South Africa is a country that is, quite often, devastatingly misunderstood. I was invited to participate in the ‘Stellenblog’ campaign, with the winelands of Stellenbosch being the pivotal base to explore the region. It was soon clear that there was more to the Western Cape than just your standard wine tasting experience…
South Africa, while defined by its two cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg, is also a stage for one of the world’s most exceptional and award-winning wine regions – Stellenbosch.
Said to be the most historically preserved town in South Africa, Stellenbosch is where old Dutch-Colonial charm is infused with energetic University town vibes – a heritage-filled, vibrant centre of a mountainous nature basin filled with dozens upon dozens of vineyards and wine estates that stretch for miles.
While many day-trip here from Cape Town, Stellenbosch is a stand-alone destination for a multi-night stay, where you can either use the town as your base or up the photogenic ante and stay in one of the estates overlooking the orchards and flanked by peaks. With trips to Cape Town factored in, the ‘Food & Wine Capital of South Africa’ was my main base for a week of indulgence, culture and adventure combined. Here’s how you can do it too…
Explore Historical Stellenbosch Town
A short 50km from Cape Town, Stellenbosch is the second-oldest town in South Africa, founded in 1679 by Simon van der Stel who was the late governor and father of wine agriculture in the Cape Colony. Peaceful oak tree-lined avenues are filled with Dutch, Georgian and Victorian architecture (including South Africa’s oldest hotel, Oude Werf), boutique stores, bistros and bars, and interlaced with public artworks.
New enterprise gives the town an edgy vibe to its old roots. Blue Crane Coffee is more than a coffee shop, but a coffee ‘lab’ and roaster combined. Love Wine Studio brings a variety of leading wineries together in a chic space. De Warenmarkt is an 18th century historical building in the cultural district awash with all manner of feasts and fares, including meats, a juice corner, and an Oyster Bar.
In town you will also find boutique clothing stores, art galleries and outdoor art sculptures, intertwining old architecture with public spaces and the historical pavements. One of my favourites was the ‘Can we Talk for a Minute’ letter and found objects boxes.
Wine Tasting in Stellenbosch – Unique Pairings and Wine Experiences
Rich soils, rainy winters and warm summers provide the perfect terroir for the cultivation of first-class wines, which is what Stellenbosch is predominantly known for. With so many wineries to choose from it can be hard to narrow down which ones to visit. However, there’s more to wine tasting here than the standard swirl, smell and spittoon style.
Stellenbosch is home to unique wine and food pairings, estates that invite you to explore with an adventurous spirit, and eateries on site with an international mix or a quirky twist. Here’s my pick of the estates I visited and the one special thing that makes them stand out.
Delheim Wine Estate – For Wine and Cupcake Pairing
If a Cape Malay feast wasn’t enough to start the evening’s wine tasting with local wine maker, Reg Holder, we were treated to a new take on exploring the Delheim vineyard’s flavours – with cupcakes. I’ve always tasted wine with standard cheese or chocolate pairing boards, but the cupcake idea was an original take on combining sweet flavours. The perfect dessert, or even a fancy treat in the day time where you can lounge in the estate’s gardens with a view of Table Mountain.
Spier Wine Farm – For Segway Vineyard Tours
Spier is a popular estate, but one of the best things about it is the fact that this 1,000 hectare estate has a lot to discover beyond the wine-tasting room. One of Stellenbosch’s oldest wine farms, its grounds are tranquil for a calming walk, even from the Spier Hotel to the Wine Tasting room, which is lined with 230 indigenous coral trees.
I got to tour the vineyards with friends on a Segway, covering more ground in a short time, and kicking up some adrenalin before wine tasting Spier’s awarded range of blends called Creative Block. The range is inspired by an arts project that combines artworks from different artists to create something altogether different.
And with adventure comes a big appetite, so even if wine indulgence isn’t your thing, Spier is also known for its Afro-Texan BBQ restaurant called the Hoghouse. Save a lot of space, because they also have a craft beer offering. You might need a rest in the estate’s 4-star hotel afterwards.
Avontuur Estate – For Wine and Fudge Pairing
Avontuur is one of South Africa’s top producers of Shiraz wine, which you can sip on in the beautiful national monument of the white manor house. Like our other estate visits, we worked up an appetite for a tasting with a long walk around the estate, with over 12 hectares of white grapes and an old-fashioned trellis system for the Cabernet Sauvignon vines that were planted in the 1980’s and set to a view of the Helderberg mountain range.
It was a good job we did since Avontuur is another estate with a unique wine tasting and pairing offering – this time with fudge and nougat, from nutty flavours to mint and caramel.
Middelvlei Wine Estate – For Wine Making
With a setting of seemingly never-ending manicured farmland, and a sunset stage that’s one of the most colourful, an evening at Middelvlei was time well spent.
Not just for the braai feast, but for the hilarious fun that ensued with the friendly competition that came from wine making – three teams mixing their own varieties of Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon ratios, as judged by the Momberg family themselves. A family of wine-makers since 1919, you could say they know their stuff, especially when it comes to bottling your very own blend in style.
Jordan Wine Estate – For a Vineyard Safari
We came to call Jordan home for a few days, in modern cabin style rooms set within 146 hectares of farmland. The landscape appeared to spread for miles, and in layers that eventually reached the mountains. Here the vineyards lay at differing altitudes from 160 to 410 m above sea level, and face all directions.
So with such an expanse of land creating enough temptation for exploration, the best way to see it was on wheels. More specially, in a safari 4×4 to the raucous gaggle of happy friends for company, otherwise known as a ‘Vineyard Safari’. This involves driving around the bends and slopes of this unique terrain, parking up, sipping on some of Jordans’ best blends to a panoramic view, before moving on and repeating.
Rozendal Guest Farm – Where Acidic Wines Became a Vinegar Empire
From wine came some of the most tasty vinegar blends in the regions, including those infused with local fynbos and lavender. We took a trip to the Rozendal estate, once famed for its Bordeaux blends before the owner, Kurt Ammann began experimenting with the dedicated process of vinegar making after discovering his 1988 vintage contained too much volatile acidity.
The story is about how flawed wine became a ‘happy accident’, with the slow and precise techniques still continued today with Kurt’s children now producing vinegar first established by their father.
Delaire Graff Estate – For a Flagship Estate Experience
Delaire Graff is a classy experience, combining the exquisiteness of fine food in flagship restaurants and leading wines, with boutique stores and art, all under one roof in the Stellenbosch valleys. Our evening began with prosecco by the fireplace in a grand living room after catching the sunset, before moving on to a multi-course dinner.
Tokara – For Olive Oil Tasting
Olive groves filled with artworks and flanked by mountain ranges, Tokara is a highlight for olive oil enthusiasts wanting to sample the award-winning Extra Virgin varietal (aside from wine), or those who like to breakfast or brunch in the most chic of spaces. Its Deli is a spacious, modern outlet with picture perfect views across the rolling groves.
Stellenbosch Vineyards – For a Bus Stop Themed Lunch
On our final day in Stellenbosch, one last wine tasting session was in order of course, where we sampled the very best Pinotage blends especially. But like all other wineries we had visited, there was a little extra something that accompanied the experience and made it stand out – in this case, a big, yellow traditional school bus. The Bus Stop is a new ‘food truck’ dining experience at the Stellenbosch Vineyards bringing together the very best burgers, pizzas and waffles in a bus stop themed dining area, with the bus being, of course, the bar!
Plans are to take the big yellow bus on the road and bring the Vineyard’s fruity blends to surrounding neighbourhoods, festivals and private events.
Stellenbosch is not only renowned for its award winning blends, but is known for its innovation in how it presents these wines and the region to the world. The concept of wine tasting is changing, attracting a younger crowd, those with a sweeter tooth, and those looking to combine with adventurous activities and modern, quirky dining concepts.
Just remember…you saw it in Stellenbosch first.
Things to Know:
Getting to South Africa:
I flew from Munich to Johannesburg and then onto Cape Town via South African Airways. *NOTE: You have to have one or two BLANK passport pages in your passport for entry into South Africa. I learnt the hard way, not being allowed on my first flight and embarking on a last-minute emergency round trip from Munich to London to sort a one-day passport processing!
Where to Stay in Stellenbosch:
In Stellenbosch town you can stay in Oude Werf Hotel – a former churchyard turned 58-roomed hotel, and the oldest hotel in South Africa. Located right in the heart of Stellenbosch, it combines a contemporary twist on a traditional setting, with everything in town on your doorstep.
How to get to Stellenbosch from Cape Town:
50km from Cape Town, it takes approximately 30 minutes to reach the Western Cape winelands region from the Mother City. Coastal hangouts are just 15 minutes away, should Stellenbosch be your main base and you want a combination of big city, pristine beach and nature.
If driving, you can take the N1 from Cape Town via the R304, R44 or R300 and M12, or the N2 via the R44 or R31O. However, coaches and hire cars are available as well as trips and tours. Self-driving is recommended in order to see more of the region. We used First Car Rental during our time there.
When to go to Stellenbosch:
September to April marks the summer period, with temperatures reaching into the 30’s.
Trips and Tours in and around Stellenbosch:
Should you want to guide to explore the town (which is easy enough to explore self-guided) or to get out into the wider reaches of the winelands for township tours or adventure activities, visit the Stellenbosch 360 office in town for further information on excursions, guides and itineraries available.
For further information on what to see and do, eat and drink, and how to get the most out of your time in the Western Cape winelands, visit the Stellenbosch Travel website, or read further stories and watch the videos on the dedicated ‘Stellenblog’ Stellenbosch Experience website – the project of which I was a part of.