IN February 2 1659, Jan van Riebeeck 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, this country’s 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.
There are 17 South African wine routes in all, with Constantia and Durbanville on the fringes of Cape town and the triangle of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl 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 said to be one of the longest in the world.
Franschhoek has been dubbed the gourmet capital of South Africa and is home to top restaurants and accommodation establishments.
Stellenbosch is home to the country’s oldest wine route. Look out for magnificent Delaire Graff Estate, Neethlingshof, Thelema, Vergelegen, Beyerskloof, Mulderbosch and Rust en Vrede.
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.
But the Cape wine routes offer an exhilarating experience that goes far beyond chenin blanc and chardonnay.
At the popular 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 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.
The Stellenbosch Wine Route, established in the early 1970s, is the most famous and busiest, but it is worth also venturing out into areas such as Robertson, based on a dusty Afrikaans heartland farming town but surrounded by vineyards producing wines offering quite extraordinary value. © NZ Stuff