South Africa has over a score of recognized wine routes extending to the Karoo and way into the Northern Cape, but the area known as the Winelands is restricted to the oldest wineries outside the Cape Peninsula, within a 60km radius of Cape Town. The district contains the earliest European settlements at Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek and Somerset West, each with its own wine route, on which you travel from one estate to the next to taste the wines. On the hillsides and in the valleys around these towns you’ll find a flawless blending of traditional Cape Dutch architecture with the landscape. The Winelands are best covered in a car, as half the pleasure is the drive through the countryside; without your own transport, you could take a day-trip to the Winelands with one of several Cape Town-based companies.
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The most satisfying of the Winelands towns is Stellenbosch, which enjoys an easy elegance, beautiful streetscapes, a couple of decent museums and plenty of visitor facilities. One of the region’s scenic highlights is the drive along the R310 through the Helshoogte Pass between Stellenbosch and Paarl, the workaday farming town of the region. Smallest of the Winelands towns, with a rural yet sophisticated feel, Franschhoek has the most magnificent setting at the head of a narrow valley, and has established itself as the culinary capital of the country. The major draw of the sprawling town of Somerset West is Vergelegen, by far the most stunning of all the Winelands estates.
Tackling the Winelands
Of the several hundred estates in the Winelands, the wineries in our selection were chosen not primarily because they produce the best wine (although some do), but for general interest – beautiful architecture or scenery – or just because they are fun. When planning, bear in mind that although all the wineries offer tastings, many offer a lot more, such as restaurants, picnics and horseriding. Choose an area to explore and don't try to visit too many wineries in a day unless you want to return home in a dizzy haze. Most estates charge a fee for a wine-tasting session (anywhere up to R40) and some only have tastings at specific times; see the individual accounts for more details.
The definitive and widely available John Platter's South African Wine Guide (also available as an iPhone app) is a useful companion, which provides ratings of the produce of pretty well every winery in the country.
Wineries around Stellenbosch
Stellenbosch was the first locality in the country to wake up to the marketing potential of a wine route. It launched its wine route in 1971 to huge success; today tens of thousands of visitors are drawn here annually, making this the most toured area in the Winelands. Although the region accounts for only a fraction of South Africa's land under vine, its wine route is the most extensive in the country, approaching three hundred establishments; apart from the tiny selection below (all of which produce creditable wines and are along a series of roads that radiate out from Stellenbosch), there are scores of other excellent places, which taken together would occupy months of exploration. All the wineries are clearly signposted off the main arteries.
Delaire Graff Estate
On the Helshoogte Pass, 6km east of Stellenbosch along the R310 to Franschhoek; 021 885 8160, delairewinery.co.za. The highly regarded Delaire Graff restaurant has possibly the best views in the Winelands, looking through pin oaks across the Groot Drakenstein and Simonsig mountains and down into the valley. Tasting Mon–Sat 10am–5pm & Sun 10am–4pm; summer sundowners with musical accompaniment Fri & Sat 5–9pm; three wines R30, five wines R50, six wines R60.
11.5km west of Stellenbosch off the R310; 021 881 3441, jordanwines.com. A pioneer among the new-wave Cape wineries, Jordan's hi-tech cellar and modern tasting room are complemented by its friendly service. The drive there is half the fun, taking you into a kloof bounded by vineyards that get a whiff of the sea from both False Bay and Table Bay, which has clearly done something for its output – it has a list of outstanding wines as long as your arm and an award-winning restaurant. Tasting daily 9.30am–4.30pm; R25 for six wines, refundable with purchases.
4km north of Stellenbosch on the R44; 021 889 5510, morgenhof.com. French-owned chateau-style complex on the slopes of the vine-covered Simonsberg, owned by Anne Cointreau-Huchon (granddaughter of the founder of Remy Martin cognac). Morgenhof has a light and airy tasting room with a bar. Delicious light lunches are served outside, topped off with ice cream on the lawns. Tasting May–Oct Mon–Fri 9am–4.30pm, Sat & Sun 10am–3pm; Nov–April Mon–Fri 9am–5pm, Sat & Sun 10am–5pm; R20 for five wines.
6.5km west of Stellenbosch on Polkadraai Rd (the R306); 021 883 8988, neethlingshof.co.za. Centred around a beautifully restored Cape Dutch manor dating back to 1814, reached down a kilometre-long avenue of stone pines, Neethlingshof's first vines were planted in 1692. There's a restaurant and for R95 you can try their "flash food" light lunch – pairings of six wines with six bite-sized takeaways (booking essential). The estate has two labels: Premium and Short Story reserve range, which consists of a Pinotage, a red blend and a flagship Noble Late Harvest white. Tasting Mon–Fri 9am–5pm, Sat & Sun 10am–4pm; R30 for six wines.
6.5km west of Stellenbosch, off the M12; 021 881 3815, overgaauw.co.za. Notable for its elegant Victorian tasting room, this pioneering estate was the first winery in the country to produce Merlots, and it's still the only one to make Sylvaner, a well-priced, easy-drinking dry white. Tasting Mon–Fri 9am–5pm, Sat 10am–3.30pm; free.
Rustenberg Rd, 5km north of Stellenbosch; 021 809 120, rustenberg.co.za. One of the closest estates to Stellenbosch, Rustenberg is also one of the most alluring, reached after a drive through orchards, sheep pastures and tree-lined avenues. An unassuming working farm, it has a romantic pastoral atmosphere, in contrast to its architecturally stunning, hi-tech tasting room in the former stables. Tasting Mon–Fri 9am–4.30pm, Sat 10am–1.30pm; free.
9.5km north of Stellenbosch, off Kromme Rhee Rd, which runs between the R44 and the R304; 021 888 4900, www.simonsig.co.za. The winery has a relaxed outdoor tasting area under vine-covered pergolas, offering majestic views back to Stellenbosch of hazy stone-blue mountains and vineyards. The first estate in the country to produce a bottle-fermented bubbly some three decades back, it also produces a vast range of first-class still wines. Tasting Mon–Fri 8.30am–5pm, Sat 8.30am–4pm, Sun 11am–3pm; R25 for five wines and a bubbly.
About 8km south of Stellenbosch, off Annandale Rd, which spurs off the R44; 021 880 1683, uvamira.co.za; map. Enchanting boutique winery that punches well above its weight, and worth visiting just for the winding drive halfway up the Helderberg. The highly original tasting room, despite being fairly recently built, gives the appearance of a gently decaying historic structure, and there are unsurpassed views from the deck across mountainside vineyards to False Bay some 50km away – on a clear day you can even see Robben Island. Tasting Mon–Fri 8am–5pm, Sat & Sun 10am–4pm; R20 for Cellar selection (four wines), R30 for Vineyard selection (two premier wines), R40 for all six wines.
Wineries around Paarl
There are a couple of notable wineries in Paarl itself, but most are on farms in the surrounding countryside. Boschendal, one of the most popular of these, is officially on the Franschhoek wine route, but is within easy striking distance of Paarl.
22km south of Paarl on Simondium Rd (WR1); 021 875 5141, backsberg.co.za. Notable as the first carbon-neutral wine estate in South Africa, Backsberg produces some top-ranking red blends, and a delicious Chardonnay, in its Babylons Toren and Black Label ranges. Outdoor seating, with views of the rose garden and vineyard on the slopes of the Simonsberg, makes this busy estate a nice place to while away some time. There's also a restaurant and a maze to get lost in. Tasting Mon–Fri 8am–5pm, Sat & Sun 9.30am–4.30pm; R15 for five wines.
Suid Agter Paarl Rd, on the southern fringes of town; 021 863 2450, fairview.co.za. One of the most fun of all the Paarl estates (especially for families), with a resident population of goats who clamber up the spiral tower at the entrance, featured in the estate's emblem. A deli sells sausages and cold meats for picnics on the lawn, and you can also sample and buy the goat's, sheep's and cow's cheeses made on the estate. As far as wine tasting goes, Fairview is an innovative, family-run place, but it can get a bit hectic when the tour buses roll in. Tasting Mon–Fri 8am–5pm, Sat 9am–4pm, Sun 10am–4pm; cheese selection R15, six wines and cheese selection R25, eight wines plus cheese and olive oil selection R60.
Taillefert St; 021 807 3390, laboriewines.co.za. One of the most impressive Paarl wineries, all the more remarkable for being right in town. The beautiful manor is fronted by a rose garden, acres of close-cropped lawns, historic buildings and oak trees – all towered over by the Taal Monument. There's a truly wonderful tasting room with a balcony that jetties out over the vineyards trailing up Paarl Mountain, as well as a great restaurant with terrace seating under oaks with gobsmackingly good views of the town vineyards and mountains. Tasting Mon–Sat 9am–5pm, Sat 10am–5pm, Nov–April Sun 11am–3pm; R25.
Signposted off the R45, 11.5km northwest of Paarl; 021 869 8386, rhebokskloof.co.za. A highly photogenic wine estate, a popular wedding venue, and a great place to bring kids, Rhebokskloof sits at the foot of sculptural granite koppies overlooking a shallow kloof that borders on the mountain nature reserve. The estate's renowned restaurant overlooks an artificial lake with swans. For those too young to legally imbibe, there's a kids' playground, pony rides and remote-controlled boats on the lake, among the extensive offerings. Horse and quad-bike trails for adults are also operated from Rhebokskloof. Tasting daily 9am–5pm; R50 for five wines.
Wineries around Franschhoek
Franschhoek's wineries are small enough and sufficiently close together to make it a breeze to visit two or three in a morning. Heading north through town from the Huguenot Monument, you'll find most of the wineries signposted off Huguenot Road and its extension, Main Road; the rest are off Excelsior Road and the Franschhoek Pass Road.
Pniel Rd, just after the junction of the R45 and R310 to Stellenbosch; 021 870 4272, boschendalwines.com. One of the world's longest-established New World wine estates, Boschendal draws busloads of tourists – 200,000 visitors a year – with its impressive Cape Dutch buildings, tree-lined avenues, restaurants and cafes, and of course its wines. Tasting takes place at the Cellar Door Tasting Centre, where you can sit indoors or sip under shady trees. Informal tasting daily 8.30am–4.30pm, R20 for five wines; conducted tasting daily Oct–March 8.30am–6pm & April–Sept 8.30am–4.30pm; R30.
Cabriére at Haute Cabriére
About 2km from town along the Franschhoek Pass Rd; 021 876 8500, cabriere.co.za. Atmospheric winery notable for its Pinot Noirs and colourful wine-maker Achim von Arnim, whose presence guarantees an eventful visit; try to catch him or, more commonly now, his son Takuan, when they demonstrate sabrage – slicing off the upper neck of a bubbly bottle with a French cavalry sabre. Tasting Mon–Fri 9am–4.30pm, Sat 10am–4pm, Sun 11am–4pm; R10 per wine or R30 for five.
Robertsvlei Rd, signposted off the R45; 021 876 2044, www.glenwoodvineyards.co.za. Small winery in a beautiful setting that produces outstanding wines year after year. Although only ten-or-so minutes' drive from the village throng, it feels surprisingly remote; vineyard and cellar tours are frequently conducted by the owner. Tasting Mon–Fri 11am–4pm plus Sept–April Sat & Sun 11am–3pm; tasting R30 (three whites and three reds).
Dassenberg Rd; 021 876 2770, www.montrochelle.co.za. Set against the Klein Dassenberg, Mont Rochelle has one of the most stunning settings in Franschhoek and an unusual cellar in a converted nineteenth-century fruit-packing shed, edged by eaves decorated with fretwork, stained-glass windows and chandeliers. Tasting daily 10am–6pm; R25.
13km north of Franschhoek along the R45; 021 874 3937, solms-delta.co.za. The pleasingly bucolic Solms Delta produces unusual and consistently outstanding wines which, on a summer's day, you can taste under ancient oaks at the edge of the vineyards. You can also order a picnic basket to enjoy on the banks of the stream that traces the estate's boundary. There's a fine museum here, too. Half the profits from the wines produced go into a trust that benefits residents of the farm and the Franschhoek Valley. Tasting Sun–Thurs 9am–5pm, Fri & Sat 9am–6pm; R10 (refunded if you buy wine).
Stony Brook Vineyards
About 4km from Franschhoek, off Excelsior Rd; 021 876 2182, stonybrook.co.za. A family-run boutique winery, with just 140,000 square metres under vine, that produces first-rate wines, including its acclaimed flagship Ghost Gum Cabernet Sauvignon, which takes its name from a magnificent old tree outside the house. Tastings are convivial affairs conducted by the owners. Mon–Fri 10am–3pm & Sat 10am–1pm; R20.