Along South Africa’s
Oldest Wine Route

by Ilona Kauremszky

The capital of South African wines is the Stellenbosch wine lands in the Western Cape. Over the centuries, more than 60 estates have set up award-winning vineyards here.

This is South Africa’s oldest wine route. No wonder vintners and oenophiles from around the world come to this fertile region in search of vintages. In the winemaking world, the wines of Stellenbosch are equal to a Ferrari at the Grand Prix. If you visit, you’ll find a winner every time.

I started my tour of the Stellenbosch wine lands at Spier Wine Estate. It’s an easy 20-minute drive from Cape Town International Airport. Ever since the 1700s, this historic estate has been crafting barrel after barrel of some of the area’s best wines.

The entrance to the Spier Wine Estate was reminiscent of the south of France or Tuscany, with sky-high cypress trees and a long row of canopied oak trees shading the pencil-straight driveway. The Dutch colonial-style, white-stuccoed manor house, set beside the ancient Eerste River, also mirrored Europe. Add in the stunning views of the Helderberg Mountains and rows of grape vines, set off by huge red rose bushes, and you have a picture of vineyard perfection.

But I wasn’t in Europe. I was in one of the most southern spots for winemaking on the planet. What makes the wines here so appealing, I learned, is the rich soil coupled by the bowl-like landscape that helps to capture the breezes off the Eerste River and the nearby Cape peninsula — where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans converge.

The acidic balance of the soil, the long growing season (the wines here get six months more than the Northern Hemisphere), and some secrets from Mother Nature come together to create some of the tastiest wines I have ever sampled.

South African wines tend to have a higher alcohol concentration, so you could feel the effects sooner than other wines. Pinotage is the favourite blend among the reds (it’s a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut); among white wines the biggest seller is the refreshing and citrusy Chenin Blanc. You might know it as Steen or Pinot Blanco.

I also appreciate the eco-friendly approach the winery takes to its winemaking. Spier was one of the first organizations in the country to be accredited as Fair Trade by Tourism South Africa. They also have a state-of-the-art effluent treatment plant, considered the first of its kind in South Africa. This closed-loop water system cleans and recycles all the estate’s wastewater for garden and grounds irrigation.

To cap off your visit, head to the estate’s Moyo Restaurant. This alfresco eatery specializing in Middle Eastern fare features seating in Bedouin tents underneath a massive oak tree.

I was both intoxicated by Spier Signature Chenin Blanc and slow-cooked lamb tagine, and captivated by the views surrounding us. It truly was a feast for our senses.