* This story first appeared here on southafrica.net for SA Tourism
In the stormy corner of the continent, South Africa’s modern history began with a fledgling community, and a garden. It’s raison d’être was to be a halfway-stop between the East and the West offering passing vessels refreshments, fruit and vegetables. However, something else very quickly rose to importance.
Jan van Riebeeck, the Cape’s first commander erroneously believed that wine had a high vitamin C content, and would be a perfect remedy for the scurvy-afflicted sailors. He swiftly planted vines and within seven years, wine was already produced. These first vines were in the city bowl itself near the company gardens, but the soil was far from ideal for viticulture and the wine was ghastly.
Thankfully, Simon van der Stel arrived just over 20 years later, bringing with him knowledge and expertise in winemaking. He combed through the Cape Town soil, analysing it in one-kilometer intervals until he hailed Constantia as the ‘terroir idéal’. Groot Constantia was given to him as his homestead and became the first wine farm in South Africa, and indeed the Southern Hemisphere.
Years on, and my exploration of the Cape Winelands only serves to enlighten my awareness of the immense privilege it is, to both live in, and introduce visitors to, the infinite riches unique to this part of the country. Here’s a brief guide to four of the more noted wine-producing areas near Cape Town.
The leafy southern suburb of Constantia is the home of Cape Town’s very own wine region, embracing nine farms on its official route. From 333-year-old heritage properties to the modern styling of the newer farms, not many wine regions can boast being the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere. The farms of Constantia honour their inheritance with exceptional wines and breathtaking scenery, perfect tributes to the opulence of modern history.
Foodies will revel at the various dining options available, including several top award-winning restaurants such as La Colombe, The Greenhouse, and Chef’s Warehouse.
My recommendations include: the vine-laden panoramas at Constantia Glen, a modern tasting room experience at Beau Constantia, bubbly tasting at Steenberg, a garden getaway at Eagle’s Nest, heritage tours at Groot Constantia, sipping the legendary Vin de Constance at Klein Constantia, a market experience at Constantia Uitsig, superlative dining at Buitenverwachting, and sampling organic wines at Silvermist.
Van der Stel soon wanted to expand his vinicultural endeavors, and Stellenbosch became both the second town and wine-producing region in the country. A 45-minute drive from Cape Town and you’re in the heart of the ‘City of Oaks’, which brags over 170 wine farms – you’ll never be short on choices! Enjoy a short stroll through the historical part of the city, with its alfresco dining and oak-lined streets.
My recommendations would be: Tokara for views, Delaire Graaf for dining, Glenelly for French-styled wines, Spier for picnics and Segway tours, Waterford for wine and chocolate pairings, Villeria for bubbly, and Simonsig for heritage.
The third of the Cape settlements is Paarl, aptly named after early explorers likened the round granite rock that sits high above the town to that of a pearl. It’s a rather scenic drive up the mountain: leave your car at the final car park, and if you’re not afraid of heights, use the chain to climb to the top for astounding views of the town.
My farm recommendations are: Spice Route Destination for an eclectic tasting adventure, Fairview for cheese and wine pairings, Nederberg for a heritage visit, KWV Wine Emporium for an education experience, Mellesat to try a White Pinotage, and Landskroon for a more intimate tasting option.
Hailed by many as the food and wine capital of South Africa, this quaint village must surely be one of the most beautiful in the land. The town is securely nestled in a picturesque valley, flanked on three sides by Cape Fold Mountains. In winter, it feels as if you’ve stepped into a little European village, sans the snow. You’ll also hear a variety of foreign accents, as Franschhoek is a popular tourist stop.
The name Franschhoek means ‘French quarter,’ as the Cape government granted amnesty to French protestants who were fleeing religious persecution. Renowned as keen agriculturalists they were given land, and so birthed the French influence that is still characteristic of the area. A stop at the Huguenots Museum in town will help tell more of the story.
My recommendations would be Holden Manz for views, Haute Cabriere for an underground cellar tour, La Lude for bubbly tasting, Grande Provence for wine and art, Lynx for a boutique experience, Boschendal for beautiful gardens, and Rupert & Rothschild for a stellar array of both local and international wines.