Take a wine weekend jaunt on the Robertson Valley 'Zebra'

Monday, 3 June, 2019
Clifford Roberts
The Wine Valley Safari is a great way to experience the Robertson winelands and its people without having to drive there yourself, writes Clifford Roberts.

Towards the end of last year, the Robertson area got an important new mode of tourist transport. The hop-on hop-off service ferries intrepid explorers to wine farms and other sites of interest on fixed routes.

Despite slow take-up associated with any new business, it has been wonderful for visitors: the opportunity to travel around without having one eye on a GPS device and to drink some wine too. But it has been wonderful for farms too.

Part of a group, I'm hosted by the safari's owner, Melissa and participating enterprises. The trip starts for us at the local wine route's marketing offices off Reitz Street, where the vehicle is parked.

Distinction is part of the tour business whether you're an open-top bus showing the sights in Cape Town CBD or a green tram in Franschhoek. The 22-seater Wine Valley Safari vehicle is decked out in zebra stripes and that typical green, bush-style canvas – maybe a bit of creative flair suited to a wine region known for not taking itself too seriously.

Our stops aren't all wineries, but the first two are.

Robertson

Bemind is the garagiste-scale winery of Ilse Schutte in McGregor's main road, a few minutes from Robertson. One of the oldest buildings in town, the cellar has had various incarnations over the years including as whip factory, trading store and guest house. Bemind – Afrikaans for "beloved" - opened in 2015 and focuses on MCC, Shiraz, Cinsault and Sauvignon Blanc. For the making of the latter, Ilse uses cellar space at the nearby Lord's winery because they have the necessary cooling ability.

As for her cinsault, the grapes hail from a 45-year-old bushvine, which is ancient by South African standards. "It's in Worcester," she says. "The farmer's clearing much of them but promised to keep me a few rows."

Bemind is distinctly low-tech. Ilse tells us she might have considered spending a little more money on mechanization had she known how hard hand-crushing grapes would turn out to be.

Unsurprisingly, the bijou winery is a magnet for visitors – it's rare for such small operations to have a tasting room too. In summer, Ilse hosts vetkoek evenings.

We make our goodbye's and head for Lord's, which opened its new wedding and 150-seater function venue in January.

The open plan interior makes it flexible for functions, plus large bar is on castors. The place is dual purposed – below our feet is a maturation cellar that'll help with planned expansion of MCC production, and two guest rooms.

Opening space in the cellar and tasting room brought new opportunity. They created a co-working space, which is a hit with townsfolk keen to use the good internet signal.

Viticulturist Jacie Oosthuizen's family have farmed in the area for generations. In 2003, he planted the first vineyards, spurring the dream with shareholders who could each build a house on the land too. The selling point was the property's 500m above sea-level height advantage, making it cooler than many of the surrounding areas. It's one reason Pinot Noir thrives here, and for the good reception his wine gets in competitions.

After wine and platters of fresh bread, cold meats and cheese, it's time to hop back onto our "zebra" coach. Next stop: Wonderfontein, home of Paul René MCC.

"We're the nearest winery to town," says farmer and winemaker Henk van Niekerk when we arrive, adding hastily: "If you don't count Robertson Winery in town itself."

There's a mix of produce on the farm. Grapes come from here and a second property in the region near Springfield Estate.

A tasting of his MCC Brut, made from Chardonnay, and the Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend Brut Rosé, is followed by a walk around the garden. Paul, Henk and wife Monica's five-year-old, leads the way past the old Georgian-style manor house. His younger sibling is uninterested, preferring time on the mini zipline dad erected in the backyard. At the coop, Paul shows us how to catch a chicken "if you want to make friends," he says.

Our overnight destination is the Pat Busch mountain reserve, location of an Africamps "boutique camping" site. The property in the Klaasvoogds region and the foothills of Langeberg, was acquired years ago by Stephan Busch's father. Today, Stephan and Lindi host visitors who come to hike, bird-watch or relax in the splendid fynbos-surrounds.

The Africamps accommodation on the reserve comprises five luxury self-catering tents, each with its own fireplace, braai area and bathroom.

A braai is however out of the question tonight. Our dinner date is just down the road at the fine-dining Succulent Restaurant. Formerly the home of Mo & Rose, of which the guesthouse remains, the new restaurant under the ownership since November of ex-Saxon Hotel Chef Werner Snoek and wife, Melanie, the front-of-house manager.

Over dinner we meet Wine Valley Safari founder Melissa Jones Pieterse. The idea for the business came after a trip to Thailand. "Tuk-tuks [motorised three-wheeler taxis] are such a simple idea and they got us thinking about what we could do here," she says.

Once home, a chance meeting connected her with Andy Kama, who'd been a township tour guide in Cape Town and was looking to start something locally after moving to Robertson.He signed up as guide and driver.

We rise early the next morning, scrambling eggs for breakfast that we enjoy despite the chill, on the deck outside where the sun is just painting the mountains with gold.

Owl's Rest is our first stop of the day. The small farm is the "retirement" occupation for former Joburgers Hedley and Patricia Manicomas much as it was for previous owners, whom they bought it from three years ago.Rows of olive trees are interspersed with lavender, which is used for distilling essential oils along with geranium grown in clusters around the property.

There's olive oil and olives for sale in the jolly-decorated farmstall, as well as preserves of amongst others the tamarillo's that grow in the yard. A big seller, says Hedley, is the hydrosol – the aromatic water left over after distillation.

Olives were on the menu again a short while later when Andy drove us to neighbouring Marbrin Olive Growers, another family endeavour. You wouldn't say from the Western Cape's olive producers' torrid time as a result of the drought and frosts, but Clive Heymans who runs operations with wife Briony, is upbeat.

"We're launching olive soaps for Wacky Wine," he says, showing us the display. They also recently launched a supper club hosted at the venue for groups of up to 12 people; and, there's a 50-litre liquor still on order too.

He runs us through a tasting of olive oils, cursing the midges around this time of year.The tasting room is abuzz – a truck has arrived with crates of olives; Briony and her daughter pop in to say hi; the dogs hang around watching for any wayward morsels. Soon, we're clambering back in the vehicle, and headed for our final stop: Kranskop Wines, home of Newald and Marie-Louise Marais.

The farm gets its name from the craggy hill nearby that also influences the vineyards and their wines through micro-climate and soil types. Assistant winemaker James Meyertakes us through the cellar – he grew up on the farm, developing a keen interest in the vineyards and wines. From the tank alongside the dark maturation cellar he taps off a glass of this year's noble late harvest. I remark on the pear-flavour. He smiles: "Like atameletjie," he says, referring to the chewy, sugar confection traditionally made from boiled fruit.

On the deck above the tasting room we taste the wines – all single variety wines including the red-wine cultivar Tannat that's commonly used elsewhere in blends.

Of places that'll easily snag you for the afternoon, this is one of them – a shady spot overlooking vineyards and distant mountains. When the goodbye comes, it's tough to leave. Andy understands; his Wine Valley Safari zebra is no stranger arrivals and lingering departures.

Succulent Restaurant is open for breakfast Wednesday to Sunday, 08:00-10:00; lunch Friday to Sunday, 12:00-14:30; and dinner Wednesday to Sunday, 18:00-22:30. Tel: 023-626-4134.

Owl's Rest is open Monday to Saturday, 10:00-16:00. Tel: 023 626 1284.

Kranskop Wines is open Monday to Friday, 10:00-16:30; and, Saturday and public holidays, 10:00-14:00. Tel: 023 626 3200.

Lord's Winery is open Monday to Friday 09:00-16:00; Saturday 10:00-16:00; and, Sundays 10:00-14:00. Tel: 023 625 1265.

BemindWyne is open Wednesday to Friday, 10:00-17:00; Saturday 10:00-14:00; and, other times by appointment. Tel: 083 380 1648.

Wine Valley Safari is priced from R180 per day with different fixed routes and excursions available.Tel: 081 740 0145

Marbrin Olive Growers is open Monday to Friday, 09:00-16:00; Saturday, 09:00 to 14:00.and public holidays 10:00-14:00. Tel: 073 840 8228.

Africamps at Pat Busch can be contacted on tel: 063 170 4222.





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