After spending two days adventuring around Oudtshoorn and Hermanus we arrived into the mecca of African wine. To be honest my most anticipated part of this trip was the two days we would spend exploring the wine estates in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. I was successfully able to check off one of my bucket list items: visit every wine region of the world. I have now sipped throughout the worlds finest wine regions: from Canada to the US, Argentina to Chile, France to Germany, Australia to New Zealand and now finally South Africa!
The Cape Winelands are a scenically enchanting region of lofty mountain and fertile valleys and slopes with orchards and vines. Nested in the valleys are graceful Cape Dutch manor houses covered in rose gardens and teaming with history.
Our first stop was at the jaw dropping Vergelegen Estate. With its world renowned handcrafted wines, 310 year old history and heritage exquisite gardens it comes as no surprise that Vergelegen continues to be the choice of the discerning visitor seeking a total sensory experience. For this reason, the Estate has borne witness to many visits of heads of state and celebrities from all over the world (Bill and Hilary Clinton, Queen Elizabeth).
I can’t express to you how pleased I was to sit back and relax while six crystal clear wine glasses were filled in front of me. We sat out on the verandah overlooking a wee hedge garden, swishing our vino to and fro. Once finished sampling we took a beautiful walk through lush gardens and the manor house which featured a unique-to-the-region Dutch sensibility.
Hopping back in the car we made a quick stop to a private sculpture and garden gallery off the beaten path, Art Creations Africa. The gallery is owned by Barrie Schimper and is the home to a wild array of Zimbabwean shona stone sculpture.
Our next stop was a walking tour of the university town of Stellenbosch. We stopped off at the famous (read: very touristy but still worth the visit) Oom Samie Se Winkel Trading Post. The town is such a charmer and reminded me of the culture we showcase in Niagara on the Lake. Streets are filled with sculpture, artists and designers offer beautiful little boutiques and cafes, wine bars and restaurants spill onto the street.
Our second winery was an interesting juxtaposition to the first. If Vergelegen Estate represents the rich history of wine growing tradition in the region than Delaire Graff Estate showcases the opulence of contemporary interpretations. The winery has achieved what owner and globally renowned visionary Laurence Graff, Chairman of Graff Diamonds International (read: incredibly wealthy diamond tycoon) had in mind when he acquired this magnificent Cape Winelands property in 2003 and vowed to transform it into South Africa’s most desirable art, hospitality and wine destination. As we walked towards the winery we were greeted by statues of cheetah and sinewy indigenous men. The interior of the main building doubles as an art gallery, fine dining restaurant, glassed in wine cellar and tasting room. The space is filled with nuances of diamond lore. We sat on the patio overlooking the vines below and sipped on several glasses of wine as the sun bleated through the trees.
That evening we arrived at La Petite Ferme where we would be staying in one of the wineries hillside cottages. The main building features their tasting room and restaurant which offer picture perfect views of the surrounding vineyards. At the dinner hour we all dressed up for a review at one of the top restaurant wineries in the region Haute Cabriere, which is located a five minute walk up the street.
The following morning we visited Franschhoek’s Huguenot Monument and Museum. A must visit for those interested in the connection between the history of religion and wine in the region. After King Louis XIV of France revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, countless French Huguenots were forced to flee to Protestant countries. The Dutch East India Company’s offer of a new life at the Cape of Good Hope was eagerly accepted by some 270 individuals. While they arrived as a direct reflection of religious persecution we can thank them for bringing their French culinary and wine making traditions.
We spent the majority of our day on a life changing culinary tourism experience at Babylonstoren. We spent the afternoon touring around the wineries lush gardens, thoughtful farmlands, robust vineyards, state of the art wine production facility. We finished with an inspirational lunch at Babel Restaurant. Hopping back in the car and we were off for a few days of adventure in Cape Town.
I returned to the wine region with my parents on the last day of my trip. We had enjoyed the experience so much and I craved one last jaunt among the vines before my midnight flight to Amsterdam. The day was overcast and even drizzled for a period of the afternoon. We enjoyed a mellow moment at Boschendal Estate, which featured a tour of their manor house originally built in 1685. This particular wine estate sits with Vergelegen as one of the oldest in the country featuring the regions iconic Dutch architecture. After sipping through a slew of their wines we took a walk in downtown Franschohoek, poking our noses in a few art galleries before enjoying my farewell meal at the celebrated Le Quartier Francais Hotel.