Words: Carrie Hampton
Photography: C&D Heierli
Sidebar: Beautiful Bubblies
Bubbly lovers could create their own Stellenbosch route, since this is where what’s now known as Méthode Cap Classique all started. Frans Malan of Simonsig pioneered local bubbly 40 years ago with his Kaapse Vonkel. Villiera was the country’s first MCC specialist, and Hungarian aristocrat and Cape viticulturist Desiderius Pongrácz gave his name to SA’s most popular MCC from the House of JC Le Roux. Reasons that may help justify your bubbly fetish are that it’s lower in sulphur than other wines (Simonsig, Villiera and Avondale don’t add any sulphur), it’s lighter in alcohol, and it’s even scientifically proven to be a genuine pick-me-up due to its electrolytes and negative ion content.
Getting to grips with the Stellenbosch Wine Route isn’t easy. There are about 200 estates with all sorts of distractions and activities, and an historic town worth exploring. You could virtually eat at a different restaurant each day of the year and sink into blissful gluttony clutching the same bottle of wine you always buy.
It’s time for a change. To make Stellenbosch Wine Route more manageable, it has been divided into five major sub routes based on physical location. The list of how many wineries are in each sub route varies according to which website you look at, but amounts to something like this: Greater Simonsberg—34, Bottelary Hills—22, Stellenbosch Valley—40, Stellenbosch Berg—18, Helderberg—44. So let’s take a look at them.
These wineries are clustered around Klapmuts, the northern section of the R44 and up to the top of the Helshoogte Pass. This route oozes history and surpasses itself for scenery, notable art collections (Delaire Graff, Tokara and Muratie to name just a few) and multiple ways to appease the gourmand in you.
Room with a View: There are plenty of ‘wow’ factor views along this route. Your favourite will probably be the Alpinesque peaks and the vine-covered hillsides across the valley from Delaire Graff. Let your eyes rest on beautiful bronzes brazenly positioned around the gardens and a serious collection of artworks inside.
Give It a Try: Walk the labyrinth in Rustenberg’s formal English country garden next to the 1814 Cape Dutch homestead.
Feed Me: If you feel like doing a treasure hunt of disparate flavours all on one plate, try super-uber Tokara Restaurant. And Muratie Farm Kitchen if you want to throw off your shoes and devour traditional home-cooking.
Something You Never Knew: Uitkyk Wine Estate breeds Aberdeen Angus cattle and farm manger Rudi Buys has become a cattle judge.
And here’s another thing you may not know: there is a new mini-route in the area of four Pinotage specialists: Simonsig, Kanonkop, Beyerskloof and L’Avenir. These farms have come together and formed The Pinotage Root. They showcase degrees of excellence of the grape variety South Africa claims as its own. Food and wine pairing specialist Katinka van Niekerk boasts that Piontage is “the biggest viticulturist achievement in the world.” She also says Pinotage is “a bit of a slut”, as it will go with anything, just like Shiraz.
There’s even a new Pinotage & Biltong Festival at L’Avenir in conjunction with Joubert and Monty cured meats. You can also book a Pinotage Master Class with winemaker Dirk Coetzee in his Pinotage Lounge.
Bottelary Hills Route
This route northwest of Stellenbosch town runs through the hills along Bottelary Road and north towards the N1. It stands out for the numerous estates that support the Bottelary Hills Renosterveld Conservancy, many of which have returned some of their crop land back to nature, including Villiera, Koopmanskloof and Mooiplaas.
Room with a View: There are lovely views of the Simonsberg Mountains from Hartenberg’s walking trail—around the wetland and through the vineyards (with an optional picnic backpack).
Give It a Try: A two-hour game and birding drive through Villiera’s vineyards and into the Wildlife Sanctuary, where the dams and marshes attract a large variety of birdlife.
Feed Me: At the seasonal Langtafel (long table) in Mooiplaas Wine Estate’s manor house you dine with the Roos family and leave as friends.
Something You Never Knew: Winemaker Martin Stevens at Koelenhof has been taking Mandarin lessons. On his multiple visits to sell wine to China each year, he’s become very adept at communicating with his Chinese buyers.
Stellenbosch Valley Route
This sprawling sub route includes a wide area due west and southwest of the town, along the R310, Polkadraai Road, Devon Valley and Vlottenburg—with estates such as Jordan, Saxenburg and Meerlust at its furthest reaches.
Room with a View: Feast your eyes on the quintessentially Cape Dutch historic buildings at Meerlust—even the Dovecot has classic gables.
Give It a Try: Step on a Segway and whizz to all corners of Spier Wine Farm that you never knew were there. Or use your own pedal power on the 20km off-road Clos Malverne Bike & Wine tour through the heart of the valley (with a three-course lunch and wine as reward).
Feed Me: At Jordan Restaurant—consistently acknowledged as one of South Africa’s top restaurants for sublime seasonal food that’s unpretentious and looks beautiful.
Something You Never Knew: DeMorgenzon play music to their vines and have speakers strategically placed in the vineyards and cellar.
This little route, along the R44, leads into the foothills immediately south of Stellenbosch town. The name of the first side road you come to gives an indication of the area’s charm: Paradyskloof. There’s something for every member of the family along this route; from a Sunday market and pony rides at Blaauklippen, to the famed wine and chocolate pairing at Waterford.
Room with a View: Stark-Condé wines taste even better from their intimate tasting room on a little island in the dam, with views of vineyards and the Jonkershoek Mountains.
Give It a Try: Get a lesson in winemaking during Stellenrust’s harvest, then pick your grapes, stomp them into submission and make your own wine. A case of your hand-made wine gets delivered to your door after suitable barrel ageing.
Feed Me: Prawn risotto with sauce Américaine from Terroir at Kleine Zalze Wine Estate. Chef Michael Broughton’s classic pairings and intense flavours keep Terroir ranked amongst South Africa’s very best.
Something You Never Knew: You can taste Waterford wines in the vineyards of their origin, on a two-hour safari in a game-viewing Land Rover around the 120-hectare estate.
This widespread route embraces wineries from the furthest reaches of Somerset West and along every road, right and left, of the southern portion of the R44 up to Annandale Road. You’ll be hard put to decide where to eat, because four out of South Africa’s 20 best restaurants shortlisted for the 2015 Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Top 10 Awards are on this wine route; Overture at Hidden Valley, Rust en Vrede Restaurant, Camphors at Vergelegen and The Restaurant at Waterkloof.
Room with a View: The immensity of False Bay spreads out before you from the lofty heights of Waterkloof, reminding you that their vineyards are a whispering breeze away from the sea.
Give It a Try: This is horse country with stud farms at Avontuur and Cavalli. You can also horse ride through the vineyards at Journey’s End and Waterkloof.
Feed Me: At Rust en Vrede—for classically inspired French cuisine and because it’s truly one of the best restaurants in the country.
Something You Never Knew: Journey’s End own a trebuchet—a medieval catapult—from which they launch objects that have outlived their usefulness, such as cars, pianos and broken barrels.
That’s the wrap on a re-think of the Stellenbosch Wine Route. So hit the road and enjoy the ride.