tonnes per hectare; aim is to pick the fruit as late as possible; mid-red, quite intense colour; 65% Cabernet Franc, Merlot 21% and Cabernet Sauvignon 13%; fantastic high notes on nose; very soft tannins; not as strong a smoky nose as I would have expected with this amount of Cabernet Franc; wine is designed to be fruity rather than green.  Wine is made in recognition of Andre’s respect to Cheval Blanc, with the DNA often being thought of as being similar to terroir.  Others might think that it is short for “Dickhead ‘n Arsehole”!  Incidentally, the label is not a fingerprint, but rather the contours of a hill!

Finally, I have long appreciated the work that Charles Back has done at Fairview, and particularly his BootLeggerscommitment to social change in the region.  In 1997 he helped establish The Fairvalley Workers Association, which aims to help workers at Fairview to have their own land, and he was also the driving force behind the Fairvalley wine brand that is owned by the Workers Association, with profits from the sale of their wines (made using cellar facilities at Fairview, and FairTrade certified) being used to support community development initiatives.  Being in South Africa enabled me to access further wines that it is difficult to get in the UK, and so I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to explore the shelves of Bootleggers in Fourways Crossing and purchase additional wines, including some of Fairvalley’s remarkably good value 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was delicious with boerewors, as well as  a bottle of Fairview’s 2010 Goat-Roti (Syrah/Viognier blend) that went especially well with barbecued fillet steak!

For those looking for somewhere quiet and relaxing to stay while exploring the vineyards of the Cape, I thoroughly recommend Majeka House, just outside Stellenbosch, which also houses the excellent Makaron Restaurant!

 

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Locusts at Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden


A short visit to Johannesburg provided an excellent opportunity to visit the beautiful Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden to learn something about the rich diversity of plant and bird life in South Africa.  While there, we encountered hundreds of locusts, and not only saw the devastation that they were doing to some of the plants, but also the amazing beauty of their colours when in flight.  They looked more like brightly coloured small birds than they did green locusts! Trying to capture them in photographs was, though, far from simple, not least since they would show no visible signs of taking off, and then suddenly lift off into the air and speed away.  Even using very fast shutter speeds it was difficult to capture them!  I hope, though, that the selection of images below captures not only their beauty, but also of the damage that they do.

 

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Jordan Wine Estate, Stellenbosch


It is some 40 years since I was last in Stellenbosch – and how it has changed!  Today, I had the privilege of being introduced to the wines of Jordan Wine Estate by Gary and Kathy Jordan – in the company of some good friends.  It is great to see the impact that UC Davis has on far-flung parts of the world, and also to meet wine-makers who combine expertise in geology and economics to produce some really very good wines!  Terroir is definitely alive and well here.  Sadly, I’m not yet able to share the flavours of the wines virtually, but I hope that the images below capture something of the beauty of this part of South Africa, as well as the care and attention to detail that marks out wine-making at Jordan Wine Estate!  Have to say that I particularly enjoyed the 2011 Cobblers Hill – and the lunch!

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ICANN 49 Gala in Flower Dome, Singapore


The Gala Evening at ICANN 49 in Singapore was held at the amazing Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay on the evening of Monday 26th March 2014.  With 3,332 panels of 42 varying shapes and sizes of spectrally selective glass, the dome was completed only a couple of years ago with a 1.2 hectare footprint and a height of 38 metres.  The temperature is kept at a constant 23°-25° C with humidity between 60% and 80%. It houses a wide range of plants from the Mediterranean and semi-arid subtropical regions, as well as having changing displays in its Flower Field.  Amongst its prize collection is an olive tree from Spain reputed to be a thousand years old!  This month, the English Wars of the Roses (1455-1487) between the Houses of York and Lancaster were fought out in red and white flowers.  Our guide mentioned that only three events a year are permitted in the Flower Dome, and so we were fortunate indeed to be able to enjoy such a location.  The images below do not really do it justice!  Thanks to the team at ICANN for giving us this opportunity!

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ICTs and ecosystems


david_stoddartAs a young geographer, I had the privilege of learning from the extraordinary David Stoddart, and can never forget reading the numerous books and papers on small island ecosystems that he recommended to us in the mid-1970s – and being jealous that he was able to be doing research on beautiful far-away places such as Aldabra!  Likewise, Richard Chorley and Barbara Kennedy’s Physical Geography: a Systems Approach was required reading on several courses.  Although not quite as inspirational as David Stoddart’s physical presence,  I recall being enthused by this book to go back and read some of Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s work on General Systems Theory, and struggling to balance this with my own increasing interest in structuralism and Marxist theory.

Hence, I have always adopted a principled and historical understanding of the origins and development of the systems approach in academic discourse.  This has made me ever more infuriated by the irritating, and quite simply inappropriate, usage of the word “ecosystem” by so many people, particularly in the business sector, who persist in using the word ecosystem to describe the system of digital technologies, ICTs and telecommunications.  Better argued than most is the use of the word “ecosystem”, for example, in Martin Fransman’s The New ICT Ecosystem (Cambridge University Press, 2010), but it remains fundamentally misguided, and little is gained by adding the “eco” to the “system”!  Despite my constant pleading that such usage is quite simply wrong, and corrupts the meaning of the word “ecosystem”, I have never made headway on this, and so want to try to capture here the basis for my critique.

There are two main reasons why I am so offended by the usage of the word “ecosystem” to refer to digital ICT systems:

  • Perfectly camouflaged dragonflyFirst, the word “ecosystem” is fundamentally a biological concept, and refers to the interaction between organisms and the physical environment in which they live.  The term originated in the early 1930s in the work of Arthur Roy Clapham and was made popular through the writings of the ecologist Arthur Tansley, who particularly emphasised the flows of materials between organisms and the environment.  As an ecological term, it is the “eco” that differentiates “ecosystems” from any other kind of system (the notion of “eco” being derived from the ancient Greek οἶκος meaning “house” or “dwelling”).  I absolutely agree that the context of ICTs is complex and that a systems approach can be of help in understanding and describing it, but I simply cannot see what value there is in adding the fundamentally “biological” attribute implied by the addition of “eco”.  Moreover, the physical, technical character of most ICTs is so fundamentally non-biological, that it seems even more inappropriate to keep using this term.  To be sure there is  exciting work going on at the interface between biological humans and non-biological machines, but this is rather different from the ways in which the word “ecosystem” is traditionally used in the ICT sector.
  • Starehe computer gravey#C4CSecond, and linked to the above, the advent of ICTs has itself actually had huge, and often very negative, implications for the environment, and thus for the very essence of  the “eco” that lies at the heart of the meaning of “ecosystem”. It is great that certain technology companies and organisations are now beginning to take a more environmentally responsible attitude to the environmental implications of their work.  The GSMA for example has placed great emphasis on trying to ensure that its annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is carbon neutral.  Likewise, since 2009 Apple has placed considerable emphasis on environmental agendas, including environmental footprint, renewable energy and product reports.  However, many of the reports on the benefits of ICTs and telecommunications in terms of reducing human impacts on the environment are only partial, and vastly overstate the beneficial aspects of ICT use for the environment.  Again, there are interesting initiatives in this area, as for example with Ericsson’s environmental programme, or the ITU’s environment and climate change work.  However, insufficient research of rigorous quality has yet been done in this area, and the impact of ICTs is such that it seems fundamentally inappropriate to use any word that seeks to impute some kind of positive biological linkage.

So, can people please stop using the word ecosystem to refer to the field of ICTs and telecommunications.  The word “system” alone seems just fine to describe the complex interrelationships and flows of energy between components in whatever integral whole those working in the ICT field want to talk about!

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If m-learning is the answer, what is the question?


I was very privileged that Adrian Godfrey asked me to say a few words to introduce the session on m-education that the GSMA convened earlier today at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.  It was good to be with a fun group of panelists, and I hope that we gave them some food for thought.

So, this is what I said.  It was designed to be provocative, but its intent was to emphasise that there are many different interests in the use of mobile devices for learning, and that if we are going to take advantage of the enormous potential that they can offer for the poorest and most marginalised then we need to recognise these interests, and work together in carefully crafted partnerships to deliver effective learning opportunities.

“If m-learning is the answer, what is the question?
MaasaiLess than two weeks ago, I was in northern Tanzania.  Walking across the dry savannah, I entered the thorned enclosure of a boma, or small village. I was welcomed by the Maasai chief’s son, who engaged me in conversation.  I remembered seeing striking images in the international media around 2007 of Maasai warriors, resplendent in their red, “lion proof” robes, holding mobile ‘phones to their ears, and knowing that I was due to speak a world away, here in Barcelona today, I slowly began to explore the question of mobile telephony.  I should not have done so.  The conversation left me embarrassed and humbled.

As my friends used their smart-phones to take photos, I asked “Does anyone in the village have a mobile phone?”

“No” he said, in his excellent English.

One of my friends asked “Would a mobile ‘phone not be useful to call your friends in other villages?”

“Why?” he responded, “I can walk two or three hours to see them”.

And I admired his life.

Earlier, he had shown me the small hut where young children were learning the alphabet and counting in English. So I gently sought to explore the benefits of mobile learning: “But if you had a smart-phone, could you not use it to get learning resources for your children?”.

He looked bemused. My question meant little to him.  He had asked for chalk and books.

I changed the subject.

Of course, many Maasai – and indeed poor people in rural areas across Africa – do indeed use mobile ‘phones, for a wide range of purposes.  But this brief conversation re-emphasised many of the challenges of mobile-learning, and highlights the importance of the question: “if m-learning is the answer, what is the question”.

Let me therefore tease out just four of these questions here in my opening comments:

If m-learning is the answer, what is the question?
How do we increase our data traffic?”  To me, this is one of the most important questions –  all too often asked behind the closed doors of the luxurious offices of mobile operators – that is answered by the term “m-learning”.  It is nothing to do with education or learning. There is far more data capacity in the world than is currently used.  The arrival of the submarine cables across Africa in recent years has transformed connectivity, and much remains unused.  Mobile networks are expanding rapidly, but again there is insufficient demand for their use. Hence, it is crucial for operators to encourage the development of more services if they are to generate the profits that they seek.  Mobile banking has been one such successful service emanating from Africa; now mobile health services, and mobile-learning are seen as important means of moving beyond the simple data requirements of social media apps.

If m-learning is the answer, what is the question?
“How can we gain external funding from governments and donors so that we can extend our networks?”
The costs of putting networks into low-density rural areas, far from the fibre backbones of most countries, greatly outweigh the likely returns, at least in the short term. It is “uneconomic”.  In many poorer countries of the world, operators have been able to gain lucrative revenue opportunities from those living in the relatively small dense urban areas, and have been able to circumvent requirements to provide universal coverage, that would benefit all citizens. Hence, operators are always seeking to find sources of co-financing that can help them extend their networks into “marginal” areas.  Where they have to pay taxes into Universal Service (or Access) Funds, they naturally want a share back in extending networks.  They need a handle to persuade governments, and indeed donor agencies, to provide resources to enable them to extend their infrastructure. How better than to persuade them that by so doing they will enable all of their citizens to benefit from the opportunities that m-learning has to offer.  “If you will help fund the networks, you can then use them to ensure that every citizen has access to m-learning, alongside m-health and m-gov”.  This makes real sense.  With the drive to deliver the Millennium Development Goals, the thirst by the international donor community to ensure that “their” targets are reached, and the aspirations of “enlightened” governments really to deliver valuable services to their citizens, m-learning really is the answer.

If m-learning is the answer, what is the question?
“What is the best market opportunity for our company?”
  Education is no longer of value largely for its own sake; it is a commodity to be bought and sold; it has become a vibrant market.  Hence, there are considerable profits to be made by everyone in the education industry.  The company could be an app-developer, eager to find the “killer” education-app.  It could be a publisher, eager to extend its sales.  It could be a teaching company (often known as schools), eager to grow the market for the services offered by its teachers.  Academics in research companies (sometimes still known as universities) are eager to compete to gain prestigious research grants to study, or perhaps more usually to “prove”, the potential of m-learning, and fuel this thriving industry. The explosion of mobile telephony, and the expectation that it will soon become ubiquitous opens up vast new possibilities for companies to extend the reach of their educational “solutions”.  We truly can achieve education for all, if only we can ensure that the poorest people can still afford a cheap smartphone, and that we can have universal network coverage.   And that is the point, it is education for all. Unlike “health”, which is mainly for those who are ill, learning is something that everyone “must” do.  It is institutionalised in our education systems, and now we are all encouraged to partake in lifelong learning.  Education is 24 x 7 x 365 x 80 or so, depending on how long we live – the magic multiplier number is 6,384,000 times the number of people in the world! This is a market indeed.

If m-learning is the answer, what is the question?
“How can we reach the most marginalised in our societies, and give them the highest possible quality of learning opportunity?”
  I guess this is the question that most people would have expected me to begin with. Of course m-learning provides a wealth of opportunity for the enlightened, the altruists, those who care about reducing the inequalities that digital technologies otherwise enhance, and hopefully some governments and civil society organisations, who are committed to providing quality learning opportunities for the poorest and most marginalised in our societies – those living in isolated rural areas, street children, people with disabilities.  The ubiquity of networks and devices, their mobility – anywhere, anytime – and their simplicity of use, all make mobile devices – be they phones, tablets or laptops, wonderful platforms for learning.

But we still need to work harder to find what works best. We still need high-quality, locally produced content, and above all we still need teachers trained in ways of using these technologies in the best interests of pupils.  Perhaps mobile devices may even one day free us completely from what many people see as being the shackles of an outmoded school system…”

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