Posted by Beth | April 27, 2016
We have been fortunate to visit many different wine regions around the world, and quite a few on this trip, including Argentina and New Zealand, but South Africa’s wine experience might just top them all.
Facts and Figures on South Africa’s Wine Industry
- The winemaking tradition in South Africa dates back over 350 years, the oldest wine industry outside of Europe.
- Today it is the eighth largest producer of wine in the world, producing 4.2% of the world’s wine.
- The top five grape varieties in South Africa are Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Colombard, Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc.
Within an hour or so drive of Cape Town there are many different wine regions. They are all relatively close together so it makes it possible to try a few wines from different regions during your trip. Over the course of our five days, we were able to visit eight wineries in six different regions. There are many amazing day trips right outside of Cape Town, so wherever you’re headed you can bet there’s a winery on the way!
Planning Your Route
First things first, it is probably best to plan out your day as most of the wineries are near each other, but not necessarily easy to find. You can use this link to help search for a route and guarantee the places you want to see are going to be open. Weekends specifically are a bit fickle.
We had a rental car and thus were able to choose when and where we wanted to stop. This is great for flexibility but a tricky if you want to stop at several as you’ll need a driver. We ended up breaking up the wineries by hiking in between or stopping and waltzing around the small towns littered throughout the area. Caleb also just sat out a few.
If you are interested in having a private driver, you can get a chauffeur for about $70 USD half day, $130 USD full day. Or you can hire a motorized tuk tuk for about half that price, (however they seem to have a set tour).
You’ll see below we included prices for all the places we visited. This again was working off of a 16 Rand to $1 USD rate. We thought this may be helpful to see as there are cheap and free options available.
Stellenbosch Wine Route
We kicked off our first day in wine country with a 5K trail race through Delvera Vineyard. $12 for two entries and $5 for a post-race massage. You can see the full race schedule here or take a hike/mountain bike ride any time on the Dirtopia trail system at Delvera.
Don’t skip out on the town of Stellenbosch itself. It’s a university town full of quaint little restaurants and shops. We enjoyed giant frozen yogurts for about $4, one of our biggest expenses of the day. Crazy, right?
If you’re visiting on a Saturday don’t miss the Root44 Market at Audacia Winery. Stop in for a drink, tons gourmet food vendors, arts and crafts, live music and a kids entertainment area. Across the street is the Thirsty Scarecrow, a wildly popular market and restaurant that specializes in all things strawberries, even strawberry beer! November-January you can typically pick strawberries, though it was an early season this year so we weren’t able to. But this place is worth the stop just to admire the wacky collection of full size scarecrows. We spent $10 for two beers, two bottles of wine (take-away), coffee and sparkling water.
Over the course of two different afternoons, we managed to visit three wineries in the Stellenbosch, one in Paarl and one in the Franschhoek Valley. They are all within an easy drive of each other. Some of the tastings are free, but most cost just a few dollars. Everyone of them let us taste at least 6 wines, most were actually more than that. Here are a few of our favorites.
Stellenbosch Wine Route
- Lanzerac Winery—After working up an appetite running we headed here for lunch and a tasting. We learned on the short, complimentary cellar tour (usually starts at 12:00 but you can probably get them to do it anytime) that their claim to fame is making the first Pinotage in the world, a varietal that’s now very popular in South Africa. $18 for two tastings and a gourmet lunch.
- Tokara Winery—$1.19 for two wine tastings and a full spread olive tasting. Pretty touristy place but the views were nice.
- Hazendal Winery —Free tasting. Very interesting Russian art museum inside. Be sure to look across the street at the massive “Three Palaces” mansion the Russian owner is building. Wines were nothing to write home about.
Paarl Wine Route
- Fairview—This was on our must-visit list thanks to our safari guide who talked about their goat cheese. $24 for wine tastings, cheese tastings and a giant lunch of chicken salads, with champagne (for one, my driver sat this one out) and a bottle of Viognier to take home. If you are in the area and love goat cheese…GO HERE!!!
Franschhoek Valley Wine Route
- Vrende and Lust—Served by the “ladies in red” in the gorgeous tasting room. $2 per tasting. A big hit with us as the wines and pinterest level were both great.
Constantia Valley Wine Route
The Constantia Valley is the closest wine route to the city, and no more than 20 minutes away. This region is home to both the country’s oldest established wine farms and some of the newest. Constantia wines are largely cool climate offerings, so look out for world class Sauvignon Blancs, wonderful reds and infamous sweet wine offerings (from Cape Town official tourism website).
- Groot Constantia—The oldest wine estate in South Africa, and filled with 330 years history. This place is very touristy and set up for large groups. However, the wines are delicious and for a tiny price you can try the wine that Napoleon asked for on his death bed. $5 for two tastings.
Cape Point Wine Route
- Cape Point Vineyard—One of the only wineries with ocean views. Also one of the newer venues, unlike most of the estates in the region which have been around since the 1600’s. This is a great stop on the way back from the Cape of Good Hope drive. $15 for two tastings and a cheese platter.
Somerset West Wine Route
- Vergelegen—This beautiful estate has a lot of history and you can spend some time after your tasting walking around the grounds, museums, rose gardens and wooded walking trails. This was one of our favorites as far as most scenic. They even have staff around in the different buildings to answer questions about the art and tell the history of the estate. $5 for two tastings and well worth the extra drive.
We loved wine tasting in South Africa for so many reasons. They specialize in Sauvignon Blancs, one of my favorite whites, and I found a new favorite red, Pinotage. The tastings were cheap or even free and the bottles were affordable. If only we were headed home and could have bought a bunch to take with us! The staff, like most everyone we met in South Africa, were extremely friendly and knowledgeable about their wines, but not in a stuffy way. And most of all because the vineyards and estates are just so old and beautiful.