Western Cape Wines
The Western Cape is world–renowned for its many fine wines, and visitors to Cape Town duly make the pilgrimage to the wine region to sample the produce and also enjoy the spectacular beauty of the area. However, with such a plethora of wine estates and co-operatives available, the “wine experience” has become somewhat run of the mill, with visitors being conveyor-belted through various estates in a rushed manner. Furthermore, many of the more popular estates become decidedly overcrowded - to the point of being unpleasant - during peak season.
We have thus made a point of selecting estates which are not necessarily in the mainstream of wine route tours. In some cases smaller, with more personalised service, but always highly regarded as far as wine quality is concerned.
Part of the “South African Wine Experience” is surely also the natural beauty of the wine regions, along with the magnificent architecture of the Old Cape (Cape Dutch) manor houses and outbuildings.
So here then some of the estates we would include on a wine tour (obviously not all at once!!). In fact, we have come to the conclusion that many visitors prefer doing no more than two visits on a day tour (apart from a lunch stop, naturally).
Constantia Wine Region
Set against the eastern slopes of the Cape Peninsula mountain chain, within the coastal region, and cooled in summers by south-east winds from over False Bay. Known largely as a white wine region (37% red, 63% white). The cradle of South African winemaking, where in 1685 the Dutch Governor, Simon van der Stel, secured a land grant from the ruling Dutch East India Company, and planted some 100,000 vines.
Klein Constantia www.kleinconstantia.com
Set amid lush greenery on the slopes of Constantia Mountain, with superb views across the valley and False Bay, Klein Constantia has frequently been described as one of the world’s most beautiful vineyard locations. A Cape Dutch homestead graces the 146 hectare estate. It was in these vineyards that grapes were grown for the world-famous Constantia “wijn” (now known as Vin de Constance), sought-after by the 18th and 19th century European aristocracy.
Groot Constantia www.grootconstantia.co.za
The “Grande Dame” of South African wine farms, Groot Constantia has been producing wine since the 1680’s. Its manor house is regarded as one of the finest examples of Cape Dutch architecture in the country, and a visit to the estate simply for this reason is recommended. The museum, old cellar, gardens, oak-lined driveway, and mountain-slope setting make this perhaps the most photographed estate in South Africa. The wines aren’t half-bad either, and the “Jonkershuis” restaurant is one of our favourites, with its array of Old Cape and Cape Malay dishes.
Also part of the original Constantia estate, Buitenverwachting (“Beyond Expectation”) is another superb Constantia classic. The wines are excellent – the Buiten Blanc one of the finest “easy-drinking” white blends around – and the restaurant sublime! Overlooking the vineyards and the Constantiaberg Mountains, it has held the position as one of Cape Town’s top restaurants for many years.
Stellenbosch Wine Region
An intensively farmed region around the town of Stellenbosch, a combination of hot valleys and the cooler slopes of the many mountains of the area. Close enough to False Bay to take advantage of the cool ocean breezes. A mixture of reds and whites are grown in the region (55% red, 45% white).
The owners, John and Gael Nel, bought a plum orchard high on the Helshoogte Pass, outside Stellenbosch. First the Nels pulled out the plum trees and worked the soil. Then they planted the vines - Cabernet and some Merlot. Then they built a house and made a garden. Eventually, the family moved into Camberley and in 1996, pressed their first vintage - a four star Cabernet. Camberley is a home with three focal points : from Gael's kitchen, you exit into Johnny's cellar, and then climb the stairs to the tasting room. In the tiny cellar, bottles line the walls surrounding three small fermentation tanks and some 30-plus small barrels. This is all they need for their couple of hectares of grapes. At harvest-time, Johnny takes leave from his quantity-surveying business and nurses his wine with total absorption. Johnny reckons they drink more than they sell!
Meerlust, with its historic Cape Dutch manor house, classic wine cellar, family cemetery, dovecote and bird sanctuary is situated fifteen kilometers south of Stellenbosch. Long recognised for producing world-class wines, Meerlust has been the in the Myburgh family since 1756. One hundred and ten hectares are planted with varieties such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Meerlust is probably best-known for the ultimate South African icon red blend, Rubicon.
Rustenberg has a wine-growing history dating back to 1682, when Roelof Pasman from Meurs, near the Rhine, recognised its wine-growing potential. In the Barlow family since 1941, Rustenberg is regarded as one of the top South African estates. Hmm, possibly THE favourite! A stunning drive in to the estate (a combination of two farms, actually), and one of the most magnificent Old Cape manor houses (it is used as the cover photo for Phillida Brooke Simons’ book Cape Dutch Houses). And then there are the wines. Rustenberg is one of the few estates producing Viognier! The tasting centre is modern but charming, and the service friendly and professional. Also uncrowded – they do not accept large groups.
Rust En Vrede www.rustenberg.com
Another magnificent farm, with superb manor house and surrounds and outstanding restaurant! Rust en Vrede was established in 1694 by the Governor of the Cape, Willem Adrian van der Stel. The first house on the estate was built in 1780 followed by the cellar in 1785. In 1790 the larger manor house was built. In the Engelbrecht family (Jannie Engelbrecht was a legendary Springbok rugby player!) since 1977, Rust en Vrede is one of our top red wine producing estates. In fact, Nelson Mandela selected Rust en Vrede to be served at the Nobel Peace Prize dinner in Oslo, where he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize!
Thelema Mountain Vineyards www.thelema.com
Thelema is situated against the slopes of the Simonsberg, and is one of the highest and coolest wine farms in the Stellenbosch area. Although wine had been made on the farm in the early part of the century and table grapes produced until the late 1960's, there were no vines on the farm at the time of purchase. The 25 ha under cultivation consisted of plums, apples and pears in varying stages of degeneration. The orchards have gradually made way for vineyards and virgin mountainside cleared and prepared to increase the arable land to about 40 ha. Thelema is a real family affair : Gyles Webb directs all farming and winery operations, his wife Barbara is director of marketing, and mother-in-law Edna manages the tasting area.
Set atop the Helshoogte (Heights of Hell) Pass, Thelema is also a quiet, well run operation. Oh, we also just happened to teach the younger generation of Webbs in our past lives as high school teachers……
Meaning “Situated far away” (from Cape Town), this farm’s history dates back to 1688, when Willem Adriaan Van der Stel (son of Simon Van der Stel, of Groot Constantia fame), was granted the land. Producing wine on and off ever since then, the estate has in recent years acquired a reputation as being at the cutting edge of cellar techniques in South Africa.At times a bit busy, the reason for its inclusion is the awesome Cape Dutch manor house, with its avenue of National Monument Camphor trees. “The Lady Phillips” restaurant is also superb!
Warwick Estate lies in a valley enclosed by the Simonsberg, Kanonkop and Klapmutskop Mountains. Originally part of a vast piece of land known as "Good Success", this eighteenth century farm belonged to Colonel Alexander Gordon who renamed his portion in honour of the Warwickshire regiment which he commanded during the Anglo-Boer War. Gordon decided to stay in South Africa after the war, and so he settled at Warwick to raise livestock and grow fruit. In 1964, Stan Ratcliffe bought Warwick when there wasn't a vine on the farm. He immediately began planting the Cabernet Sauvignon vines, which are still a major part of the production today. One of our personal favourites! Small, personalised, with no large tour groups pouring out of coaches and emptying stocks!! For what it’s worth, Warwick Estate is one of the lucky ones to have their wines sold aboard the QE2. There’s a history to that, but you’ll have to accompany us on a trip to hear the story.
Owned by the Ord and Arnold families, this estate in the Helderberg Mountains between Stellenbosch and Somerset West was purchased in 1998. The families built the dwellings and winery from the stone and timber on the farm, and called the estate “Waterford” after the many mountain streams on the property. Unusually, they offer wine and chocolate tasting (yes, at the same time!). A modern, Tuscan-style estate, with spectacular mountain backdrops, and lavender for Africa!
Dieu Donne www.dieudonnevineyards.com
Situated high up on the slopes of the Franschhoek Mountains, Dieu Donne produces both red and white wines (two thirds red). The name says it all regarding the location – “Gift of the Gods”. The views are really awesome. The Croix de Lorraine (a symbol of non-conformity) featured on the labels is a nice little extra. And a new restaurant makes this a great mid-day stop!
La Petite Ferme www.lapetiteferme.co.za
Situated on the slopes side of the majestic Middagkrans Mountains, below the Franschhoek Pass, the west-facing La Petite Ferme has spectacular views over the Franschhoek valley. One of the more intimate wineries in the Western Cape, it is perhaps best known for its restaurant. Grounded in a tradition built by three generations of Dendy-Youngs, lunches at La Petite Ferme Restaurant are legendary. Innovative food, friendly, dedicated staff and an abundance of fresh local ingredients are hallmarks.
L'ormarins (Anthonij Rupert)
Named after a village in Provence, France, by the original owner, Jean Roi, this spectacular estate dates back to 1694. Now owned by the Rupert family, it is an architectural gem producing quality red and white wines. Magnificent setting below the peaks of the Great Drakenstein (dragon rock) Mountains. Great wines sampled in a great setting.
Plaisir De Merle www.plasirdemerle.co.za
One of the oldest wine farms in the Cape, Plaisir de Merle dates back to 1688, when Huguenot Charles Marais was granted the land. He named it after his home parish in France, Le Plessis-Marly. The current name is a corruption thereof, meaning “joy of the blackbird”. It is now owned by Distell. Largely because of its lovely setting and fine manor house and gardens, this is a good stop. And also the obvious place to look for those blackbirds, which do NOT occur in South Africa!
Over 300 years ago, the original “Geelblomsvallei” (Valley of the Yellow Flowers) farm became one of the first in the Paarl Valley to be allocated specifically for the production of wine grapes. Today, Avondale farms in accordance with organic principles. This means restoring the natural balance of the soil so that vines can be fed and balanced by lively, healthy and naturally regenerating soils. Pioneered by owner Johnathan Grieve, the back-to-the-future approach to viticulture has at its heart putting the original and natural fungi, bacteria and larger organisms back into the soil, so as to restore it to its natural, pre-agriculture state. Avondale was one of the first Cape wine producers to obtain Bio-Diversity certification. They actively strive to re-establish indigenous fynbos species among the vineyards and use only indigenous vegetation as wind breakers, for beautification and cover crops.A “revolutionary” farm in many respects, this estate is well worth a visit to support their eco-friendly initiatives – and their wines happen to be excellent too!
Another of our favourites, Backsberg has been a family-run operation since it was founded in the 1970’s by Sydney Back. Spectacularly situated against the back-slopes of Simonsberg, Backsberg produces world-class wines (their Pinotage is legendary!) and brandies – and has a unique outdoor restaurant specialising in lamb-on-the-spit!
Situated in the town itself, Laborie dates back to 1691. Home to the Huguenot Isaac Taillefer, it was actually named La Brie. Wine production dates back to 1698. Largely reds, but Viognier coming into production. Regarded as one of the great architectural masterpieces, Laborie can become quite busy, but is still well worth a visit.
Robertson Valley Region
A warm, semi-desert region in the valley of the Breede River, the largest watercourse in the Western Cape, the Robertson Valley, with its limestone soils, is traditionally white wine country (73% white, 27% red). The climate of Robertson’s mountain-ringed valley is harsh, with soaring summer day temperatures and cool to very cold nights. Annual rainfall is only approximately 200ml, so controlled irrigation is practised throughout this region, resulting in grapes flavoured very differently from those grown elsewhere.
Van Loveren www.vanloveren.co.za
Van Loveren is situated in the Breede River Valley between Robertson and Bonnievale. The property, which has been in the Retief family for over three generations, is distinctly marked by banks of scarlet cannas along the roadside. The original farm was acquired in 1937 by Hennie Retief senior and renamed after Christina van Loveren, an ancestor of Jean Retief, who arrived at the Cape in 1699. The beautiful garden surrounding the Van Loveren cellar is the result of the dedication of Jean Retief, mother of Nico and Wynand. Her sons have been responsible for making Van Loveren wines internationally renowned.
Graham Beck - Robertson Estate www.grahambeckwines.co.za
Graham Beck’s Robertson cellar and farm are situated in the Breede River Valley bordering the semi-arid Little Karoo region. The warm climate in combination with mineral and fossil rich soils gives this area a distinct character, which spills into its quality wines and Cap Classique sparkling wines. The region’s limestone rich soils are especially suited to the planting of chardonnay. Because of the unique, dry, cool climate, neutron probes are used to monitor moisture levels to determine field capacity in terms of irrigation, ensuring correct yields required for small berries with optimum flavour levels. These carefully trained vineyards are in stark contrast to their indigenous surroundings.
Fraai Uitzicht 1798 www.fraaiuitzicht.com
A boutique wine estate, producing only limited volumes of Merlot wine. Also a magnificent country guesthouse and restaurant!
Using a selection of the estates mentioned above, we prefer to tailor-make tours according to visitors’ preferences, or on our recommendation. Of course, visits to historic Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek can also be included. Furthermore, we prefer running private tours instead of hooking up strangers on the same trip, although this is by no means a hard and fast rule! We just feel it is a more relaxing, personal experience. None of that awkward conversation in the vehicle or over lunch!
Overnighting In The Winelands? Some suggested spots to follow:
Stellenbosch And Surrounds
Lanzerac Hotel And Spa www.lanzerac.co.za
Eendracht Boutique Hotel www.eendracht-hotel.com
Soverby Guest House www.soverby.co.za
Jacana Guest Farm www.jacanafarm.co.za
Paarl And Surrounds
Roggeland Country House www.roggeland.co.za
Franshoek and Surrounds
La Fontaine Guesthouse www.lafontainefranschhoek.co.za
Auberge Blingy www.bligny.co.za
Cathbert Country Inn www.cathbert.co.za
Maison Chables Guesthouse www.maisonchablis.co.za