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Monday, July 20, 2009


Robertson Slow weekend from August 7 to 10 and Warwick estate celebrates Norma Ratcliffe’s twenty-fifth anniversary.

The Robertson wine region, about 90 minutes’ drive east of Cape Town, is a bit off the beaten track – it is not traversed by either the N1 or N2 highways, although it is quite close to both of them --- but it is far from being a sleepy hollow. Indeed it is one of the most wide awake areas of the Western Cape, judging by the festivities that are regularly organised there by its wine industry.

In June they had their sixth annual Wacky Wine Weekend, with a variety of wine-related entertainments for visitors. Now, in the Cape’s off-season, they are at it again with a Robertson Slow weekend from August 7 to 10.

The idea is to have a laid-back, leisurely country visit, and the programme on offer includes wine-tastings and dinners, fynbos walks, classes in making salami, cheese and pasta, the opportunity to make your own barrel of wine (about 270 bottles), and shopping at a regional food market.

Robertson, in the broad valley of the Breede River, is a very pleasant place, flanked by the Langeberg range in the north and the Sonderend mountains in the south. It is one of South Africa’s major winegrowing areas. I know some people who are a bit condescending about Robertson wines, arguing that they are not as good as the products of Stellenbosch and Paarl. This is an unfair and inaccurate generalisation. Robertson is home to some of the most distinguished cellars in the country, places like Graham Beck or Springfield or Weltevrede. It does also produce many of our best-value wines. I am not one of those who regard reasonable prices as necessarily a sign of lower quality.

If you want to find out for yourself, and you have the time, the Robertson Slow is probably well worth a visit. For more information phone 023 626 3167 or e-mail The relevant website is

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The Warwick estate at Stellenbosch has been involved in much activity celebrating the 25th anniversary of Norma Ratcliffe’s first vintage as winemaker and as proprietor of the estate.

She is a remarkable person, a pioneer of the role of women in the Cape wine industry. She was the first woman to be a member of the Cape Winemakers’ Guild and later became its first female chairman.

She was born in Canada, grew up at Edmonton, on the prairies, discovered wine during family holidays in San Francisco and became more interested during her student days in France and Switzerland. She married Stan Ratcliffe after meeting him in Greece and moved with him to Stellenbosch, where he had recently bought the Warwick farm.

She is an indefatigable and gifted person, hence her gleaming success as a largely self-taught winemaker. Warwick’s best known wine is Trilogy, a really distinguished Bordeaux-blend (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot), which has been on the market for more than twenty years.

In the company, no doubt, of many other people, I received an invitation to a “grand party” to celebrate Norma Ratcliffe’s anniversary. It is to be held on August 29 at the Maze restaurant at the new One and Only hotel in Cape Town, with wines from Warwick and food cooked by the British chef Gordon Ramsay. There is one slight snag: the cost is R400 per person, and you can spend the night at the hotel for another R3,160.

Gordon Ramsay? That’s right, he with the reputation for boorish behaviour and bad language. – Michael Green