Staying at Excelsior Wine Estate - Drinking, Golf Carts, and Boat Trips
Updated: Nov 29, 2021
After wrapping up our time at the Robertson Backpackers, we headed to the second part of our stay along Route 62: Excelsior Wine Estate. For nearly a week, we’d spend our days drinking wine, riding golf carts, and taking boat trips along the Breede River. Oh yeah - we had to work, too.
An Excelsior Overview
We’d first seen Excelsior from a distance. Located just outside the town of Ashton, Chris and Marleen had pointed the sprawling wine farm out to us from their clifftop vantage point. From that high ground, we could see Excelsior’s Cape Dutch Revival manor house, back deck and swimming pool, and manmade pond (or “dam” in South African parlance) - all surrounded by acres of vineyards.
As we pulled up the long drive to check in for our stay, it was clear Excelsior was just as stunning up close as it was from a distance. At one point, the manor house had actually been a family home. Now, it offers nine beautifully restored suites for guests to stay on the estate.
Arriving an hour or so before check-in time, we dropped our bags off inside the manor house then strolled across the lawns to the tasting room. A little time to kill on a hot summer day, it’d be silly not to enjoy a cold glass of wine, right? And, tasting “room” doesn’t really do it justice. Excelsior has built a covered deck extending out over the pond, providing visitors a spot to sip some of their delicious wines in the shade while enjoying a nice breeze off the water. Not a bad start.
After checking into our room, we decided to walk around the manor house's landscaped grounds to get a feel for things. We’ve written frequently about Jenna’s love for / obsession with cats, and this initial wander certainly fits the theme. On the porch outside our room, a little tabby cat had plopped down, enjoying a nice sunbath. For the next week, we’d eat unbelievable dinners paired with Excelsior’s wines, enjoy our breakfast poolside, and take the estate’s golf cart out for sunset rides through the vineyards. Best part of the stay for Jenna, though? Her new feline friend!
Boat Trips and Wine at Viljoensdrift
A couple miles down the road from Excelsior, Viljoensdrift - another Robertson Valley wine farm - straddles the banks of the Breede River. Embracing this geography, Viljoensdrift offers boat tours up and down the lazily winding river - perfect way to spend an afternoon.
Jenna booked a spot for us on one of these afternoon tours, and we took a leisurely walk through the wildflowers and vineyards to get there a few minutes early. After confirming where we’d hop on the boat, we doubled back to Viljoensdrift’s cafe and tasting room, bought a bottle of wine, grabbed a bucket of ice and a couple glasses, then jumped aboard.
On a double-decker pontoon boat of sorts, we posted up at a table in the shade of the lower level. For the next hour, we slowly motored up and down the Breede. With tall reeds lining the banks and vineyards gradually ascending up to the hills of the broader valley, we sipped our way through a bottle of wine and just took in the surroundings.
A Vineyard Bike Ride
In a slightly less relaxing afternoon adventure, Chipp decided to take one of Excelsior’s guest bikes for a ride through the vineyards one day.
Van Loveren is another local wine farm, and we’d heard it had a garden restaurant with outstanding pizzas. Tied up with work, Jenna opted out of a lunch trip over there. So, Chipp was off on his own, always a questionable situation!
From Excelsior, you can take one of two routes to Van Loveren. Option 1: ride the long way along the roads - reliable and safe but mildly boring. Option 2: take the “shortcut” through the vineyards - dirt tracks, blind turns, and a more romantic sense of adventure. Naturally, Chipp chose the latter option.
Great idea in theory, less so in reality. Well, to be clear, the route was beautiful - spectacular paths through the rolling, vineyard-lined hills. But, what Chipp hadn’t factored into the equation were A) his awful physical fitness (or lack thereof), and B) the seemingly million-degree early afternoon heat. After far more time than it should’ve taken, he arrived at Van Loveren, covered in sweat and thanking his lucky stars he’d avoided cardiac arrest…
Fortunately, the garden restaurant absolutely lived up to its hype. In the shade of beautiful trees, vines, and ferns, the tables also receive a continuous misting from one of those hybrid air conditioning / irrigation systems you see in a lot of outdoor restaurants. After a couple huge glasses of ice water and just sitting in this delightfully cool environment, Chipp felt comfortable ordering some wine and a pizza.
In a small-world coincidence, Chipp also bumped into Marleen and a few of her friends there. Gracious as ever, she insisted he pull up a chair, grab a glass, and help them with a recently opened bottle of sparkling wine.
Another outstanding afternoon – ate some delicious pizza, drank more great South African wines, and chatted with locals, hearing more about the ins and outs of life in the Robertson Valley. And, the cherry on top? One of Marleen’s friends generously offered to put the bike in her bakkie and give Chipp a lift back to Excelsior after lunch. Don’t know if he would’ve completed the return journey!
An Introduction to the Teleprompter Industry
Most people staying at Excelsior only do so for a night or two. Being there for closer to a week, this meant that we met different groups of people at dinner each night. And, as these delicious meals were accompanied by bottomless wine from the estate, we inevitably ended up striking up plenty of conversations.
One such conversation stands out as particularly interesting – but not due to any connection with our travels. Rather, the two Americans we met introduced us to an industry neither of us knew anything about, but one that touches all walks of political life: teleprompters.
When politicians give a televised speech, there’s a pretty high (nearly 100%) likelihood that they’re using a teleprompter. That much we both knew. But, what we’d never thought about is that teleprompter companies are responsible for managing the set-up and operation of these Ron Burgundy-esque devices for politicians of all stripes. These two guys worked for one such company.
And, when they work, they work. Tasked with supporting cabinet-level officials traveling domestically and internationally, they’re on the road all the time. For example, when you hear about a Secretary of State doing a weeks-long tour through different regions of the world, a teleprompter technician will be along for the ride.
During these stretches on the road, you can’t help but establish a relationship with the officials you’re supporting. Any time they deliver an address, you’re the one formatting the remarks for the teleprompter. In this role, teleprompter technicians play an interesting neutral ground. When politicians travel, they broadly have two types of people with them. On one side, there’s the press pool, who pick apart everything a politician says. On the other side, there are the staffers, many of whom are “yes men” willing to say anything they think their boss wants to hear.
But, the teleprompter technician doesn’t have a dog in the fight. According to our new friends, they’re typically just viewed as “those guys” – neutral outsiders tagging along. This perception allows them to be extremely frank with the politicians they support. In return, many of these politicians use their teleprompter techs as independent sounding boards, bouncing ideas off of them to hear what a relatively unbiased third party thinks.
With decades of combined experience in these situations, these two guys had a seemingly unlimited source of stories. For us, drinking a bunch of wine and hearing unvarnished accounts of life on the road with all sorts of politicians was absolutely fascinating.
Squeezing in Work “On the Road”
During our time in Cape Town and Zanzibar, we had extended stays at each of our spots - two or more weeks. With that much time in one place, you can do a decent job settling into a work routine. You find the local markets, carve out some time to explore, and build yourself a nice little work window.
Not so much “on the road.” From the Robertson Valley, we’d spend the next month and a half driving ~2,000 kilometers northeast up the coast towards friends in Durban. During that time, we wouldn’t spend more than a week in any one place.
For Jenna - the disciplined one - seizing available work opportunities didn’t prove a challenge during this stretch. For Chipp - the slightly, well, less disciplined one - it took a concerted effort to squeeze work into the ongoing adventure of seeing new places.
Beginning with our time in Excelsior, Chipp had to adjust from a go-to-a-dedicated-work-spot-for-a-whole-day approach to a squeeze-in-an-hour-here-and-an-hour-there approach. While he prefers the former, improving at the latter definitely makes for a great skill while on the road.