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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES #142 (article first published : 2005-11-30)

Wine farmers in the Western Cape have over the years devised a wide variety of promotional activities, from opera to picnic hampers on the lawns, all of them planned to attract more customers to the estates in what has become a highly competitive industry.

One of the more unusual of these side shows is the river boat at Viljoensdrift, a 120-hectare farm in the Robertson area, about 170 kilometres east of Cape Town.

Viljoensdrift Wines, established in 1998, is a cellar that produces six high quality wines, four of them in a range called River Grandeur, this because the farm is on the banks of the Breede River. The Viljoensdrift cabernet sauvignon, pinotage and shiraz are all graded four stars in the John Platter Guide, and there are also three good whites, chenin blanc, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.

The farm is owned by the brothers Fred (winemaker) and Manie (viticulturist) Viljoen, and they are an enterprising pair. For several years they have offered river cruises in a boat called Uncle Ben (named after their father) and they have now replaced the ageing craft with a new 12-metre aluminium motorised boat, Uncle Ben 2, that can accommodate 40 people on two decks.

Robertson is a beautiful part of the Cape. It is about 50 kilometres south-east of the N1 national road at Worcester and the Viljoen brothers hope to attract stopover visitors on their way to and from Cape Town, as well as corporate functions, those team-building exercises that are so fashionable today. The Breede (broad) River is about 300 kilometres long and flows from the mountains near Ceres into the Indian Ocean near Swellendam. It flows through the Robertson valley, which is one of the most intensely cultivated areas of South Africa.

The Viljoensdrift river boat operates at weekends. Booking is essential on 023 615 1901 or e-mail viljoensdrift@lando.co.za

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Two women in the Cape wine industry took the limelight in London recently when Su Birch, chief executive of the export organisation Wines of South Africa, was named the Champagne Lanson Woman in Wine for 2005 and Cathy van Zyl became the only resident South African and the 250th person world wide to earn her Masters in Wine status from the Institute of Masters of Wine in Britain.

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Plaisir de Merle, the historic wine farm at Simondium, has been given membership of the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI) in recognition of its efforts to re-establish the natural habitat on large areas of the 985-hectare farm, of which 400 hectares are under vines.

The BWI is a partnership between the wine industry and conservation bodies aimed at preventing any further loss of indigenous vegetation in the Cape Floral Kingdom, in which about 90 percent of South Africa’s vines are planted.

Efforts to rehabilitate fynbos on the farm were begun 15 years ago with the removal of alien vegetation, mainly hakea, black wattle and pine trees. – Michael Green




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