Wandering the Winelands: South Africa’s Big Four Safari

May 31, 2019
Jodi Lucas
Jodi is an adventure enthusiast and Douglas Adams groupie who supports these addictions through travel writing. When she’s not hitting Cape Town’s surf, you’ll find her trawling pre-loved bookstores for a leather-bound volume of The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

There’s something about Africa’s climate that makes it a hub of iconic experiences. From gorilla trekking in Uganda to the great migration in Tanzania, and, of course, going on a big five safari in South Africa. When it comes to the kind of adventure that makes you weak at the knees, this behemoth continent is unmatched.

And, just when you think it can’t get any better, South Africa steps up with another kind of safari that will leave you wobbly with glee. So, be sure to add an extra day or two onto your African overland tour for an up close and personal experience with South Africa’s Big Four – Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, and Chardonnay.

 

Forget France, South Africa’s vineyards produce some of the world’s best wines. The vast majority rest in the Western Cape, where magnificent mountain ranges and deep valleys provide ideal microclimates for the vines.

Join a South Africa Tour to experience the Winelands

From networks of farms hemmed into the south of the region to hidden valleys of vineyards in off the beaten track districts, there are almost as many wines routes as there are varietals in the rainbow nation. And, it all started with Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival at the Cape in 1652.

Back then, Cape Town was only a stopover for ships and crew to pick up fresh produce during their journey along the spice route to India. Unfortunately, the journeys were long and scurvy was rife. In an attempt to ward off disease, Jan Van Riebeek started planting grapes to produce wine; falsely believing that the (delicious) drink would prevent scurvy from spreading between sailors.

By 1659 the first South African wine was made from French Muscadel grapes. It didn’t help with the scruvy issue and many sailors still suffered. But, sadness aside, Jan’s vinification didn’t go unnoticed and kick-started what would be a bountiful winemaking industry.

 

Today, the annual grape harvest is close to 1.5 million tonnes, most of which is used to make the region’s award-winning wines. With over 200 wineries to choose from, all within a day’s drive, this breathtaking destination is a natural hub for going on a wine tasting tour.

So, if you’re keen to experience a more bubbly safari, here are the Western Capes key wine regions to explore.

 

Franschhoek

This picturesque valley is a captivating blend of European charm and spectacular, verdant scenery. The French Huguenots settled in this breathtaking valley over 300 years ago, bringing their vines with them. Since then, Franschhoek has been hailed as one of South Africa’s leading wine destinations, with an amazing gastronomic scene to boot.

The town itself is outfitted with a clutch of art galleries, high-end boutiques, and fine dining restaurants which are well worth a visit. But, you will likely want to spend most of your time sipping your way through the Cape Dutch-style farms.

 

The fertile valley soil produces all of South Africa’s big four wines; Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, and Chardonnay, alongside full-bodied reds of Shiraz, Pinot Noir and Merlot. And, if it’s bubbles you crave, there’s also a dedicated Cap Classique route here.

Distance from Cape Town: 1hour’s drive

Must-see wine farms: La Motte, Haute Cabrière, and Babylonstoren

Must-see attraction: The Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve.

Where to eat: Café des Artes for casual dining or the Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français for fine dining.


Stellenbosch

If there’s one wine route everyone knows, it’s this one. Established by the governor of the Cape in 1679, Stellenbosch was – and still is – famed for its wine. In fact, it was the first wine territory to establish a coordinated route, and it has the most wine awards per capita/wine than any other region in South Africa.

At the heart of it all the town’s oak-lined streets are constantly bustling with Capetonians and tourists meandering in and out of interesting museums, quirky bars, clubs, and restaurants. But, touring the wine routes will probably form the backbone of your visit.

Sprawling out around the old town, this vast, pretty locale boasts more than 200 wineries, many of which produce world-class wines. Unfortunately, sipping your way through all of these in a day would be impossible, so your best bet would be to tackle one route at a time. To make it more manageable, the region has been divided into five sub-routes: the Bottelary Hills, Greater Simonsberg, Helderberg, Stellenbosch Valley, and Stellenbosch Berg.

 

Distance from Cape Town: 1hour’s drive

Must-see wine farms: Waterford Estate, Spier, and Kleine Zalze.

Must-see attraction: Add a bit of hop in your step by going on a Stellenbrau Brewery Tour

Where to eat: The Bakery at Jordan for a picnic on lush lawns overlooking Stellenbosch Kloof Valley.

 

Hermanus

This unassuming seaside town has two aces up its sleeve; first, it’s the best land-based whale watching destination in the world, and second, it produces amazing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines.

Aptly named Hemel-en-Aarde Wine Route (which translates to heaven on Earth), the Hermanus wine route gives visitors the chance to sample top-tier vino and watch Southern Wright whales breach the Atlantic Ocean in one day.

 

Just a cork’s toss away from Cape Town, this short and sweet route is packed with over 15 renowned wine farms, most of which fall under the official Wine Route along one, straight 18-km road. Top it off by meandering through the seaside village nestled between lush green mountains and the turquoise ocean, and you’ll realize just how it got its name.

Distance from Cape Town: 1½ hours’ drive from Cape Town

Must-see wine farms: Newton Johnson, La Vierge, and Southern Right

Must-see attraction: Hermanus Whale Festival in September

Where to eat:  Bientang’s Cave for lunch by the water’s edge.

 

Paarl

Paarl is the Wineland’s largest and, arguably, most underrated routes. Often overlooked for the more fashionable towns of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, this rural town is a wine-producing heavy-weight.

This old-world town is a hub for wine innovation. For starters, Paarl played an important role in kick-starting the wine industry with the establishment of KWV, the first commercial wine cellar. Later, the then owner of Nederberg introduced the process of cold fermentation to promote wine quality. And, if that weren’t enough, the region is also responsible for creating the world’s first white Pinotage and bottling SA’s first Bordeaux-style red blend.

To say that this is an oenophile’s haven is an extreme understatement. With over 25 wineries dotted around the region’s iconic pearl-shaped rock, visitors won’t be left wanting when it comes to variety. But the area is best known for the quality of its Shiraz, Chenin blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinotage.

 

Distance from Cape Town: 40 minutes’ drive

Must-see wine farms: Spice Route, Nederburg, and Glen Carlou

Must-see attraction: Go hiking in Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve

Where to eat: Bertus Basson at Spice Route, the view here is second to none.

 

Tulbagh

Nestled beneath the dramatic backdrop of the Witzenberg range, this old-world town is well off the tourist circuit. The secluded Tulbagh valley has been producing wine for hundreds of years but has only recently emerged on the map as a must-visit vino destination.

Although small, the wine route is dotted with a plethora of estates and private cellars which have received a string of national and international awards. And, thanks to its magnificent mountain ranges and deep valleys, winemakers are able to produce a greater variety of grapes including Shiraz, Pinotage, and bubbly.

Wine aside, the old-town is steeped in history and well worth a visit. Cape Dutch, Edwardian and Victorian provincial heritage sites sit comfortably next to contemporary, new-age estates. And, it’s all very surreal when the surrounding mountain peaks are blanketed with snow.

 

Distance from Cape Town: 2 hours

Must-see wine farms: Twee Jonge Gezellen, Saronsberg, and Drostdy-Hof.

Must-see attraction: Wander through a 300-year-old road. Church Street is a near-perfect example of an 18th- and 19th-century Cape Dutch village.

Where to eat: Governor’s Restaurant at Rijk’s Country House

 

Book a wine tasting tour

 

While it’s totally possible to tackle the wine region on your own, sharing a glass or three in good company makes better memories. And there’s hardly better company than the Lords and Ladies of wine from Wineflies.

With more than 50 years of experience between them, these expert guides take the snobbery out of wine tasting by giving visitors an authentic taste of South Africa’s Winelands. Whether you wish to meet the winemakers in their private cellars, splash out on a helicopter tour of the region, or simply wander along the world-famous routes, you’re guaranteed an experience you’ll never forget…Provided the tipples don’t make you topple over.

 

 

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