Magical Cape Winelands

By Stef Terblanche

Discover the beauty of South Africa. In each edition we explore a different region as part of our mission to promote local travel. In this edition we visit the fabulous and magical Cape Winelands.

Just like in the 18th century legend of the small French wine-making town of Freinet, the angels shed tears of joy when they come to the Cape Winelands and taste the wonderful wines made here, but also because of the exquisitely beautiful location. There’s even a wine made on the Grande Provence estate in Franschhoek that’s named Angels Tears, based on the legend.

According to the legend word spread far and wide after a particular grape harvest produced an outstanding vintage in Freinet in the 18th century, and even the angels heard about it. They came for a secret night-time visit to the village cellars and wept with joy upon tasting it.

The Cape Winelands are world famous and one of the most popular destinations for both local and foreign tourists in South Africa. According to the Paris-based International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) South Africa by April 2019 ranked as the ninth biggest producer of wine in the world out of twenty wine-producing countries, and the sixth biggest wine exporter globally. South Africa also makes some of the world’s finest wines, regularly scooping up international awards.

However, when it comes to the location, scenery, settings and attractions of wine-producing regions around the world, the Cape Winelands must rank as one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful in the world. Lush green valleys planted with vineyards; magnificent old Cape Dutch farmsteads; estates overlooking the ocean; charming little towns; and all of this dwarfed by dramatic mountains.

Because the winelands spread across much of the country are so numerous, we cannot cover all the estates, cellars, cooperatives and associated offerings and attractions in one article. So, we will highlight only a few places that we visited in the Western Cape only, just to give you a taste of what’s on offer. But there are hundreds more, and there are a multitude of websites that offer information and advice about them all – it’s truly worthwhile to google these and learn more. But most importantly, hit the road and go and sample their delights.

Cederberg

We took the N7 out of Cape Town going north, turning off to the right halfway between Citrusdal and Clanwilliam at the Algeria/Cederberg sign, and followed the gravel mountain pass to reach the Western Cape’s highest wine farm above sea level. Here, high up in the remote and rugged Cederberg mountains, a fynbos-covered area on the edge of the Succulent Karoo biome, we found the Cederberg Private Cellar on the farm Dwarsrivier.

Nestled in these beautiful mountains within the Cederberg Wilderness Area with its streams and mountain pools and breath-taking hiking trails, the atmosphere on the farm is one of utter tranquillity scented by fynbos and crisp mountain air. This award-winning winery is owned by the fifth-generation David Nieuwoudt who is also the winemaker. From up here one has 360-degree views, you can visit spectacular rock formations, hike and cycle, cool off in the crystal-clear rivers and deep pools, watch the stars under a breath-taking night sky and stay over at the Sanddrif Holiday Resort or CapeNature’s nearby Algeria Campsite.

You can sample their superb wine range under the labels Cederberg, Five Generations, Cape Winemakers’ Guild, Ghost Corner, Waitrose and Longavi. At Cederberg Private Cellar, red wine constitutes 60% of overall production, with the focus especially on on Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, while their excellent white wine focus strongly on Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Bukettraube.

Delheim

From one mountain to another. Some 50km from Cape Town, high up on the slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain, lies the family owned Delheim estate, started by the legendary Michael Hans ‘Spatz’ Sperling. To get there, take the R44 from the N1 towards Stellenbosch and turn off when you see the signs “Delheim / Muratie & Knorhoek Road”.

Leaving behind the horrors of Europe and WWII, Spatz arrived in South Africa as a 19-year-old in 1951 on board the Winchester Castle with just ten pounds to his name and started claiming his gigantic place in local winemaking history. Spatz passed away in October 2017, but his wife Vera and his children continue his proud wine-making tradition. Together with with Sydney Back of Backsberg and Frans Malan of Simonsig, he founded the Cape Estate Wine Producers. Together they were also instrumental in transforming wine estate legislation which led to the 1973 Wine of Origin system.

The estate is a feast of warm family hospitality, excellent food, wine tasting and sales in the cool cellar, and peace and tranquillity under the trees of the beautiful garden.  Browse and taste the wines in the cellar and select from among such award-winners as the majestic Grand Reserve, their Pinotage Rosé (the 1st of its kind to be produced in South Africa in 1976) and the quirky Spatzendreck dessert wine, favourites that have helped to turn Delheim into a household name. Cellar hours are Monday to Sunday 9am to 5pm.

Whether you are fleeing Cape Town’s southeaster on a hot summer’s day or want to enjoy one of those rare sunny winter’s days in July, Delheim’s Garden Restaurant is the perfect place. Sit outside on the shaded terrace or under the garden trees and sample the wines while looking through the menu. And don’t ignore those cute little family dogs patiently waiting for some attention or a treat alongside your table. The restaurant offers a superb selection of dishes, my favourite being the slow-braised lamb shank, washed down with their Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2017. End it all off with the Delheim Pinotage Ice-Cream, a vanilla ice-cream blended with a berry compote and pinotage infused sauce – it’s absolutely to die for.

Out here indulging in good food and surrounded by the murmur of contented visitors, its pure German gemütlichkeit. And on a clear day you even see Table Mountain from here. And if the winter is too cold for you outside in the garden, you can always opt for the cosy Downstairs cellar which serves breakfast, lunch and tea.

Route 62 and SA’s Port Wine Capital

Having recovered from our feasting at Delheim, a week later we hit the N1 to Worcester, then followed the R60 till it became the R62 at Montagu, which is South Africa’s famous Route 62. All along the way, we passed plenty of wonderful wine estates and cellars such as Backsberg, Nederburg, Fairview, Rooiberg, Graham Beck, Robertson Winery, Cloverfield, Ashton Winery, Montagu Wine Cellar, Rietrivier, Barrydale Cellar and many more. But our destination was the Port Wine Capital of South Africa – Calitzdorp.

Calitzdorp is a uniquely charming little village that will blow you away. The town, surrounded by mountains on all sides, falls within the Klein Karoo Wine Route and the Cape Floral Region, the latter being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The valley’s climate and dry soil, similar to that of Portugal’s Douro Valley and home of Port, makes it ideal for the production of its port wines. After exploring the outlying areas of the district and the town itself, where you will find a few more wine farms such as Axehill, Calitzdorp Cellar, Du’SwaRoo, or Peter Bailey Winery, park your car in the village and explore on foot: pleasant surprises await you around every corner.

Walk down the historic Queen Street with its fascinating and well-preserved old buildings, most of them now housing restaurants, galleries and guest houses. Turn off at Saayman Street to Boplaas, or at Station Street to De Krans, and you will hit the port wine jackpot with both. The two wine farms lie practically within the village.

Boplaas was founded in 1880 when the first brandy was crafted here by Daniel Nel, for export to London. It was only after 1980 that his descendant, Carel Nel, joined his father on the farm, built a new cellar in 1981 with the first Boplaas Estate wines released in 1982, and produced their very first SA Champion Port in 1986. Here they produce excellent white and red wines in addition to their Cape ‘Port’-styled fortifieds – international law forbids the use of the name ‘port’ – as well as a range of fine Heritage Muscats and pot still brandies.

From Boplaas hop across to De Krans where they focus on making a range of classic varietal wines, using special winemaking techniques that make their range so distinguished. These include their Free Run Chenin Blanc, Wild Ferment Chardonnay, Pinotage Dry Rosé and Basket Press Cabernet Sauvignon.

De Krans is yet another family wine-making business and is owned by another branch of the Nel family of this region. Situated along the upper reaches of the picturesque Gamka River Valley right in the heart of Calitzdorp, the fascinating history of the farm dates to 1890, when it was bought by the Nel family. The current cellar was built in 1964 by Chris Nel and his brother Danie, and the first Portuguese grape variety in Calitzdorp was planted in 1973 at De Krans by a twist of fate. Chris Nel, father of Boets and Stroebel Nel who now run the business, intended to plant Shiraz, which turned out to be Tinta Barocca, when the newly planted vineyard started bearing grapes in 1976! The result was its now signature port style wine.

Some interesting SA wine statistics

The original home and still by far the hub of South African wine production in the Western Cape wine-producing region is largely situated around the towns of Stellenbosch, Cape Town, Paarl, Malmesbury, Tulbagh and Franschhoek. However, over more than three centuries the industry spread out and today wine is also produced in many more parts of the Western Cape, parts of the Southern Cape, along the West Coast, Namaqualand, Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, with small, private home-industry wineries also found in little towns all over the country.

According to statistics for 2018 published by the SA Wine Industry Information and Systems (SAWIS) of Paarl, South Africa’s grape harvest for the year stood at 1.24 million tons of crushed grapes, with 824 million litres of wine produced. The country has 2 873 farms with vineyards for wine making, or which 213 were registered for ‘Estate Wine’ production, with a total of 542 wineries across the country. There are 51 wards in the winelands of South Africa, 18 wine districts and 5 wine regions.

Franschhoek

No wine tour of South Africa will be complete without a visit to the valley of the French Huguenots who brought their wine-making skills here in the late 1680s. The picturesque and charming village of Franschhoek is nestled in a valley between high mountains on three sides, surrounded by vineyards and some of the most esteemed wine estates in the country.  Many consider it to be the food and wine capital of the Western Cape with its splendid local wines and a wide choice of delightful restaurants and bistros.

As you enter the valley coming from Paarl or Stellenbosch, you will pass wine farms many of which still bear their original French names, and some boasting some of the most beautiful and well-preserved Cape Dutch homesteads surrounded by oak trees, rose gardens and rolling vineyards. Here you will be spoilt for choice with an array of cellars, ranging from quaint boutique wineries to the large cellars that offer visitors organised tours and tastings.

The fertile valley produces noble cultivars and classic styles such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Semillon and Chenin Blanc, to the full-bodied reds of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinot Noir and Merlot. The area also produces some of the country’s best Méthode Cap Classiques, or sparkling wine.

You can spend time on any of the large estates tasting wine and eating in the outstanding restaurants found on most of them. Or you can continue into the village for a choice of culinary delights. Carry on up the main street to its end, and you will see the Huguenot Monument with its museum. The museum covers the history of the French Huguenots who arrived here fleeing religious persecution in France, and many interesting documents, relics, furniture and other items are on display.

Groot Constantia

We ended our wine tour at the historical Groot Constantia in the southern suburbs of Cape Town, once the home of Governor Simon van der Stel, the oldest wine estate in South Africa and now a provincial heritage site. Van der Stel was granted the estate in 1685. Here he built a house and started producing wine that over the years caught the attention of influential people across the globe – clearly due to its impressive quality.

Global aristocracy made sure that they had enough stock of this acclaimed and precious product. One  of the biggest fans of Constantia wine was none other than Napoleon Bonaparte, who made sure he received regular shipments from the Cape during his incarceration by the British on the remote St Helena Island.

After Van der Stel’s death in 1712 the Constantia estate was broken up and sold in three parts: Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia and Bergvliet. But the proud winemaking tradition continues here along with other wine farms in the valley such as Steenberg, High Constantia, and Uitsig Wine Estate.

In 1779 the portion now known as Groot Constantia which included Van der Stel’s Cape Dutch-style manor house was sold to the Cloete family and enlarged. The wine cellar was added by Cloete in 1791 and in 1885 Groot Constantia was purchased by the government of the Cape of Good Hope and was used as an experimental wine and agricultural estate. Following a disastrous fire in 1925 the house was extensively restored.

Today visitors can enjoy the beautiful gardens and surrounding vineyards; sample some of the famous wines in the tasting cellar; enjoy excellent food at two superb restaurants, undertake the guided estate tour, visit the old manor house with its original furniture, or enjoy any of the superb wine produced here, including the Grand Constance, Gouverneurs Reserve White, their Method Cap Classique Brut Rose, the Sauvignon Blanc, their Chardonnay, or a range of absolutely superb red wines.

Useful Contact Info

Groot Constantia Wine Estate Tel:  +27 21 794-5128; Email:  enquiries@grootconstantia.co.za
Vignerons de Franschhoek Tel:  +27 21 876 3062
Franschhoek Wine Valley Tel: +27 21 876 2861; Email: info@franschhoek.org.za
KWV Tel: +27 21 807 3911; Email: customer@kwv.co.za
Stellenbosch Visitor Information Centre Tel: +27 21 88 33 584; Email: info@stellenbosch360.co.za
Western Cape Tourism Tel: +27 21 426 5639; Email: info@capetourism.org.za
Cape Town Tourism Tel: 0861322223; Website: www.capetown.travel