Paula recently stayed at Excelsior Manor, a beautiful old wine estate in Robertson, where she enjoyed a relaxing holiday making her own wine and unwinding amongst the vineyards.
Rain tapped against the windscreen as we sailed down the N1, while the tall mountains of the Hex River Valley reached into the clouds. At Worcester we turned off onto the R60 and drove along next to the train line. For a short break, we stopped over at the Pampoen Padstall to buy some koeksisters, which are traditionally the best form of padkos.
Once we were back on the road it was soon evident that we were in wine country as the road became lined with vineyards, various types of palm trees, roses and beautiful red kannas. A few kilometres out of Robertson, right near such a patch of kannas, we turned off to Excelsior Manor where we were going to stay the night. We were warmly welcomed and shown to a room with a volumous ceiling and an extremely comfortable bed. The friendly dogs, Mongo and Kayla, did a great job of making us feel welcome at Excelsior Manor as well.
After settling in, we spent some time admiring the beautiful grounds around us before heading to Taste@Excelsior, the estate wine tasting room. It is romantically located over a small reservoir with ducks and tall horses grazing at the brim. This wasn't just an ordinary wine tasting; we were also given a chance to blend our very own bottle of red. Andries helped us out and we started by tasting a blend called "Pure Blend" and then got to taste the Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Our own creation had the highest percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon (our favourite). Next was the Merlot and then Shiraz made up the last ten percent. We then had to cork and seal the bottle before sticking on the estate sticker and voilà!
Our next stop was the deli and Graze@Excelsior, just a few steps away, where we had a somewhat unconventional lunch. I enjoyed sweet and sour pork in a bread bowl accompanied by the delicious Pure Blend. My husband chose to try the cordon bleu with a light curried sauce, and not much bleu, alongside a really delicious cherry milkshake.
We rolled back to our room for a luxurious nap while Eskom did its thing. When the electricity came back on, we brewed some tea in our room to enjoy with the complimentary rusks. The room we stayed in was named Eventhuis, after the award-winning horse (more on that later).
The feature of the room which we particularly enjoyed was the spacious wooden deck area that our room opened up to. It over-looked the lawn, herb garden, vineyards and a rose labyrinth that flanked the lawn. It was quiet and offers the perfect spot to read and write or just let your mind wander as you relax. Before long it was time to muster up some courage for a short sunset run in the vineyards. The glowing clouds were extremely striking, with colours streaking red across the sky that just got richer and richer until finally after a very long time, they faded to a soft grey.
Dinner was served in a beautiful dining room decorated by ornate dark wood furniture that shone in the light of the fire. In this cosy setting we were served a delicious three-course meal by the friendly James. The meals are always set menus made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. Zucchini soup made an excellent starter followed by succulent roast chicken served on rice with fresh veggies and crispy potatoes. We were also offered a variety of quality Excelsior wines to savour with our meal. The dessert was novel and completely decadent. The "chocolate layer" was almost like a solid tri-chocolate mousse slice, soaked in something like a fortified wine with bits of cake and cherry inside it.
Our room was just the spot to stay toasty on a chilly evening and recover from a day filled with memorable wine and food. During the night a mist settled over the vineyards that only cleared later in the next day.
We're not ones to shy away from 'bad weather' and were in the dining room bright and early for a buffet of cold meats, cheeses, fruit salad and yoghurt, hot coffee and a full English breakfast. With our stomachs, once again somewhat distended, we headed out for another vineyard adventure.
This time the dogs joined us. Kayla, the Jack Russell made herself comfortable on my lap as my husband steered the golf cart out onto the sand road, following the collie, Mongo. It was a lot of fun getting to explore the vineyards with a little extra speed than on our run the day before. The dogs were our jolly companions and clearly excited about the outing. Mongo faithfully lead us throughout the whole trip, although sometimes lagging when tiredness set in, he still stubbornly refused to hitch a ride. Kayla on the other hand knew what she deserved and hitched a ride all the way back to the Manor.
That is how I ended up here, on the deck, sipping a sparkling water in the autumn sunshine. My husband has wandered over to the edge of the deck to look at the vineyards and appreciate the view as he has many times during our stay here. In the background a dove is cooing and starlings are chattering away, while I take the chance to catch up on a little history about my surroundings.
Excelsior Manor had been restored in 2007 as it is in fact very old and parts of it are already over a hundred years old. The land itself was bought by Koos de Wet back in 1859, who had eloped with his brother's fiancée. In order to afford the land, Koos borrowed money from his uncle who owned the Klipdrift farm nearby (a name which might rightfully remind you of a certain brandy). At the time the land was covered in indigenous Mimosa trees, but before long, wheat was growing so well that Koos could repay his uncle after the first crop was harvested.
Koos divided the farm, between his three sons and it is the farm that we call Excelsior today was given to youngest son, Kowie. Although he grew vines on the farm, he loved horses more. As you might guess from looking at the label on the estate's wine bottles, he kept racehorses and had the leading hackney stud in South Africa.
As Kowie's wife came from Oudtshoorn, ostrich farming was added to the mix. Believe it or not, back then, before the First World War, an ostrich feather could sell for up to six pounds (the same price as a trip from Cape Town to Southhampton via the Union-Castle Line)! Mechanisation set in shortly afterwards and the ladies had to simplify their fashion to suit the new style of speed as cars became increasing popular. This caused a collapse in the feather industry, but the family continued tending to the horses and vines.
Today the fifth generation of the De Wet family continues to make excellent red wines at affordable prices. The high level of quality is achieved by carefully limiting the water supply to the vineyard, refraining from spraying the vines and then harvesting the grapes, which have been naturally and thoroughly ripened, all by hand. Sounds good, doesn't it?
Historic, spacious, comfortable, serene and beautiful, what could be more relaxing than a weekend away at Excelsior?
To find out more about Excelsior Manor and to book a weekend away in Robertson, click here.
Also On This Month's Newsletter: