Fine wines & fabulous adventures - Wacky Wine Weekend

Words: Megan Ramage | Photos: Haley B. Nishida

Thousands of people put up tents, found hotels, and drove for hours to experience the wine tastings, cuisine, and wild antics of this year's kykNet and Robertson Wine Valley’s Wacky Wine Weekend, which opened on Thursday, 5 June and ran through to Sunday, 8 June.

Photo credit: Haley B. Nishida

Now into its 11th year and known as South Africa’s biggest regional wine festival, there were 50 properties across the Robertson Wine Valley showcased. Winemakers and tasters alike enjoyed a warm breeze and blue skies as they cruised down the Breede River, sipping on reds and whites, revelling in the jubilant atmosphere that had descended over this section of the world’s longest wine route.

Each of the four days of the festival had a theme, starting off with 'Seriously Wine Thursday', which offered master tasting and food pairing classes from some of the most high-profile wineries, including Graham Beck Wines. Friday's theme was 'Wine Up Friday', followed by 'Full On Wacky Saturday' and 'Wine Down Sunday', both of which were filled with live music, unique culinary treats, and plenty of stands to buy decorations, jewelry, or souvenir bottles.

The Roodezandt Wines venue was one of the zany highlights of the festival, with a kiddies' jumping castle, various stalls advertising temporary tattoos and distillery demonstrations, and an outdoor seating area where visitors could listen to Reinier van Rooyen. The white-washed walls of the Roodezandt winery stood in stark contrast to the dark red puddle that overflowed from a wine pool and slide located at the centre of the festivities. For R50, anyone who dared to brave the icy temperatures of the Cabernet Dive could change into a T-shirt and shorts and race down the slide to the cheers of the surrounding crowd. Divers then battled blindly to grab washers from the bottom of the pool, which could be turned in for wine prizes and monetary prizes up to R10,000. Participants also received a bottle of the concoction they had been swimming in, The Red from Roodezandt’s Keizer’s Creek range. This soft, light blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, and 10% Ruby Cabernet is an easy drinking red wine that pairs with any food, with its juicy tannins and tastes of red fruits like plum and raspberry.

While Roodezandt has been a participant in the Wacky Wine Weekend since the festival’s inception in 2003, it was only eight years ago that the family-owned winery came up with the idea for their Cabernet Dive, after hearing about a similar concept at a festival in China. Ever since, it’s been an annual hit with festival attendees, making Roodezandt one of the 'must-see' spots of the weekend. Besides Roodezandt’s crowd-pleasing Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, the winery also included their dessert wine, Special Late Harvest, among the tasting samples. Sweet and with an aroma of raisins and honey, this wine was named for the specific sugar amount that goes into it.

Photo credit: Haley B. Nishida

Across the street at the La Verne Boutique, a multitude of wine cellars offered their favorite selections to visitors. "Oh my goodness, Major’s Hill!" shouted one excited taster, as he spotted the estate’s stall and pushed his way through the crowd to try the Merlot. He sipped his 25-millilitre sample with a smile on his face, tasting the blackberry and plum flavours, and the undertones of smokiness. He gave a deep sigh of delight, "Beautiful, beautiful." The most popular Major’s Hill wine of all time, however, is their Pinotage, with its oaky, smoky, tobacco flavors. Pinotage is a blend born out of South Africa in the 1920s and made from the country’s signature hybrid grapes, a cross between Pinot Noir and Hermitage grapes. Along with the Cap Classique wines (South Africa’s official version of champagne), Pinotage is one drink that every tourist in SA needs to taste for themselves.

Catering to the upper-class market, Vruchtbaar Boutique Winery showcased its Cabernet Sauvignon, a rarity as they only produce 1,200 bottles per year. The Cabernet is aged for 24 months in a 50% American oak barrel, to give it a smooth, round taste with a lingering note of caramel.

For those looking for a great bargain, the family-owned Burgershof Wine Farm stand was selling bottles of their fruity 2013 vintage Sauvignon Blanc as part of a buy two, get one free deal.

This festival was not just about wine, with Laharna Farm offering visitors a taste of its organic olives and olive spreads. The honey and mustard olive paste offered a sweet and tangy mix to pair with cold meats, while the olive jam combined sugar and lemon to create a sweet complement to various cheeses, or a topping for meat and vegetables.

Moving away from the main drag for a moment of pure athleticism, thrill seekers congregated at Robertson Winery’s Paru Farm on the Saturday morning to watch a 57 km, 42 km, 29 km, and 12 km mountain bike race. Spectators could also take a leisurely 5 km walk through the farm’s vineyard and enjoy views of rolling foothills leading up to sky-scraping mountain peaks. All the money raised from the walk went to Hospice, fitting in with the charitable theme of the weekend. Anyone who donated blankets, warm clothing, or knitting materials for the less fortunate to the Robertson Wine Valley office received a free gift of wine, equal to the weight of their donation, up to a six-bottle case (9 kg).

Much of the festival took place outdoors, with certain exceptions such as the Robertson Food and Wine Hall on Voortrekker Road, which drew interested visitors with its various food stalls and live acoustic cover music by Dirkie & Talita. Chocaholics were in for treat as they sampled chocolate and wine pairings. Robertson Winery offered a variety of tasting samples, including a smooth, full-bodied 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon tasting of mulberry, plum, cassis, and soft tannins.

Thierry and Guy Fat Bastard wine were another popular stop in the hall. Fat Bastard prides itself on its Shiraz, a lighter wine and the first red it released. The brand’s white wines, like the Chardonnay, are an easy-drinking wine that can be paired with lighter foods, like sushi.

Next year’s Wacky Wine Weekend is scheduled to take place from 4-7 June, so be sure not to miss this crazy winter wine adventure!