A glorious weekend of gluttony at the Robertson Slow Festival

Posted by Vanessa Berger on 2 September 2011

If you live in the Western Cape then you know all about wine festivals. There are so many to choose from that you could probably attend at least one a month throughout the year. It’s definitely one of the things that makes living in Cape Town a pleasure and has taught me about the art of drinking wine (and the joy of just knocking back a few glasses for fun!). Winters in Cape Town always equate to a fair amount of wine drinking, but this experience is made infinitely better when pairing delicious wine with wholesome winter comfort food (in the company of winemakers). And that’s exactly what I discovered the Robertson Slow Festival is all about.

After a group of friends and I attended the Hands on Harvest festival in Robertson earlier this year (see my blog post about the Robertson’s Hands on Harvest Festival)­, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to attend the Slow Festival when I was kindly invited by the Robertson Wine Valley festival organisers­.

The Slow festival has been running for about five years and pleasantly enough is still one of the smaller festivals that take place in the valley. This means that the events hosted by local wine farms and guesthouses are much smaller and more personalised than the bigger wine festivals.  There are many activities on offer and events range from bread making in the quaint village of McGregor to more exotic safari dinners (if tasting crocodile is on your list of things to do!). After consulting the extensive programme, I selected four for my partner and I to try over the weekend. Making plenty of space in our bellies, we prepared ourselves for a weekend full of wine and food. Bring it on!

1. Spätzle making at Gubas de Hoek Guesthouse

The guesthouse we stayed at over the weekend was the first stop for our foodie weekend: Spätzle making with Gunther and Balbina. Spätzle is a type of German pasta, similar looking to noodles, but a bit more coarse. A traditional pasta dough recipe is made (with the addition of nutmeg and more eggs) followed by the really hard work that requires quite a knack. Gunther showed us how to use a flat looking knife to gently spread the soft dough across the lower half of the board and then roughly slice it into the boiling water. The pasta noodles rise to the top of the boiling water when cooked and the process is repeated until enough pasta is made. It may sound easy, but it really isn’t. Luckily the work is well worth it and we were served up our own fresh spätzle served with Zwiebelrostbraten (sirloin steak with onions, a red wine sauce and sauerkraut) complimented by some lovely local wines. Gunther and Balbina were very entertaining, full of energy and ready to answer any questions we had about the process of making the spätzle and other traditional German food. Their vision is to combine South African and German ideas in cooking, using only locally sourced produce and wines. We finished off the night with some very strong grappa shots and delicious pancakes served with a cherry sauce.

2. Ciabatta bread making in McGregor

The next morning we headed to McGregor, an adorable little village about 20 km from Robertson. The quiet streets are lined with traditional, whitewashed, thatched cottages, cute little coffee/gift shops and artist studios. We were greeted by three very friendly women who live at Poena, a bakery run from a beautiful old house with the most gorgeous Karoo-inspired garden. Hester (the bread maker), Lies (the fire maker) and Janet (the cook) were our hosts for the afternoon and were incredibly down to earth individuals who all love living in the sleepy hollow of McGregor. Hester told us the story of how she became passionate in searching for a recipe for the perfect ciabatta. The Italian loaf is named after a slipper: flat and earthy with a crust that looks like a rustic landscape. She has created a cookbook called ‘Hester se Brood’, which is beautifully illustrated by fire maker and artist, Lies. We all had a chance at rolling and massaging the dough into the right shapes, and preparing it for the wood oven. Making ciabatta is quite a process as we discovered (it involves making a pre-fermented dough), but the crusty bread you come out with is so worth it! Hester’s lesson was followed by a mouthwatering Italian feast and olive tasting in the glorious afternoon sun. On the menu: warm crusty ciabatta, Tuscan bean soup, beef cooked in ragu, roman gnocchi (to die for!), amongst other culinary delights made by Janet. Later in the afternoon we were joined a friendly ginger cat called Vusi (after Vusi Masikela) who was also eager for a taste of Italy and a cuddle.

3. Breede River Hospice Dinner

After a very lazy afternoon at Poena (full to the brim of food and wine) we attended the Breede River Hospice dinner, a charity event for Hospice in Robertson. The round table event was hosted by various well-known winemakers in the area, such as Danie de Wet (De Wetshof), Boet Jonker (Mooiuitsig) and Nico Retief (Van Loveren). After being seated at various tables, we had a chance a chance to chat and hear stories about the early days of wine making from the winemakers themselves. We learned that things have changed dramatically in terms of irrigation and ownership of land, but the passion for winemaking remains. Meeting the wives of the winemakers gave us insight into their personal lives and we were able to hear about what it was like growing up in the Robertson Valley. One of the wives even told us that she still has a bottle of Moskonfyt (grape must jam made from the residues of grape pulp) from about 1950! The evening ended with a wine auction where bottles of vintage wines were auctioned for the charity. The evening wouldn’t be complete without more grub- we enjoyed traditional Robertson winter food made by a local chef, along with plenty of wine (all donated by the winemakers).

4. Ouma Pietnel’s Sunday Lunch at Burcon Wines

As if our stomachs could take anymore indulgence, we still had one more event to attend. And boy were we not going to miss out on traditional Afrikaans food served on a boat trip along the Breede River. However, first on the day’s priorities was to attend the Farmers market. Everything was so well-priced and the sellers were so persuasive that we came out with handfuls of crafts and yummy food products. All shopped-out we swiftly made our way on to the next event. The weather played along perfectly, making it an awesome day for a quiet cruise along the river. After we arrived at Burcon Wines (also Nerina Guest Farm), Amanda Conradie, the bubbly owner told us stories about the origins of their wines. My Afrikaans is not amazing (far from it!) so hopefully I translated the story correctly! Their red wine is called Oompie se Oeps after the winemaker, Oompie, couldn’t find his glasses one day while planting his vines. Two years later he realized he had accidentally planted Shiraz and Pinotage in the same row, creating Oompie se Oeps (a very pleasant, easy drinking red wine). The other wine they make is called Miskien Christine, a sweet Muscadel. The philosophy behind the wine is that because it is so delicious and easy to drink people consequently become very loose (read into this what you will!). The label says it all, displaying a very voluptuous woman enjoying the Muscadel. Amanda told us that there was no other way to serve it, other than in a papsak box! The boat trip took us along the Breede River where we treated to a huge feast of real “˜boere’ food! We sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the spectacular views of the river while we ate chicken pie, mutton, waterblommetjie-bredie, pumpkin tart, baked potatoes and freshly baked farm bread. The best was saved for last: by far the best milk tart I have ever tasted and very moreish malva pudding and custard. We listened to entertaining stories from Amanda’s daughter about life on the farm and Afrikaans culture. I really liked the unpretentious approach they have towards wine making and their restaurant. It was a great way to end the fantastic weekend before a long trip back to Cape Town (and the start of a very long detox!).

These are only some of the events that were on offer at this year’s Robertson Slow Festival, but be sure to keep an eye out on the Robertson Slow Festival website for details of next year’s programme.

Gubas de Hoek

We stayed at Gubas de Hoek, a very centrally located guesthouse in the heart of Robertson. It is a four-star establishment that sleeps 16 people in total. There are outdoor cottages with off-street parking and hearty breakfasts are offered at an additional cost. A dinner service is provided from Friday to Tuesday and there is also a guest-kitchen for use. The atmosphere is very friendly, clean and welcoming. Rooms range from R300 to R390 per person sharing per night. Single rooms are available on request. Book here.

 

Click here for more accommodation options in and around Robertson.

 

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