Wine trails: Franschhoek & Stellenbosch

By | Category: Travel destinations

Wine lovers are spoiled for choice in buzzy Stellenbosch and French-flavoured Franschhoek, with excellent wines and gourmet restaurants

Tasting the exceptional wines that South Africa’s Cape region is now producing while in the actual vineyards themselves is a unique experience. Just half an hour’s drive from Cape Town and the iconic Table Mountain are the immense open landscapes of Africa, where vast estates with hundreds of hectares of vines blend in with towering mountain ranges, lakes and wild vegetation.

The heart of the Cape winelands is the buzzing town of Stellenbosch, a wine lover’s paradise of bars and bistros, the perfect place to be based for a few days of serious vineyard visiting. Grapes have been cultivated around Stellenbosch for more than 350 years, and wine tourism is a highly developed business: every winery seems to offer everything from guesthouses and restaurants to wine-paired picnics, and kids’playgrounds so parents can enjoy a serious tasting.

For many years, Stellenbosch has dominated wine awards, especially for South Africa’s signature Pinotage, a hybrid of the Pinot Noir and Cinsaut grapes that was bred in the local university back in 1925. But more recently, attention is turning to nearby Franschhoek, which draws on the French heritage of its original Huguenot settlers, who brought vine seedlings with them on their perilous voyage from France. You could almost be in a Provencal village, with names such as ‘Le Bon Vivant’ and ‘Quartier Francais’, though in reality no one here actually speaks French any more. The restaurant scene in Franschhoek is defi nitely gourmet, the resort hotels luxurious and young vignerons are making sensational wines – not just classic Chenin Blanc and Pinotage, but intense Syrah, complex Pinot Noir and Sauvignon. And most importantly, estates are fi nally, though slowly, implementing inclusive ownership programmes for their black workforces.

Get There
Cape Town is the nearest major airport, 35km from Stellenbosch. Car hire is available.

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01 KANONKOP
The historic estate of Kanonkop is a 30-minute drive outside Cape Town, at the outskirts of Stellenbosch, South Africa’s unofficial capital of wine tourism. The entrance is marked, rather ominously, by a black cannon, and the surprise as you drive towards the huge cellars through the vineyards that line the slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain is that there are as many traditional free-standing bush vines here as the more modern Guyot. In fact, Kanonkop oozes tradition. The estate tour takes you into a hall of open shallow concrete vats used for hand-punching and fermenting after harvest, which the winemaker, Abrie Beeslar, claims is the secret of the high quality of Kanonkop’s wine. The Pinotage range is intense and tannic, taken from minimum 50-year-old bush vines and aged in French oak – certainly not to be drunk young.
www.kanonkop.co.za; tel +27 21 884 4656; R44, Stellenbosch, 9am-5pm Mon-Fri, 9am-2pm Sat

02 TOKARA
Under the guidance of master oenologist Miles Mossop, Tokara is the modern face of Stellenbosch winemaking. The winery is a stunning example of futuristic architecture, filled with daring contemporary art and sculpture. Mossop creates distinctive wines  from three different vineyards, reflecting personality and characteristics of not just Stellenbosch, but the emerging regions of Elgin and Hermanus. Sadly, Tokara’s signature Pinotage will not be available for some time, as the majority of their ancient vines were destroyed in a fire. Still, don’t miss the straw-coloured Director’s Reserve White, a vibrant blend of Sauvignon and Semillon, while the Syrah, hand-picked on the slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain, is incredibly intense in flavour and colour. The tastings here are free, a rarity in Stellenbosch, and afterwards, be sure to try the fruity olive oil madeon their 60-hectare (148-acre) olive farm. There is also a casual deli and gourmet restaurant with spectacular panoramic views as far as Cape Town’s mythic Table Mountain.
www.tokara.co.za; tel +27 21 808 5900; Helshoogte Rd, Stellenbosch; contact for tastings

03 ALLÉE BLEUE
Like many large Cape wine estates, Allée Bleue is owned by foreign investors who have transformed a fruit farm by replacing some of the orchards with 25 hectares (61 acres) of vines. And their vigneron, Vanzyl Dutoit, a beefy rugby-playing enthusiast, could not look happier, as he has been given carte blanche to create a state-of-the-art cellar. Allée Bleue is the place to taste Pinotage, South Africa’s most famous grape – a cross of Burgundy’s Pinot Noir with Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s Cinsault, or Hermitage – created in 1925 in Stellenbosch. The vines at Allée Bleue are young, aged in steel vats to produce what Vanzyl calls ‘our quaffing wine’. But their flagship, full-bodied and tannic Pinotages are made from grapes that come by lorry from 50-year-old vines three hours away, a method Vanzyl mischievously describes as ‘terroir by truck’. He pinpoints three key characteristics for Pinotage: ‘colour – a very deep, ruby red; a very intense nose, plums and cherry; and then there is the tannin, which the old-school winemakers prefer supple, aged in large old wood barrels, while the newer generation like me prefer to emphasise by using small new barriques.’
www.alleebleue.co.za; tel +27 21 874 1021; Intersection R45 & R310, Groot Drakenstein; 9am-5pm Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm Sat & Sun

04 SOLMS DELTA
Winemaker Hagen Viljoen is only 32, but has strong ideas about the wines he wants to produce, and this is certainly a winery with a vision, making a concrete attempt to empower the cooperative black workforce, which has been given one-third  ownership. ‘The owners are trying to address the post-apartheid heritage,’ explains Hagen. ‘The history of this farm goes back four centuries and we have a museum, housed in the original 1740 wine cellar, illustrating life here when all farms and wineries were originally worked with slave labour. The idea is to come to terms with the issue of slavery rather than brush it under the carpet.’ The choice of wines to taste are daring blends of highly concentrated Rhone varietals such as Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre, made essentially from desiccated grapes. And the estate’s restaurant, Fyndraai, is perfect for a wine-pairing lunch, with dishes such as smoked ostrich and fynbos greens or bobotie stew with fresh mango. Chef Shaun Schoeman uses herbs from his native African heritage and Cape Malay spices.
www.solms-delta.co.za; tel +27 021 874 3937; Delta Rd, Groot Drakenstein; tours by appointment

05 MORESON
Moreson is the boutique vineyard of Franschhoek mover-and-shaker Richard Friedman, who also owns the luxury Quartier Francais resort in town. But a visit to Moreson revolves around two men, the dapper Clayton Reabow, who became winemaker here aged 23, and grizzled Brit Neil Jewell, the mad master butcher and charcutier of the funky Bread&Wine bistro. It is a marriage made in heaven for wine pairings, with organic meats such as lamb prosciutto or the lethal Devil salami (25% chilli). You can begin with an aged blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, then light Pink Brut Rosé, and finish with Solitaire, blended from four different vintages. And Clayton has strong views on his barrel-aged Chardonnay: ‘We want to bring people back to a subtly oak-aged wine after the backlash of the ABC trend of Anything But Chardonnay’.
www.moreson.co.za; tel +27 21 876 3055; Happy Valley Rd, Franschhoek; book wine-tasting tours online

06 GLENWOOD
Glenwood is Franschhoek’s hidden secret, tucked away in a remote valley at the end of a dusty 7km dirt track. The domaine resembles the Big Country ranch, with vines dramatically enclosed by steep mountain slopes, a vast expanse once inhabited by herds of elephants. The genial cellar master, DB Burger, has been making award-winning wines here for 23 years, and suggests that ‘visitors give a call first, because our tasting is more personalised than most places, is not the feeling you are being told what to think by some student taster who is repeating comments that he has learnt by heart.’ He is most proud of his elegant Chardonnays, both the oaky Vigneron Selection and the crisper Chardonnay Unwooded, but the spicy Syrah is also excellent. Burger explains, ‘Franschhoek has metamorphosed into perhaps the leading Cape wine region. In my early days, grapes were just grown to be sold to the cooperative. Then winemakers started replanting vines that are only now growing into maturity, explaining the recent radical improvement in quality.’
www.glenwoodvineyards.co.za; tel +27 21 876 2044; Robertsvlei Rd, Franschhoek; 11am-4pm Mon-Fri, 11am-3pm Sat & Sun

07 CHAMONIX
Chamonix is a vast domaine encompassing a vineyard, farmland, and a sprawling game reserve with guest lodges surrounded by wildebeest, zebra and springboks. But the wines stand out, masterminded by dynamic young oenologist Gottfried Mocke, who is experimenting in the cellar, ageing in a mix of concrete tanks, steel vats, barriques, large casks and the latest trend, high-tech ‘concrete eggs’. The stars here are the Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and a supple Pinotage, made ‘passito’ style similar to Amarone. Gottfried feels that ‘Chenin was planted here in vast amounts 50 to 60 years ago, primarily to make brandy, but I think over the years the vine has mutated to our climatic conditions to become virtually an autochthonous South African grape.’ He is also trying to shift attitudes, promoting a luscious 2009 Sauvignon: ‘I’m holding back a small part of our production rather than sell everything quickly, so people can see how the wine develops rather than always drinking young.’
www.chamonix.co.za; tel +27 21 876 8426; Uitkyk St, Franschhoek; 9.30am-5pm daily

08 HAUTE CABRIèRE
It is worth driving out from the edge of Franschhoek and up the mountainside just for the views over the valley from the sunny wine-tasting terrace of Haute Cabrière. The estate was named in 1694 by one of the founding French Huguenot settlers, Pierre Jourdain, after his home town, when this area was still known as Olifantshoek – Elephant’s, rather than French, Corner. The present owners, Achim von Arnim and his son Takuan, are on a mission to produce high-quality Champagne-standard sparkling wines, and have planted Chardonnay on the sandstone soil on one side of
the vineyard, and Pinot Noir on the stony clay terroir on the west-facing slopes. Yes, these are officially South African Methode Cap Classique, but it is difficult to tell them apart from a French Champagne in a blind tasting, especially over a meal in their restaurant, which overlooks the cathedral-like cellar.
www.cabriere.co.za; tel +27 21 876 8500; Lambrechts Rd, Franschhoek; 9am-5pm Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm Sat, 11am-4pm Sun

ESSENTIAL INFORMATION

Where to Stay
HOLDEN MANZ
Just outside Franschhoek, the modern boutique winery and restaurant contrasts with the irresistible old-world charm of this property, housed in a romantic 17th-century Cape Dutch thatched manor.
www.holdenmanz.com; tel +27 21 876 2738; Green Valley Rd, Franschhoek

RICKETY BRIDGE COUNTRY HOUSE
Dating back to 1792 when it was part of La Provence, one of Franschhoek’s original Huguenot estates, Rickety Bridge, is a boutique winery with three sumptuously furnished guest rooms.
www.ricketybridgewinery. com; tel +27 21 876 2994; R45, Franschhoek

MIDDEDORP MANOR
Perfectly located in the downtown heart of bustling Stellenbosch, this stately Victorian guesthouse is decorated with a mix of contemporary and Cape Dutch styles.
www.middedorp.com; tel +27 21 883 9560; 16 Van Riebeeck St, Stellenbosch

Where to Eat
CAFE DES ARTS
Favourite hangout for local winemakers, serving simple comfort cooking, such as lamb’s liver with chilli-roasted potatoes, onion and bacon, and the freshest yellow-tail tuna delivered straight from the Indian Ocean.
www.cafedesarts.co.za; 7 Reservoir St West, Franschhoek; tel +27 21 876 2952

PIERNEEF A LA MOTTE
La Motte is one of the oldest and still most important Franschhoek wineries, and in its flagship gastronomic restaurant, chef Michelle Theron creates tantalising dishes.
www.la-motte.com; tel +27 21 876 8000; R45, Franschhoek

DUTCH EAST RESTAURANT
Pasch Duploy is a gregarious butcher/ chef, smoking and ageing his own meats, and his buzzing bistro is the place to feast on wild game such as springbok, eland and ostrich.
www.dutcheast.co.za; tel +27 21 876 3547; 42 Huguenot St, Franschhoek

What to do
A favourite activity in Cape Town is learning to cook like a Cape Malay mama. Gamidah Jacobs of Lekka Kombuis will show you how to make perfect samoosas, dhaltjies (chilli bites), rootis (flat breads) and chicken curry at the classes she runs in her historic turquoise-painted Bo-Kaap home.

Celebrations
Franschhoek goes back to its French roots with a huge 14 July party to celebrate Bastille Day.

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Reproduced with permission from Wine Trails, 1st edn.© 2015 Lonely Planet. To purchase a copy of the book, please visit www.lonelyplanet.com

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