Drinking Up South Africa’s Winelands

Don’t miss these excellent winery tours and non-winery options on your visit to the wine region of the Western Cape, which also is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

It’s hard to imagine a place more picturesque—or a setting more lush—than the South Africa Winelands. Located on the Western Cape not far from the city of Cape Town, the Winelands are home to verdant valleys, towering mountain ranges and gracious, gabled homesteads where highly prized grapes take shape.

The rich viniculture proves a playground for aficionados—with endless choices for tastings and cellar tours. In many cases, this means sampling vintages you cannot find in the United States.

Winelands History

Back in 1652, Jan van Riebeeck from the Dutch East India Company set up a garden in Table Bay, and farmers (and initial foray into winemaking) followed five years later. However, it wasn’t until 1686—when French Huguenots arrived—that the tides turned and serious viticulture began. Despite some major setbacks—phylloxera wiped out vines in 1866—the region began to flourish. Now, French wine prowess—and architecture from settling Dutch farmers—sets the tone.

Many of the wines crafted here are honed from familiar-sounding grapes. Unique to South Africa, however, is pinotage, a blend of pinot noir and cinsaut created in 1925 by Stellenbosch University Professor Abraham Perold. Rich red in color and inherently smoky, pinotage often is seen blended. It’s also used to create attention-getting sparkling and, sometimes, fortified wines.

When to Visit

The Mediterranean climate of the Cape is unlike other parts of South Africa, its cool winds and fertile soil—coupled with growers’ deep-seeded knowledge of the winemaking process—makes for perfect grape-growing conditions.

The warm, sunny, dry summer season takes place from December through March; it’s cooler from April through November and tends to be rainiest winter season (June through August). Plan to visit during spring or summer to fully appreciate what South Africa’s Winelands has to offer.

Wine Regions of South Africa

South African wines are increasing in popularity; likewise, the region is coming into its own as a tourist destination, though wine distribution in the United States remains somewhat spotty.

At the heart of the Winelands is historic Stellenbosch, which is divided into sub-routes that include Bottelary Hills, Helderberg, Simonsberg-Stellenbosch and Devon Valley Vintners. One of the oldest towns in South Africa, Stellenbosch is home to some of the country’s most established (and plentiful concentration of) vineyards. Its quaint downtown, lined with oaks, is a great place to begin your journey through the verdant landscape.

While Stellenbosch is the uncontested fave, Franschhoek and Paarl (home to juggernaut KWV cellars) also get plenty of play. Foodies will want to at least stop in Franschhoek, as it’s known for its boutique hotels and top-tier restaurants. Lesser-known but every bit as alluring is the Helderberg, Wellington, Constantia, Worcester, Elgin and Olifants River route.

Truth be told, wherever you land, it you can’t go wrong. Many of the wineries sport their own restaurants (often incorporating house-label wines into the fare); others have picnic facilities. (In other words, do come with cheese and bread in tow.) Nose around, using these top stops as your springboard.

Recommended Wineries and Tours

Boekenhoutskloof is one of the oldest farms in the valley and highly coveted for its Syrahs. Tel. +27-21-876-3320, www.boekenhoutskloof.co.za.

Ernie Els Wines built a reputation around plush, bold and racy reds. Tel. +27-21-881-3588.

Kanonkop Wine Estate is among the region’s most esteemed estates, and its blended reds are not to be missed. Tel. +27-21-884-4656, www.kanonkop.co.za.

Ken Forrester Vineyards may have risen to fame for its Petit Chenin, but The FMC more than merits mention. Tel. +27-21-855-2374, www.kenforresterwines.com.

Klein Constantia Estate is the oldest winery in the Cape and one of the most beautiful in the world. Tel. +27-21-794-5188, www.kleinconstantia.com.

Longridge Winery is a modern boutique cellar touted for its oak barrel-aged vinos. Tel. +27-21-855-2004, www.longridge.co.za.

Tokara is a hip, modern looking wine and olive farm with a picture-perfect restaurant overlooking its undulating farmland. Tel. +27-21-808-5900, www.tokara.co.za.

Wineries That Don’t Export

Since not all wineries bring their bounty to the United States (many more only distribute in certain states), do make a point to visit these labels. For the time being, it’s your only shot.

Dieu Donné Vineyards is situated on the southwestern slopes of the Franschoek Mountains where unique terrain turns out stunning Méthode Cap Classique. Tel. +27-21-876-2493, www.dieudonnevineyards.com.

Vergenoegd Estate is one of the country’s oldest wineries. Dating back to 1696, it’s a must when seeking full-bodied reds, which develop character thanks to cool False Bay breezes that sweep the landscape. Tel. +27-21-843-3248 www.vergenoegd.com.


Granted, wines take center stage in this area. But that’s not to say sipping is the only game in town. Since the area is so visually stunning, why not get outdoors and soak it all in? Whether you put your pedal to the metal or tee off, plenty of non-boozy options exist.

Manic Cycles is a great starting point for those who want to explore the area’s bounty by bike. Tel. +27-21-876-4956, www.maniccycles.co.za.

Mont Rochelle Equestrian Centre is located on the Mont Rochelle Wine Estate and has horseback riding and tasting opportunities. Tel. +27-21-876-3000, www.montrochelle.co.za.

Pearl Valley Signature Golf Estate offers up a world-class, Jack Nicklaus-designed course. Tel. +27-21-867-8000, www.pearlvalleygolfestates.com.

Destinations: South Africa

Themes: Culinary

Activities: Wine Tasting

User Comments

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The winelands are a wonderful combination of small historic towns, beautiful scenery and wine estates producing delicious wines and brandies.