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Taste mead, the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage, at Cape Town Meadery.
Anyone who’s vaguely familiar with the world of vino has likely heard of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, but there’s so much more to the South African wine industry than these two pretty (but commercial) areas. From tiny networks of farms down south to hidden valleys of vineyards in Cape districts like Tulbagh and Bot River, there are almost as many distinct routes as there are varietals in the rainbow nation.
[Just released: Diners Club South African Wine Guide announced South Africa's Best Wines for its 2022 guide]
So, for both foreigners keen to get to grips with the Mzansi Winelands and locals eager to discover something a little different to the mainstream, we’re bringing you info on a string of key wine regions worth knowing. While there are smatterings of estates in other parts of South Africa, the vast majority rest in the Western Cape, and so we decided to focus on this province below.
SOUTH AFRICAN WINE REGIONS IN THE WESTERN CAPE
Constantia Wine Route
Nestled just a cork’s throw away from the CBD, the affluent, lush Constantia Valley is the perfect choice if you’re based in Cape Town and don’t want to travel far for wine tasting. It also happens to be the oldest wine-making region in the country (it was established in 1685) and has become synonymous with premium, award-winning reds and whites, especially Sauvignon Blanc. Constantia is ideal for a one-day tasting tour as the whole route is only 7.25km from one end to the other, and visitors can see a good mix of new-age boutique wineries and historic, Cape Dutch-style estates.
Tip: If visiting with kids, make a stop at Jonkershuis Restaurant at Groot Constantia wine estate – it has large lawns where little ones can frolic.
3 Constantia wine farms worth visiting for tastings: Buitenverwachting, Beau Constantia (it claims stunning views from a world-class glass tasting room) and Silvermist (for 100% organic wine)
1 top Constantia lunch spot:Catharina’s Restaurant at Steenberg for fine dining.
Distance from Cape Town’s city centre:15 minutes’ drive.
Durbanville Wine Route
Often thought of as merely the home of boerewors and sakkie-sakkie (an Afrikaans style of dance), the Northern Suburbs is also base to a stunning wine region that, though only 20 minutes from Cape Town’s CBD, feels worlds away. The scenic route is incredibly accessible and small enough – there are only 12 farms in total – to traverse in a single day. Durbanville’s terroir lends itself to award-winning wines (particularly Sauvignon Blanc), and to complement the premium variety of vino, there are also a number of celebrated fine dining restaurants and bistros along the way.
Tip: Bring the kids along for a fun family day out – all the farms are child friendly.
3 Durbanville wine farms worth visiting for tastings: Diemersdal,Durbanville Hills(the lookout deck boasts incredible views of Table Mountain and Robben Island) and the historic Altydgedacht.
1 top Durbanville lunch spot: De Grendel Restauranton the breathtaking De Grendel farm.
Distance from Cape Town’s city centre: 20 minutes.
Paarl Wine Route
Perhaps most well known as the home of commercially popular winery Fairview and its famed goats, Paarl is the slightly more rural, covert sibling of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. That said, it’s also one of the most innovative wine regions in the Western Cape – it’s responsible for creating the world’s first white Pinotage and bottling SA’s first Bordeaux-style red blend. The more than 28 farms that make up the district are spread out around the iconic pearl-shaped Paarl Rock (the town takes its name from this mountain), so if you’re eager to do this route properly, you may want to stay over a night or two.
Tip: There are lots of outdoor activities in this wine area, most notably, mountain biking, quad biking and horse riding at Rhebokskloof estate.
3 Paarl wine farms worth visiting for tastings: Spice Route, Nederburg and Glen Carlou (Kleine Draken is worth a visit for kosher wines)
1 top Paarl lunch spot: Bosman’s at Grande Roche Hotel for fine dining or the Pizzeria at Under Oaks winery for rustic Italian fare.
Distance from Cape Town’s city centre: Around 40 minutes’ drive.
Stellenbosch Wine Route
If there’s one wine route everyone knows, it’s this one. Sprawling out around the old university town of Stellenbosch, this vast, pretty locale is the most commercial and well established of all vino destinations in South Africa (in fact, it was the first wine territory to establish a co-ordinated wine route). In total, there are around 200 farms within the area’s boundaries, all offering something distinct, from MCC and nougat tastings to alfresco picnics. It would be simply impossible to take in all of Stellenbosch in one trip, so it’s advisable to break a visit down and focus on one of the five sub-routes at a time: Bottelary Hills, Greater Simonsberg, Helderberg, Stellenbosch Valley or Stellenbosch Berg).
Tip: Aside from the wine farms in this region, the town of Stellenbosch is well worth a visit too – it’s rich in history and charm and there’s plenty to do here.
3 Stellenbosch wine farms worth visiting for tastings: Waterford Estate (for wine and chocolate pairings), the historic Spier (consider doing a Segway tour here) and Kleine Zalze.
1 top Stellenbosch lunch spot: DornierBodega restaurant(a top option if you’re a fan of shellfish) or Hermitage Restaurant at Hazendal wine estate (ask about picnic baskets).
Distance from Cape Town’s city centre:Approximately 45 minutes’ drive.
Elgin Wine Route
Most well recognised as apple farm country, Elgin is a lush inland region that, in more recent years, has started to develop a thriving wine industry too. Because it’s a relatively young vino area, it still retains that untouched feel, and many of the 17 farms that dot the route are small, rustic and family run. The estates are also all just a stone’s throw away from each other, so it’s possible to meander between them easily. While Elgin is known for making excellent Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays, Shirazes and Pinot Noirs, it’s also a great district to visit if you’re a fan of fruity Riesling.
Tip: Elgin lies only 20 minutes from the Bot River wine route, so you could potentially explore both areas in one day.
3 Elgin wine farms worth visiting for tastings: Paul Cluver, Oak Valley and Elgin Ridge (by appointment only; the farm’s small selection of wines is certified organic).
1 top Elgin lunch spot:Platform 1 Eatery at Winters Drift winery (found at the old Elgin train station).
Distance from Cape Town’s city centre:Just less than one hour’s drive.
Franschhoek Wine Route
Hands downone of the most celebrated wine and food destinations in South Africa, the beautiful Franschhoek Valley, which was established by French Huguenot refugees in 1688, is a captivating blend of European charm and spectacular verdant scenery. The town itself is well worth a visit, with the main street being lined with high-end boutiques, fine dining restaurants and art galleries. Though, visitors will likely want to spend most of their time out and about on the Cape Dutch-style farms, which are renowned for making excellent versions of almost varietal. If sparkling wine appeals, there’s also a dedicated Cap Classique route here.
Tip: To see multiple wine farms in one day without having to worry about drinking and driving, consider booking a place on the affordable Franschhoek Wine Tram hop-on hop-off tour.
3 Franschhoek wine farms worth visiting for tastings: La Motte, Haute Cabrière (see a sabrage show on Saturdays) and Babylonstoren (it boasts a breathtaking eight-acre garden).
1 top Franschhoek lunch spot: Leopard’s Leap Family Vineyards for a relaxed rotisserie lunch or the Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français for fine dining.
Distance from Cape Town’s city centre:One hour’s drive.
Wellington Wine Route
The great appeal of the Wellington Winelands is that while it is a well-established vino region with over 20 picturesque estates, it also has a quiet, undiscovered charm about it. In this small agricultural town at the foot of the Groenberg Mountain, the winemakers actually take the time to converse with visitors, many of the farms are smaller family-run entities and the locals are lovely, salt-of-the-earth sorts. Though many top reds and whites come out of Wellington, the area is most well known for Shiraz and Chenin Blanc. Not to mention, it’s the source of the vast majority of the rootstock material used for growing vines across SA.
Tip: Wellingtonisn’t only known for wine; while you’re here, visit the Jorgensen’s Distillery and sample an assortment of finely handcrafted spirits too (gin, potstill brandy, absinthe and more).
3 Wellington wine farms worth visiting for tastings:Bosman Family Vineyards (by appointment only), Diemersfontein, Welbedacht Estate (owned by rugby player Schalk Burger).
1 top Wellington lunch spot:Twist Some More – try the famed Wild Boar, Apple and Sage Burger.
Distance from Cape Town’s city centre:Around one hour’s drive.
Swartland Wine Route
Lying not too far from Cape Town, the expansive Swartland region – it comprises the historic towns of Riebeek Kasteel, Riebeek West, Malmesbury and Piketberg – is renowned for the diversity of its rural landscape and the warm hospitality of its dwellers. The more than 24 wineries that make up the area are connected by golden wheat fields, fruit orchards, rolling vineyards and stretches of sunshine-yellow canola flowers, so driving from one to the next is a visual treat. What’s more, the Swartland is unique in that visitors can combine the tasting of wine and olives here – many of the farms produce this cured, pitted fruit too.
Tip: The region is large, so if you’re eager to tour the whole route, you’ll probably need at least three days to do so (The Royal Hotel in Riebeek Kasteel is a top accommodation option).
3 Swartland wine farms worth visiting for tastings: Riebeek Cellars, Nieuwedrift (for an authentic boutique experience) and Allesverloren (the oldest estate in the district).
1 top Swartland lunch spot: Bar Bar Black Sheep Restaurant in Riebeek Kasteel for rustic country food.
Distance from Cape Town’s city centre: Around one hour.
Darling Wine Route
The darling of the West Coast, this delightful small town is well-known for its fields of flowers (in season), its country-style hospitality and its famed Evita se Perron theate (the home of tannie Evita Bezuidenhout), but the region is a must-visit for top-quality wines too. The route is scenic but small (only four farms are open to the public), and every estate offers something extra alongside its reds and whites, be it a game drive, a nature walk, a memorable dining experience or a tasty wine and chocolate pairing.
Tip: Take some time to traverse the town itself, and alongside sipping on vino, sample some of the village’s very own craft beer at the Darling Brew microbrewery.
3 Darling wine farms worth visiting for tastings:Darling Cellars,Cloof Wine Estate (the venue for the annual Rocking the Daisies music festival) and Ormonde (the tasting room is conveniently located in the town).
1 top Darling lunch spot:Hilda’s Kitchen at the historic Groote Post wine farm.
Distance from Cape Town’s city centre: A little over one hour.
Bot River Wine Route
Sprawling out in the valley just below the stunning Houw Hoek Pass, the Bot River wine route is a region that’s ideal for those who are fans of the road less travelled. As a relatively small vino-making district (there are 14 farms in total), the area holds fast to a quiet, down-to-earth feel, and visitors will be warmly welcomed by the estate owners and winemakers themselves. The route is home to both historic, traditional wineries with ancient vines and new, progressive farms that specialise in innovation, so anyone touring the valley can look forward to sampling a good variety.
Tip:Some of the farms offer tastings by appointment only, so be sure to phone ahead and make bookings to get the most out of the route.
3 Bot River wine farms worth visiting for tastings:Beaumont Wines (this historic farm was an 18th-century outpost for the Dutch East India Company), Gabriëlskloof (it produces olive and lavender oil too) and Luddite Wines.
1 top Bot River lunch spot:The restaurant at Rivendell wine estate.
Distance from Cape Town’s city centre:Around one hour, 20 minutes.
Hermanus Wine Route
Found between mountains and dramatic coastline along the R320, the Hermanus wine route is one of the few in the world that enables visitors to sample top-tier vino and then watch whales breaching and blowing in the Atlantic Ocean just minutes away (whales visit from July to November annually). The route features over 10 premium wineries, all of which are located along one, straight 18-km road, so there’s no chance of getting lost or wasting time driving in circles. Due to the cool climate here, the finest categories of wine that come from Hermanus are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Tip: If you’re visiting on a Saturday, start your wine experience at Hermanuspietersfontein’s morning market.
3 Hermanus wine farms worth visiting for tastings: Bouchard Finlayson (pre-book a nature walk), Newton Johnson and Creation Wines.
1 top Hermanus lunch spot:The restaurant at La Vierge winery.
Distance from Cape Town’s city centre:One hour and 45 minutes.
Robertson Wine Route
Located along the breathtaking Route 62 (the longest wine route in SA), the Robertson Wine Valley, which also includes the towns of Ashton, Bonnievale and McGregor, is one of the Western Cape’s leading vino destinations. The mountain-ringed area retains the personal, owner-run charm of smaller regions, but with over 48 estates and private cellars, it’s also home to a huge variety of options, catering for lovers of everything from dry whites or robust reds to sparkling wines or rosés. As the fertile valley lies on the other side of the Huguenot Tunnel quite some distance from Cape Town, it’s not ideal for a day tour – rather book a few days away here and explore everything it has to offer.
Tip: If you have a particular varietal preference or are interested in learning about one of the wine route’s unique pairings, phone the Robertson Wine Valley office on +27 (0)23 626 3167 to get advice on specific farms to focus on.
3 Robertson wine farms worth visiting for tastings: Bon Courage (for its famed Blush sparkling wine), Graham Beck Wines (for MCC) and Kranskop (for the views).
1 top Robertson lunch spot: Viljoensdrift for a riverside gourmet picnic (there are also daily boat rides).
Distance from Cape Town’s city centre: Roughly two hours.
Tulbagh Wine Route
Surrounded by mountain peaks on three sides, the verdant bowl that is the Tulbagh valley has been the site of wine production for hundreds of years but has only recently put itself on the map as a must-visit vino destination. The slightly off-the-beaten-track area is large enough to present visitors with great diversity – grand old-world farms sit right next to contemporary, new-age estates – but still small enough to be able to cover in a single weekend. In terms of cultivars, Tulbagh is a good region to explore if you enjoy quality Shiraz, Pinotage or bubbly.
Tip: The best time to visit Tulbagh isduring winter, when the surrounding mountain peaks are blanketed with snow and a gentle mist descends on the valley.
3 Tulbagh wine farms worth visiting for tastings: Twee Jonge Gezellen (for vintage Krone sparkling wine), Saronsberg (check out the striking art gallery) and Drostdy Hof (this farm doubles up as a museum).
1 top Tulbagh lunch spot: Govenors Restaurant at Rijk’s Country House.
Distance from Cape Town’s city centre: Around two hours.
Elim Wine Route
The baby of the Western Cape Winelands, this little-known area is both the youngest and the most southern wine producing region in South Africa. Its unusual location and very cool climate present unique challenges to farmers in the area, so the exquisite vintages that have come out of Elim are testament to the winemakers’ skill and determination. Because the district is so new, there are only a few estates to visit, so guests can spend quite some time at each and really get a feel for the area, which is visually distinct from any other Winelands destination.
Tip: The wine route is not far from the old missionary village of Elim or from Cape Agulhas (the most southern tip of Africa), so you could squeeze all of these attractions into one trip.
3 Elim wine farms worth visiting for tastings: Black Oystercatcher, Strandveld (Africa’s southernmost vineyard) and The Berrio.
1 top Elim lunch spot: The Black Oystercatcher Restaurant for seasonal country food.
Distance from Cape Town’s city centre: Just over two and a half hours.
By Dayle Kavonic
Image credits: map of the wine-growing areas of South Africa supplied by Wines of South Africa (WOSA)
New: Strictly African food in a unique Mzansi-style at Afrobar & Pitso’s Kitchen.
Blend your own wine and catch Francois Van Coke on the Wild Olive Acoustic Stage at Riebeek Valley Olive Festival.
Keen to stay a few nights in one of the Western Cape’s main wine regions? Read about accommodation in Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Hermanus.
Why not take your kids to watch Vergenoegd Löw Wine Estate's famous Duck Parade or read about their brand new Merlot.
Go for a fine dining experience in Bree Street at Grub & Vine.
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