Most visitors to the Cape spend at least one day in the winelands. While most people have heard the likes of Durbanville, 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 colourful characters and exceptional wines.
For any wine lover visiting South Africa, it’s recommend that they visit both the well-known wine routes as well as a few of the smaller ones in order to immerse themselves 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 a self-proclaimed “wine lover” to describe what makes each one unique.
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 overseen by Lourens van der Westhuizen 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.
In Barrydale, stop at Diesel & Cream 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.
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 MCC 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 Stilbaai, 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 Wines 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.
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 seen to be a true asset of 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 you’ll find some exceptional, premium wines and blends from rare and unique cultivars.
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, 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.
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.