* This article first appeared here in Made in SA Magazine
Wind down the window and allow the fresh mountain air to revive those city lungs, as endless landscapes slowly sweep by – along with endless vineyards. This is Route 62, and as the world’s longest wine route, it is simply a sippers paradise.
The best part of it is there’s no slick marketing campaign behind it and so the experience has an authentic feel where quite literally, you’re the driver. Remember, it’s also a fairly long drive – although having no formal start and ending, the route encompasses over 800kms. Much like America’s famed Route66, Route 62 is a self-drive and an invitation to enjoy the slower life. Travel journalist Jared Ruttenberg shares a selection of his recommended stops.
Our starting point is Robertson, the most bustling of all the Route 62 towns where wine excursions are plentiful. Four Cousins is a name many of us are familiar with and in the heart of the town itself, their visitor centre proudly shows off their full range of offerings. If you’re travelling as a group or family, there is something for everyone. Adding to the multitude of wine tastings there is also a restaurant and brewery on-site.
If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at winemaking, Zandvliet has a treat in store. In a dedicated room, your wine host takes you through the process of wine blending, after which you can blend, bottle, and label your creation. As a spoil for your efforts, afterwards, settle in front of the fireplace in the Kalkveld lounge for one of Zandvliet’s tempting platters.
A few minutes out of town, you’ll discover an interesting find. Common to a few of the estates in the area, Esona has underground concrete tanks that were once used for the storage of sweet wine. As winemaking techniques have evolved and now made them redundant, Esona has repurposed them to offer a unique experience. Descending a staircase into the bowels of the building, visitors are welcomed to an underground lair. Here the hosts lead interactive tastings that involve comparing wines in different glasses – with an excellent introduction to Riedel’s range of variety-specific glasses. The sensorial experience is combined with food pairings, music and then artwork dressing the walls.
A short detour from Robertson and you’ll discover the oh-so-charming Mcgregor – a perfectly preserved 19th century Cape Village, replete with white-washed cottages and friendly locals. On the main village stretch, look out for the signs for Bemind – the town’s garagiste winery. After 16 years as a winemaker for various estates, Ilse Schutte decided to start her own range, which now includes an MCC, a white wine, and two red choices. The tastings run Wednesday to Sunday – and if the fetkoeks are on offer, trust me and order one.
If possible, plan your visit around breakfast at 51 – the classy café is owned by Gerard Back and Phillip Loxton and boasts the town’s finest baked bread. The village is also home to one of South Africa’s emerging advocates of plant-based eating, the kitchen-savvy Mira Weiner. Follow her beautifully curated social media to find out what she’s currently cooking up – or contact her in advance for the possibility of a personal demo in her garden.
Keeping in the spirit of quaint backroad villages, a little further on is the settlement of Bonnievale. In addition to the endearing name, at the boutique winery Lozärn there is an equally endearing story to be told. Winemaker Salome Buys-Vermeulen is one of only two or three in the industry that grows the rare Carmenere variety. It is officially one of the noble Bordeaux varieties that was once thought to have disappeared completely. In the 1990s tests were conducted on some of Chile’s Merlot plantings, only to discover that they were Carmenere and the variety was indeed alive and well. Visit Lozärn to taste this rare wine and meet the others in the farm’s collection.
Very seldom do I leave Woolworths without a bottle of Weltevrede Chardonnay in hand, and for the same reason, I can’t pass through the region without visiting the estate itself. Philip Jonker, fourth-generation winemaker-proprietor says “Our wines should have personality dictated by the soil. It should have a sense of place.” And there is no better way than to see it in person.
A recent extensive re-development of the farm’s visitor experiences will have wine-lovers and experience junkies in awe. The journey begins with the expansive new landscaped rose-and-vine garden, and then the magic continues underground. A labyrinth of underground tunnels provides a thrilling space to taste some of the region’s most beautiful limestone Chardonnays. Be sure to ask the host about the legendary story behind winemaker Philip Jonker producing wine from vines on Robben Island itself!
Next up is Montagu – where the buckled Cape Fold Mountains create an impressive rocky ravine as an entrance. At one point the road drives directly through a hole in the rock – look carefully enough and you’ll spot the concealed rock fort above. Start your explorations of the town with one of Flying Feet’s bicycle tours. Owner Marchelle van Zyl is every bit entertaining as she is knowledgeable, with tours including art stops and even the opportunities to hear about (and hopefully not meet) the town’s fabled ghosts.
Art Deco lovers will find the Montagu Hotel a feast for the eyes with a large collection of period furniture dressing the communal spaces and rooms. Owner PJ offers a truly unique way to experience Route62 – a scenic ride in one of the hotel’s American Dream Cars. Enquire about the sundowner drives where you can admire the sunset over the town while sipping on dessert wine.
Before leaving, plan an hour or two for a stop at the BluVines District. No expense has been spared on the building and furnishing of this collective that offers dining, food, wine, and coffee. The chic interior spaces with New York and Parisian touches, align with the beautifully presented food. What’s more, BluVine partners with the Rural Arts Development Foundation so patrons directly support the community and may even be treated to a musical performance by the waitrons, who are the art students themselves.
BluVines is also home to Mimosa Wines. Opt for the chef-suggested pairing option and consider taking home a bottle of the delectable Natural Sweet Mimosa Reserve made from Weisser Riesling; a generous glug over a service of ice cream is simply divine.
Heading further into the hinterland of Route 62, Barrydale is next. Known for its local artisan population, carve out some time to visit some of the local galleries, and Barrydale Hand Weavers to see their weaving mill and expertly made textiles.
Taking a brief departure from the vino, a visit to town must include Joseph Barry Distillery. There are four Klein Karoo terroir-inspired Cape Brandies to sample, with the over 6-year aged JOSEPH BARRY XOundoubtedly being the showstopper.
Our journey concludes a few hours down the road, in Port territory – or Cape Vintage as it’s referred to in South Africa. De Krans is firmly regarded as one of the leading producers in the country with a string of enviable awards to their name. Be on the lookout for their brand-new P&T – the first and only port-style wine and tonic in South Africa. A premium ready-to-drink cocktail that’s a firm favourite in Europe and is now proudly produced locally. If you’re wanting to walk off those calories, enquire about the scenic 30-minute walk through vineyards and orchards.
Where to Stay
1. Romantic Retreat: The Robertson Small Hotel is an education in elegance and intuitive hospitality. The magnificent Victorian home and adjacent buildings have several rooms tucked away, with two pools and a lush garden. therobertsonsmallhotel.com
2. Backroad Bonhomie: Embrace the sanctuary of McGregor’s Temenos Retreat, with homely cottages spread out through enchanting gardens. Also featuring a restaurant on-site and is within walking distance of everything else the hamlet has to offer. temenos.org.za
3. Country Class: Experience the finest country class at ceramicist, chef, and designer Jacques Erasmus’ Montagu properties. Four suites are spread across two Cape Dutch-style homes with jaw-dropping interior design with 18th-century Cape furniture. jonkmanshof.com