After our exciting train ride from Joburg to Cape Town, we disembarked and headed north for the mountains. This area is called the Bolands, which means ‘up-lands’, and it has just the right climate and soil to be a world-class wine making region. And seeing how I love wine, and Spencer loves mountains, it was the perfect place for us to spend a weekend.
Set in a valley at the foot of these stunning mountains is the town of Stellenbosch, where we stayed. Walking down the oak-shaded lanes of Stellenbosch, lined with white-washed town homes and university buildings and little cafes, you might think you are in a small village somewhere in Europe. When we weren’t drinking wine, we were wandering these streets and eating the delicious food that the Cape wine lands are famous for.
We spent a morning learning the history of the town at the Village Museum, which is an entire block of restored houses showing life in Stellenbosch from 1709 to 1850. The town was first established in 1679, when the Cape was the property of the Dutch East India Company, with the sole purpose of growing vegetables and making wine for the ships that stopped through on their way around Africa to the colonies of the East.
Those dutch roots run deep here: the Cape Dutch style of architecture defines the look and feel of the town, and it is the most Afrikaans town we’ve been to yet. Stellenbosch lacks in the diversity that make Johannesburg or Cape Town so exciting, but it is a cute, romantic place with a small town feel about it.
We spent our first day on on wine tour, with a fun group of American and German study abroad students. The first winery was Simonsig, named after the mountain looming in the background. We got an interesting tour of their cellars, where they produce, bottle, and age their famous Méthode Cap Classique (MCC). This was the first winery in South Africa to produce what is essentially French Champagne, although the French won’t allow them to call it that. The MCC we tasted was very nice, as were the rest of the wines we tried here.
From there we went to Fairview in the Paarl area, where we were treated to a wine and cheese pairing with cheese made there on the farm. The cheese was scrumptious, and Fairview makes some very unique wines.
Next was lunch in the town of Franschoek, in a valley tucked on the other side of the mountain. It was founded by French Huguenots escaping religious persecution in France, and who brought with them the french wine making traditions. From there we went to Moreson, which didn’t leave much of a lasting impression (though to be fair, I had consumed a lot of wine at this point.) Last stop was Zorgvliet, which I found to be the most beautiful with its Cape Dutch manor house and lovely backdrop.
On day two, we struck out on our own. We started at Delair Graff, a stunning estate perched high on a hill. The place was perfectly manicured, with a modern cellar and tasting room and artwork dotting the grounds. It was also the most expensive tasting we did, at only $3 per person for three wines. The wine was delicious, and I could have sat on their deck all day taking in the view.
Next up was Tokara, just across the road. Tastings there were free, and also delicious. We sat on the deck and had some cheese and meat and fresh bread (from a wonderful bakery in Stellenbosch, Schoon de Companjie) and took in the view all the way across the valley. We also tried brandy for the first time. Brandy is essentially distilled wine, but South Africans drink much more brandy than wine. We were surprised to learn how similar it tasted to whiskey. It was smooth and sweet, but still tough to get through a whole glass at 1:00 in the afternoon.
Our last winery was Rustenberg. It was completely different than the last two, with their modern tasting rooms and crowds. We were the only guests at the quiet, rustic old farm. The wine was just fine, but the grounds were the highlight here. Around the corner from the classic 200+ year old farmhouse was a beautiful, secret garden.
When I first visited the wineries of South Africa at the age of 19, I vowed to someday get married at one of the beautiful farms. That isn’t what ended up happening, but the gardens of Rustenburg had us both wanting to throw another wedding right there. You’re all invited!