A world-class location
25 January 2013 - by -
On February 2, 1659, Jan van Riebeeck of the Dutch East India Company and first Commander of the Cape wrote in his diary: "Today, praise be to God, wine was made for the first time from Cape grapes."
That sweet wine, Vin de Constance, is still made today and, 350 years on, South African wine is not only making an impact worldwide but wine tourism offerings in regions such as Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, Paarl, Wellington and Robertson are regarded as among the best in the world.
With virtually all the wine regions in South Africa within three hours of Cape Town, it is easy to combine world-class wine tastings with whale watching, wildlife adventures and exploring one of the most dramatically appealing cities on the globe.
There are 17 South African wine routes in all, with Constantia and Durbanville on the fringes of the city and the triangle of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl, which sprawl into each other to the north-east.
Other less-visited regions include Bot River, Breedekloof, Darling, cool-climate Elgin and Hermanus, Robertson, Swartland, Tulbagh, Wellington, the West Coast and Worcester, along with the Klein Karoo route that is allegedly one of the longest in the world.
Franschhoek has been dubbed the gourmet capital of South Africa and is home to top restaurants including the Tasting Room, Reuben's, Babel, Boschendal, the Restaurant at Grande Provence, and Bread and Wine at Moreson Vineyard.
Its world-class accommodation ranges from the plush Le Franschhoek Hotel and Spa and L'Ermitage to award-winning bed and breakfast La Fontaine. Star wineries include Vrede en Lust, Haute Cabriere, Plaisir de Merle and Boekenhoutskloof.
Stellenbosch is a historic university town founded in 1679 and home to the country's oldest wine route. Look out for magnificent Delaire Graff Estate, Neethlingshof, Thelema, Vergelegen, Beyerskloof, Mulderbosch and Rust en Vrede, along with star eateries Jordan, Tokara, 96 Winery Road, Overture and Terroir, while Paarl, under the Du Toitskloof mountain range, is more countrified.
Home to the Afrikaans language monument, with a vinous history dating to 1867, its major wineries include Backsberg, Fairview, KWV, Laborie, Glen Carlou, Nederburg and Simonsvlei, while Grande Roche is regarded as the top luxury resort.
Rather than South African cellar doors being mired in the '60s after the trade embargoes of the toxic apartheid years, local wineries quickly realised they were part of the entertainment industry.
From tram rides to Segway tours to breathtaking scenery and world-class cuisine, the Cape wine routes offer an exhilarating experience that goes far beyond chenin blanc and chardonnay.
At the popular destination of Spier Estate in Stellenbosch, for instance, visitors are invited to take a vineyard tour on one of those nifty Segway machines before a tasting, or choosing from one of three winery restaurants in which to eat or visiting the spa, craft market or eagle conservation centre.
At L'Ormarins in Franschhoek, they can combine a tasting with a visit to one of the world's best car museums: the Franschhoek Motor Museum, as well as a hiking trail up into the mountains where Cape leopards are spotted occasionally.
At Solms-Delta there is a fascinating museum detailing the 400-year history of the farm and a restaurant serving modern Cape Malay food, as well as a choice of guided walking tours and food and wine-matching experiences.
La Motte is home to a world-class art gallery and at Viljoensdrift, near Robertson, you can take an open-air cruise on the Breede River after enjoying a picnic and tasting on a delightful deck.
There are dozens of other such innovative offerings, including a cooking school at Leopard's Leap, the opportunity to watch glass blowing at Backsberg, KWV's Sensorium (where art and wine are combined) and some fabulous food and wine matchings at Grande Provence.
"Many of the wineries in South Africa realised years ago that you need to offer more than just a wine tasting to bring people to your door and engage with your product," says Georgie Prout, an Australian who works for the Glen Carlou winery.
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