Robertson – valley of fine wine and friends.

Monday, 4 March, 2013
Shante Hutton,
Most of us know of Robertson because of the hugely successfully Wacky Wine weekend that happens every year in June. It is South Africa’s highest attended festival and many of the Robertson wineries can boast traffic of 6000+ people in a day.
The reason for their success, not in the least because of the excellent wine the area produces, is largely down to the exuberant Robertson wine valley tourism team.

It’s a valley that will bend over backwards for you.

I was blessed enough to experience a quieter weekend in the valley under the guise of their Hands-on-Harvest festival. A weekend dedicated to ‘wine aficionados’ and with a more intimate and personal approach. As the name suggests, there are plenty of wine-related activities from grape picking and bunch pressing, to tractor trips and one-on-one time with the wine makers themselves. To pick just 3 activities was exhausting but I narrowed it down to bubbly making at Weltevrede, wine and food pairing at Van Loveren and a lazy Sunday braai by the river at Arendsig.

We drove through on the Friday armed with our itinerary, a camera, a map of the wineries we wanted to visit and space in the boot for our spoils.  Our first stop en-route was Graham Beck, the gate keeper to the valley and the marker that tells you, “You’re in good wine country now”.

Somehow, I was expecting something a little like Wacky Wine – perhaps a smaller scaled mob of people clambering to sample some bubbly. Instead, it was a relaxed atmosphere with tourists resting in the sunshine with a glass of wine in their hand. There was plenty of space and time to enjoy oneself.

Springfield was next and again, peace reigned supreme. No such madness but instead the simple delight of tasting wine without having someone’s elbow in your face. One lady, visiting from Gauteng, told us that she is present every year at Hands-on-harvest because of the tranquility and the nature of the events and truth be told, it’s incredibly alluring. To be able to park at Springfield, let alone get close enough to the tasting room during Wacky Wine is a major feat. So, to spend time sampling Wild Yeast and Life from Stone in my own precious time was ideal.
But the journey had to go on and off we went to the home of the Four Cousins.

Van Loveren has had a dramatic face-lift. Plush seating and an open plan ‘bar’ area encourage an easier, more comfortable tasting experience and with the new décor, comes 8 new food and wine pairings options.
Bonita Malherbe, their awesomely passionate marketing manager, has created these different food and wine pairing options for EVERY age. I’m serious. She’s struck gold by creating a non-alcoholic pairing for children - pure genius. As a future mother, I bemoan the days when I shall be stuck living my days at bug world, contemplating stashing wine in a baby bottle.  Taking children with you to wine farms does seem a little adventurous but with Van Loveren’s pairing, they can join in the fun of counting the bubbles and deciding which sparkling juice went best with the jelly tots.

But these changes and renovations are not just for the winery themselves, but for the good of the entire route as it offers yet another reason to make the trip to Robertson.

Subject to a heavily laden car (I don't ever pack light) and increasing wine-fatigue, we made our way to our accommodation, a quaint cottage at Weltevrede. The views were unparalleled and it was awash with memories of Little House on the Prairie. A gift basket full of yummy goodies was waiting for us and in the fridge, two bottles of wine were chilling – now that’s my kind of welcome.  It was the perfect escape.

Staying in a secluded paradise was not the only reason for our visit to Weltevrede, we had a date with some MCC.

The 'date' was our chance to make our own bubbly with Philip Jonker himself.
Philip is a poet. His lyrical nature is present in his wines from their chosen names to the way the flavors play and sing together. This can be seen in his bubbly, Entheos which was our starting point for our bubbly experience. Entheos means uncontainable enthusiasm and is meant to be an ‘every day and any occasion’ wine. It has been waiting for me for 5 years which, in itself, is quite magical. Philip asked us to think back to what we were doing 5 years ago, I was still in University!

Philip and Steyn (Mr. De' Canter himself) took us through disgorging - a process of removing the sediment left in the bottle after second fermentation, and  a chance to spray yourself in the face with bubbly. We then were able to add our own dosage which is a 10ml liquid that you add to the wine to ensure you end with the desired sugar level. We then quite literally, put a cork in it as well as adding the foils and then finally we applied the label.

I am now in possession of my very own bottle of Entheos which, with my heavy hand, is going to be more demi sec than Brut. I'm looking forward to saving it for a special occasion....not that bubbly itself isn't a special occasion.

The weekend drew to a close with a braai by the river at Arendsig and a leisurely tasting of their wines.
Returning home to ‘real-life’ was almost emotional but I know for a fact that I shall be back in June at least.  Now don’t be fooled by the slow pace in which I enjoyed my weekend, Wacky Wine is coming and that promises to be the perfect dose of wine mayhem.

Favourite wines of the weekend:

Place of Rocks Chardonnay – Weltevrede
Life from Stone – Springfield
Chardonnay - Arendsig