Updated: Jun 12, 2020
I am pretty sure most of you would never associate these two words: Wine & Africa. To be honest, I didn’t either before coming to South Africa.
Probably, true wine experts are familiar with some of the most known South African varieties such as Schiraz, Pinotage or Cabernet Sauvignon, but what I’d like you to discover doesn’t concern a professional point of view.
I'd rather introduce you to my personal experience of this incredible wine culture during my staying in this country.
First of all, the Wine Region is mainly located in the Western Cape: Costantia, the most ancient side, Stellenbosch, lively and very European city, and the Wine Road toward Paarl, Franschhoek And Worcester. The best option to visit the area is definitely by car admiring the colourful vineyards all along the road. Considering they are all located in the same area and easy to access, tourists usually go from one estate to the other during the same day. Also, POLICE controls are extremely rare and everybody knows it!
There's also a Wine Tram that covers the main estates, even if I always prefer when you can do your visits on your own and independently.
The wine production started back in 1659 thanks to the influence of the Dutch East India Company, but for a long time South African expertise in the wine sector remained hidden to the world as most of the local products due to the APARTHEID system. When Apartheid ended in 1990s, South Africans wines started gaining their reputation on an international level.
As soon as I arrived here, I immediately felt this strong wine culture, South Africans are very proud of their local wines and of the traditions behind the production.
It's usually a FAMILY activity which is transmitted from one generation to the other. Nonetheless, there are also very young producers who decide to specialise in the organic production for a more eco-friendly variety. Most of the time, wine estates are owned by people who run this activity as a HOBBY, not to make a business out of it. This is why prices are very low and you can really feel there is a real passion in what they are doing.
The LOCATION is absolutely one of the main feature which characterises these wine estates. They are surrounded by the breathtaking South Africans mountains, well-decorated gardens and immense colourful vineyards were to have a walk and admire this amazing nature.
Wine comes from NATURE, a nature which is not always the same and this is why some years can be better than others. Then, nature mixes with gesture, traditions and passions to give birth to a unique product. The HUMAN component is extremely important and part of the experience. Waitresses are trained to explain the process behind the wine you are drinking and the reasons of the pairing, why a certain type goes well with a specific chocolate flavour for example.
Wine tastings are one of the must-do activity that you can’t avoid when visiting South Africa and most of the time the estates propose really interesting pairings like Wine & Chocolate, Wine & Cupcakes, Wine & Olives, Wine accompanied by a cheese and meat platter. And when I say they are cheap, they really are! Wine tastings with 5 different glasses start from 50 rands (almost 5 €) and I had a wonderful wine & chocolate pairing for 150 rands (about 10 €).
Apart from the wine-related activities such as the tasting, visit of the cellars and walk in the vineyards, in some of the estates it's possible to admire ART expositions or handcrafted sculptures, visit a real farm with a great variety of animals, have a nice picnic in the warm season and discover a local market. Also, wine estates are very common during winter as WEDDING location to create a special atmosphere in such an important day.
Despite the great variety of estates, each of them has a particular feature that makes it absolutely unique.
<< Let's go out for a wine tasting! >> is the equivalent of our Italian << Let's have a coffee together! >>.
Visiting South Africa, you can understand that having a wine tasting doesn't mean just going out for a glass of wine, but it's definitely something more. It's a 360 degrees experience, a part of the local habits and an important feature of the country.
Let's have a look at my favourite wine experiences here in South Africa!
1) Waterford Estate - The Jam Tasting and Wine & Chocolate Tasting
Waterford is absolutely the first one in my list! The location is amazing, nature is the real queen of the place with ancient trees, a small lake, water jets and the amazing mountain as background. The main building of the estate is very rustic, wood and light brown stones are the main elements. The beautiful inside courtyard is a peaceful open space where to have a tasting and in summer they also organise Friday night events.
I had the JAM TASTING, their excellence, named after the owner Jeremy. It's a blend of different red varieties and their vintage master, not always possible and this is what makes it so special.
2) Hidden Valley: Wine & Chocolate Tasting
Hidden Valley, as the name suggest, is a real hidden jem accessible from a narrow panoramic road. I had an incredible wine and chocolate pairing with 5 different varieties, 2 white, a rosè and 2 red wines, accompanied by 5 delicious chocolates (one had with the face shape, symbol of the estate!). My favourite one was absolutely the mango CHOCOLATE!
Hidden Valley has a picnic area, a restaurant, a sculpture gallery, a lodge and even a trail road.
Babylonstoren is not only a wine estate, but a real piece of PARADISE. You can spend the entire day strolling around its beautiful garden which includes lemon and olive trees, hiding two restaurants. All the products become ingredients for delicious receipts, adopting the KM0 policy. The estate organises plenty of events as tea and backery workshops and they even have their own accommodation, a farm-hotel and a few cottages.
4) Peter Falke Wines : The signature Wine Tasting
Peter Falke was my first wine tasting in South Africa with my German friend LAURA (we had quite a few together :D). The open garden is a huge beautiful space, perfect to read a book in a peaceful environment or to share a glass of wine with friends. We had the SIGNATURE which includes their excellences, she had the white and I had the red one so that we could share and try all the varieties.
Rust en Vrede is another of my favourite places here in SA. The estate has two restaurants, one is starred and opened only for dinner. The outside one is located in the garden and overviews the vineyards. They offer two choices of meal, both delicious: a steak or salmon platter accompanied by a glass of wine for a fixed price of about 300 rands (20euro).
Boschendal is very common for PICNICS, but unfortunately the season was over when I arrived. I had a nice wine tasting with my adventure companion PACO in the outside garden :) they have a farm so animals like chickens are use to walk among people in the estate. The garden was partially close for the season, but the view was still amazing. The Manor House is in a typical Dutch style and I totally felt in love with the decoration of the toilets, believe me, A MA ZING! :D
Vergelegen means 'far away' and it's one of the oldest estates with a world wide reputation. I had a tasting at Vergelegen with my South African friend DIETER and we had a nice walk in the exquisite gardens which also has a path between the trees and a suspended bridge. We both loved the white selection especially!
And yes, there's a slight difference in length :D
8) Spice Route: Wine & Charcuterie-Cheese Pairing
Spice Route was a non planned stop on the way back to Stellenbosch. The estate is different compared to the others that I've visited. It's more concentrated on the property itself than on nature and it doesn't have a big outside garden. Spice Route doesn't only have a wine tasting room, but also a brewery, a distillery and a shop gallery. With Paco, we had a great CHARCUTERIE and CHEESE pairing: each wine was associated to a specific type of meat or cheese according to their special flavours: delicious!
I became a true farmer :D
Groot Costantia is famous all over the world for being the the oldest wine estate in South Africa. I visited it with ELE and we shared a normal wine tasting and a chocolate wine to try different varieties. The location is beautiful, a wine paradise just outside Cape Town. There are cellar tours and an inside museum to explain the history of the property. They left us the branded GLASS as a souvenir to bring home, nice touch :)
To discover more about South Africa, click here! You'll find articles about my Kruger Park safari, the Diamond Museum and a lot more!