I’ve just recently arrived in London after an amazing experience in Cape Town, South Africa with family. I was blown away by stunning arid landscapes, white sand beaches, beautiful wine farms, and vibrant music culture. I’ll definitely be making plans to return to South Africa!
While in Cape Town, I also visited Stellenbosch, a neighbouring town for wine & cheese tastings including a cellar tour. Stellenbosch is one of the main wine producing areas in South Africa with over 350 wine farms. Many of the wine farms originally started off as vegetable farmlands. No trip to Cape Town is complete without a day in the wine lands of Stellenbosch. My visit to Stellenbosch was actually my favorite bit of the trip. I’ve gone from being a complete wine novice to being more knowledgeable about wines after my visit to a few of the wine estates of Stellenbosch. As I’ve always said, I love when I can learn a new thing or two while on holiday.
As early as 9AM, Bryan, our tour guide from Hylton Ross Exclusive Touring, picked us up for our 45 minute journey from Cape Town into Stellenbosch. I would totally recommend Hylton Ross to anyone going to Cape Town. Bryan was very friendly and knowledgeable. The tour was pre-booked for R720 ($54), which includes transportation to and out of Stellenbosch, the tour and tastings – it’s a pretty good deal.
On our way out of Cape Town, we drove passed Khayelitsha, the biggest township in the Western Cape and the fastest growing in South Africa. There is a striking contrast in the outlook of Khayelitsha compared to Cape Town itself. It’s like two different countries. The houses in the township are typically small tin shacks, cramped together. Bryan told us there are still over 3000 families on the waiting list to get housing in the Khayelitsha Township. “It’s not an easy place to live in especially if you’ve got kids,” Bryan said. “Khayelitsha is rough”.
The route into Stellenbosch is very scenic, featuring extensive vineyards with a backdrop of stunning mountain views. The grape plants were just starting to grow at this time, as it’s just the beginning of spring in the southern hemisphere. Harvesting periods for the grapes are usually in the summer, between January and February.
Asides being a major wine producing area, Stellenbosch is also a very historical town, the second oldest in the Western Cape. Bryan gave us a brief history about the town as we drove through the town’s beautifully oak-lined streets. Stellenbosch was run by the Dutch for 100 years before it was taken over by the English. This is evident in the building designs, which are mostly of Victorian style and the older ones of Cape Dutch style. Moreover, the Afrikaans language, which is an official language in South Africa, evolved from the Dutch vernacular.
We finally arrived at our first wine estate, L’Avenir. It’s very pretty. L’Avenir, meaning ‘The Future’ in French is a testimony to the history of South Africa and the presence of the French Huguenots from the early 18th century, who are believed to have been one of the first ones to plant grapes in Stellenbosch. The L’Avenir wine estate was established in 1992 and is celebrated for its two most popular wines, Pinotage and Chenin, which have won awards both locally and internationally. Pinotage is South Africa’s signature red wine grape.
We are handed over to Ryan, the host at L’Avenir. We start off our wine tasting with a refreshing berry-filled pink Rosé Méthode Cap Classique, the South African equivalent to champagne. “Champagne is to France as is Méthode Cap Classique to South Africa” Ryan clarified. Ryan explained to us the maceration process, which is how the rosé gets its pink color. I always thought wines receive their color from the juice but that’s not it. The juice is always clear, regardless of the grape type. The color of the wine is as a result of the grape skins coming in contact with the juice for a period of time. We tasted 5 other wines including the Provenance Pinotage, a rich red wine with a beautiful balance of flavors and velvety texture.
We headed over to our second wine estate, Anura. The Anura Vineyards tasting room is located on the foothills of the Simonsberg Mountain, with panoramic views overlooking vineyards, ponds and fynbos. The estate is owned by the Bouma family and has only been producing wine since 2001. Families own most of the wine lands in Stellenbosch. We are given a cellar tour, explaining the wine making process from de-stemming the grapes to fermentation. Oak barrels play a very important role in the wine making process, as they are strongly responsible for the flavor and texture of the wine. Now, these are more expensive than you would expect. One oak wine barrel costs R15,000 ($1,108) and they are imported from either France or the U.S. Although, there are thousands of oak trees grown in Stellenbosch, the plight of the wineries is that the oak grown in Stellenbosch cannot be used because they tend to be too porous and cause the wine to leak.
After our cellar tour, we head out into the tasting room. We are served a selection of cheese, Camembert and Brie produced on the farm as we start off with the Anura white wine selection. The Pinot Gris was my favorite. It’s like a complex array of tropical fruits, guava, hints of honey and spice, well balanced on the palate with bright citrus acidity. From the red wine selection, I found a new favorite, the Anura Cape Ruby. I loved it so much; I ended up buying a bottle. It’s sweet wine, packed with flavor and texture.
After a total of 6 tastings at Anura, which was our final stop for the day. I got into the van to go back into Cape Town and easily fell asleep in a happy, wine-induced haze.