Your Guide to the Best South African Vineyards
Hot off the press from South Africa: A Guide to the Best South African Vineyards
Drive just twenty miles east of Cape Town, and you’ll find yourself in one of the most gorgeous wine lands in the world. The “Boland” – Afrikaans for “the high land” – stretches over 8,000 square miles. Not surprisingly, some of the best South African vineyards can be found amongst these majestic rolling hills. Below I will outline my favorite stops.
A RICH HISTORY
The founder of Cape Town produced the first wine here in 1659. The reason for this was to stave off scurvy in sailors. However since then, the area has grown to boast hundreds of wine farms within six regions. Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, and Paarl are some of the most popular. Stellenbosch is where you can find the longest wine route in the world. Paarl, on the other hand, was the original seat of the Co-operative Wine Growers’ Association. And Finally, Franschhoek Valley is known as the gourmet capital of the country with some of the most cutting edge cuisines.
These South African vineyards produce some stellar wines, and they are best known for their Sauvignon Blancs and Pinotages. Interestingly enough, wine has been produced here for many years, but the area did not gain international acclaim until after apartheid was abolished. Fittingly, the world boycotted South African products during this time.
EXPLORING SOUTH AFRICA
There are so many wonderful things to do and see around Cape Town. To name one, your itinerary needs to include riding the rotating cable car to the top of Table Mountain. In fact, this is one of the “New 7 Wonders of Nature”. Then, another adventurous option is shark cage diving, which allows you the rare chance to see Great Whites up close. However or whatever you pack your Cape Town itinerary with, make sure to save a few days to explore the winelands. Below I’ve compiled a list of my favorites so you can see some of the most “lekker” (Afrikaans for amazing/great) South African vineyards. If you follow my recommendations, you’ll have a chance to sample some of the best reds, whites, and sparkling wines South Africa has to offer.
I recommend beginning with the most posh locations and ending the day in more casual settings. These vineyards all made the cut because of their uniqueness in one way or another. Some offer cellar tours, while others offer a welcoming committee of rescued animals. However, they all offer amazing pairings to go with your tastings. And, because of the U.S. dollar being incredibly strong against the South African Rand (at time of posting, 13 Rand to $1!), you can splurge on a few bottles to bring home to relive the memories.
Here are six of my favorite South African Vineyards:
Fairview, founded in 1693, is a modern and high-tech winery that distributes world-wide. Located in Paarl, this vineyard is surrounded by spectacular rolling hills and meadows. You should know, Fairview is one of the most popular vineyards in the area, and therefore it holds formal and organized tastings. It can fill up rather quickly. The highlight at Fairview is the wine and cheese pairing – my two favorite things! Beyond this, the tastings can be combined with delicious creamy cheeses from the farm’s own cheesery. (It is a good idea to have a little something on your stomach before you sample all of this wine!). I suspect the goats climbing the towers out front are to thank for their goat cheese, which is a must-try!
In short, you simply cannot go wrong with any of the wines offered here. I loved that the vineyard’s red blend is cleverly titled Goats Do Roam. This is a fun play on Cote du Rhone, the well-known French wine region. Moreover, a six-wine tasting with cheeses is only 40 Rand, which is only $3.10!
At your next stop, located in Stellenbosch, get ready for bubbles! Villiera is a family run South African vineyard known for their sparkling wines. The scenery is absolutely striking. Rows of grape vines can be seen glistening in the sun against the backdrop of looming Cape fold mountains. This farm focuses almost half of their efforts on fermenting sparkling wines. A joint venture between Villiera and a French champagne expert has culminated in some of the best bubbles in the country. As a champagne, cava, prosecco, and sparkling wine expert (ok, self-professed!) this place is a can’t miss! Plus, the winemakers at Villiera are sure to make you feel at home. Take your time and explore the property. They even offer a laid-back self-guided tour of the cellar and expansive grounds.
At about this point in your day, you may be getting a bit hungry. At your next stop, Middelvlei, you can enjoy a traditional South African braii with the Momberg family. This includes a one-of-a-kind boerewors before touring the cellar. Boerewors, which comes from the Afrikaans words boer (farmer) and wors (sausage), is made from minced meat and a unique combination of spices such as toasted coriander seed, nutmeg, and cloves. As a vegetarian, I recommend the homemade butternut squash soup and pumpkin fritters, especially if you are visiting in the winter. As of posting, this lunch option was offered for only R180, which is equivalent to about $14.
The Middelvlei wine farm is also well known for their selection of red wines, including pinotage, shiraz, and merlot. They use their own fruits in their recipes and bottle their wine on-site. Plus, if you’re an animal lover, you’re sure to love the resident dogs, donkeys, potbellied pigs, chickens, goats, large tortoises, and ducks waddling around the property – many of which were rescues. And, since my visit, the farm has acquired four baby wallabies!
Boschendal is one of the most unique wineries in South Africa. Innovation thrives and natural environment flourishes here at this wine farm. Every detail is given careful thought – from the naturally produced food to the delicious vinos. Its award winning views of Franschhoek Valley alone are worth the trip. Plus, these grounds offer full days of activities. For example, you can indulge in a hand crafted meal at one of three delectable restaurants. Or treat yourself to a relaxing picnic with an incredible view. Soak in the fresh rose garden air as you stroll through the vineyard’s history on a refreshing tour.
Be sure to check out the Silvermine caves if you plan to spend more time in the valley. You could also take a swim in a handful of hidden farm dams. What is even better about this South African vineyard is its location. It is located a mere 12 miles from the towns of Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Paarl – talk about perfect placement!
What’s better than pairing your next wine tasting with chocolate!? Now that you’ve had a traditional braii at one of the best South African vineyards, next up is dessert! Lovane is not only known for their cabernets which make up 90% of their wine, but also for their chocolates. You are sure to enjoy these pairings held in the cellar of the vineyard itself. Although most well-known for reds, my favorite wine here was the Chenin Blanc – a type of wine I first discovered in South Africa. This estate is one of the smallest in Stellenbosch. It is surrounded by beautiful mountains and farms with free roaming guinea fowl and partridges. On the way here you may just spot the neighbor with a pet giraffe!
Finally, you can finish at Annandale. And interestingly enough, you may recognize your final stop by name! Annandale is owned by a very successful retired Springboks rugby player – Hempies du Toit. Additionally, Annandale’s wines were the only wine served at the wedding of Princess Charlene, who is South African, to Albert II, the Prince of Monaco.
Surprisingly Annandale, although one of the very best South African vineyards, is extremely low key and casual. You’re sure to feel right at home at the barn-style dining table where the tastings are conducted. During my visit, our group got a very warm welcome and exciting surprise – Hempies himself walked into the tasting room and introduced himself. My family and I spent quite a bit of time talking with him, and he even gave us a personal tour of the grounds. He was very endearing and clearly enjoyed socializing with his guests. We discovered we shared a mutual love of horses – even the Annandale logo is the profile of a horse. So, Hempies introduced me to his Fresians and Percheron, and I even jumped on for a quick ride (bareback, after tastings at five farms, no less!).
Be sure to check out the shiraz and cabernets and then relax on the tree swing!
WHERE TO STAY
The luxurious La Residence is nestled into the vineyards of Franschhoek Valley. This lavish resort should not be missed during your South African vineyards adventure. It is only 45 minutes from Cape Town and is the perfect mix of elegance, traditional African design, and old farmhouse glam. Plus, the wild roaming peacocks just may be your favorite touch. Explore more of Misha’s luxurious stay amongst these rolling vineyard hills.
The 26-bedroom hotel of Mont Rochelle is another truly luxurious stay. This is part of the Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Limited Edition property collection. Here, a stunning vineyard surrounds the manor and over 110 tons of grapes are processed in a single season. It is an experience you won’t want to pass up when visiting the South African vineyards.
If one day wasn’t enough to satiate your taste for fine wine at some of the best South African vineyards listed above, you can easily fill multiple days, even weeks, testing out this area’s wines. Maybe, like me, this tour will leave you hungry to explore other wine regions across the world. Check back soon for upcoming reviews of the Hunter Valley region in Australia and the best of Santa Barbara, California.
Don’t forget, a custom experience like this can be booked through ROAR AFRICA. An entirely personalized experience is crafted and complete with local favorites. Your South African itinerary can start in these lush winelands and continue stretching onward to a remote safari grassland.