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A Guide to South Africa's Cape Winelands Region

South Africa

South Africa’s Cape Winelands are like a patchwork quilt of green and autumnal colours, vineyards and craggy russet mountains. The region lies in the Western Cape, just to the east of Cape Town, and makes for an excellent addition to any trip to the city.

South African wines may not be as famous as French or Spanish wines, but they have become renowned throughout the world for their excellent quality. Red wines that are produced in South Africa include Pinotage, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Merlot, while white wines include Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The two most famous grape varieties are the Chenin Blanc whites and the Pinotage reds. The Pinotage is one of the most important wines in the country because it is the only grape variety that is unique to South Africa. It was actually invented at Stellenbosch University in 1925.

In terms of top wine-producing countries South Africa is still relatively new, with the first vineyards being planted in the country in 1655, however its blends are a unique combination between old and new wines.

Cape Winelands - Image: Esme Fox

Cape Winelands

Image: Esme Fox

Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch is the wine capital of the Cape Winelands and lies just 50km east of Cape Town, so makes for an ideal day trip or a short jaunt from the city. It’s a picturesque town filled with Dutch-style architecture, surrounded by yellow and crimson vineyards and backed by rugged mountains. It’s known for its French Bordeaux-style wines, as well as Cape blends, Pinotages and white Chenin Blancs. Here are a few of my favourite wineries from when I visited Stellenbosch:

DeMorgenzon

DeMorgenzon means ‘the morning sun’ and is a 91-hectare garden filled with wildflowers, interspersed with 55 hectares of vineyards across rolling hills. It’s definitely the most interesting of the wineries I visited in South Africa because of the winemaker’s unique philosophy, that music will help cultivate the vines. All day, everyday Baroque and classical tunes are piped through the vineyards to encourage them to grow their best. Wines to try here include Grenache Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc.

Spier chocolate pairing - Image: Esme Fox

Spier chocolate pairing

Image: Esme Fox

Spier Wines

One of South Africa’s oldest wine farms, Spier has a heritage dating back to 1692. Over the years it has won several accolades, including awards for fair trade and ethical farming, responsible tourism and conservation. Its signature collection includes Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinotage, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon, so there’s something for every palate. Tastings can be arranged in the large and airy tasting room, and they also offer chocolate pairings.

Waterford Estate - Image: Esme Fox

Waterford Estate

Image: Esme Fox

Waterford Wine Estate

Waterford Estate is an elegant and sophisticated winery, built around an old fountain-filled courtyard. Here, it’s all about focusing on and respecting the natural world. It’s home to some of the oldest Sauvignon Blanc vines in South Africa, dating back to 1980, and is part of the Old Vine Project, which aims to help use and protect old vines across the country. Waterford Wine Estate also offers wine safaris, allowing visitors to sample their wines in the middle of the vineyards. This was by far one of my favourite wine-tasting experiences in South Africa, sipping on grape blends, paired with a rustic picnic, under a large tree in the middle of the vineyards.

Vineyards - Image: Esme Fox

Vineyards

Image: Esme Fox

Hermanus

The charming coastal town of Hermanus is situated along the Whale Coast. Hermanus may be more famous for its wildlife than its wines, however the area surrounding the town is home to some quality vineyards

Hermanus Wine Hoppers

If you don’t have your own transport, Hermanus is a great place to visit, namely because it’s home to Hermanus Wine Hoppers, a wine safari which will take you to visit several of the best wineries in the area, so you can just sit back and relax. In fact, there are 15 wineries here, just down one 18km stretch of road.

Bouchard Finlayson - Image: Esme Fox

Bouchard Finlayson

Image: Esme Fox

Bouchard Finlayson

One of the best and most historic vineyards to visit in the area is Bouchard Finlayson. This multi-award-winning winery is one of the oldest wineries in the region and was started by winemaker Peter Finlayson, who was a wine pioneer and one of the first to grow vines in the region of Hermanus. It’s particularly well known for its Pinot Noir, however for lovers of white wines, the Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs are also excellent.

Creation Wines - Image: Esme Fox

Creation Wines

Image: Esme Fox

Creation Wines

If you believe that wines are best paired with food, then a visit to Creation Wines is for you. The food I tried here was certainly among some of the best I had during my time in South Africa. Set in the middle of a mustard, lavender and bottle green valley, it offers spectacularly scenic views to enjoy whilst you eat. There’s a 5-course lunch pairing with eight different wines to try, and it also offers special children’s menus if you’ve got kids in tow.

Whalehaven Winery

If you have a penchant for chocolate, what could be better than a wine and chocolate pairing? At Whalehaven you can do just that. In its large and airy tasting room, you can try samples such as a Pinot Noir paired with a rose milk chocolate, a Merlot paired with a lavender chocolate or a Pinotage paired with a South African fynbos chocolate.

Written by Esme Fox

Esme Fox is a professional travel writer who grew up in the UK, the Philippines and Uganda. She is now based in Barcelona and writes about Spain for places such as Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. Tweet me @EsmeFox

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