Before you venture out to experience the wine routes of South Africa, some background info. Every journey has a beginning – even if only in thought, and it was the idea of Jan van Riebeeck, the first governor of the Cape, to plant a vineyard in 1655. On 2 February 1659, Oom Jan wrote in his diary, “Today - God be praised – wine pressed for the first time from Cape Grapes”. We couldn’t agree more.
All South African wine routes fall under the auspices of the Wine of Origin Scheme. Production is divided into official regions, districts and wards. There are 5 principle demarcations – Coastal, Breede River Valley, Little Karoo, Olifants River and Boberg, covering 21 districts and 61 wards. Stylistically, South African wines fit somewhere between Old World and New.
Vines are planted across the Western Cape as far as the Hemel-en-Aarde valley in the Southern Cape, Bamboes Bay on the West Cape coast, Hartswater in the Northern Cape and Rietrivier in the south western Free State. Unofficially, South Africa’s northernmost vineyards are in Bronkhorstspruit, east of Pretoria in Gauteng!
A hire car or self drive option is ideal, or use a guide or professional tour operator. Alternatively some of the wine routes offer a hop-on-hop-off bus or shuttle service.
South Africa has 18 wine routes and 2 brandy routes. Visit the website of the route you’d like to visit or contact the local tourism office for maps and directions.
There are major auctions and regional wine festivals happening throughout the year, as well as special events organised by wine estates. Contact the local tourism office or the individual wine estate for more information.
The Cape Tourism office can assist with any wine route enquiries for a particular region.
Cape Town Routes Unlimited:
Private Bag X9108
Cape Town 8000
80 St Georges Mall
Tel: +27 (0)21 426 5639/47
Fax: +27 (0)21 426 5640
There is no ‘wine route’ charge per se. Wine tasting fees depend on the estate. You will typically be required to buy a glass in the tasting room to taste the wines. Phone ahead or enquire about prices at the cellar door. Wine pairings, tutored tastings and other specialised tours may cost more, and should be booked in advance.
Enjoy locally produced organic cheeses, fresh and dried fruit, baked goods, hand-made charcuterie, olives, olive oils, berries, herbs and try typical Cape and Cape Malay cuisine.
South African wines, of course. You are limited to the amount of wine you can carry on an international flight so enquire about shipping from the cellar, or through an accredited agent.
Anytime is wine route time. In summer and autumn, the vineyards are most scenic and in winter you’ll avoid the crowds. Harvest is generally January – March.
Each of South Africa’s wine routes exhibits its own personality. If you’re a serious wine buff you’ll want to delve into the intricacies of terroir, appellations and labels. Or like most of us you’ll visit a couple of estates, swoon over the gorgeous award-winning wine, buy more than you meant to, and then reward yourself further with a long delicious lunch in the warm Cape sunshine.
The most popular wine routes are those in Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl, with Robertson and Durbanville areas emerging as new favourites.
Whether you’re a “I drink it ‘cos it tastes nice” wine lover, or a blind-tasting genius who can identify the exact spot the tree was grown on the first sip of a French oak barrel-matured Chardonnay, you’re welcome on the wine routes in South Africa.
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