Located inland on the Cape West Coast, a small community of winemakers tends the Swartland’s picture-postcard vineyards to produce award-winning wines. That is when they are not giving old-world Rhône-style wines a run for their money, or raising conventional hackles by preaching the gospel of old vines and intervention-free winemaking.

Did you know?

The Swartland is home to award-winning olive and olive oil producers Het Vlock Kasteel and Kloovenburg.    

The Santam Swartland Wine and Olive Route covers one of the Western Cape’s largest wine-producing areas.

The landscape here is idyllic: quaint yet trendy villages surrounded by expansive fields of wheat and canola, dairy pastures, vineyards and olive groves, all framed by distant mountains that are snow-covered in winter.

Stretching from the Paardeberg mountains in the south to the Picketberg in the north, the Swartland is a coastal wine-growing district with two wards, Malmesbury and Riebeekberg, and a large unappellated area.

Owing to the geographic extent of the region, the West Coast Wine Route is demarcated into four regions for ease of exploration: Paardeberg, Riebeek Valley, Malmesbury, and Berg River.

Swartland winemakers refer to the unique terroir of each area as its ‘DNA’. Further, the Swartland is distinct from other wine production regions by virtue of the enormous diversity of soil types: granite, shale, clay, and slate found here, and its dryland bushvines.

Since the 1800s bushvines have been the traditional way of cultivating vineyards in the Swartland. This method, where untrellised vines are allowed to grow naturally in the region's Mediterranean climate, with minimal human intervention or irrigation, produces low yields of small but intensely flavoured berries.

This minimalist, some might say old-fashioned, philosophy is at the centre of a wine-making revolution, spearheaded by a new generation of boutique, family-run, and garagiste producers from the Swartland.

Outspoken proponents of hand-harvested and crafted, natural wines, produced sustainably and in small quantities, many Swartland winemakers use technically unproductive ‘old’ vines (vines that are 40 to 60 years old and more) and wild yeasts from their vineyards to make their wines.

In so doing, they are defining themselves, and their wines, in the context of terroir with a fervour that borders on an artistic movement. Even the local corporate wineries are onboard.

Whether you regard Swartland winemakers as visionaries or cowboy-cranks, the region’s wines that range from double-gold medal winners for just a few rands a bottle, to top dollar for a handmade elixir, speak for themselves.

Classic Rhône-style white blends, and particularly Chenin Blancs made from unfashionable old vines, exhibit structure, complexity, and layers of flavour that are causing the rest of the wine industry to take note.

Add the Swartland’s signature Shiraz, Mourvédre and Grenache - characteristically dark in colour, full and layered with smooth tannins - and it seems that the Swartland’s 20-odd winemakers aren’t so crazy after all.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Santam Swartland Wine Route
Tel:+27 (0)22 487 1133
Fax +27 (0)22 487 2063
E-mail swartlandinfo@westc.co.za

Malmesbury Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)22 487 1133
Fax: +27 (0)22 487 2063
E-mail: swartlandtourism@westc.co.za

Piketberg Tourism Bureau
Tel/ Fax: +27 (0)22 913 2063
E-mail: tourism@piketberg.com

Porterville Tourism Bureau
Tel/Fax: +27 (0)22 931 3732
E-mail: info@portervilletourism.co.za

Riebeek Valley Tourism
Tel/Fax: +27 (0)22 448 1545
Email: tourism@riebeekvalley.info

How to get here

Malmesbury, the centre of the Sanlam Swartland Wineand Olive Route, is about 70km from central Cape Town. From the centre of Cape Town head north, taking the N1/Table Bay Boulevard onramp. From the N1, take exit 10 (Sable Road), keep right, and follow the signs for the N7/Malmesbury. Stay on this road for about 60km. From the N7, exit left onto Voortrekker Road (R45) which loops around, and follow this road for approximately 800m until you reach De Kock Street.

Best time to visit

Spring, from late October to mid-November sees a patchwork of yellow canola fields and green vineyards, and indigenous flora in bloom. Very few Swartland vineyards receive visitors during harvest time, typically January to April.

Around the area

Nearby are the towns of Darling, Tulbagh, Wellington, and Paarl. In Malmesbury, there are historic churches, a museum, and a nine-hole golf course. The Groot Winterhoek Nature Reserve and various other small nature reserves in the area offer 4x4 trails, hiking, mountain biking, and fishing.

Tours to do

The Santam Swartland Wine and Olive Route website has a variety of five-day itineraries.

Get around

You’ll need your own car to tour the Santam Swartland Wine Route. The closest car rental companies are in Cape Town, Paarl or Langebaan. Many Cape Town tour operators also visit the Swartland.

What will it cost

Most Swartland wineries do not charge for a tasting, or will waive the fee in the event of a purchase.

Length of stay

Plan at least a weekend, especially if you’ll be visiting wine and olive farms and local restaurants.

What to pack

The Swartland is typically very hot in summer, and cold in winter. Temperatures are moderate between March and November. Sun protection in summer is essential.

Where to stay

A number of wine farms in the area have chalets and cottages, ranging from self-catering accommodation to serviced four-star venues.

What to eat

Swartland restaurants, notably the Bar Bar Black Sheep in Riebeek-Kasteel, serve regional, locally sourced produce. There are also fast food outlets, and a number of coffee shops serving light meals.

What's happening

The MedFest (short for Mediterranean Festival) in Riebeek Valley usually takes place on the last weekend in March. The Houtstokfees (Woodstock music festival) in Malmesbury happens towards the end of April. The Riebeek Olive Festival takes place on the first weekend in May, and the Music Oppi Lande festival (music on the land), or Molfees, is in October. In addition, visit the annual Swartland Agricultural Show held near Morreesburg in September. The Swartland Revolution is an independent weekend wine festival, which usually takes place on the second weekend in November – booking is essential.

Best buys

Olives, olive oil, homemade jams, preserves, and pickles.