Between exploring the wineries nestled at the food of impressive mountain ranges in the midst of lush green vineyards and beautifully crafted gardens, wine tastings, visiting restaurants, cafes, shops and art galleries, a visit to the Western Cape Winelands never seems to be long enough.
Especially if you consider there are more than 400 wineries in the Western Cape’s most iconic wine areas, Constantia, Stellenbosch, Franschoek and Paarl. So where should you start?
Certainly, the country’s most historic wineries, going back all the way to the early beginning of wine growing in 1659 should be on your list. However, over the past two decades many more excellent wineries have been added to the list of those not to be missed, offering outstanding wine experiences along with modern design and art.
By no means exhaustive, here’s my list of wineries I recommend to put on your must-do list.
Where it all began. Groot Constantia is South Africa’s oldest wine estate, established shortly after the site was granted to Simon van der Stel of the Dutch East India Company in 1685. The estate, which today is a national monument, is located in the beautiful Constantia valley close to Cape Town and boasts stunning views over Table Mountain and the nearby Ocean.
It is one of the few Western Cape wineries asking an entrance fee (R95 per person) if you want to venture beyond their Jonkershuis restaurant located in an external building on the estate. On the upside, the fee already includes a wine tasting of five different wines (if you want to pair them with chocolate, you have to pay an extra R50 per person) and honestly the stately historic manor house and wine cellar are too beautiful to miss.
Tastings daily 9am – 6om
Groot Constantia Road, Constantia, Cape Town
The estate is located just about five kilometres from False Bay, offering breathtaking views over the distant ocean and the Helderberg mountain range. The beautifully restore historic manor house and wine cellar alone are worth a visit. However, make sure you pay a visit to the bird sanctuary on the estate as well.
Meerlust is best known for its acclaimed Rubicon wine, a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot.
Tastings Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm; Sat 10am – 2pm
Baden Powel Drive, Somerset West
Founded in 1682 as one of the earliest wine farms in South Africa, today Blaauwklippen is widely recognized as one of the country’s leading producers of Zinfandel. In 2007, it did also bottle the country’s first white Zinfandel.
Before heading off to the tasting room, have a walk through the estate’s beautiful garden and admire its historic Cape Dutch buildings.
If you are in season, there is a special Christmas macaron and wine tasting. Otherwise, try the regular chocolate or canapé wine tasting options.
Alongside award winning wines, the estate also produces a range of excellent gin. I particularly loved the African Botanicals which is produced using different herbs from the Western Cape.
There is also a well known Sunday market taking place from 10am – 3pm. The market offers a lot of different food to try which you can (obviously) pair with the winery’s own wines. In addition, there are stalls selling arts and crafts, and local musicians.
Tastings Mon – Sat 10am – 5pm (6pm in the summer), Sun 10am – 4pm
Strand Road on R44 between Stellenbosch and Somerset West
Warwick Wine Estate
Norma Radcliffe, who together with her husband Stan founded Warwick Estate in 1964, made history being the first woman to become a member of the Cape Winelands Guild, and the only women so far to serve as its chairperson. For this, she was often referred to as ‘the first lady’ which is reflected in the naming of the estates wines. With few exceptions, all of them bear the term ‘lady’ in their labelling.
The picnic area next to a beautiful small lake overlooking the nearby vineyards and mountain range is the perfect spot to enjoy the estates excellent gourmet picnics or tapas, along with a glass or two of their wines. Make sure you have made your reservation in advance, as the spots are in high demand and fill up quickly, especially during the high season.
If you are more adventurous instead, hop on one of the estates range rovers for a ‘big five’ vineyard tour. Just to be clear, though, the big five in this case are the estates five different grape varieties.
Please note: picnics are not offered during the winter months (May to August) due to unpredictable weather.
Tastings daily 9am – 5pm
On R44 between Stellenbosch and Paarl
If you are a sucker for modern wine architecture, this is the place for you. The beautifully sculptured modern winery was built by the estate’s founder Christoph Dornier to be functional but also to satisfy his high sense of stunning architecture.
The site also beautifully integrates an historic barn built in the 18th century and a homestead dating back to the 19th century. In fact, the barn is home to the wineries Bodega restaurant and a wine lounge.
Whilst the majority of Dornier wines are red, the winery is particularly known for its Chenin Blancs. Try their white Donatus White, a blend of Chenin Blanc and Semillion.
Wine tasting options at Dornier include some unusual combinations. There’s the Farmer’s Gourmet tasting and a Flammkuchen and wine tasting. Reservations in advance for the special tasting options are recommended.
Tastings daily 10am – 5pm
Blaauwklippen Road, Stellenbosch
J.C. Le Roux
This beautiful estate is entirely dedicated to producing sparkling wine. With such dedication, it’s perhaps no surprise it has become South Africa’s leading winery of delicate bubbles. It produces a large range of different Méthode Cap Classic wine (the equivalent to Champagne) and sparkling wines.
The stylish tasting room and outside patio with views over the vineyards and nearby mountain range will make your tasting a wonderful experience.
J.C. Le Roux too offers some unusual tastings: pair your bubbles with some excellent nougat or go for the meringues and marshmallows pairing. You will love it!
Tastings Mon to Fri 9am – 4.30pm; Sat 10am – 3.30pm; Sun 10am – 2.30pm
Devon Valley Road, Stellenbosch
Located close to the top of the Helderberg Pass, this modern wine estate offers beautiful views of False Bay, the surrounding mountain range and rolling vineyards along with enticing art installations along the estates sculpture trail connecting the winery with the Delicatessen restaurant and shop.
Wine tasting is taking place in the estate’s modern tasting room featuring a structure of steel and glass.
There are two main wine ranges: the Tokara range which follows the traditions of Old World wines (producing wines for longevity) and the New World wines label Zondernaam offering full-fruited wines. In addition of wine, Takara also produces an excellent brandy and its own olive oil.
Takara restaurant is open from Tue to Sun for lunch and dinner, while the excellent Delicatessen, the estates Bistro restaurant offers breakfast and lunch from Tue to Sun.
Tastings Mon to Fri 9am – 5pm; Sat to Sun 10am – 3pm
R310 Helshoogte Road, Stellenbosch
Allée Bleue Estate
Allée Bleue draws its name from its stunning Eucalyptus-lined entrance road and otherwise subtle reference to blue touches across the estate. Also it is still one of the lesser known wineries of the Cape Winelands (a fact that is changing fast), it is one of the oldest wine farms in the Franschhoek area, dating back to the 1690s.
For a wine tasting, settle down on the tree-shaded patio offering picturesque views of the Drakenstein Mountain range, vineyards and gardens.
Try their flagship wine, a blend of Chardonnay, Sémillon and Viognier called Isabeau, the red Bordeaux-style blend L’Amour Toujours and the Pinotage. There is also an excellent Brut Rosé from the winery’s premium range you should not miss.
Tastings Mon to Fri 9am – 5pm; Sat 10am – 5pm; Sun and public holidays 10am – 4pm
Intersection R45 and R310, Groot Drakenstein
La Motte not only produces excellent wines. The estate has also repeatedly won the Great Wine Capitals of the World’s South Africa Best of Wine Tourism award.
There is a beautiful garden, several historic buildings hosting the wine cellar and tasting room, a restaurant and a museum. All built from around the 1750s to the 1800s. In fact, the manor house, Jonkershuis, historic wine cellar and the water mill today are provincial status monuments.
And off course there is the estates little on-site farm shop. Try their sweets or home-made cakes.
Tastings Mon to Sat 9am – 5pm
R45 Main Road, Franschhoek
Though the estate is growing and bottling its own wines, Babylonstoren is not your usual wine estate. The farm, originally established around 1690, was painstakingly restored and re-opened as an organic working farm just a few years ago.
The farms extensive garden boasts more than 350 edible fruits and vegetables. Visitors are invited to pick and try as many of them as they like while wandering around.
Babylonstoren started to bottle their own wines in 2011 and just recently added a new stylish tasting room to its premises. You must taste the sparkling Chardonnay ‘Sprankel’. It’s a real treat.
Tastings daily 10am – 6pm (5pm in the winter months)
On Klapmuts Simondium Road, Simondium
About the Western Cape Winelands
The Western Cape Winelands comprise the main areas around the historic wine-growing towns of Constantia, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl. They are all in easy reach from Cape Town. In fact, the closest is Constantia which is actually a Cape Town neighbourhood. The other three are about a 45 minute drive from Cape Town.
The valleys with their dry weather conditions create the perfect microclimate for wine growing and during most of the year also allow al-fresco seating.
South Africa’s wineries are very approachable and most are open to visitors for wine tastings. However, if you are keen on doing special food and wine pairings, or want to eat at one of the many fabulous restaurants on-site, booking ahead is recommended. Especially during the busy summer months (from November to February) getting a place can sometimes be quite difficult at many estates.
Have you been to South Africa’s wine regions or are you planning to go? I’d love to hear about your experience.