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Africa,  Drink Experiences,  South Africa

South Africa: A Tour of the Cape Winelands

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A couple from the UK with a passion for exploring the world, and enjoying a drink or two while we’re at it!

We want to share our travel experiences to help you plan your next trip, and let you know the best places to enjoy a cold one when you get there!

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South Africa might not be as famed for it's wines as France, Italy or Australia, and you'll likely be hard pressed to find a good range of wines from the country in your local supermarket. You might get one or two bottles if you're lucky. 

We think that this is a complete shame! We fell in love with South African wines when we visited in September 2019, and for someone like Nat who wasn't particularly a wine lover prior to visiting, to love a nice glass of wine now, speaks volumes about just how good South African wine really is.

South Africa owns approximately 1.5-2% of the worlds vineyards, and while this might not sound like much, the country produces around 1,000,000,000 litres of wine per year. This is more than enough for it to consistently rank in the top ten wine producing countries in the world.

While we were in Cape Town, we took a one day tour of the Cape Winelands, and visited four of the 300+ vineyards that make up the countries' best known wine producing region. This is our brief guide to the Cape Winelands and why visiting, even if you aren't particularly a wine lover, will be one of your most memorable South African experiences.

About the Cape Winelands

The Cape Winelands are located a short 30-45 minute drive North East of Cape Town and cover an area of more than 21,000km². The temperate Mediterranean type climate and unique soil compositions in this region, provide the perfect conditions for growing a variety of grapes, which give South Africa its diverse portfolio of world class wines.

The Winelands are made up of several wide mountainous valleys, which provide some of the most dramatic and beautiful scenery in South Africa.

The area is sub-divided into several wine producing regions and towns, which each has it's own vineyards that produce different wines, best suited to the growing conditions in each area.

Constantia

Constantia, the countries' oldest wine producing region, is considered to be one of the most prestigious suburbs not only in Cape Town, but the whole country! The valley has 8 wine farms on it's official route, most of which also offer fine dining and some of the best accommodation in Cape Town.

It is the closest wine region to the city, being only 20 minutes from the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. Perfect for shorter stays in the city if you can't spare a full day in your itinerary to explore the wider wine regions.

Stellenbosch

Possibly the most well known region of the Cape Winelands, Stellenbosch has also been producing wine since the 17th century, and is also the second oldest European settlement in South Africa after Cape Town.

The town is the countries' centre of Viticulture and winemaking research, with Stellenbosch University offering courses in wine production, hospitality and tourism, dedicated to developing the future of the winemaking industry in the region.

The Stellenbosch Wine Route was the countries' first, formed in 1971, it now boasts over 150 members, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Western Cape for good reason. The Mediterranean climate is exceptional for growing wine, and Stellenbosch's vineyards have the most wine awards per capita/wine than any other region in South Africa.

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Franschoek

Franschhoek (‘French corner’) does things a little differently than the other regions, as it gets its wine traditions from the French rather than the Dutch. This is down to the Huguenot refugees settling in the area in the 1680s to avoid persecution.

Franschhoek offers some of the finest in luxury accommodation, restaurants and wineries in the country. 

The Franschhoek Wine Tram is a unique transport system that links several of the town's vineyards so you won't even need to make your own way between tastings.

Paarl

Completing our run down of the main Cape wine regions is Paarl. The third-oldest city and European settlement in South Africa (are you sensing a theme here too?), and the largest town in the Cape Winelands.

Paarl was the subject of worldwide recognition on 11 February 1990, when Nelson Mandela walked out of Victor Verster Correctional Centre ending his 27 years of imprisonment for political activism. Mandela spent the final three years of his prison sentence in Paarl.

Paarl is best known for its full-bodied spicy red (Joe's favourite!) and crisp white wines. Shiraz is the favoured grape in the area, but Paarl is also known for exceptional chenin blanc, chardonnay and pinotage.

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Our Tour Details

We booked the Easy Rider Group tour with Winetour South Africa, one of several firms that run tours of the Winelands. We could not fault anything with our tour and would recommend anyone to book with them as well.

Our tour included pick up/drop off from our airbnb accommodation in Cape Town, transport to/from the Winelands, 4 tastings (one at each vineyard) including wine & chocolate and wine & cheese pairing sessions, a cellar tour, and a scenic restaurant lunch with more wine to go with it.

The value for money was truly exceptional, and the tour only cost £40.00pp!

Vineyard 1 - Lanzerac, Stellenbosch

First up on our tour was the Lanzerac Wine Estate, which claims to offer the ultimate experience in the Cape Winelands, and it's easy to see why! This vast vineyard has a 5 star hotel, bars, restaurants, tasting venue and spa, to offer wine lovers some of the most luxurious accommodation in Stellenbosch.

The vineyard was established in 1692, only 13 years after the town of Stellenbosch itself. In the early 1900's, Lanzerac was transformed into one of the most modern wineries in the Cape, producing some of the regions most acclaimed wines, which it has done proudly ever since.

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Our tour started in the tasting room, where we sampled some of Lanzerac's Pinotage, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Pinotage was the best we tried in our whole trip!

Next up was a tour of the cellars. Our expert guide talked us through the process of winemaking from harvesting the grapes to ageing in oak barrels. It was news to us that the main difference between red and rose wines is the length of time they are barrel aged.

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Lanzerac boasts some of the best views of any vineyard in the Winelands. If you only visit one winery during your trip to South Africa, do it properly and visit Lanzerac!

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Vineyard 2 - Zorgvliet, Stellenbosch

Next up on our tour was Zorgvliet, which although it's much smaller than Lanzerac, quickly became our favourite winery, with some of the best wines we have ever tried!

Seven kilometres out of Stellenbosch in the dramatic Banhoek Valley, Zorgvliet Wine Estate is set in a former farm that first produced wine in 1659, and has been making a name for itself since 2002 when it was purchased by the Van der Merwe family. The original Manor House has been fully refurbished and today offers a stunning venue for wine tastings, weddings, or just a great place to stay and experience the winelands.

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We tried eight of Zorgvliet's wines during our tasting session from their core and Grand Cuvée ranges. It was really fun too! We tried four wines at a time, but had to try and guess which of the wines we were sampling. Turns out we know even less about wine than we thought!

Their wines are delicious to say the least. We loved the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot so much that some bottles found their way into our backpacks home, and now that those are gone, there will be some more on their way over very soon!

Vineyard 3 - Franschhoek Cellar, Franschhoek

Next up was a short trip over to Franschhoek, and a lunch stop we won't be forgetting any time soon!

Franschhoek Cellar is a large complex with vineyards, restaurants, bars and conference/wedding venues situated on the famous Franschhoek Wine Route. They are best known for their award winning MCC Brut sparkling wines, but their range is so broad that you will undoubtedly find something to suit your taste.

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Lunch at their restaurant was included in the cost of our tour. We opted for the rolled pork belly and it was exceptional. But the best part, two more bottles of wine to go with it! The Cabernet Sauvignon was delicious but the Sauvignon Blanc stole the show for us, and we're not usually big white wine lovers.

The view from the restaurant is stunning. The panoramic windows open out over the historic Franschhoek Wine Tram track, which might pass by while you're enjoying your meal (we weren't quick enough with the camera to snap a photo, doh!).

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After lunch we were taken through into the main tasting room for the second part of our Franschhoek Cellar experience, a wine tasting with chocolate pairing. We aren't too clued up on foods to pair with different wines, but this quick introduction was really interesting. Our guide talked us through why each chocolate was selected to be paired with the different wines and while we definitely won't be calling ourselves connoisseurs anytime soon, we really enjoyed it. 

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Vineyard 4 - Fairview, Paarl

The last stop on our tour saw us head over into Paarl, and Fairview Wine & Cheese. As the name suggests, Fairview aren't just a winemaker, they are a working farm that also produces award winning cheese, and it's their expertise wine & cheese pairings that make it one of the most visited producers in all of the Winelands. At one point in time they even counted Nelson Mandela himself as a patron, and if that's not a celebrity endorsement to be proud of we don't know what is!

Wine was first produced on the estate in 1699, but it was in 1937 that Charles Back, now credited as one of the most influential people in the South African wine industry, purchased the estate and things started to blossom.

The Back family have operated Fairview ever since, and grew the estate to be one of the largest in the wine lands, producing a variety of award winning wines and cheeses that they love to showcase in their vast tasting room.

This was how we rounded off our day in the Winelands, sampling Fairview range or wines and cheese pairings. We aren't big fans of cheese, especially exotic ones made from Goat's milk with all kinds of weird and wonderful ingredients, but can't deny that these weren't like anything  we'd tried before. Fairview really know how to make great wine, and great cheese too. A perfect way to round off our tour.

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So that was our day in the Cape Winelands. It was one of our favourite days in South Africa and we have said multiple times while at home that we would go back in a heartbeat. Plus, several South African wines have made their way through the house this year with no signs of stopping! We aren't connoisseurs, but since our tour we have a newfound love for South African wine that keeps getting stronger with every new bottle we try!

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