When you’ve done as many wine tastings as I have, which is to be expected – and even applauded – when you live in the Cape, because frankly it’s a terrible waste to live here and not try to taste aaaallll the wines… Ahem. Anyway, as I was saying before that sentence ran away with me, after your hundredth or so wine tasting, they do tend to blur into one another.
Not so when you go wine tasting in the Robertson Valley and visit any (or all) of these four wine estates off the R317 between Robertson and Bonnievale. Each of them offers a completely different experience, none of which you’ll soon forget.
Excelsior: blend and bottle your own
I last visited Excelsior about four years ago, and still remembered everything about it: The unusual wood-beamed tasting room built over a dam, and, more excitingly, the chance to blend, bottle, and label your own wine. You even get to use an antique corking machine to manually seal it when you’re done.
The good news is that it’s all still there. The wines you use to blend – the Excelsior Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz – are the same wines they sell individually at the estate. Being given the job of blending them brings a new concentration and focus to your wine tasting. In fact, this is probably the only wine tasting where mixing different wines in the same glass is encouraged. What’s more, you get to take your personalised bottle home and boast that you blended it all on your own.
If you’re feeling peckish after the hard work of blending and bottling, Excelsior’s restaurant, Graze@Excelsior, serves a delicious lamb curry and irresistible baked cheesecakes. On warm and sunny days, you’ll be tempted to spend the whole day sipping Chardonnay at one of the tables under the trees.
It’s not necessary to make a booking to do the blending and tasting at Excelsior. The tasting room is open Monday to Friday from 10am to 4pm and on Saturdays and public holidays from 10am to 3pm. Phone: +27 23 615 1980
De Wetshof: classic, classy chardonnay
Speaking of Chardonnay, it’s a crying shame that so few people drive a few extra kilometres alond the Bonnievale road (R317) to visit De Wetshof. But then again, perhaps it’s not. Because it means that this insanely gorgeous place will probably be exclusively yours, and that the team will be absolutely delighted to see you.
A stately avenue of trees leads up to an edifice that’s a replica of the Koopmans-De Wet House in Strand Street. The cellars behind it were copied from another timeless Louis Thibault plan. Inside the tasting rooms, a sweeping staircase is flanked by chandeliers, and a winter woodfire crackles in autumn sunlight streaming from wooden sash windows. But, aside from the splendour of the architecture, what makes De Wetshof so memorable is their passion for Chardonnay.
The estate produces seven different Chardonnays, as well as a Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and a couple of Bordeaux-style reds. If you were ever in any doubt, the internationally-acclaimed De Wetshof Chardonnays will convince you of this grape’s incredible versatility. And, whatever your feelings about Chardonnay might be, you must try ‘The Site’, a wine made with grapes from exceptional 30-year-old vines.
It’s recommended you book ahead for a tasting at De Wetshof, especially if you want to do a cellar tour. The estate is open Mondays to Fridays from 8:30am to 5pm, and on Saturdays from 9:30am to 1pm. Phone: +27 23 615 1853
Van Loveren: choose your style
In contrast to the concentration on sophistication and Chardonnay at De Wetshof, the wine tasting menu at Van Loveren offers something for everyone. There are eight different tasting platters, including non-alchoholic and kids’ art tastings.
If you fancy yourself an expert, the Christina Van Loveren Master tasting platter includes a Cap Classique and the premium ‘Christina’ range of wines, paired with classic bread, balsamic vinegar, dukkah, and olive oil. There are also charcuterie, cheese, and chocolate pairings with Van Loveren’s various other wine ranges. If wine isn’t your thing at all, the Fiver Party Plate is a playful combination of alco-pops, cake pops and candyfloss.
Another highlight is a tour of the trees in the gardens. Trees from all around the world were planted over many decades by the estate’s first wine farmers, Hennie and Jean Retief – the grandparents of the famous Four Cousins. They commemorate family events and key moments in history, and learning their stories while you sip a glass of bubbly will make you feel like a member of the family.
It’s not necessary to make a booking for a tasting or tree tour at Van Loveren. And, this is also one of the few wine farms that’s also open on Sundays. Monday to Fridays they’re open 8:30am to 5pm, Saturdays from 9:30am to 3:30pm, and Sundays from 11am to 3pm. Phone: 023 615 1505
Weltevrede: spooky in the cellars
Somewhere you’re unlikely to have tasted wine before is inside an actual wine tank. At Weltevrede wine estate, there’s a huge underground network of concrete wine vats, which probably date back to the 1940s, when this was a common method of storing wine.
Long forgotten, the vats were only recently rediscovered. The cement and river stone walls have now been broken through to create a series of chambers that remain constantly cool year round. They’re now used to store some of the estate’s vintage bottled wine, and to entertain guests to wine tastings and even dinners in an unusual setting. Lit only by candles, the cellars are delightfully spooky!
Aside from the atmosphere, the wines are something different too. Thanks to four generations of family wine farming, and several different soil types on one single farm, they offer an exceptionally diverse range of wines, including a 100% Malbec (still an unusual varietal in South Africa), four different MCCs and the Weltevrede 1912 – extremely limited edition bottles that bear the name of every single Weltevrede employee. And their fun and friendly Simplicity collection includes Chocmint Cabernet Sauvignon, Cherrychoc Merlot, Cigarbox Shiraz and Vanilla Chardonnay.
To experience a tasting in the cellars, you’ll need to book ahead, preferably the day before, but at least an hour before your arrival. Weltevrede is open for wine tasting Monday to Friday from 8am to 5pm, and on Saturdays and public holidays from 9am to 3:30pm. Phone: +27 23 616 2141