Most first-time 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 thief” to describe what makes each one unique.
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 Kingdom. August and September are the perfect time to seek out its 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.
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 with 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.
At the Northern extreme of the Swartland lies the Piekenierskloof 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 have an awesome opportunity to head out to the coast for a spot of crayfish, pier-side, and 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.
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, who, 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.
Wellington is home to both the larger scale, commercial producers and 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.
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.
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 and 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 Breedekloof Valley opens up as you reach the hot springs at Goudini Spa and the old N1 road. Ahead is Rawsonville, home to Deetlefs and Daschbosch, offering not just brilliant Chenin Blancs and Chenin-based blends, but smooth Pinotages, succulent Shiraz and hearty Rhône blends. Deetlefs 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.
Next time we’ll be taking you on a trip through the Klein Karoo up to Plettenberg Bay on the south-east coast and from there all the way back down the coast to the Western Cape.