As we drove out of a stormy and wet Cape Town on Saturday morning, heading for the Robertson Slow Festival, I couldn’t help but hope that the weather was only applicable for this side of the mountains and that we’ll enter a bustling, sunny Robertson Wine Valley. But sadly, the showers held strong and as we neared Robertson, it didn’t seem like one of the area’s most renowned festivals were underway.
But that’s just the thing with Robertson Slow. It’s not about the hundreds of people milling through wine stalls to taste enough for the money’s worth, it’s about the intimate dinner events where 10 strangers share a bottle of wine. It’s not about reading the label to try and understand the wine, but rather enjoying a glass with the owner of the farm and letting the winemakers themselves tell you how their wines came about.
The festival consists of a series of intimate breakfast, lunch and dinner events, all of which are accompanied by the hosting wine farm’s wines. It was hard to choose, but here are the ones we settled for.
Although Nerina Guest Farm and Burcon Wines sound like two separate entities, it’s all one and the same thing. Amanda Conradie and Reneé Burger keep a guest farm running, keep their horses happy and sell a bit of their own wines on the side. But mostly they drink it. The wine started when Amanda’s dad, Oompie, mixed up the Chardonnay and Shiraz vines. When it was time for the harvest, they were a little surprised, but decided to go ahead and make the wine. This easy drinking red was aptly named, Oompie se Oeps, and sums up Burcon Wines’ entire philosophy: It’s not about tasting and smelling all kinds of different things and impressing your friends with your wine knowledge; it’s about friends sharing a few bottles of wine and just enjoying the drink.
The second wine we tasted was Miskien Christine, a muskadel. Amanda and her family felt that a muskadel is so delicious, and brings so much happiness, that one should prolong this joy as long as possible. So a two-litre box, with the label stuck on by hand, proved the perfect packaging. To be perfectly honest, neither of us is big on Muskadel, but this was a lovely treat. She noticed we were intrigued and disappeared to retrieve the ingredients of her own ‘cocktail’. Ice, a fresh slice of lemon and the tasty Christine are definitely the perfect ingredients for a tasty riverside drink in summer.
As it was still raining by this time, we returned the next morning for our promised horseback ride. Amanda’s nine horses are just as close to her as her children and she happily takes anyone interested, no matter the skill level, out to explore the surrounding mountains. And what a majestic hour that was. We were assigned Amber and Thamshaka and the laid-back Tequila tagged along for the ride. Amanda stops every now and then on a ‘koppie’ to share stories about the history of the mountains and the fascinating plant life.
A stay at Nerina Guest Farm is very affordable and you can choose between the original Manor House, a rondawel for five or camping beside the river. Swimming, canoeing, hiking, drinking Muskadel cocktails, mountain biking and horse riding all come with the package.
As we walked to what looked like an abandoned building on Esona Wine Farm, all the mountains were capped with snow and the cold air was slicing through our coats. But as we entered the historic cellar, candles, lamps, heaters and a warm greeting from the hosts quickly beat the chill. Rowan and Caryl Beattie are the owners of this, newly established, boutique winery and Caryl prepared the entire meal for the evening. Salome Buys-Vermeulen, the viticulturist and oenologist, told the tale of Esona during four courses and five wines.
My favourite wine for the evening was the first, the Sauvignon Blanc 2010. We learned that Sauvignon Blanc is not necessarily at it’s best directly after it’s been bottled. We compared this and the distinctly different 2011 Sauvignon Blanc over smoked salmon canapés before descending downstairs to our intimate, candlelit table settings. Next up was the rich and hearty lobster bisque, served with the 2010 Chardonnay – a perfect combination.
Our main course was Karoo lamb shank and I was very excited to try my first lamb shank after reading about it in the August issue of Getaway and seeing Russel Smith’s amazing photo blog about the Karoo and its lamb. It was served with Esona’s only red wine, the 2010 Shiraz and everything was absolutely delightful. Caryl cooked the meat until perfectly tender and served it with couscous and a vegetable tartlet. Our final cheese boards were accompanied by Peter Bayly’s Cape Vintage Port and created the perfect ending to a very memorable, homely meal shared between friends.
This historic building lies hidden from the main road just after you enter Bonnievale. A majestic Cape Dutch building, complete with perfectly straight driveway and crowing roosters loomed before us. There wasn’t a soul in sight and we found the keys to our room in the lock. The heater was on and the room was nice and cosy – a great place to sleep off our an overload of delicious food and wine.
This is the culmination of a weekend of gastronomical delight. Fresh produce, arts and crafts, delicious pastries and coffee and even some shortcake houses were on sale and people of all ages were enjoying the fact that the sun finally decided to poke its head out.
It’s hard to believe that we were ready to dig in once more, but as soon as we walked into Bon Cap’s Bon Rouge Bistro, the smell of a traditional South African buffet lunch quickly got our appetites going again. The wine choices were endless, with both their Bon Cap range and The Ruins range on display.
A light, refreshing The Ruins Sauvignon Blanc proved the perfect Sunday afternoon wine.
And so the buffet commenced. Think freshly baked breads, grilled fish, bobotie, meatballs, rice, roasted potatoes, grilled chicken, pumpkin pie, cauliflower in white sauce and about six different fresh salads. If I hadn’t fallen back in love with traditional South African fair yet by then, then the little glasses filled with jelly and topped with custard, the malva pudding, the carrot cake and the five other baked desserts definitely did the trick.
We overlooked the sunny garden and the fire was crackling in the corner – a perfect end to a beautiful festival.
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