Nothing beats the passion of family run business. In my experience, goods and services that have been lovingly developed by a passionate owner, with skills being passed down from generation to generation, makes for a truly special end product. Perhaps that’s why I was enchanted by the Robertson wine valley — it’s one of the few Western Cape wine areas that still offers visitors a distinct owner-run feel. From 6th generation wine makers to original farm houses converted into charming farm stay guest houses, nothing beats the small town charm of the Robertson wine valley. Of course, even in such a ‘small’ valley there’s still so much to explore and discover and planning a short 2-night stay can quickly become overwhelming for first time visitors and regulars alike. After returning from a whirlwind 2-night tour of the valley I’ve decided to share my picks of the top 5 things to do when you’ve got just two days in Robertson. From quint places to stay and restaurants to visit to hidden wine tasting gems, there’s something for everyone on this list!
Lay your head at Jan Harmsgat Country House
Located on a historic 17th-century working farm, this beautiful wine and pomegranate farm offers a charming but luxurious place to lay your weary head after a day of wine tasting and exploring. The 5-star Jan Harmsgat Country House offers 10 exclusive rooms in a farm house setting. Complete with homey touches like cosy sitting room areas, a communal mini bar, plenty of crackling fire places, and a sparkling salt-water pool, this is the ideal spot for a low-key family getaway or a romantic weekend away. We spent one night at this special spot where we called a stylishly converted 4-room Cape Dutch-style building home. Originally built in 1723, the beautiful thatch roofed building offers stylishly decorated rooms with all the amenities like old school baths, over-sized showers, flat screen TVs, DStv, and tea station with scrumptious homemade crunchies.
We enjoyed a wine tasting, dinner, and breakfast at the farm’s on-site restaurant and I was super impressed with the eatery’s farm-to-table style cuisine. The intimate restaurant serves a delicious breakfast and guests are treated to a hot breakfast menu accompanied by a continental breakfast spread of fruit, yoghurt, freshly baked bread and pastries, as well as cold meats, various spreads, crackers, and fruit juice. Make sure you try the the farm’s Pomegranate honey and freshly squeezed pomegranate juice at breakfast time, they’re both simply delightful!
As for dinner, you can’t go wrong with the classic meals served with a South African twist. All meals on the menu are made with fresh produce from the farm’s garden so you know you will get something new and different each day, depending on what has been sourced from the garden. We tucked into a spicy Malay-style curry served with a side of poppadoms, rice, and a fresh tomato and onion salad (the perfect accompaniment to any local curry!). The flavourful dish had just the right amount of chili and was the ideal treat on a cold Autumn night. While you’re there, don’t forget to sample the Jan Harmsgat wines! The farm creates only single-block wines (this is the smallest production unit for vineyards and may not exceed six hectares per cultivar) and their vinification process is conducted with minimal interference, using spontaneous fermentation and zero enzymes, making for some unique wines!
Skip the tasting room at Mont Blois Wine Estate
Robertson is home to some pretty well-known wineries and farms so it was a real treat to discover something a little more off-the-beaten-track. There’s no tasting room at Mont Blois but what they have instead is so much more charming! By bookings only, wine lovers are invited to book a tasting on wine maker, Nina-Mari’s very own stoep. Here you’ll meet the family cat and get a chance to take in the breathtaking views of the Robertson valley while Nina-Mari takes you through a tasting of her very special wines. The wife of 6th generation wine maker, Ernst Bruwer, Nina-Mari is committed to reigniting and continuing the tradition of site-specific wine making under the family’s Mont Blois brand and after just one sip of her delicious creations it’s clear that she’s on to something quite extraordinary.
The Pomphuis Muscadel is pure dessert wine heaven! While I’m a dessert wine lover, I know many people shy away from sweet wines but this fortified wine is the perfect example of why South Africans need to jump onboard the dessert wine train. While full bodied and bold in flavour, I found this wine to be a lot more easy drinking than other dessert wines. The beautiful bouquet of yellow peaches, apricots, ripe melons, raisins, Turkish Delight, and Mint Humbugs gives this wine a decadent decadent stone fruit flavour with a nice balance of freshness and acidity.
If you don’t get a chance to visit the farm while in Robertson, do yourself a favour and buy a few bottles of their wines from their online store and have it delivered to your house to enjoy with friends and family. Sure, you might not have the killer Mont Blois view to stare at while you sip on these delicious wines but the flavours of these unique wines will more than make up for the lack of a view!
Cheers to good times at Paul Rene MCC
If it’s good times, with a touch of easygoing luxury, you’re after, you’ll find it at Paul René MCC. Farmer and bubbly producer, Henk van Niekerk, is all about breaking away from the traditional stuffy vibes often associated with which MCC in South Africa. With its sophisticated, modern look and feel and bold, exciting flavours, Paul René MCC appeals to a new generation of bubbly enthusiasts. The tasting room is small but oh-so-inviting and fits in perfectly with Henk and wife, Monica’s, vision to always keep all things Paul René MCC small and intimate. Whether it’s the farm’s annual Splash of Pink bubbly festival held in November each year or a regular every day wine tasting, the brand ensures visitors to the farm leave with a special feeling of family in their hearts.
With just two MCCs in the range, even the bubbly range is small and intimate! The Paul René MCC Brut is the perfect good times bubbly. It is crafted with careful attention to detail and made from 100% chardonnay grapes, resulting in a truly exceptional sparkling treat. During the wine making process, the grapes are hand picked in the early morning and then chilled overnight, before being passed into the press crate by crate. Each bottle is fermented for no less than 20 months on the lees, resulting in a vibrant apricot and green apple freshness on the palate and a wonderfully dry finish.
As much as I love the Brut, my favourite of the two is no doubt the Paul René MCC Rosé. To make this delicious pink bubbly, Henk uses 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay grapes before fermenting each bottle for 24 months on the lees at a consistent temperature of 14 degrees Celsius, before disgorgement. This is the ultimate summer bubbly for me — the refreshing, modern style of this wine coupled with red, fruity flavours, floral undertones and silky richness, make it ideal for a summer sundowner.
Taste the difference at Esona Boutique Wines
This special little winery was one of the real highlights of the trip for me. Firstly, visiting Esona is like taking a step right into a piece of history. Secondly their wines are delicious and their clever wine tasting options changed the way I think about wine and the vessels I drink it in. Located in a 95-year old building that was previously used for fermenting wine in cement tanks (kuips) Esona’s tasting room and restaurant is unlike anything you have ever seen before.
Follow the the stairs down into the tasting ‘cellar’ and experience an intimate candle-lit wine tasting set inside the old wine fermentation tanks. Whether you love wine or are a wine newbie you have to try Esona’s ‘Taste the Difference’ wine tasting experience. This unique experience sees guests tasting a selection of Esona’s single vineyard limited release wines (namely the Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Shiraz) in different glasses. The first taste in an ordinary wine glass (jokers) and the second in a grape specific crystal glass. The difference in taste is astounding and I couldn’t believe the difference a glass can make to way you taste wine and how the flavours interact with your palate.
Once you’ve found a wine you love, head upstairs to Caryl’s Deli and order a bottle to enjoy alongside a tasty sandwich, served on freshly baked bread or a farm fresh snack platter pilled high with cheese, crackers, bread, meats, and dips. The menu features ingredients sourced from local suppliers and the eatery’s laid back outside deck offers guests a place to relax while taking in the breathtaking views of the vineyards below and the Breede River. If the kruips downstairs aren’t quite your scene you can also enjoy a wine tasting on the deck outside while you munch on something delicious.
Tuck in at Van Loveren
Foodies will LOVE Van Loveren. Not only is the farm home to the much loved Christina’s Bistro but the tasting room also offers all sorts of delicious food and wine pairings for wine lovers to savour and enjoy. With 10 different wine and food pairing tastings on the tasting menu, there’s something for everyone to enjoy at Van Loveren. We were lucky enough to sample all the tastings on the menu and my favourites were definitely the oh-so-meaty Papillon Sparkling wine pairing, which pairs 3 Papillon sparkling wines with droëwors, biltong, and prosciutto (R60), and the Rhino Run and charcuterie pairing which pairs 3 Rhino Run wines with a selection of locally produced charcuterie (R60). Other fun tastings include the Tangled Tree and chocolate pairing (5 Tangled Tree wines paired with artisanl chocolates – R60), and the Dessert Wine pairing (3 dessert wines paired with pistachios, peri-peri peanuts, and slated cashews – R60).
If you’ve got time for lunch make sure you book a table at Christina’s Bistro after your tasting experience. Grab a table under the trees and tuck into the bistro’s famous thin crust wood-fired pizzas, a delicious gourmet burger, or one of the many other seasonal chef’s specialties. The food here is made fresh, to order is is always excellent quality. I’ve had lunch at Christina’s twice now and both times have been absolutely wonderful. Pair your meal with your favourite Van Loveren wine and you’re all set for a perfect afternoon.
And, if you’re looking for a way to walk off your lunch, leave a little time for the extra special Van Loveren garden tour. The beautiful garden surrounding the winery is the legacy of Jean Retief who, since her arrival in 1939, has planted many trees to commemorate special family, political and historical occasions. A leaflet detailing all these stories is available from the tasting desk and guests are welcome to do a self-guided tour of the garden or join a 30-minute guided excursion at R50 per person (including a glass of bubbly).