By Maryke Visagie
Ever feel like those Asian tourists in that infamous TV advert from a few years ago—criss-crossing the winelands in your little car with locals wordlessly pointing in all directions?
You head out to Stellies with the vague idea of tasting the latest Cab from Overgaauw, to find out if the Golden Triangle winemakers really produce Pinotage that good, oh, and the kids have heard about a jungle gym at Eaglevlei. With 145 members, the Stellenbosch wine route is the biggest—and probably most daunting—of all South African wine routes. And with almost 50km between Mount Rozier in the South and Mont Destin in the North, you would be forgiven for feeling a little lost. But help is at hand.
The American Express Stellenbosch Wine Route stretches over a vast cobweb of Boland wineries and, since its inception in 1971, it has steadily grown as members have joined and the Helderberg wine route has officially come under the umbrella. Eventually it was decided to divide the route into five sub-routes, according to the roads rather than the wine-of-origin system, to break up the experience into “bite-sized chunks”, perfect for the day visitor. Each area boasts a specific terroir, which will make for interesting comparisons, if you’re into that sort of thing, of course.
So what are you waiting for? Load your significant other in the car and head out into the country. At worst you’ll return with a clinking car boot.
A Leisurely Drive around the Greater Simonsberg
This area encompasses exactly its name—the greater Simonsberg that lies to the north of the town. Start on the R44 northbound and, if you’re feeling lucky, try an experimental wine at the government-funded research facility Nietvoorbij. You might just discover a gem. L’Avenir recently rebuilt their cellar, where you can also taste offerings from Michiel Laroce’s French and Chilean estates.
To the right lies a little cluster of wine farms, including Knorhoek, Muratie, Delheim and Quoin Rock. Relax with a cheese platter on Delheim’s stoep while the kids do some bird watching, and try their honey, olives and olive oil. And then onwards for a spot of bubbly tasting at Simonsig, or something to eat at Cuvèe Restaurant, or if something stronger is more your cup of … um, brandy, head for Uitkyk for Estelle Lourens’s estate brandy, great on a rainy day. And on the way down, try some Kanonkop Paul Sauer.
Now there is a choice between circling Klapmutskop from the left or the right. The former will take you past Elsenburg and Westbridge, De Meye with its lavender oil, onward to Ernst & Co, Hoopenburg and Eaglevlei, where you can stop for a bite to eat—the kids will go wild for the jungle gym, which will give you some time to savour a glass of Pinotage Rosé.
If you continue on the R44, however, Delvera will probably take up the rest of your day, as you eat lunch or visit the various shops on the property selling everything from wine and cheese to olives, wool and ceramics. If you can tear yourself away, however, you can visit the wine farms all the way to Klapmuts—Laibach, Lievland, Warwick and maybe even try a Pinotage bath at Mont Destin. A leisurely drive around Simonsberg will bring you back to Stellenbosch from the Pniel side, taking you past farms like Zorgvliet with its great picnics, Rainbow’s End, Tokara and Delaire, the latter under serious construction and promising to be one of the winelands’ most stunning spectacles once done.
The Big Names of Stellenbosch Hills
This route encloses all the farms on the M12, or Polkadraai Road, which takes you to Kuils River, as well as the R310 which runs past big names such as Spier, Van Ryn’s and Meerlust. Starting from Stellenbosch, you can make a quick turnoff for a visit to the family estate Middelvlei, to taste the stars at Stellekaya or to knock back a shot of grappa at Dalla Cia. Who cares if it’s early in the morning?
Back on Polkadraai, and a kilometre or so to the right lies the Devon Valley, which boasts lovely views and some more great names, including Clos Malverne, Louisvale and the House of JC Le Roux, where you can sip some bubbly in their ultra-modern tasting centre. Then make your way past Asara, perhaps stopping for some cheese, home-made gelato and dessert wine. Now for the big choice—drive onwards or turn left?
Continuing on will take you to Overgaauw, Jordan, Kanu, Saxenburg and Zevenwacht. If you’re up for a hike stop at Amani, Beau Joubert and Bein Wine, where you’ll be accompanied by the Beins’ placid donkey.
If you turn right past Vredenheim with its game drives, you can opt for a brandy tour at Van Ryn’s, dwell among tourists and cheetahs at Spier, or do some serious wine tasting at Meerlust.
Burgers, Art and Grape Juice along Bottelary Hills
This region lies to the west of Stellenbosch, snaking all along the R304 past Papegaaiberg and the Bottelary Hills, as well as the M23, better known as Bottelary Road. Try Louisenhof for a spot of brandy or the famous Pinotage burger at Beyerskloof, where the students flock on a Friday afternoon.
Continue along the road past Klawervlei and Vrede, perhaps stopping for some bubbly at Villiera. Koelenhof offers great value wines and bottled grape juice. Turn around and take the Bottelary Road, which will lead to you Clovelly and Devonvale, maybe letting the kids out of the car for a run-a-round at Hartenberg’s children’s facilities and hiking trail while you nibble on some cheese.
Bellevue also offers grape juice, or visit family estates Kaapzicht and Mooiplaas, well worth the drive up the hill. At Hazendal you can taste their straw wine and browse their collection of Russian art, including some Fabergé eggs, in the Marvol Museum.
At the Foot of the Stellenbosch Berg
A tiny cluster of farms on the foot of the Stellenbosch Berg make up this section to the east and south east of Stellenbosch town. Drive out to Jonkershoek and start winding your way through a shadowy, tree-lined lane down from Neil Ellis and Stark-Condé, stopping at Le Riche wines, Klein Gustrow and Lanzerac, where you may take a break before venturing through town to the southern side of the berg.
Here lies Vriesenhof, home of legendary Jan Boland Coetzee and Kleine Zalze, famous for beautiful Chenin Blancs and the Terroir Restaurant. See if you like Zinfandel at Blaauwklippen, or take a carriage ride. Then make your way through the Golden Triangle, trying wine from Stellenrust or some chocolate with your wine at Waterford. Slowly the road crawls up the mountain past Dornier and Kleinood, ending at De Trafford. On your way down you pass Dasbosch and Cape Hutton Wines, until the road joins the R44 again.
The Helderberg is the Biggest in Size and Name
This is the biggest of the sub-routes and takes you south from Stellenbosch on the R44 in the direction of Somerset West. There are big names on this route—think Jean Engelbrecht and Ernie Els, Jannie Engelbrecht at Rust en Vrede and Hempies du Toit at Annandale. But don’t neglect treasure hunting at smaller wineries such as Audacia, Peter Falke and Uva Mira.
On this route there is no shortage of good restaurants, with Rust en Vrede, Hidden Valley’s Overture and the Guardian Peak restaurants all making the Top 10 list of best SA restaurants. You’ll have the choice of a chocolate and wine tasting at Bilton. Uva Mira offers splendid sundowners on a Friday evening, or try Avontuur for breakfast on a Saturday morning.
As always, you’ll find another so-called fork in the road and you’ll have to make a choice. If you continue on the R44 past Stonewall and Yonder Hill you’ll get to visit some of the oldest farms in the country, with loads of history. Lourensford offers everything from coffee and art to nougat and cheese. Stop at Morgenhof for their award-winning olive oil or at Vergelegen for some delicious wine. And make your way to Sir Lowry’s Village where you can visit Waterkloof, Onderkloof and Mount Rozier. Here you can saddle up a horse.
If you choose to turn right on Winery Road, you’ll pass Ken Forrester as you drive onwards on a pretty road often forgotten. Here you’ll get to visit Zandberg, JP Bredell and Dellrust. And if you plan your visit to Vergenoegd well, you’ll be in time to witness their snail management system in action. Owner John Faure lets loose his long-necked Indian runner ducks and they waddle around in the vineyard, feasting on slugs and snails under a cloud of dust.
Whew! As you can see, there are endless places to visit. You can spend days, weeks here and still not get around to everything.
Don’t Miss the Festival
All things wild and wonderful will descend on Stellenbosch during the first weekend of August (30 July–2 August) for the annual Stellenbosch Wine Festival to be held at the Paul Roos Centre. This year visitors can look forward to over 500 wines and gourmet food from 170 exhibitors.
Top Stellenbosch restaurants will collaborate to dish up sumptuous meals in the Gourmet Lane, a new addition to the festival. Also look out for the Demo Kitchen, where the hottest chefs in town will cook up a storm.
On the Thursday there will be a Wine Connoisseur Evening, where wine lovers will be able to browse the festival without the crowds, meet the winemakers and taste to their hearts’ delight.
Bring the kids to Sunday’s Family Day, where they’ll be entertained, giving you the chance to enjoy the festival.
The festival will be preceded by the Stellenbosch Wine Week, starting on 24 July, where festival-goers can book tickets for day trips, restaurant specials, winemaker dinners and other cellar encounters.
Shuttles will be available. Tickets range from R100 per person to R300 for a Golden Pass. The Wine Connoisseur Evening costs R150 per person and includes a welcome snack and bubbly. Book at Computicket or visit www.wineroute.co.za for more information.