Lizzie Williams
South Africa ZA
Jun 16, 2014 June 16, 2014

Lizzie is a reputed guidebook writer and author of the Footprint guides to South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Categories: African Couleur Locale, South Africa

The Wines of South Africa

The wines of South Africa are indeed quite distinct. Beyond Cape Town, the old towns of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl nestle in spectacular valleys covered by the vineyards of historic wine estates. They have been cultivating grapes for some 300 years.

The wine routes

The biggest attraction of the Western Cape (after Cape Town) is South Africa’s oldest and most beautiful wine-producing area. The three major wine routes are around the quaint and historical towns of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl. These are some of the oldest towns in South Africa. Their broad streets are lined with a pleasing mix of historical styles; Cape Dutch, Georgian, Regency and Victorian houses. The homes bask in the shade from centuries-old oak trees.

However the real architectural gems are the manor houses on the wine estates. While the wine industry flourished during the 18th and 19th centuries, the farmers built grand homesteads with cool wine cellars next to their vines. Most of these have been lovingly restored. Today you can visit them and sample wine. Many have even been converted into gourmet restaurants or luxury hotels.

The first wine

The first wine in Cape Town was produced from 1652 in Constantia and Company’s Garden. But there was soon a great demand from the crews of ships when they arrived in Table Bay. Red wine was drunk to fight off scurvy and it kept better than water. In 1679, the governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel, left Cape Town with a party of soldiers. They found themselves in a fertile sheltered valley where the waters were cool and clean and everything seemed to grow in abundance. Farming families followed and began planting. The area became known as Van der Stel se Bosch (‘Van der Stel’s Wood’).


By 1681, Stellenbosch was a thriving agricultural community, and the first European settlement in the interior of South Africa. Settlers then expanded to the ‘Paarlvallei’ in 1687, and along the Drakenstein Valley in 1694. They established Paarl (‘Pearl’ after the glistening granite domes of Paarl Mountain). And Franschhoek (‘French Corner’ after immigrant French Huguenots, who were expert wine-makers). The fledgling wine industry on the tip of southern Africa then received an important boost in 1806. The English, at war with France, started to import South African wines. Today, South Africa has 120,000 hectares of vineyards and produces some 800 million litres of wine each year.


Wine tasting in the Cape

Whether you're a seasoned sommelier or a first-time wine-drinker,  the Cape Winelands are a beautiful and enjoyable area of South Africa to explore.  You can spend a day visiting the atmospheric age-old estates to enjoy wine-tastings, cellar tours, and perhaps a leisurely picnic lunch on the lawns. Or a meal at a gourmet restaurant (with wine of course). And at each, you can purchase bottles or cases and the wineries can arrange for wine to be delivered internationally.

While you’re enjoying the wines of South Africa, there’s also the opportunity for other seasonal treats along the way – brandy, olive, cheese or chocolate tastings. There are fine country hotels and spas, and horse- and bike-riding, fly-fishing and game drives are on offer. The appeal of a Winelands tour is simple. There couldn’t be a more idyllic setting to enjoy a glass of wine, especially next to the vines on a gloriously sunny day.

Best time to visit

There is no single best time to visit the Winelands as each season brings something special. Nothing beats sipping a chilled white under an oak tree on a summer’s day. Or an earthy red next to a roaring fire in winter, while autumn reveals splashes of deep orange and golden yellow in the vineyards. And spring sprinkles the surrounding mountains with wild flowers.

Fancy a visit to the Cape Winelands?

Treat your senses to the sights, smells and tastes of South Africa's wine country. Let SafariBookings help you plan your wine tasting experience. Savour the wines of South Africa while enjoying the stunning scenery, charming locals and beautiful wildlife of South Africa. And prepare to be wowed.

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Beyond Cape Town, the old towns of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl nestle in spectacular valleys covered by the vineyards of historic wine estates which have been cultivating grapes for some 300 years. Learn more about visiting this region - especially if you're a wine lover!