If you think of the winelands, your first thoughts are most likely the picturesque farms of Franschhoek or the striking valley of Stellenbosch. Maybe you even pinpoint Paarl or Constantia in your mind. Very rarely will people think ‘Oh yes, Robertson!’. But in truth, the Robertson Wine Valley is one of South Africa’s busiest wine producing regions, representing over 50 wineries and tourism establishments across the town of Ashton, Bonnievale, McGregor and Robertson.
In truth, there’s a lot more to this region than initially meets the eye. Known as the valley of wine and roses, the town of Robertson was founded in 1852, and named after the Scottish minister, Dr. William Robertson. As the region has always been based in a very fertile valley, farming has been at the root of local industry. Yet, it didn’t start with the fruit of the vine.
Initially, the town’s industry was built on agricultural farming and wagon building, but following the second Anglo-Boer war of 1899, the wagon industry collapsed, with wagons being replaced by railways for the transport of goods. Next, Robertson became famous for ostrich farming, but again, the industry collapsed due to the devastating effects of World War I.
And so, it wasn’t too long after this that farmers turned their attention to wine, fruit and roses. Nestled between the Langeberg and Riviersonderend mountain ranges, the Breede River runs through the valley, providing sufficient irrigation to surrounding farmland. Vineyards thrive within the hot and dry conditions thanks to the fact that there is this strong water source – an oasis of sorts. Even today, visitors are encouraged to take a scenic boat ride along the river, which meanders past different country homes and restaurants located on the banks of the water.
Yet, it wasn’t until 1983 that the Robertson Wine Valley Association was finally formed. The formalisation of the collection of wineries within the towns of Ashton, Bonnievale, McGregor and Robertson introduced a new shared aim which continues to be to improve the local wine industry, uplift the community and put Robertson on the map as a tourist destination.
Today, the region produces a strong collection of entry-level, bulk and boutique wines, including some of the finest Chardonnay around made at De Wetshof. Owner Danie De Wet is known widely in wine circles as ‘Mr. Chardonnay’, and it’s no surprise given the nuances in his fleet of Chardonnays from different sites and with varying oak regimes. Then of course there are wineries such as Excelsior, which have diversified their offering towards wine and racehorse stud farms – an interest that several Robertson-based farmers have adopted in recent years.
As a region, there is no doubt that agriculture, especially viticulture, remains the mainstay of the town’s economy. And with the valley situated a mere 2-hour drive from Cape Town on the renowned Route 62, perhaps keep this spot in mind next time you’re thinking ‘winelands’. Here’s to you, Robertson.