Wine & Wild dog weekend at Chilo Lodge, Zimbabwe
If you are looking for a taste of wild and remote pristine wilderness, look no further! You have to go to Gonarezhou!
You may well wonder why hold a ‘Wine and wild dog weekend’ – well, it all started with the maiden vintage of our flagship wine, Pictus 2009, needing a stunning piece of artwork for the label, and a most fortuitous contact with artist Lin Barrie who is as besotted with African wild dogs as we are!
Before we knew it our designer, Lori, was busy with Lin’s gorgeous artwork, ‘Snare and her siblings in the moonlight’ and we had 4500 bottles (being the approximate number of African wild dogs remaining in the whole of Africa) of our Rhone style blend of Shiraz, Mourvedre and Grenache. (Pictus is named for the scientific name for an African Wild Dog, Lycaon Pictus, meaning Wolf in Greek and Painted in Latin)
Having lived and worked in a bush camp in Botswana previously, it was really important to Jeremy and I that Painted Wolf Wines, ‘gave back’ to the African bush, hence our choice to support the highly endangered African wild dog (or painted wolf), and our donations to their conservation from every bottle sold to organisations such as the TUSK Trust and EWT.
As we got to know Lin and her partner, conservationist and tourism operator Clive Stockil, it became clear we had much in common and that we could help each other spread the word. We also strongly support Clive’s belief that community led conservation is vital for the survival of African wildlife. He has been working with the Mahenye village community in the Chilo Lodge area for four decades, and the mutual respect is clearly evident. He most deservedly received the Prince William Award for a lifetime achievement in Conservation, in 2013.
And so to the stunning venue, Chilo Lodge, founded by Clive, on the edge of Gonarezhou National Park. As you walk out onto the spacious deck you are greeted with a magnificent view over the wide sand banks along the Save River to Mahenye Island downriver and let your gaze sweep over the pristine bush generously dotted with baobabs of all shapes and sizes. Down below the crocodiles glide through the water and the elephants slide down the river bank out of Gonarezhou National Park to drink and bathe. As you relax in your ‘out of Africa’ room, nestled privately into the bush surrounding the lodge, the sound of the trumpeter hornbills and sweet smells of the bush make one sigh.
The weekend was filled with: informal wine tastings by Jeremy, and much drinking and enjoying of our Painted Wolf Wines; insights into the seven years Dr Rosemary Groom has spent with AWCF in the area, ably assisted by Jess Watermeyer, with particular focus on African wild dogs of course; experiences within the Mahenye village community, including harvesting and sampling palm wine, and many words of wisdom from Clive; sneak peeks of artist Lin, at work on her colourful, abstract baobabs and sharing her passion for life; and plenty of game drive time soaking in the magic of Gonarezhou.
Now, in the dry season it is incredible to drive onto the thick sand of the river bed and realise just how wide this river can be, and exhilarating to launch into the water and drive the short section through the river, carefully following the markers, swing hard and climb up the sand bank into Gonarezhou. Woe betide not knowing the path as the main channel is far too deep to cross as some recent travellers found out to their cost.
Our adventure to the famous Chilojo cliffs some distance away, took us through Mopane scrub, Ilala palm forests, areas with huge, beautiful trees such as the Jackal berry and baobabs everywhere. A small pan must have had dozens of species of birds, and numerous animals came in to drink and wallow in the mud, and an enormous pan where you definitely needed binoculars to check the game on the far side.
The view from the top of the cliffs was awesome, the winding semi dry river bed stretching into the distance and miles and miles of bush…. and then we spotted them, a pack of wild dogs way down below, trotting along getting into hunting formation, a very special sighting given the huge area of the national park. Continuing down to enjoy the view from below, the magnificent cliffs completely dwarf the elephants in the river bed.
It was a valuable time to catch up with Rosemary and Jess and extremely exciting to hear that the total population of African wild dogs in the Save and Gonarezhou areas are doing really well and total half the number of dogs in the whole of South Africa. They are carefully monitoring seventeen dens this season, each with between 6 and 10 pups. A large percentage of their time is spent working with the local communities to help them understand the importance of conservation, as well as on the ground efforts including darting and removing snares from the wild dogs and of course keeping track of the populations through comprehensive monitoring and research
We had the special privilege to enjoy a bush feast in the brand new, intimate 8 bed tented camp, Mahove, where we sat soaking in the view over the floodplain, with elephants, baboons and warthogs wandering in and out of our canvas…it was hard to tear ourselves away although sitting on the wide sand bank enjoying sun downers was the next best thing! Sincere thanks to the Chilo lodge team for their incredible hospitality, nothing was too much trouble, and the special touches were very much appreciated. Whether you are drawn to Mahove, where you can meld into the bush, or Chilo Lodge where you can step back a little, you are sure to be very well looked after.
Jeremy spoke about Pedals 4 Paws, his fund raising through bush cycles and the plan to arrange a cycle to coincide with the ‘Wine and Wild dog’ weekend next July at Chilo …..do let us know if you interested in joining in….
Sitting outside on a balmy Zimbabwean evening at a long table bursting with food, wine and like-minded people chatting up a storm with Lin’s incredible four metre painting, ‘Golden dog days’ hanging from the balustrade above us, will be a lasting memory for me. That is what the Wine and Wild dog weekend is all about, a coming together of people passionate about conservation and with a deep understanding that education through working alongside rural villages is the key.