Family time, sans whine

© Cape Times Friday 15th November 2013

Parents out there – the countdown has begun! Yes, it’s now a mere three weeks until the school holidays with all that that entails. In my house, it means a long nightmare of organising playdates, fetching and carrying, arguments about playing on the Wii and the Xbox and grizzles of “I’m bored!” appearing at regular intervals. So it was good timing on the part of the canny Robertson Wine Valley folk to invite me to jol around there last weekend and see what sort of non-electronic family-friendly things you can get up to which will please young and old alike.

For several years now we have spent part of our Christmas holidays in Montagu, living in the swimming pool and only venturing forth to restock the wine cabinet. Which is a shame as there are plenty of things you can get up to if you try. It’s a richly diverse valley, as famed for racehorses, apricots and wildlife as it is for wine. First up on our family-friendly itinerary was a visit to Farmer Redbeard. This is a new venture by ninth-generation farmer Albertus van Zyl and his wife Patrizia – and yes, he does indeed have a red beard! Located right in the heart of the stunning Langeberg mountain, they have opened their farm to a whole range of hands-on farming experiences for all us city-slickers who think that milk comes from plastic bags in Pick n Pay. You can pick fruit, ride in a tractor, make honey, play ball with the smiling and friendly dogs, learn to cook traditional preserves or do what I did – taste Albertus’s hopefully-soon-to-be released range of witblits and fruit spirits. I’m becoming increasingly interested in spirits and distilling and from the marked increase of boutique spirits and handcrafted sips coming my way, it’s clear that I’m not alone.

You need to book all the activities at Farmer Redbeard’s in case they’ve disappeared off up the mountains to their latest project – the newly-refurbished ‘braai bus’ – so contact them on But if you can’t get organised in time, then head for the place that’s always open, always friendly and always stocked with great wine – Van Loveren wines. If you haven’t been recently, you may be in for a bit of a shock because the slightly-ramshackle tasting tables have been replaced by an uber-larney modern barn and water feature. But fear not, the Van Loveren warmth and charm is still very much in place and over a bottle of their MCC, marketing manager Bonita Malherbe shared all their news. The aim of all the changes was to encourage visitors to linger longer at the farm and it seems to be working as they have experienced a massive 45% increase in spend per head since the tasting centre opened! Apart from the fabulous children’s grape juice and jelly-tot tasting, they have a whole range of different pairing options matching their large range of wines to meat, cheese and chocolates. The mountain bike and hiking trails are now fully-open and Christina’s Bistro is cranking out excellent, thin-crust pizzas to many of the 500 guests a day in season. What I like about Van Loveren is that there is something for everyone and they are open 7 days a week, 362 days a year – admirable business-sense in my opinion.

If you want more family-friendly wine farms, there is Viljoensdrift with its boat rides, jungle gyms at Bon Courage, Bon Cap and Ashton Kelder, large lawns and a lake at Springfield and the lovely grounds and stoep of De Wetshof (a place forever etched on my brain as it was against the wall of which my son once pulled down his pants and had a wee in front of amused visitors). Non-wine farm activities include the animals at the Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary in McGregor, crocodiles at Birds Paradise, horse-riding at Nerina Guest Farm and if beer is your thing, head outside to the Saggy Stone Brewery at Agtervinkrivier where there’s lots of space and jungle gyms for the kids whilst you taste some of the Robinson brothers’ fine ales. Witblits, wine, beer and peace and quiet in which to try them all – Robertson Wine Valley is a family-paradise over the holiday season, go and spend a day or two amidst its many charms.