Africa may not exactly be synonymous with rolling vineyards, but you’ll be surprised at the wine industry that is found along the southern reaches of the continent. In fact, the South African wine industry is among the largest producers of wine in the world. All the more reason why you simply have to make a point of sampling wine when on tour in South Africa. Here’s what you need to know when planning to sample wine in the winelands of South Africa:
South Africa’s wine industry is more than three centuries old
The very first bottle of wine produced in the Cape can be traced back to 1659. In 1652 Governor Jan van Riebeeck established the Dutch East India supply station in Cape Town, South Africa. A couple of years later vines were imported from Germany, Spain and France and planted in the Company Gardens. About ten years later Simon van der Stel was appointed as governor and winemaking moved to Constantia. Vin de Constance (made from Muscat de Frontignan) was bottled here in the 18th century. The wine reached the likes of Napoleon, Frederick the Great, the King of England, and the King of France. Vin de Constance is still made on the farm today.
Try Pinotage, Chenin Blanc & MCC
If you have to choose your options at the tasting table, we can recommend:
Chenin Blanc: A white wine also called Steen when the vineyards are over 30 years old
Pinotage: A red varietal bred at Stellenbosch University from Hermitage and Pinot Noir
MCC (Méthode Cap Classique): The local version of Champagne.
Tasting these three varietals will help you understand the unique taste of South Africa wine. You’ll also come to learn how to the local terroir impacts the overall structure and character of the wines.
Many wine farms have excellent restaurants
Go for the wine, stay for lunch (or dinner!). Some of the very best restaurants in South Africa are located on wine farms. Wine farms worth visiting in the area of Stellenbosch, include: House of J.C. Le Roux, Beyerskloof, Hidden Valley Wines, Spier, Blaauwklippen , Babylonstoren, Boschendal and many more besides. See where your SA tour itinerary takes you and try to include at least one meal on a scenic wine farm. There are countless to choose from and it’s a wonderfully unique travel experience!
There are a wide variety of wine festivals to enjoy
Speaking of tasty experiences, try and include a South African wine festival. Use the Top SA Wine Events calendar to check what’s happening in the world of SA wine during the time of your visit. We can highly recommend Wine of the River, Franschhoek Uncorked, and the Soweto Wine & Lifestyle Festival. But that is literally just the tip of the iceberg. Make a point of asking your tour leader to find out if there is anything happening during your stay.
You can even take part in immersive experiences!
South Africans love to combine wine tasting with the most immersive experiences. You could combine a wine tasting with anything from cupcakes, mushroom foraging excursion, or opt for a fynbos & wine pairing. You could even run between the vines or taste wine in a cave!
And you don’t have to go to a wine farm if you are pressed for time
If you’re in South Africa you can also taste wine in the major cities like Cape Town or Johannesburg. Make your way to a boutique wine store and ask a wine expert to give you a bit of an introduction to SA wine. They will only be too happy to oblige! After all, they live and breathe the local wine trade. So if you ever wanted a solid intro to South African wine, this is the best place to get it.
In the end it all comes down to having an open mind and going in with the intent of experiencing something new. The South African winelands will never be the same as those you find in Europe, or the United States, but therein lies the beauty. It is something completely unique. Make a point of chatting to the wine producers you encounter during your stay, and you will find that these makers are as passionate about their craft as any of their global contemporaries. Cheers to unexpected finds in fascinating places!