There is a very special part of the Robertson Wine Route that belongs exclusively to the Viljoen family, whose French Huguenot forebears first planted vines there in 1818.
Today the winery is run by Fred Viljoen and his brother Manie, with Fred taking care of the winemaking and Manie the all-important role of viticulturist. Their wines increasingly gain accolades and awards but still retain their appeal for the wine drinker, without becoming so refined one feels intimidated getting to grips with them.
“Wine can’t make itself. If you hesitate to bottle a wine, don’t bottle it – it will bite you later,” says Fred.
The valley itself is one of the most gorgeous in the Cape, with a certain air of independence from mainstream winemaking, which is found closer to the Mother City. Where else would you find a sign that says ‘eende te huur – ducks to hire’ as you drive along the road to Bonnievale?
The ducks play a very important part in the ecological balance by eating the snails that are pests in the vineyards. The wines Fred makes are packed with the flavours of this verdant area, with the judicious use of wood not becoming a player but a supporter of the fruit in the bottle. Viljoensdrift is right on the Breede River and a visit there will always please, with river cruises on their barge and a glass of wine in hand while you drink in the glories of nature – an absolute pleasure. As Fred says, “In Robertson you can ask any winemaker for advice and they will help. They influenced me to make my own wine.”
We got to linger a little longer with Fred and ask a few more questions so we could get to know him better:
Can you describe the best glass of wine you’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking?
It was my own Pinotage after it had been awarded Top 10. The Pinotage tasted so elegant, so full of typically rich Pinotage flavours. I just couldn’t stop tasting it. The smell and taste of that wine is still burned in my memory. After that the Pinotage was awarded a Double Gold at Veritas.
And the worst?
A Sauvignon Blanc from Sancere. It tasted like crushed stones mixed with caterpillar gearbox oil.
Is there something that makes South African wines special? Can you describe it?
We are a young developed country with lots of stories in our short wine-making history. We’ve learned to adapt quickly, specifically when it comes to where and what types of grape varieties to plant. Pinotage made us a world known wine leader in discovering our own grape name. We’ve got good water, good soils and more than enough sunshine. Our wines tastes like happiness.
What do you find attracts you to people—as friends?
I am actually quite happy with myself. All my friends are genuine people and accept me for what I am. I like to keep them interested in me.
What do you like most about yourself?
I stay calm and calculated. If I started something I have to complete it, ensuring that I am 100% happy. I’m a perfectionist, except when it comes to admin.
I have difficulty waiting, and the fact that I am a perfectionist.
When in your life have you been happiest—till now?
The day when my children were born, the day when I received my pilot’s licence, and every time I won a medal for my wine. In fact, every morning when I wake up…
What can you just not do without in your life?
Working with my hands and see how the vineyards are growing.
When do you think it is right to tell a teensie weeny lie?
When people ask you how many bottles of wine you produce.
What would you like to come back as?
A professional Lotto winner.
Words: Greg Landman