Situated in the heart of the abundant Breede River Valley, the quaint town of Robertson is surrounded by many well-known wine estates and stud farms. Here, in the shadows of the Langeberg mountains, fanciful Victorian homesteads rub shoulders with chic eateries along jacaranda-lined roads that amble towards ever-more fascinating destinations.
The town developed against the backdrop of a rich and intriguing historical tapestry, and visitors to this impossibly pretty neck of the woods always experience the heartfelt welcome of a close-knit community that prides itself on extending genuine hospitality.
The Robertson Wine Valley Hands-On Harvest is a natural extension of this innate hospitality and love of entertaining. The annual event takes place along the famed Route 62 and invites visitors to follow the grape’s journey from vine to barrel to glass in the best way possible – by picking grapes, getting into barrels to stomp on it, going on vineyard safaris and joining in on a variety of blending and tasting experiences. We know what you’re thinking – that’s right up the Eatsplorer alley! Spoiler alert: it most certainly was.
With 20+ wineries, estates and other establishments taking part, this food and wine affair offers a wide variety of tailor-made activities and festivalgoers are free to choose their own adventure. Beatrix Galloway, manager of the Robertson Wine Valley and one of the key drivers behind this unique festival, says the biggest drawing card by far is the fact that visitors can enjoy the singular beauty of the valley while taking part in intimate, interactive experiences in various locations. “Guests are invited to play winemaker for a day, interact with some of the region’s finest oenologists and become a part of the heritage and passion that drives the area’s wine industry. It’s also completely kid-friendly and provides families with the opportunity to create memories that will last a lifetime.”
Excellent, excellent, we hear you say, but how’s about some specifics you guys? Sure thing – here are a few of the highlights of this year’s Hands-On Harvest.
Grape stop: Esona Boutique Wines, a boutique winery that boasts some pretty nifty architecture and decidedly delicious single-vineyard wines. Here, guests could join in on a unique vertical wine tasting experience in the candlelit ‘kuip’ that compared two vintages each of the winery’s limited release Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Shiraz. Upstairs, in the airy deli, wine was paired with music and guests tucked into platters for two, consisting of cold meats, cheese, dried fruits, pate and freshly baked bread that were tailored to complement particular cultivars.
Esona owner Rowan Beattie and his wife Caryl take immense pride in their business and how it has evolved to empower local members of the community over the years. “We live in Cape Town and before we bought the farm we used to visit all the surrounding towns but seldom as far as Robertson, although we both visited the town in our youth. The town was much smaller then. We were accepted as newcomers, but our surname was a surprise – an English name in an Afrikaans valley! However, we were welcomed and from the beginning we made many acquaintances and friends. Today Caryl’s Deli on Esona farm employs six full-time venue staff, four of whom had never held permanent jobs before, and two of whom have been put in charge as co-managers of the venue. These are the fine folks who get us our excellent ratings on TripAdvisor and other online forums.”
Cellar time: De Wetshof Estate offered a cellar tour conducted by CEO Johann de Wet and his friendly and enthusiastic team, followed by a tasting of their ‘moss’ wines from different tanks to provide some insight on the winemaking process. The encounter was concluded with a subterranean tasting of a range of De Wetshof wine in the vat cellar.
Heinrich Bothman, public relations officer for De Wetshof says the winery has taken part in the Hands-On Harvest since its inception in 2008 to showcase their region’s unique character. “Our area is rustic with a modern feel. De Wetshof taps into this innate character by tailoring authentic tasting experiences that introduce wine lovers to vintages that celebrate our singular terroir. Our winemakers are known as trailblazers in the industry and the pioneers of Chardonnay in South Africa – Danie De Wet first introduced it to the market and it has changed the wine landscape irrevocably.”
Farm stay: Jan Harmsgat Historic Farms & Country House was another highlight on the festival circuit. The farm’s history dates back to the 1700s, and today it is one of the biggest pomegranate farms in South Africa. The space has a lovely tranquil vibe, with pecan trees that crowd close around the old country house, and a winery that is renowned for their five eponymous wines, of which the Cabernet Sauvignon is the flagship. The farm offered two experiences – ‘working for your breakfast’, a tractor ride alongside farm manager Kowie Smit who explained the production cycle and hand-harvesting en route, after which guests could press their own juice with an old hand press and join in on a harvest breakfast; and a four-course food & wine pairing dinner that featured local favourites such as flavoursome lamb curry and light, yet decadent pomegranate panna cotta.
The Viljoensdrift market was festive but chilled, a proper countryside affair. “We’re very glad we decided to join in celebrating the end of the festival with all the participating wine cellars, food vendors and craftspeople. There was a lovely cosy atmosphere with live music playing – old, classic songs that were perfect for a laid-back afternoon. The Viljoensdrift Deli sold fine meats, fresh bread, wine and condiments to purchase for a relaxing lunch on the deck or to take along on a boat cruise on the river,” recounts Jan Ras, the lucky Eatsplorer contributor who was our man on the ground.
Our verdict? The Robertson Wine Valley Hands-On Harvest is a great outing for the whole family, with plenty of lovely things to eat, drink and experience in one of the prettiest settings in the Western Cape. If it was a girl in a coming-of-age movie we’d totally invite her to sit at our table.
TAKE NOTE: Tickets for next year’s event will be made available early in 2019 – watch this space to stay in the know and bag these beauties hot off the presses.
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