In roughly ten days time, the Wacky Wine Weekend is scheduled to uncork itself in the same effervescent style that guests of this annual event have come to expect each year. This brings good news to any oenophiles reading this post between the end of May and the beginning of June 2017 as tickets are still available for the festivities – but act swiftly as they sell out fast. But even if you’re not able to make Wacky Wine this year, a visit to the Robertson Wine Valley should be in your local travel itinerary for the winter season. Any chance to explore this extraordinary part of the Western Cape – home to the friendliest people, the most breathtaking scenery and some of the finest wine I have sample yet would be worth it! There truly is an unexpected pleasure at every turn.
I was fortunate enough to be included on a trip that would serve to highlight the best places one can expect to visit during both the Wacky Wine event as well as over a weekend stay in the area. While I’d love to elaborate on each and every location in my usual meandering style, in order to stay succinct I’ll provide a summary of the spots I hold in highest esteem.
Esona Boutique Wines
The home of Esona is an unassuming structure done in an industrial style – all raw brick, steel girders and glass. Enter into its intimate interiors and find a stylishly restored building that simultaneously pays homage to it’s history with rough stone floors and reclaimed wood while embracing modernity with minimalistic features that are apparent in the large picture window, the upstairs restaurant and the sun-drenched patio. But what gives Esona its singular appeal is the wine farm’s decision to serve its produce in pure crystal Riedel glasses – a detail that not only lends a touch of European allure, but also serves to enhance the flavour of each wine offered. We discovered this during their specialised “Taste the Difference” wine, chocolate and crystal glass pairing in Esona’s cellar – an event that will take place over both the Wacky Wine period and the rest of the year. If it’s vittles you’re after, Esona’s in-house eatery – Caryl’s Deli – carries a tempting selection of fresh bread, cheeses, charcuterie and their delectable fig pâté. I would recommend parceling up some picnic fare, selecting a bottle of Esona’s fine 2013 Chardonnay and setting up camp for the afternoon in one of their wicker loungers. Utter bliss.
A longtime fan of Springfield‘s wines, my review may be considered biased by some – although I can assure you that my love for this farm is entirely pure. Entered through an avenue of autumnal trees, Springfield Estate is truly one of the jewels of the entire Robertson Wine Valley. Verifiable in the quality of their wine, this family-run estate is as much of a pleasure to visit as it is to drink the produce that comes out of it. Set across from a sweeping vista of natural wetland, the ivy-covered tasting room has a faintly medieval air about it. A large fireplace offers a welcome respite from the wintery weather outdoors whilst long wooden tables, high ceilings and a view out over the misty water all encourage one to sample their excellent Whole Berry Cabernet Sauvignon or The Work of Time Bordeaux. And although you aren’t allowed to touch him, there is a very big, very furry and very beautiful dog that calls this farm home – see if you can spot him snoozing on the deck outside.
Although they can call themselves one of the oldest estates in the area, Weltevrede prefers not to capitalise on it’s age and rather concentrate it’s full attention on turning out some of the finest wine I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking. Undoubtably a working farm, Weltevrede is the polar opposite of the marble and glass monoliths masquerading as wine farms in other, better-known parts of the Cape. At Weltevrede, it is the wine that takes centre stage – a detail that is refreshingly unpretentious in an industry that can often be seen as exclusive. Passionate about community upliftment, owner Philip Jonker is in the process of building a school that will concentrate on the resurgence of the technical skills so needed in the area today.
Offering a unique take on tastings, marketing manager Steyn Fullard led us through a subterranean labyrinth of century-old concrete wine vats that have lain dormant for the past 50 years. Lit only by flickering candlelight, Steyn took us through Weltevrede’s impressive selection of Method Cap Classique, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnays so delicious that they may have changed my mind about my feelings for this particular grape varietal. While the combination of the wine and the imposing darkness of the cement cisterns had me feeling spookily sloshed, our experience wasn’t quite over yet – cue a return to ground level and the opportunity for us to disgorge, cork and label our very own bottle of Philip’s prize MCC. Yet another attraction exclusive to Wacky Wine, playing champagne (copyrighted I know, but if you don’t tell on me I won’t tell on you) maker for the afternoon is an activity that I cannot recommend highly enough. And you get to make off with your very own bottle of bubbly!
Arendsig Single Vineyard Wines
High on a bluff overlooking the valley, Arendsig Wines offers a modestly designed space that blends seamlessly into the landscape. Mirroring this altruistic approach to the surrounding terroir is owner Lourens van der Westhuizen’s treatment of his wines. A self-confessed neophyte when it comes to wine-making but also a firm believer in letting nature take it’s course, his unceremonious approach yields an array of ambrosial wines that succeed in putting the drinker at ease. Choose as we did to enjoy Lourens’ selection of award-winning Single Vineyard and Inspirational Batch wines out on the verandah or pay a visit to the newly constructed tasting room. Our first stop of the day, I found myself rather overwhelmed by the amount of wine-orientated information directed at us, but quickly learned that appreciating the grape is all about sitting back, relaxing and enjoying each sip. As Lourens so eloquently puts it “the best wine is the wine you have in your glass”. And I couldn’t agree more.
I could go on about the cultivated beauty of the Robertson Wine Valley – it’s photogenic qualities, the bounty if offers, the fresh water flowing through the leiwater canals – but I’d rather end off this post with a few more locales I’m endorsing as places to visit. Whether you do so over the Wacky Wine Weekend period or opt for a quieter sojourn at a later stage, all of these spots as well as the ones I’ve listed above offer the absolute best that the valley has to impart.
The Wonderfontein farm – home of Paul René Method Cap Classique and their stylish Splash of Pink bubbly event that is held in the summer of each year. For enjoyment in the colder climes, look forward to old-fashioned hospitality from owners Henk and Monica van Niekerk as they welcome guests to into their contemporary tasting room during the Wacky Wine festival.
Although decidedly nuptial in it’s appearance, Bon Cap is a firm favourite for anyone looking to stretch out their waistbands with a traditional Sunday Lunch buffet at their Bon Rouge Bistro. Principally a wedding venue, Bon Cap also happens to be celebrated for their classical cooking with a twist – head chef Michelle Du Preez‘s passion for food is evident in her outstanding cooking – think ordentlik boere kos meets Mediterranean spontaneity. Their large, inviting restaurant is separate from the function venue and so is open for lunch each Sunday and serving up exactly the kind of comfort food one wants after a weekend of wine. You can thank me later.
Known mostly for their citrus and their Shiraz, Zandvliet Wine Estate offers an intriguingly unique pairing in their wonderfully warming cellar tasting room. Partnering their wines with the locally-grown Clemengold fruit, Zandvliet is able to do things with a glass of their 2015 Hill of Enon Chardonnay with a little candied citrus peel that is liable to impress even the most questioning of palates. As a special event exclusive to Wacky Wine, Zandvliet will be offering a four-course dinner to attendees that includes wine pairing and live music.
Speaking of citrus, if you’re lucky enough to visit the Robertson Wine Valley in between May and July, you’re likely to come across an abundance of mandarins, clementines and naartjies. I ended up being presented with a box of these sweet orange fruits at Excelsior Wine Estate, proving that the Robertson Wine Valley is truly a place that encourages the attitude of “ask and you shall receive”. But since Excelsior is known more for their wine, I suggest you take part in the opportunity to bottle your own red blend – an event held year round and one that ensures much hilarity as each of our party attempted to out-vintner each other. The view from the top of the koppie on the Excelsior estate also rivals that of any farm in the area. If you can get past the occasional traffic jam courtesy of the farm’s herd of cows.
Looking for a place rest your wine-weary head? Then look no further than Mimosa Lodge. Situated in the nearby town of Montagu, this boutique guesthouse is full of colonial charm – all wooden floors, spacious rooms and crisp linen. Enjoy an evening cocktail in the bar downstairs before treating both your eyes and appetite on Mimosa’s sumptuous dinner spread. Owner-chef Bernard Hess shows off his culinary prowess over four courses that include fine-dining favourites such as risotto, seared sirloin and a delectable baked Bread & Butter Pudding all expertly paired with Mimosa’s own range of wines.
But if it’s pastoral charm you’re after, head into the hills and book a stay at Olive Garden Country Lodge. Owned by a Belgian family that begun the lodge as a sideline to a flourishing business in locally-produced olive oil, Olive Garden is made up of 6 en-suite rooms and a 2 bedroom cottage nestled comfortably in the foothills of the Kranskop Mountains. Although rustic in appearance from the outside, each guest suite is meticulously laid out, neat and clean. Creature comforts include spa baths, high-pressure showers, a fully functional kitchenette, WIFI connectivity, a telly and best of all – an electric blanket! And just in case that doesn’t light your fire, each room has a small fireplace of it’s own. Not only for the self-caterer, the lodge also has it’s own small restaurant that caters the family’s own cooking to visitors. Cue a wintery night bitter with cold, wending my way through the vegetable garden and into an inviting warmth courtesy of the large wood oven, Paljas the boxer providing a whiskery greeting and the alluring scent of Coq au vin permeating the air. The latter happened to be one if the best versions of this celebrated French stew I have ever had the pleasure of eating and was swiftly followed by homemade granadilla cheesecake and copious amounts of red wine. A welcoming ambience, friendly atmosphere and impressively executed home-cooking is what to expect here – along with soft beds, silent nights and crisp, dew-dappled mornings, fragrant with the surrounding fynbos.
See you next weekend then?