As a South African, when I walk into a bottle store, looking for a bottle of wine, it’s most likely going to be a bottle of Four Cousins. If it’s for me, it’s the Four Cousins Dry Red or Natural Sweet Red. And if it’s for my sister it’s the Four Cousins Sweet Rose.
Four Cousins wine has created a certain level of trust, quality, and affordability in the South African market. I never have to wonder if the wine is going to taste good, if the wine is going to make my bank account sad or if I will be able to find a store that stocks it. Four Cousins is like, my cousin, always there and reliable.
So when I was invited to visit the Four Cousins family, their estates, and their restaurants in a fun-filled weekend, with my sister and a group of lovely wine lovers, I quite literally jumped at the opportunity. I may have even gone out and bought a bottle of Four Cousins to celebrate the invite, lol. What I couldn’t have prepared for, is the absolute fun and joy, we would experience on the weekend. So let me tell you more about it….
One cannot underestimate the beauty and splendor of the western cape. I had one of “those” flights, which left me with a skin-crawling earache and so our drive to the Robertson Wine Valley, was mainly spent with me quietly seated in the back of the bus, wondering what I did in a past life, to go through so much pain. The worry didn’t last long, however. As the road opened up, revealing rock faces, sweeping valleys, and the kind of mountains that Tolkien talked about in his books. As I stared out into the hidden crevices of the hills, I wondered if I would spot a woodland elf or two?
Our first stop was the Van Loveren Wine Estate, which happily surprised me, with its Grand, Cape Dutch architecturally designed entrance. As you turn into the estate, you are met by a driveway lined with huge Miami reminiscent palm trees. Which draw your eye to the white walls of the front entrance. It’s all quite emotional for a second, like one of those fairytales, your parents read to you when you were younger. I was convinced there was a princess of sorts, hiding somewhere inside.
Something else I noticed during our entire weekend, was that the western cape was and is extremely green. I am not sure why I had this idea that it would be brown and dusty, but no matter where we were, we were surrounded by greenery. The Van Loveren estate and their famed gardens flourished. The Four Cousins restaurant beautifully shaded their outside area, with flora, and of course, the vineyards looked healthy. Even the greenery at our accommodation around the pool was bright and colorful. Roses littered the walkways.
The first cousin we met was Bussell. Who I am convinced is the most comedic of the four cousins. Walking through the grand entrance at the Van Loveren Wine Estate, sent butterflies through my tummy. I had just met Bonita, Brand Manager at Van Loveren wines, who I have been nurturing a 6-year business relationship with. And to tell you the truth, I was a little bit nervous about meeting her.
I, of course, had nothing to worry about, I was met by this beautiful woman with an engaging smile who welcomed me with open arms and gave me a big hug when she realized who I was. It was from that moment on that I knew our visit and the weekend was going to be one for the books and a memory for life.
We were offered a choice between the Four Cousins sparkling blush, and the Four Cousins sparkling white, wines created by the four cousins themselves. I, of course, chose to have the sparkling blush wine. A great choice I soon discovered.
Once we were all refreshed our first order of business was taking a tour through the Wine Cellar. Now I want to remind you, that a wine cellar on an estate is very different from your wine cellar at home. It’s not until you’re physically underground and in a very chilled room, standing side by side with huge wine fermentation tanks, that you truly understand just how much wine is processed on a daily basis. In order to make sure that your favorite is on the shelves at your local store.
And there are risks and factors that could affect production lines, that we as the consumer may not always think about (when we’re grumbling about the price of wine). I listened as Bussell told us about the move from the old fermentation and storage fiberglass tanks, that the farm used “back in the day”, to the story of the two floods. Mainly the one on the 25th January 1981 and again on the 24th March 2003. It’s incomprehensible what one flooding can do to a farm, if unprepared. I also marveled at the way he told us that when he was just a child, he knew that if the river was overflowing a couple of kilometers away, he had a certain amount of time to save what wine they could before the factory flooded. Farm life.
We’re talking tons and tons and tons of grapes. Between fermentation, crushing, sifting, pressing and bottling, the entire process is something to be marveled at.
As we made our way through the Wine Cellar I wondered why a sudden strong smell of Grapefruity- Guava was apparent in the air. Seconds later it became evident as to why I was picking up those scents. We were standing in the middle of the cellar about to taste wine, poured directly from the tank. Most of you will know I’m not the biggest white wine fan, however having tasted wine in its completely natural element with no added sugars or preserves I think I might start to change my mind. It’s quite something.
Furthering our journey through the cellar we managed to draw and taste our own Shiraz straight out of the barrel. Wine barrels are a very interesting part of wine farming, not many people know that the cost of a wine barrel is easily into the double digits, but the resale value of a wine barrel is only a couple of hundred. Wine barrels can be used between 1 and 3 times ideally, depending on the wine in which it is storing.
As we were leaving the cellar we stopped to look at the sparkling wine bottles, which were strategically balanced on wooden trestles. Besides my absolute fascination with how great one of the tresses would look in my house on an interior design side of things, we also learned that each bottle has to be carefully monitored and turned every day. Using chalk as a marker on the bottom of the bottles, the bottles are turned just a few millimeters every single day. To assist with the fermentation sediment process.
When you do visit the Van Loveren Wine Estate I suggest you bring a few extra bucks because there is nowhere else you’re going to find the entire range of wines, whisky, marula’s, and sparkling wines by the Van Loveren Estate. And here’s a little secret for my fellow travelers, buying directly from the farm or wine estate is often a little bit cheaper, which means you can buy an extra bottle or two.
So all those years of watching Dexter’s Laboratory as a child seemed to have paid off. Heading outside into the beautiful gardens at the Van Loveren Wine Estate we were guided towards a long table that looked like somebody’s laboratory. There were measuring cups, glasses and unlabelled bottles. This may or may not have been when the weekend really started. With the likes and company of Through My Wine Glass, we never had a chance.
Donning our white laboratory coats which, by the way, marked us all as assistant winemakers, we prepared to create magic.
As Bussell explained the idea was to try and make our own wines, however, we were trying to get as close to the Natural Sweet Red from the Four Cousins wine range as possible. Following certain percentages and creating unique recipes. I may be patting myself here on the back, but I think my sister and I did incredibly well with our pallets. And even if we didn’t, I got to drink a lot of my favorite wine so silver lining and all that jazz, lol. Nearing the end of the experience we got to label, cork and seal the wines that we had made.
The Montagu Hotel…
Leaving the Van Loveren Wine Estate we left for our accommodation, the famous and well-known Montagu Hotel. I had heard about this accommodation previously because of my love and obsession with cars. The hotel is a frequent home to old classic cars and classic car shows. In fact, you can actually rent an old classic car directly from the hotel for the day. If you’re looking to explore Route 62 or simply looking to film it’s a lovely option.
The hotel itself is quaint and quiet during the day. Walks through the herb and rose gardens are suggested, as my sister will tell you. Due to the fact that we all just loved being a mad scientist a little bit too much, we were running a little bit late for dinner. So we popped in quickly to change, refresh and head to Cousin Hennies home for dinner. Notice how I’m already calling him cousin Hennie, as in my cousin.
And this ladies and gentlemen is when we met all four cousins. Walking into the foyer area of the house, Bussell stood proudly with a huge smile on his face. Evidently, I’m sure he had told his cousins all about the crazy group of people who were on the way to his house.
I must admit I had my moment.
We will all gathered outside around a dining table. The Fiver Cider, of Four Cousins, was chilled in an ice bucket, alongside the sparkling wines and four cousins range. I stood with a glass of sparkling blush in my hand and looked around the room, the cousins were chatting and laughing with everybody. Small group’s had formed between us as laughter filled the air and for just a moment I got to observe and appreciate.
“Everything inside me was silent and calm and everything around me was loud, bustling and beautiful it was THE moment”.
It really isn’t often that you meet people for the first time and you feel completely relaxed and comfortable in their home. You literally feel like family. After we watched the sunset over the valley and we tried, and I do say “tried” to get all four cousins to look at the same camera at the same time for a photo, we then slowly made our way inside.
Dinner was a selection of some of the four cousins family favorites, which I thought was a very special and thoughtful treat. It was this very welcoming environment that allowed us to discuss things about the brand while still feeling like we were just visiting family. For instance, we got to learn that a lot of the ingredients for the meals at the restaurants are from neighboring local farms.
Which is important not only for brands but for individual South Africans we should and need to be supporting each other’s companies, products, and services. We need to sow back into each other’s businesses, we need to create that community that we once had. We need to create those relationships again.
And of course, the rest of the evening went exactly how you would imagine, when one has been drinking wine all day. It was hilarious, it was funny, and those memories will be with me forever.
I’m going to be that 82-year-old crazy lady with the dogs (sorry cats aren’t my thing). Who tells stories to small kids, that start with… ” You know, that one time at Cousin Hennies House…”.
The next day was stunning. I should have known it was Capetown teasing of the heat wave to come, but I was in wine heaven and not much else was occupying space in my thoughts.
And in typical Cee style, I donned my brightest clothing to go exploring through the vineyards. At least you can say that you would never lose me. Not only had I donned my brightest and best, but I was wearing clothing all sustainably made. The famous green dress which I had made myself, my Lola Lifestyle leggings which are proudly made by a South African brand in Cape Town and my headscarf also made by me. Sustainability is key in all forms, folks!
As we drove to the vineyards our lovely host Bonita, explained to us the very important systems in place to monitor water usage between all the neighboring farms. Vineyards without water are no longer Vineyards. The importance of water on a farm is pretty much like the importance of air to a human being in order to function. And with Cape Town and the Western Cape’s recent drought issues, the need to band together and use water practically is now more vital than ever. I must say the water looked incredibly enticing, all I wanted to do was jump in and go for a swim.
Four Cousins Restaurant…
After the Vineyard tour, we jumped in the shuttle and headed to the Four Cousins Restaurant. I was pleasantly surprised by everything. Architecturally the design and interior of the Four Cousins properties are absolutely stunning. Think high ceilings, white walls, stone and wood furnishings and an immense amount of natural light.
The Rhino Run Range…
Browsing through the store I came across the Rhino Run range. Several years ago on the 31st of August 2015, I wrote about the Rhino Run range from Van Loveren. In short, it’s a range released to honor the now late, Dr. Ian Cedric Player. A celebration of the work he personally did which inspired others. And finally, it’s a hard-hitting and honest exposure in regards to the seriousness of the Rhino Poaching situation in this world.
Van Loveren stepped up to the plate and dedicated an entire range towards creating awareness around the rhino poaching crisis, with the release of their 1215 rhino run wine range. Noting that 1215 rhinos were poached in 2014 alone. For every bottle sold a donation is made by Van Loveren towards the foundation. Donations can also be made through the Rhino Run website. The wines were also exported and marketed at an international level to create a wider net of awareness.
I also noticed that the Van Loveren team now make Gin. Silly me when we left I forgot to pick up a bottle. My followers know that I like my gin just as much as I like my wine, especially if it’s locally-made.
The Wine Pairing…
If you had any illusions of our weekend winding down or taking a slower pace at this point, let me inform you that we were just about to sit down and do our wine pairing. This is probably another one of the great highlights of our trip.
And one of the best things about having my sister with me was that I got to give her all the extra pieces of fudge and chocolate. We work well this way, I don’t have the sweetest tooth but my sister always has space for another piece of chocolate.
The wine pairing itself was absolutely beautifully presented, having worked in the hospitality industry previously myself, I know that presentation can make or break a meal before one has even started it. Sitting outside on the verandah under the wooden slatted pergola, our table hummed with excitement. That and the sound of cameras clicking, obviously lol.
Included in the pairing was a Rosē Grenache, which is basically like a wine slush puppy for adults – let’s be honest. Next was the FIVER Cider Apple, which we tasted in a glass and then paired with a sorbet. Following that was my favorite the Natural Sweet Red followed by the Four Cousins Dry Red. Our pallets were then sweetened by the Four Cousins new Marula range and topped off with the Scottish Cousin Whisky. And yes the whisky is made by cousins in Scotland.
After that delicious pairing, we then headed to lunch. Lunch was a very relaxed affair as we all chatted amongst ourselves and got to know each other a little better. Sitting at the head of one side of the table, I chatted with my sister Leigh, our hosts Pippa & Bonita and fellow writer, Laura and her fiance.
The restaurant is family-friendly and I did notice a lot of families with their small children enjoying a lovely day out in the sun, the kids played on the jungle gym and available facilities. If you have any questions about the restaurant feel free to email the Four Cousins at: email@example.com
I also managed to taste some of the Gins during lunch, and I must say I was quite impressed. I could kick myself for not buying a bottle.
After a very filling lunch, we all headed back to our accommodation to take an afternoons break and prepare for dinner that evening. Dinner was a short walk down the road which I think we all needed after having such the decadent lunch.
While I absolutely love what I do, I do tend to get slightly overstimulated on group trips. So I often find myself stepping away for a few moments from the group, to take a breather and appreciate the moment that I am in.
The beautifully private setting that we had for dinner allowed me to step outside for a while, and chat with the owner of the establishment. It was bittersweet knowing that it was to be my last night with this group.
We’re Family Now…
The next morning we were all up bright and early ready to have breakfast for the last time with our cousins. Of course, I was up bright and early to say goodbye to the cousins but as most of you know breakfast is not usually something I do before 11 a.m. Even if I am up at 4 a.m. every day. So while I might have only had half a muffin and it was a good muffin, breakfast was no less special in the moment than it was acquired to be.
Hilarity ensued as we all gathered at the front of the restaurant to take pictures with the four cousins. Whether it was one of us who couldn’t keep a straight face or one of the cousins who didn’t know what camera to look at, or even just one of the visiting customers trying to get in on the action it took us at least an hour to get our photos done. Apparently, a sighting of all four cousins in one place is a sign of good luck to come.
Which I believe in, as moments later we were all gifted with lovely goodie bags from the cousins themselves. I’m actually still eating some of the chocolates that were given to me while I write this article. So, as we said our somewhat emotional goodbyes and climbed into our shuttle, I took one last look back as we drove away. Phillip and Bonita stood at the stairs, waving and smiling at us. It felt like moving away from the friends you grew up with, but that you could pick up the phone and talk to any time.
I think it’s time to pick up the phone…
We were wonderfully shuttled to and from all venues and destinations. If you’re a big group I suggest that you hire a shuttle bus and driver or tour company.
I suggest you leave early on a Friday morning or long weekend and stay in Montagu which is closer to the estate and restaurant. There are many accommodation options in the Robertson Wine Valley to suit your individual tastes.
We had WiFi in most places, but the Vodacom network does seem to be a bit unreliable so you may want to take your mobile router if you’re staying over.
My favorite food and wine experiences were the self-blending activity and the wine pairing and I highly suggest you inquire about both.
And of course, if you’re around, always ask if any of the cousins are on site. You don’t want to miss an opportunity to meet these friendly, passionate, kind-hearted gents.
A special thanks to Pippa Pringle, Bonita Malherbe, and Phillip, Neil, Hennie and Bussell Retief. Thanks to the Montagu Hotel for hosting us and to our lovely driver.
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All images by CeecesTravel.