15 April 2014 by Stuart Buchanan

A wine tour for all seasons

It may be autumn here in South Africa, and while that can mean peak visitor season is coming to an end, there is at least one activity that can be enjoyed all year round: a tour of the Cape Winelands.

Boschendal wine estate. Photo courtesy of slack12

Grapes have been cultivated in the Western Cape province for more than 300 years, and today it is an established industry that competes at a world-class level with other wine-growing regions around the world. For visitors to the Cape, a Winelands tour is an essential part of any holiday itinerary, whether you are a casual plonk drinker or a dedicated connoisseur.

You’ll find wine-growing regions throughout the Western Cape, but the largest concentration can be found around Stellenbosch and Somerset West. This is ideal for holidaymakers staying in Cape Town, a mere 40-minute drive away.

There are also well-established estates in Constantia and Durbanville, within a short distance of Table Mountain.

The length of your stay, and, er, how much wine you plan on drinking, will determine how much time to dedicate to a Winelands tour. Usually, one full day should be enough to have a full, well-rounded experience that’ll leave you thinking about your next trip to South Africa before you’ve even returned home.

When it comes to planning your trip, there are plenty of options for what to see and how to see them. Organised tours operate on a daily basis, but you could also ditch the tour bus for a bicycle, and in some areas, even a tram. If you are hiring a car and doing a self-drive, remember to choose a designated driver who sticks to non-alcoholic grape juice.

The tasting room at Graham Beck. Photo courtesy of Samantha Marx The tasting room at Graham Beck. Photo courtesy of Samantha Marx

As for must-see wine estates, there are major attractions on established routes, and then there are smaller estates to be discovered if you’re in the mood to explore. Lourensford and Spier estates are well established, cater to large groups, offer family-oriented activities and have their own on-site restaurant.

Smaller estates, like Ken Forrester Wines, focus on wine tastings only, but the quality of what you’ll taste is just as good. Wine pairings add a creative twist to the traditional tasting, and you’ll find a number of quirky options, like wine and chocolate at Waterford Estate, or wine and vegetarian food at Haute Cabriere.

Keeping the kids happy and making sure everyone is fed are two major considerations when plotting your wine tour. Vergelegen Wines has a big play area and jungle gym for the little ones, while others offer grape-juice tasting or wildlife parks as entertainment. And when it comes to finding a place to eat, Stellenbosch is home to the many of the country’s top award-winning restaurants, like Rust en Vrede and Overture.

The Winelands area is open for business all year round, but if you want to time your visit around a specific event, look out for the Stellenbosch Wine Festival in January; Backsberg Picnic Concerts in February; KDay Music Festival in March; FamFest in April; and the Franschhoek Bastille Festival in July, to name a few.

The vines of Tokara winery. Photo courtesy of Pepe Pont The vines of Tokara winery. Photo courtesy of Pepe Pont

Category: Food & Wine

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