South African wines: celebration in a glass
South Africa produces a fantastic diversity of wines in a relatively small area—perfect for the enthusiastic wine tourist. Even better is the well-organized infrastructure of tours that allows enophiles to take a backseat and enjoy limitless tastings along with the breathtaking scenery. Exceptional dining and accommodation are a bonus, as are the many lively festivals that take place throughout the year, celebrating the nation’s veritable feast of gastronomy and, in particular, its wines.
Leafing through a brochure of the South African winelands, you might think it all looks too good to be true—from wild flowers blooming and whales breaching, to gabled Old Cape farmsteads dwarfed by ragged-toothed mountains beneath a polarized sky.
On the whole, though, it really is like this—and it’s hard to beat when you throw in world-class restaurants and accommodation, an excellent road infrastructure, and an extremely favorable currency exchange rate for most international visitors.
South Africa’s winelands are actually quite small, comprising little more than 100,000ha (247,000 acres) of vines. Yet these are divided into more than 100 official appellations that, believe it or not, isn’t bureaucracy gone mad: The slopes, aspects, and altitude of several mountain ranges really do result in a huge variety of mesoclimates, with soils varying even within a single vineyard.
To simplify this diversity for wine tourists, there are now 21 official wine routes, all within relatively close proximity to the so-called Mother City—Cape Town—and to one another, making it easy to dip in and out, plotting a trip according to your personal interests, whether these include art, nature, adventure activities, or simply relaxing in the sun.
Cape Town’s “own” spectacular vineyard is Constantia (www.constantiawineroute.com), considered one of the city’s Big Six “must-dos” along with Robben Island, Table Mountain, the V&A Waterfront, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, and Cape Point. The cradle of the country’s wine industry, Constantia dates back to 1685 when Commander Simon van der Stel’s vast estate covered virtually the entire valley. Although Constantia has been subdivided countless times over the centuries, the original farmstead still exists as a museum at Groot Constantia.
Revived in recent times, most notably by Klein Constantia with its Vin de Constance (www.kleinconstantia.com), the sweet wines of Constantia were legendary during the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, dry and sparkling wines feature prominently, too, and the City Sightseeing Wine Tour (www.citysightseeing.co.za) offers a good introduction, stopping at Beau Constantia (first choice for lunch) and Eagles’ Nest, as well as at Groot Constantia. Every February, all of the producers come together at Buitenverwachting to host the Constantia Fresh Festival.
Also on Cape Town’s doorstep, happily, is Durbanville (www.durbanvillewine.co.za) with picture-postcard views across Table Bay to Table Mountain. Its 12 producers have made a name for themselves with Sauvignon Blanc, hosting a Season of Sauvignon festival every October (which also offers beer-and-biltong pairings), declared open with the firing of the cannon at Signal Gun. The Feast of the Grape takes place toward the end of harvest every February, complete with grape-stomping and tutored tastings.
Established in 1971, Stellenbosch is South Africa’s “original” wine route, now unilaterally promoting five subregions (www.wineroute.co.za). Representing some 150 wine producers, with a pretty, tourist-friendly university town at its heart, it lays claim to some 70 percent of the awards won by South African wines in local and international competitions each year. The three-day Stellenbosch Wine Festival takes place every February, showcasing hundreds of wines while offering activities that include a golf challenge and mountain-bike race.
The drive from Stellenbosch to Franschhoek via the Helshoogte pass is spectacular (www.franschhoek.org.za). This is where many French Huguenots settled in the late 1600s; there’s a monument and museum in their honor, and Bastille Day (July 14) is celebrated annually. Boasting several of the country’s top restaurants, Franschhoek also hosts an annual literary festival in May, not to mention the “Magic of Bubbles” Cap Classique and Champagne Festival in early December, with a hop-on/hop-off wine tram to take you from one farm to the next (www.winetram.co.za).
Franschhoek is a jewel in the crown of the greater Paarl district (www.paarlonline.com), which offers everything from true country hospitality to a crocodile farm. Paarl also happens to be one of the first stops along Route 62 (www.route62.co.za), recently included in CNN’s list of the world’s top 10 road trips. Meandering 530 miles (850km) from Cape Town, along the Garden Route (including the “new” vineyards of Plettenberg Bay) to Port Elizabeth, it’s the longest wine route in the world: “Over 65 wineries along the way will have you wishing you were a passenger rather than the driver,” said CNN’s Jade Bremner and Peter Shadbolt.
Route 62 takes in wine towns including Wellington, Tulbagh, Worcester, and Calitzdorp (the latter in the Little Karoo, most famous for fortified wines) but must-visit subroutes are the Breedekloof (www.breedekloof.com) with 16 wineries against an almost alpine backdrop (visit during winter for snow-capped peaks and a sweet-wine and soup festival) and Robertson (www.robertsonwinevalley.com), which attracts 14,000 visitors to the Wacky Wine Weekend every June, when 50 wineries offer 250 “fun side of wine” activities. The success of South Africa’s largest wine-tourism event has inspired the launch of three additional events: Robertson Slow in August, Wine on the River in October, and Hands-On Harvest in March.
Should you prefer a coastal wine holiday, leave the N2 highway near Somerset West (home to the likes of Vergelegen, Morgenster, and Waterkloof), and take breathtaking Clarence Drive to Hermanus, the seaside village offering the best land-based whale watching in the world (between July and November) and also the gateway to the Hemel-en-Aarde wine wards, which specialize in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (www.hermanuswineroute.com). At the beginning of this route, Whalehaven offers an innovative wine-and-perfume pairing; at the end, Creation specializes in gourmet food-and-wine matching, with Hermanus Wine Hoppers available to take you to all 15 wineries (www.hermanuswinehoppers.co.za).
From Hermanus, via Stanford—the country’s “newest” wine route (www.stanfordinfo.co.za)—you’re within easy reach of “shark-diving capital” Gansbaai, as well as Elim/Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa, which is famous for shipwrecks but also, latterly, for its mineral Sauvignon Blanc and peppery Syrah, with a wine festival taking place every November (www.elimwines.co.za).
Looping back inland to Cape Town, it’s well worth visiting the unspoiled, back-to-basics Bot River “where real people make real wine” (www.botriverwines.co.za), as well as Elgin (www.winesofelgin.co.za). Both fall along the Green Mountain Eco Route, the world’s first biodiversity wine route, situated in a biosphere reserve boasting four times more plant species than the Amazon rainforest (www.greenmountain.co.za). Explore it by mountain-biking, hiking, quad-biking, horse riding, or 4x4-ing between the wine farms in this cool, upland, almost continental wine ward, which is suitable even for aromatic Riesling and Gewurztraminer, with the Elgin Cool Wine and Country Festival celebrating the end of harvest every April.
While very hospitable—from its tiny B&Bs, to its well-appointed guesthouses—the Swartland remains less “touristy” than other wine areas, which is precisely why some travelers might prefer it. Home to South Africa’s first “cult” winemaker, Eben Sadie, and Wine Enthusiast magazine’s 2016 Winemaker of the Year, Andrea Mullineux, the focus is very much on a more natural, minimal intervention approach in this “Mediterranean of the South,” with its fruit orchards, vineyards, and olive groves (www.swartlandwineandolives.co.za).
Near Constantia, this is one of South Africa’s oldest wine farms (established in 1682) and boasts two restaurants—fine-dining Catharina’s and less-formal Bistro 1682—as well as a golf course, spa, and boutique hotel with luxurious furnishings, modern amenities, and beautiful art.
+27 2 17 13 22 22 | email@example.com | www.steenbergfarm.com
Owned by Laurence Graff, chairman of Graff Diamond Holdings, this complex in Stellenbosch boasts ten five-star lodges (each with private plunge pool), a spa, impressive art collection, and two restaurants. (Indochine specializes in Asian-inspired cuisine presented with a delicate contemporary twist.)
+27 2 18 85 81 60 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.delaire.co.za
Known as “the cellar in the sky,” this has a fine-dining restaurant where Nadia Barnard’s biodynamic wines are matched with chef Greg Czarnecki’s contemporary dishes. Housed in a glass promontory, the restaurant has sweeping views of False Bay.
+27 2 18 58 12 92 | email@example.com | www.waterkloofwines.co.za
Based in Stellenbosch, this was one of the first wine farms to have a signature chef, George Jardine, and there’s also The Bakery for more relaxed dining. Both boast beautiful views, as do the individually decorated Luxury Suites.
+27 2 18 81 34 41 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.jordanwines.com
In the Drakenstein Valley, this offers Old Cape-style accommodation in luxuriously converted workers’ cottages. Thoughtful touches include his-and-hers gumboots in which to explore magnificent gardens where more than 300 edible plants are grown for the Babel and Glasshouse restaurants.
+27 2 18 63 38 52 | email@example.com | www.babylonstoren.com
Here, near Paarl, biodynamically produced premium wines are best enjoyed at chef Eric Bulpitt’s sustainability-driven restaurant Faber, focused on supporting organic, free-range and low-carbon producers. “A sensational blend of nature’s goodness, crafted with deep human creativity and care.”
+27 2 12 02 12 19 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.avondale.co.za
Acclaimed Swartland wine growers Chris and Andrea Mullineux, of Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines, now have a Franschhoek showcase at an exclusive five-star boutique hotel, winery, and wellness spa—the only South African property in Condé Nast Traveler’s Hot List for 2017.
+27 2 14 92 22 22 | email@example.com | www.leeucollection.com
At Grand Dédale Country House, an elegantly restored homestead on this estate in Wellington, five-star accommodation is offered in six bespoke suites. The resident chef specializes in imaginative Cape-style dishes, highlights being the Cap Classique Breakfast and the four-course Table d’Hôte Dinner.
+27 2 18 73 40 89 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.granddedale.com
Is it a bird gliding? A manta ray floating? No, it’s the stunning modern chapel at Bosjes near Worcester. The Kombuis (“Kitchen”) restaurant and De Skuur guesthouse with five luxury suites make this renovated c.1790 grape, olive, peach, and protea farm the perfect base for visiting 27 wineries.
+27 2 30 04 04 96 | email@example.com | www.bosjes.co.za
A luxury eco-lodge set on 6,000 acres (2,500ha) near Hermanus. Activities include 4x4 tours, cave tours, and scenic flights for “an unforgettable African adventure”—and dining here is an experience in its own right, with wines primarily sourced from the Overberg.
+27 2 83 84 80 08 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.grootbos.com
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Situated in Constantia, Cape Town, this remains a favorite with tourists (over 400,000 visit annually). A single Visitor’s Route ticket allows admission to the museums, historic Cloete Cellar, a self-guided cellar tour, and a tasting. Two restaurants (Simon’s and Jonkershuis) complete the package.
+27 2 17 94 51 28 | email@example.com | www.grootconstantia.com
Somerset West winery boasting rich arts and culture offerings, historic buildings, meticulously maintained gardens, two restaurants (fine-dining Camphors and the laid-back Stables), and award-winning wines grown on 21 soil types at altitudes of 460–1,000ft (140–300m) above sea level.
+27 2 18 47 21 00 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.vergelegen.co.za
At this Stellenbosch producer, the focus is on good farming, farm-to-table food, excellent wines, and art. Segway tours, eagle encounters, a spa, and a craft market add to the appeal of the hotel and its three restaurants (including the new Hoghouse BBQ and Bakery).
+27 2 18 09 11 00 | email@example.com | www.spier.co.za
This Stellenbosch winery pioneered wine-and-chocolate pairings and now also offers a Wine Drive Safari— a game-drive-style tour of the biodiverse estate followed by a tasting in the vineyards—and the Porcupine Trail Wine Walk to explore vineyards and fynbos.
+27 2 18 80 53 16 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.waterford.co.za
A Stellenbosch winery offering various blending experiences (wine, tea, coffee, and olive oil), gourmet picnics, great children’s entertainment—and a twice-daily parade of ducks, as they head to and from pest-control duty.
+27 2 18 43 32 48 | email@example.com | www.vergenoegd.co.za.
This Paarl producer promises “a sensory journey of discovery for the modern-day explorer”—from its wines, brewery, and distillery, to the chocolatier, glassblowing studio, art gallery, trading store, deli, bistro, restaurant, and children’s play area. It’s the ultimate day trip for the whole family.
+27 2 18 63 52 00 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.spiceroute.co.za
At its Museum van de Caab in Franschhoek, this enterprising producer gives a voice to the indigenous peoples who have lived there since the Stone Age, while edible plants used by the Cape’s first residents, the Khoe and San, are used at Fyndraai Restaurant.
+27 2 18 74 39 37 | email@example.com | www.solms-delta.co.za
At this increasingly organic Franschhoek producer, the restaurant specializes in traditional Cape dishes “with a twist.” There’s also a Sculpture Walk, a History Walk, and a Sustainable Hike through wild-flower meadows, not to mention a permanent display of art by Jacob Hendrik Pierneef.
+27 2 18 76 80 00 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.la-motte.com
Perched high up on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge near Hermanus, this winery specializes in food-and-wine pairings—including pairings for brunch, tapas, chocolate, and five “secret” dishes. They even cater for children, with juice, flavored milk, and healthy nibbles, and for designated drivers, with teas and canapés.
+27 2 82 12 11 07 | email@example.com | www.creationwines.com
This Bot River producer has the region’s oldest wine cellar (specializing in Chenin) and a 200-year-old watermill still grinding flour. For authentic Overberg hospitality, stay in a quaint self-catering cottage—preferably during the annual Port Stomp or Field to Loaf Festival.
+27 2 82 84 91 94 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.beaumont.co.za