WITH more than 50 wineries in the valley which comprises the towns of Robertson, Ashton, Bonnievale and McGregor, the wine part is fairly obvious; Robertson itself is well-known for its roses and gardens.
Residents of the homes in the peaceful jacaranda-lined streets are unlikely to welcome visitors traipsing unannounced through their front yards brandishing cameras but to experience a bit of horticulture, you can put Van Loveren on your itinerary.
The farm has been in the Retief family since 1937. Two years after that, Hennie Retief married Jean van Zyl. Over time, trees were planted to commemorate significant occasions – historical events, the rise and fall of political figures, children and grandchildren…and even a strong disagreement between the equally stubborn Hennie and Jean over a certain type of tree. This romantic story is told in the pamphlet if you take a self-guided tour of the beautiful, lush garden, or by a human guide if you prefer. The punchline is that there are now two intertwined trees, locked forever in an embrace which symbolises an eternal love.
Van Loveren, which was named after one of Jean’s ancestors, has an astounding range of products into which you can delve before or after your garden tour, cellar tour, MTB trail, or hike. There are an astonishing 10 pairing options available, from sweet dessert wines with salty nuts, to chocolate, cheese or charcuterie (the holy trinity of pairings), as well as a non-alcoholic children’s option with grape juice. If you just want the wine, that can be arranged too, and a bistro serves light meals.
Keeping it in the family, the current generation of Retief cousins joined forces in the mid-1990s, and the Four Cousins range of wine was introduced in 2000. Today, the Four Cousins brand home is on your left as you arrive in Robertson from Worcester, a smart modern building containing a little bit of everything.
Here you can linger in the tasting room, take a brewery tour, shop like crazy for incredibly well-priced wines (and whisky and gin and cream liqueurs), and have lunch or a fabulous breakfast inside the restaurant or outside beneath the trees while the children play.
It was quite appropriate that these two establishments bracketed our weekend in Robertson, which is anything between 90 minutes and three hours from Cape Town. The tourism website claims that first time, saying “situated in the shadow of the majestic Langeberg mountains with the Breede River as its life blood, Robertson is the western gateway to The Heart of Route 62, only 1 ½ hours leisurely drive from Cape Town.”
Respectfully, we must agree to disagree; there is nothing leisurely about that at all. Leisurely is when you stop at both big petrol stations between Cape Town and Worcester, in Worcester itself, at the Pampoenpadstal (“pumpkin road stall”) for enamel mugs tucked snugly inside hand-knitted cosies, detour into McGregor to visit friends, buy gumboots and rope at Agrimark, and go to the supermarket to get provisions for your self-catering accommodation. That doesn’t even factor in the possibility of there being roadworks at any point along the way.
As such, it eventually became a race against the sun to arrive at our cottage on Windfall before dark. Spoiler alert: we made it.
The farm makes some rather nice wines which they had kindly set out for us in the kitchen to taste in our own good time. The five cottages are set well away from everything else (including the wifi, which came via complicated instructions involving the “main house” at which point I decided social media wasn’t essential, not even a little bit) and each other.
The peace and seclusion is wonderful – wide open spaces, starry skies, and breathtaking sunrises in which the leaves of the bluegum trees sparkle like fairy lights as the breeze tickles them, and the clouds turn into peach-coloured powder puffs. Apparently one can hike and ride mountain bikes around there too but we had wine to deal with, as well as a braai to make. Also, “plenty of wood” is entirely subjective.
The cottages sleep between two and four people, and are named after wine varietals – Chenin, Sauvignon Blanc and so on – and are equipped with everything you need to make you think you are not in fact in the middle of nowhere (apart from the wifi situation), including DStv. For the summer, there is a swimming pool, and a dam and a river. Our hosts very generously laid on a magnificent breakfast spread on our stoep, with bubbly and orange juice, croissants, cold cuts and cheeses, which got the day off to a fine start.
With all the wine farms in the area it’s not difficult to keep yourself occupied. We visited Zandvliet, where we were shown around the intricate maze of underground chambers which were once massive Muscat tanks and have only recently been discovered. Down there in the coolness you can also admire works by local artists, currently that of Marina Blight, who is from Montagu. The exhibition is titled “A Pocketful Of Inspiration” and is a diverse collection of oil on canvas and mixed media, which speak mostly of her inner feelings and how she sees the world.
We were in the capably hands of Leslie Sipambu who gave us the grand tour, before whisking us off to blend our own red wine.
Zandvliet is famous for its Shiraz so naturally this was one of the options, along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre. For any wine lover, this is such a fun experience, and when you begin with three quality components, you can’t really go wrong. It doesn’t necessarily hold true there is no such thing as a bad wine but ultimately this is about your personal taste and if you like it, that’s all that matters. I am very happy with my blend, which was detailed on the personalised label before corking the bottle myself and dipping it in hot red wax to seal it.
The way things are going, it’s the only time I’m going to see my name on a wine bottle so I’ll take whatever I can get.
Robertson Tourism Bureau
Corner of Reitz and Voortrekker streets
Telephone:023 626 4437
Robertson Wine Valley
Corner Reitz and Voortrekker streets
Telephone: 023 626 3167
PHOTO CREDIT: BIANCA COLEMAN ©
- This story first appeared in Independent Traveller on July 14, 2018