Best Off-the-Beaten-Track Wine Routes in South Africa

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Most first time visitors to Cape Town spend at least one day in the winelands. While most people have heard the likes of Constantia, Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek, there are so many other wine routes that offer hidden gems that only true wine insiders know about. These lesser known routes are recommended for people that are seeking unique, often more rustic experiences filled with colorful characters and exceptional wines. For any wine lover visiting South Africa, we recommend that you visit both the well-known wine routes as well as a few of the smaller ones in order to immerse yourself into the Cape wine culture and to understand the breadth of wines the terroir can offer. To get an insider’s view on some of the off-the-beaten track wine routes, we asked the self-proclaimed “Wine Thief,” Ewan Mackenzie to describe what makes each one unique.

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Ewan Mackenzie

Ewan AKA “The Wine Thief” is a consultant Sommelier in Cape Town. Originally from the UK, but firmly installed in the Western Cape, he offers his services to the industry on may fronts, from hosting private functions to putting together some of the wine scene’s finest events. With a huge focus on training and education that can be seen in his presentation style, he offers some of the most in-depth knowledge of the Cape Winelands. This passion flows back to the UK, with his London-based wine importing business specialising in unique, small-batch expressions from some of the most awesome winemakers. He also has a penchant for co-curating small quantities of boundary-pushing wines with these industry geniuses under The Wine Thief label.

Durbanville

Many people think that the Constantia Valley is the City of Cape Town’s closest wine region. It’s the oldest, for sure, however, you can get to the Durbanville vineyard sites a great deal quicker…plus there aren’t any massive tour buses to contend with. What you’ll find in this highly unsung cool-climate region are crisp, fresh whites, and pure, structured reds, on top of a vast amount of classic winelands hospitality. As the region is nestled in the heart of the Northern Suburbs it plays host to a good selection of bustling estate restaurants and great wine tasting experiences. The bigger farms are there too…however we’re taking this opportunity to seek out the hidden gems in this neck of the woods.

First of all, it would be rude not to start off with some bubbles. Alongside pristine Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon expressions, Nitida produces a cracking Chardonnay-led Cap Classique called The Matriarch in White. The farm also offers an intimate dining experience in a quaint, vineyard-side location. Some other cracking Cap Classique (bubbly) can be found at Altytgedacht, where one can find some more unique cultivar expressions such as Riesling and Gewûrztraminer…and if you ask really nicely, they’ll bring out some Barbera from their secret cellar stash. Continue with your unique cultivar hunt with some Grûner Veltliner, Grenache and Malbec at Diemersdal, and then head to another stunningly-set dining experience at De Grendel for cool-climate Pinotage, Pinot Grigio, and exemplary Pinot noir.

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Photo courtesy of Durbanville Hills

Darling

After the bustling suburbs of Durbanville, with its well-frequented wine farms, the land starts to open up and become far more rugged, with the Atlantic to our left, and open tracts of farmland to our right. The inland terrain starts to get a touch more dramatic as the Darling Hills present themselves as the Southern-most extent of the Cape Floral Region. August and September are the perfect time to seek out it’s more boutique wine farms to take in the blossoming scenery, particularly with a glass of Groote Post bubbles in hand.

For a more outdoor, adventure-based wine experience of the area, strap the mountain bike to the roof and hit the MTB Trails overlooking the quaint little town of Darling, and pause for cool-climate refreshment, most notably the Sémillon up at Ormonde Vineyards. However, if the grain feels more thirst-quenching than the grape after a long bike ride, then head back down into town to frequent the Darling Brewery Tasteroom and Beer Garden for a fine selection of lagers, ales and IPAs.

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Swartland – Riebeek Kasteel

Our journey continues inland, through the endless wheat fields of the Swartland, towards the town of Malmesbury. This region is home to the industry-shaping winemakers of the Swartland Independent Producers (SIP), who are slowly but surely reclaiming terroir-specific and older, bush vine sites from the larger cooperatives that once had the monopoly in the market, and financial control over the farmers.

What we find here is the prime showcasing material for South Africa’s signature white cultivar, Chenin Blanc, and a keen focus on excellent Rhône-style red wines. The Paardeberg Mountain plays a key role in all of this, providing residence for producers such as Adi Badenhorst, Lammershoek, and David & Nadia Sadie with their Paardebosch farm. It also houses unique gems to hunt for, such as bubbly made from Chenin Blanc at Huis van Chevallerie, and most importantly, the country’s most esteemed and internationally acclaimed winemaker, Eben Sadie.

An abundance of smaller producers call this area home, with the best of them being associated with the SIP…more often than not, they’ll be found congregating at each other’s farms, sharing a magnum or two as the sun goes down. However, if it’s more of a bustling metropolis that’s needed, head to Riebeek Kasteel…actually, it’s neither a metropolis nor is it particularly bustling, however, the place to purchase nearly all of the region’s specialities is housed in the centre of town – The Wine Kollective. Just across the street, for a mid-afternoon G&T, The Royal Hotel offers a shady stoep to enjoy before venturing further into the surrounding area.

For a tasting experience of note, it can be gained by visiting the renowned Mullineux & Leeu Estate, or perhaps for more of a homely touch, Billy Hughes can be sought to showcase his Nativo Wines from his self-built cellar at the foot of the Kasteelberg Mountain. Naturally, as we inevitably start to wind down our Swartland experience, a leisurely Cape vintage can be enjoyed, fireside, at Allesveloren.

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Photo courtesy of AA Badenhorst

Piekeneerskloof

At the Northern extreme of the Swartland lies the Piekeneerskloof Mountains, home, in particular to some of South Africa’s finest Grenache vineyards. Many of the wine industry’s most renowned winemakers utilise grapes from this region, however, there is a great opportunity to visit a few home-grown estates in the surrounding area. A rustic 4×4 trip out to Tierhoek to enjoy not only their wild, brambly Grenache but also fantastic Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay is a must. Up here, we can either head to the coast for a spot of crayfish, pier-side, with a glass of Fryer’s Cove Pinot Noir. Heading back to the mountains, 4×4 at the ready, it’s time to explore the Cederberg Mountains, and in particular David Nieuwoudt’s Cederberg Private Cellar. Altitude is our winemaking friend here, plus the fact that these mountain ranges get some of the only snowfall in the Western Cape, which very importantly allows the vines to shut down as part of their life cycle. At Cederberg, you’ll find Chenin Blancs of both the crisp, quaffing style, and the more serious, barrel fermented style ~ both with exceptional ageing qualities, much like the reds produced at the estate. As a further enhancement to your Cederberg experience, some incredibly good beers are being brewed on-site from clear, crisp, mineral-rich spring water.

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Voor-Paardeberg – Paarl

Now we head to the Eastern, Paarl-side that’s calling from the slopes of the Voor-Paardeberg. Here we indeed find another selection of talented wine folk, who are also both truly welcoming and incredibly hospitable. At the Doran Cellar, solid Chenin and Shiraz expressions are found, alongside young winemaker Martin Lamprecht…and…if asked very nicely, will bring out his small-batch, own-branded Marras Wines from both Piekeneerskloof and Swartland vineyard sites.

Their neighbours Vondeling produce some of the area’s finest terroir-specific expressions. Matthew Copeland notably showcases both a delectable, single cultivar Chardonnay and Shiraz, alongside one of South Africa’s top-end Cape White Blends (Chenin-led), The Babiana, named after local fynbos which is endemic to their specific side of the mountain. From here, the map opens up…to the South lies the familiar Stellenbosch Wine Route, and to the South-East the surrounding farms of Paarl can be easily reached.

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Photo courtesy of Vondeling

Wellington

Wellington is home to both the larger scale, commercial producers, and the boutique operations. A distinctly warmer and less-forgiving climate sows the seeds for big, round, juicy, rambunctious wines of the old school. However, with true attention to detail in understanding the vine itself, and cultivating it in its most appropriate terroir is what winemakers like Corlea Fourie of Bosman Family Wines aspire to showcase visitors who venture to the area.

As we hunt for the lesser-known places around the foot of the Bainskloof, we find smaller estates producing some need-to-taste expressions: A small-batch Pinot Noir MCC capable of out-performing French Champagne called Dainty Bess, an Argentinian-rivalling Malbec at Doolhof, a Bordeaux-style blend to give Napa a run for their money at Nabygelegen, and the Andreas Shiraz which in a blind tasting is tough to tell apart from an Aussie version. All of these new, mind-expanding tasting experiences are best mulled over from the top of the Pass, overlooking Wellington, the Paardeberg and past the Darling Hills out to the Atlantic as we head towards the Witzenberg Mountains and the Tulbagh Valley.

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Photo courtesy of Dolhof Vineyards

Tulbagh

For our biking brethren, this part of the Western Cape offers some of the most dramatic scenery and amazing roads to ride. Just make sure you’ve got space in the saddle bags to load up on the region’s finest. For MCCs, there’s an abundance of choice: Old school houses such as Krone, well-established, upmarket favourites Saronsberg, and lesser-known boutique operations like Montpellier de Tulbagh, which doubles up as a beautifully secluded spot to get hitched if you fancy.

For bold Shiraz, structured Pinotage and fine Chenin Blanc head to Rijk’s, or perhaps dive deep into the Rhône-styles back at Saronsberg, including on the white side of things, their delicately perfumed Viognier. The soils of the Tulbagh valley do tend to lean more towards favouring the Rhône cultivars, and finding a great Shiraz is not difficult. However, with the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, the blend tends to rule ~ which is why the estates of both Lemberg and Fable Mountain Vineyards are highly recommended to go and visit to sample their terroir-driven expressions. Even more off the beaten track are nuggets of dream vineyard sites in the Agter-Witzenberg, right up in the mountains where you’ll find an estate called Callendar Peak. Now under the supreme winemaking skill of young Donovan Rall, he takes the reigns to continue the Estate’s premium Chardonnay production from some of the only vineyard sites in South Africa to withstand the Phylloxera outbreak of the late 19th Century.

Now, we’ve got to do a quick u-turn, and come back out of the Tulbagh Valley, as we’re heading into the even more dramatic scenery of the Slanghoek mountains and further out into the Breede River Valley Wine Region.

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Photo courtesy of Fable Mountain

Slanghoek & Breedekloof

The recently-established Chenin Blanc gurus, The Breedekloof Makers, are a group of young men and women winemakers from the region who are going to start giving the Swartland a run for their money. The area hosts a vast expanse of land under vine, with many sites being reclaimed from the larger cooperatives and bulk producers (often from outside the valley), in order to showcase premium Chenin from older blocks, up to 40 years old in some cases. Often these sites are ripped out as their increasing age inherently decreases their yield capacity, but in contrast, the quality of the wines made from these low-yielding sites enables these talented winemakers to make absolutely stunning expressions.

As we travel South, out of Tulbagh, into the Slanghoek, you find yourself in a space of true winemaking heritage ~ six generations of winemaking heritage to be precise ~ and this is where you can be specifically treated to both the talents and hospitality of young Attie Louw of Opstal Estate, with great food, great wine, and amazing views of the Slanghoek mountains. The Breede Valley opens up as you reach the hot springs at Goudini Spa and the old N1 road. Ahead is Rawsonville, home to Deetleefs and Daschbosch, offering not just brilliant Chenin Blancs and Vhen-based blends, but smooth Pinotages, succulent Shiraz and hearty Rhône blends. Deetleefs even has a vintage Cap Classique made from Pinotage, which is a definite must-try, and for even more of the unusual and unique, young Lieza ven der Merwe of Merwida offers an insanely good Barbera, a delightfully quaffable Pinot Grigio, and of course, her latest top-end Chenin Blanc. A Rhône-styled renaissance resonates as we continue up the road, in both red and white expressions at Olifantsberg, where Elizma Visser creates absolutely exemplary wines, showcasing the terroir of the Valley. The female contingent to the Breede Makers and passion for Chenin Blanc is strengthened further by Mariëtte Coetzee of Stofberg Family Vineyards, who also recently launched South Africa’s first Pinot Blanc into the market at the 2017 Cape Wine Auction. However, if you head to their farm restaurant, The Ou Stokery, be sure to get a taste their cracking gin, homemade tonic, and locally-brewed craft beers from the Breede River Brewery, not to mention her vintage MCC.

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Photo courtesy of Ewan Mackenzie

Robertson

We follow the Breede River into prime Limestone territory, a soil compound highly prized when making elegant, mineral Chardonnays, particularly Chardonnay for Methode Cap Classique. Graham Beck’s winemaking headquarters is truly a site to be seen, and now with their focus purely on bubbly, it would be rude not to go and try them all (and buy a Magnum for the road). More of the larger farms and bigger names are located in the region, but if you do find yourself on a Chardonnay binge, there are most certainly a few important stops. One of the more well-known estates out there is De Wetshof, and in truth, their Chardonnays have always been an industry standard when it comes to consistent quality and ageing potential – all styles, from completely unwooded, to elegantly-oaked, to full on, richer expressions. Smaller estates are showcasing some cracking examples too, more towards the elegantly oaked style, with good use of lees contact, and in the case of Arendsig, harnessing the delicate identity of working with natural yeasts and spontaneous fermentation. Winemaker Lourens van der Westhuizen is also a genius when it comes to producing a more classic Cabernet Sauvignon, and furthermore with his incredibly moreish Chenin Blanc and Grenache expressions.

For a quaint little riverside experience, continue with this little penchant for Robertson Chardonnay by visiting Esona, one of the region’s best value, small-batch producing farms, also overseen by Lourens. Another little cracker is the up-and-coming Frölich Estate, home to the region’s first vineyard of Carmenère. The vineyard site is still in its developing phase, however, but is currently expressed as a fresh and cheeky dry Rosé….so watch this space.

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Photo courtesy of De Wetshof Wines

Route 62 and The Klein Karoo

A great deal of wine tourists, both local and international, often feel as though the Klein Karoo is a daunting trek out into the desert. Well, it’s pretty much sort of desert-like, but the trip out there is full of wonderful little, hidden gems and places to stop off ~ plus you’ve got as far as Roberston, so you might as well break on through to the other side!

Before you get to Barrydale, the Tradouw Highlands play host to some very unique vineyard sites. Star Hill, with the production of wines also overseen by Lourens from Arendsig, have some cracking Shiraz, Chenin Blanc and Viognier. Further down the road, Joubert-Tradouw offers up classic Bordeaux-style reds alongside a delectably elegant and fantastically priced Chardonnay. Out here, you’ll more often than not be treated to farm-style hospitality at Estate restaurants, and there’ll always be a selection of local fynbos honey, jams, preserves, plus you’ll always find a selection of someone’s Grandma’s homemade rusks – a must for your morning coffee. If travelling with kids, or even for the sweet-toothed and young at heart, stop into Diesel & Cream in Barrydale for an awesome selection of milkshakes, and perhaps a potter around the shops. It’s also a good spot to stock up on supplies if your journey takes you to staying in self-catered accommodation. The local Slaghuis (butcher) is a prime source of local meats including game and venison. The same goes for supply shopping as you enter the town of Ladismith, where there’s also a great selection of wines from the region at the local Wine Shop, The Karoo Vine if you need to make camp before heading onwards towards into Calitzdorp and ‘the deep dust.’

Calitzdorp is old school Port and Brandy territory, with the two largest Houses of Boplaas and De Krans flying the flag, backed up by smaller producers, Axe Hill and Peter Bayly doing a solid job in the industry. You won’t often find the entire selection of Calitzdorp wines in greater Cape Town, with predominantly just the Port styles they produce on show This is a great opportunity to sample Cap Classiques, sparkling Moscato, Hanepoots, and immaculately structured reds made from the classic Portuguese cultivars: Tinta Barocca, Tempranillo, Touriga Naçional, Tinta Francesca and Tinta Roriz, to name a few, which are totally at home in this neck of the woods. Smaller producers, harnessing the quality of specific vineyard sites, are pushing the boundaries of what these styles of wines can produce – one such youthful winemaking team is Leon Coetzee and Margaux Nel of The Fledge & Co., operating out of the Boplaas cellar. They are a fountain of both knowledge and passion and have a penchant for expressing their unique expressions over some geeky wine chat and a good braai. Speaking of which, Calitzdorp is premium lamb territory, and the local butcher is the best place to find supreme quality Karoo lamb.

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Photo courtesy of Boplaas Cellars

The Garden Route

We now find ourselves reaching the Western-most extremes of the Cape Winelands as we settle into exploring the virtues of Plettenberg Bay. The region is often unsung by sommeliers and wine shops in Cape Town, not because of quality, merely because of the pure logistics of transport and supply. Either a 6-hour, 520Km journey or a 90-minute flight…both being incredibly expensive for the producer. So, ensure that there’s enough space in the back of the car to stock up (it’s a long journey back to Cape Town after all). The region is predominantly focusing on its cool-climate way of expressing certain cultivars, particularly Sauvignon blanc, and also specializes in a unique Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, in particular from established estates like Bramon. The region’s sparkling trend follows through across the farms, where Cap Classique from cool-climate Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs can be enjoyed with sumptuous amounts of fresh, local seafood. Newstead offers up both still and sparkling versions of Pinot Noir, as does Packwood, however, if you prefer reverting to more of a cool climate Sauvignon Blanc vibe, particularly to closely rival our New Zealand counterparts, the area both in and around Plettenberg Bay and Knysna can offer some true champions of style. Specifically so, out towards Knysna one can specifically acquire fine expressions from Estates such as The Goose. However, if it’s something more quirky being sought after, there is both a Riesling and Pinot Noir from Herold Wines which are both incredibly good value for money and particularly quaffable.

Now, saying all this, the beautifully scenic drive through the lakes and forests of Wilderness on the N2, along the coast past Stillbaai, tends to offer up a few spots where one can enjoy a chilled bottle of something crisp and fresh with a few dozen oysters, a walk on the beach, a picnic via kayak…however this is more of a holiday home region, where winemakers tend to escape the pressures of the cellars and head for the surf. In Riversdale, however, Baleia are doing some fantastic things with both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but be sure to try their Tempranillo and Tempranillo-led blend, so be sure to stop off there on your way through.

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Photo courtesy of Newstead

Agulhas – Elim

This is formally known as the Southern Cape Wine Region, however, the industry tends towards calling it Elim or Agulhas. It famously houses some of the Wineland’s Southern-most estates and is a true asset to a Sommelier’s collection. Many esteemed winemakers source their grapes from this exceptional terroir, namely David Nieuwoudt for his Ghost Corner range and Trizanne Barnard for her Signature Wine collection. Both white and red cultivars fair incredibly well down here, particularly the poised, mineral, tangy Sauvignon Blancs and Sémillons, with mutually exclusive red cultivars such as Shiraz, offering more of a Côte Rôtie style. However saying this, some beautiful Chenin Blanc expressions can be found in places like Malgas, outside of Swellendam, where David de Trafford’s Sijnn vineyards are planted. Here, some exceptional, premium wines, where blends from rare and unique cultivars are their speciality, and will always be a Sommelier’s favourite to pair a multitude of dishes with. On the Chenin front, Jean Daneel over in Bredasdorp originally put the Cape South Coast on the map for the cultivar and consistently does so to this day.

Around the town of Elim is where the main wine hub can be found, often alongside beautiful restaurants and amazing views of the rugged coastline. Black Oystercatcher and Strandveld are certainly well-established in the area, and deservedly so, however, if there’s an opportunity to make it down to the Southern-most point of Africa, on Cape Agulhas, you can find wines from an estate named The Giant Periwinkle…which are something of a unique catch. Heading East, up round the coast towards Gansbaai (and the hunting ground of Great White sharks) is Lomond estate, who specialise in working in direct harmony with the Cape’s biodiverse flora and fauna, utilising the 18 different types of soil on their farm, and curate their bounteous offerings accordingly. On the flip side of the N2 highway, and the more northern parts of the region towards the artisanal town of Greyton, lies a beautiful and highly-acclaimed winemaking operation up in the Riviersonderend Mountains by Samantha O’Keefe of Lismore Estate Vineyards. This is one of the most internationally-acclaimed expressions of wines from this unique location…and also a true diamond in the ruff.

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Walker Bay

Walker Bay is termed the overall greater wine district, comprising of a few smaller wine regions, which we’ll go into in greater detail in due course. However, due to the nature of our vinous endeavour, we need to venture out, further afield, before showcasing the subsequent others.

Coming up around the coast from Gansbaai, to the North, you’ll eventually get to the town of Stanford…blink and you’ll miss it…but very importantly there’s a crossroads. Left, will take you to Springfontein Wine Estate, and the unique, terroir-driven expressions by Zimbabwean-born Tariro Masayiti. An exceptional plethora of both single cultivar styles and blends can be enjoyed alongside home grown vegetables, locally sourced meats and fish as part of 3, 4, and 6-course meal at their fine dining restaurant. Returning back to the crossroads, and now go straight over, heading West. On your left is Walker Bay Vineyards, housing the most thirst-quenching Birkenhead Brewery, and then just past that lies the exceptional Klein River Cheese Farm which offers some most exceptional morsels for the weary traveller. Following both the river and the R326, you’ll come to the very moreish and often great value for money Raka Estate. There’s an abundance of single cultivar expressions – Mourvèdre, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, plus some good, solid blends to get stuck into. At the next crossroads, it’s time to bear left and head towards the town of Caledon, and prepare yourself for a trip down the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

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Hemel-en-Aarde

Often seen as the not so conventional way of exploring this particular wine route, as people usually start at the coast, work their way in, reach saturation point, and then return back…so, what we get to do here is showcase the lesser ventured-for gems, and have a solid focus on not just Chardonnay and Pinot noir, but some veritable unsung expressions. This particular region is notably South Africa’s ‘Burgundy equivalent’, and home to some insane winemaking talent and prime terroir. First port of call on our journey will be Seven Springs Vineyards, and the fine wares of Riana van der Merwe. Not only is she producing fine Chardonnay and Pinot noir, but her cool-climate Shiraz is also exceptional. Further down is the region’s powerhouse when it comes to tasting room experiences: Creation Wines. Their entire range is on show, with an obvious lean towards Chardonnays and Pinot noirs, but often with limited, tête-de-cuvée bottlings, alongside small batch productions such as their Viognier, Grenache, and their incredibly poised and structured Merlot, and many of these can be sampled and paired with tapas-style tasters straight from the kitchen. From there, next door’s shining beacon of Ataraxia’s elegantly-perched chapel beckons. With the expertise of self-proclaimed “Terroir-iste” Kevin Grant at the winemaking helm, a continued premium offering of both Chardonnay and Pinot noir is offered. As an added dimension, he takes South Africa’s signature red cultivar, Pinotage to a new level, by blending it with its own vinous heritage, adding Pinot noir and Hermitage, or Cinsault as it’s more commonly know, to make a truly style-defining representation of the newly-defined Cape Red Blend style.

Now, we buck the trend slightly and replace Pinot noir for Cabernet Sauvignon as the red offering at our next estate, Restless River. Craig and Anne Wessels are producing South Africa’s finest cool-climate Cabernet Sauvignon alongside one of the best Chardonnays in the valley. It’s important to mention one of the highlights of the region, which occurs with the Annual “Rest-Fest” in February, where all day live music happens on their dam pontoon, and a single mystery barrel is brought up from its slumber at the bottom of the dam to be tapped for the event. From here on down the valley, we’re into frequented territory, with estates such as Newton Johnson, producing some of South Africa’s finest Pinot Noirs, Shiraz and Chardonnay…and a pretty decent beer called Folke & Goode…and offering a top end dining experience with exceptional views. If you’re in luck, their limited release Albariño will still be in stock. Sumaridge is close by, with epically manicured vineyards and premium, polished Chardonnays, Pinot noirs and cool-climate Pinotage as a new addition. Around the corner is a bit of a ‘double-whammy’ where the wine farms of La Vierge and Domaine des Dieux team up at this incredibly eye-catching venue.Domaine des Dieux specialises particularly in MCC, but loves to showcase their premium offerings of both Chardonnay and Pinot noir, whereas La Vierge enjoys the more unique and funky styles of Riesling, Sangiovese and Barbera alongside their highly acclaimed Burgundian styles. For some of the most well established and internationally recognised estates in the valley, prepared to be blown away by the splendours of both Bouchard Finlayson and Hamilton Russell Vineyards further down the valley.

Often, people believe that when you reach the R43 that’s all you’re getting…however, just behind the Wine Village lies the quirky Walehaven Cellar, and further on still, into the Cape’s smallest wine region named Sondagskloof, or Sunday’s Glen, you’ll find Hermanuspietersfontein. With a rich history of producing both classic white and red Bordeaux-styled expressions from a multitude of different winemaking styles, the tasting platform is a truly in-depth experience to behold.

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Photo courtesy of Brittany Hawkins

Bot River

Following the coast West, we tuck inland to the Botrivier (Bot River) Valley. Its talented winemakers are true, salt of the earth characters, passionate farmers, and more often than not up for hearty bouts of feasting and festivity. The just-as-passionate townsfolk, often found congregating around the central Bot River Hotel and Manny’s Kitchen, are always accommodating to visitors seeking to experience true winelands hospitality and culture. Regarding Bot River’s plethora of vinous offerings, this is one of the few wine routes where visitors can enjoy intimate wine tastings at boutique estates with the winemakers themselves. Venture over to Genevieve for gorgeous MCC by Melissa Nelsen, or be welcomed by Niels and Penny Verburg at Luddite for hearty Shiraz and solid Chenin Blanc for example. The Chenin Blanc journey can continue as you indulge with their neighbour Sebastian Beaumont of Beaumont Family Wines, or perhaps down the road at Wildekrans, Barton Vineyards and Villion Family Wines. It is important to note that many of these farms are by appointment only and it is advised that you visit with an Explore Sideways guide.

However, if it’s more of a gastronomically inspired affair you’re seeking, head to locally-foraged and indigenous fare-inspired Forage Restaurant at Wildekrans Estate, or sample the wines alongside some delectably hearty, farm-to-table cuisine at Gabriëlskloof’s Restaurant. Perhaps if it’s a sea view you’re after, The Restaurant at Benguela Cove hosts a dining experience showcasing breathtaking views from the Bot River Lagoon side of the Valley. Don’t forget to make space in the car for shopping…not just cases of wine…because if it’s local, artisanal produce you seek on your tour, you can indulge in delights such as freshly-ground almond flour from Beaumont’s water-powered stone mill (one of South Africa’s oldest), enhance your garden with indigenous flora out at the Afdaksrivier Nursery at Villion Family Wines, and even stock up your fridge with goat’s cheese from Anysbos Farm. For more foodie folks with empty pantries at home, there will always be a selection of jams, preserves and chutneys, and fortunately, both olives and olive oil are also widely available throughout the valley. If your palate permits, relax and enjoy a craft beer or two at Honingklip Brewery just before the sun sets on your journey through this awesome part of the Western Cape’s Winelands.

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Photo courtesy of Gabrielskloof

Elgin

The Elgin Valley is now starting to boast some of South Africa’s finest cool-climate wines. From New World-rivalling Sauvignon blancs to poised Syrahs and Rhône-styles, to exceptional Chardonnays and Pinot noirs. Their tagline is “Elegantly Elgin,” and it is most certainly true to form. We can informally ‘split’ Elgin using the N2 highway ~ to the North, Estates such as Oak Valley and Paul Clüver reign supreme, with the latter producing the region’s most revered Gewüztraminer and Riesling expressions, and with both estates offering internationally-recognised premium Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Venture South, towards the coast, and a multitude of fine estates can be found. The beautifully positioned grounds and tasting room of Almenkerk is a definite must to visit, where the incredibly hospitable Joris and Natalie van Almenkerk love to showcase their superlative wines of the region, from Chardonnay, to Shiraz, to Petit Verdot, with a cracking selection of unique, small release Magnum bottlings. Relative neighbours Paul Wallace finds home to an amazing Malbec, called The Black Dog, and continuing South, you’ll fortunately reach the incredibly unique expressions of Koen Roose from Spionkop, specifically with his cool-climate Rieslings and his elegantly-styled Pinotage. Around the corner, you can be sure to find the hospitality of Shan Pascall from Oneiric, and she seamlessly pairs it beautifully with her vinous selection of Chardonnay, Shiraz and poised Bordeaux-style reds. The region is also home to a selection of fine bubbly houses, namely the houses of both Charles Fox and Ross Gower, as the climate and terroir hold the key to true elegance with both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir when making Cap Classique. Pure quality and structure when expressing Bordeaux cultivars from the region are also attained by harnessing and understanding the climate and terroir, with the estates of South Hill Vineyards and the Kevin King range with beautifully presented Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, respectively. James and Stuart Downes of Shannon Vineyards, in particular, have notably put Elgin on the map when it comes to their outstanding Merlot, The Mount Bullet.

A journey to the Elgin Valley wouldn’t be complete without a stop off at the Peregrine Farm Stall, to peruse a selection of fine wines to purchase, and without a shadow of a doubt, the best pies in the Western Cape.

elgin-wine-route_oneiric_cape-town_explore-sideways
Photo courtesy of Oneiric Wine Estate

Curious where all these wine routes are located? Check out the map below to see how to visit them all in your next Explore Sideways tour!

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