Cape Town & Its Wine Lands
Text & photos by Michèle Shah, Michèle Shah Travel
Perched on the southern tip of South Africa, Cape Town, also known as South Africa’s Mother City, is described as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Home to the iconic Table Mountain, offering the savvy traveler stunning white sandy beaches, rich fauna and flora, world-class dining, spectacular vineyards, and much more.
Cape Town is easy to reach from any international destination, and this is where you should start your visit. The best is to rent your own car with navigator so that you can drive around at your leisure, this gives you much more freedom. It’s easy to rent a car at Cape Town airport, there is one rent-a-car after the other, deals are good and with the Rand at a currently low and low cost of petrol, you really will benefit from having your own car.
Tempting though it might sound, avoid the high season of December until mid -January which is when schools open again, as many Joburgers tend to go south to Cape Town for holidays and probably the best time is from end January to March/April or even November.
The nice thing about being based in Cape Town, is that if you do not have the time to tour the wine lands you can plan a day’s visit. Just a half an hour drive outside Cape Town you are already at the beginning of the Cape vineyards, where cultivation of grapes dates back to the 1600s. Groot Constantia winery, nestled in the lush and green area of Constantia, next to Kirstenbosch’s Botanical Gardens, dates back to 1679. This beautifully preserved national monument is well-worth a visit which on summer Sunday evenings becomes home to open-air jazz, classical and African music concerts.
If you have more time on hand or wish to take a few days off, organized wine tourism has become a big business. Estates are large, and every winery seems to offer cozy accommodation, fine dining, casual bistros, gourmet wine pairings and elaborate tastings. Most importantly, there is a young generation of winemakers that are producing better and better wines, not just the classic Chenin blanc and robust Pinotage, but complex Bordeaux blends, elegant Shiraz- Grenache blends, as well as classy Pinot Noir which can be sampled at an increasing number of small boutique wineries including ‘natural’ wines.
The best plan is to travel independently and call wineries first to book your tasting or visit, especially in the established wine valleys, such as Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, or the newer cooler territories of Elgin and Caledon and explore lesser-known vineyards in the Swartland, Wellington and Tulbagh. The Cape grows a number of international grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, to mention a few, but Chenin Blanc, Cinsalult and Pinotage represent their main indigenous varieties.
Stellenbosch is a good starting point and one of the oldest wine lands, about an hour’s drive from Cape Town. Besides shops and restaurants, there are a number of Cape Dutch national heritage houses worth admiring. Pinotage which does well in the Stellenbosch area which calls for a visit to Beyerskloof wine farm (beyerskloof.co.za) which shows the grape’s versatility in everything from rosé to a vintage Port-style, the latter with some Touriga. Also Kanonkop (kanonkop.co.za), where fruit from a venerable 50-year-old vineyard goes into the sumptuous Black Label Pinotage.
More old-vine concentration comes with Chenin Blanc from Stellenrust (stellenrust.co.za), also from vines older than 50 years, as well as bush-vine Cinsault – an ancient Cape variety enjoying renewed interest across the country. Chenin Blanc still holds sway as the Cape’s most planted variety with an increasing number of winemakers producing wonderfully complex, concentrated and age-worthy wines. Ken Forrester, fondly known as Mr Chenin (kenforresterwines.com) has done much to generate this newfound interest.
Winery architecture in Stellenbosch is as diverse as the wines – from the whitewashed low walls and traditional gabled manor house at Rustenberg (rustenberg.co.za) to the strikingly modern cellar at Tokara (tokara.com). Both wineries produce a typical, quality range of white and red wines, including the area’s signature variety, Cabernet Sauvignon.
For something different, and to see how well international varietals do in the area of Stellenbosch, visit Hartenberg (hartenbergestate.com), where Carl Schultz produces two Rieslings as well as five individual Shirazes.
If you go to the Franschhoek Valley, be sure to plan a visit to La Motte (lamotte.co.za), established in 1752 with the planting of vines by Huguenot descendants. The wines are well-crafted and of particular interest are the La Motte Millennium made from Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, elegant and opulent, as well as their Pierneef Shiraz-Viognier, considered one of the best versions of these co-fermented grapes in the Cape.
Elgin, 40 miles (65km) southeast of Cape Town, is part of the Western Cape wine region of South Africa. Aromatic varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay feel most at home in Elgin’s cool climate and produce wines with highly expressive fruit and character. Don’t miss Paul Cluver’s excellent Chardonnay wines (cluver.com) and the beautiful elegant Pinot Noir’s from Oak Valley Estate (oakvalley.co.za), which is well worth stopping here for lunch. Also a visit to the family run estate Almenkerk, (almenkerk.co.za) is a gem of a winery. All these are easily reached by driving a few kilometers between each other.
If you are a Pinot Noir enthusiast you must head up the east coast as far as Hermanus and then inland on route R320 to Caledon. The Onrust River winds its way through the valley where one of the youngest but fastest growing wine routes in South Africa is already establishing a name with its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay cultivars. The Bouchard Finlayson Estate (bouchardfinlayson.co.za), Creation (creationwines.com) some of my favorites and also a great place to have lunch or just relax with a good glass of wine. Hamilton Russel Vineyards (hamiltonrussellvineyards.com), and Sumaridge (sumaridge.co.za) are among some of those open to the public for wine tastings.
Many estates have their own restaurants and one of the most interesting wineries to stop at, in my opinion is Creation, which belongs to Carolyn and Jean Claud Martin, Swiss winemaker who saw the incredible potential of this area and purchased a sheep farm with no vineyards back in 2008.
Today, the vineyard has a production of 400.000 premium bottles from 60 ha of vines. Good stop for lunch and to enjoy the fantastic views over the vineyards while sipping their Reserve Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
Be sure to spend some time in downtown Cape Town enjoying what this buzzy city has to offer. Well-priced hotels or Airbnb/guest houses are plentiful in and around Cape Town. You don’t need to book a room at Cape Town’s famous Mount Nelson Hotel, but if you get a chance, do go there for a drink or treat yourself to their ‘famous’ afternoon tea. It is one of Cape Town’s oldest most established hotels. One of my favorite areas where it is easy to find a good bed and breakfast which could be anything from cozy simple to luxury estates, is Kloof Nek, going up to the foothills of Table Mountain, or in the Gardens area, which is also just above town, but still within walking distance to town and has a number of nearby colorful cafés and restaurants.
Staying in town is also an excellent choice because there is a lot going on in Cape Town in the summer months, especially in the evenings. There are a number of wine bars, trendy and well-priced restaurants, where you can sample many cuisines of the world, enjoying super ethnic, street food, or seafood, as well as excellent and serious meat restaurants, while enjoying a vast selection of Cape wines. Excellent Indian cuisine can be enjoyed at the highly-recommended Thali Restaurant, just off Kloof Street. Just a few kilometers along the seafront between Cape Town and Camps Bay, La Mouette Restaurant in Seapoint, opens onto a beautifully set patio for al fresco creative dining.
If you enjoy Jazz, the Crypt, under one of Cape Town’s oldest and main cathedrals is a must. It is very central to get to and best is to order a table and have dinner while watching and listening to live jazz. The atmosphere is great and depending on the programme you can enjoy some very talented musicians. If theatre, opera or dance is more to your taste then check out the Cape Town’s Artscape Theatre which hosts some superb international shows with guest stars. I was lucky enough to see the world’s premier theatrical ice skating company, Imperial Ice Stars, in a dynamic new interpretation of its award-winning production of Swan Lake and Cindarella on ice.
The more commercial area known as Cape Town’s ‘Waterfront’, which was once part of the busy port of Cape Town is now a vibrant commercial centre, with restaurants, bistros, bars, cafés and shops. In fact, you can shop to you drop, if ‘retail therapy’ is what you like! A new farmers market open on Saturdays’ offers excellent variety of local produce and natural and organic foods. For fresh fish, crayfish and oysters Willoughby & Co in Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre offers some of Cape Town’s freshest fish. You can also take a boat trip across the harbor and enjoy the view of Table Mountain from the sea.
Be sure you take the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain. Its breathtaking views will sweep you away, and so will the wind if you’re not careful! You can walk on different paths, but be cautious because the weather can be very changeable and the clouds can descend fast. From the top you can see part of the peninsula and its magnificent beaches which stretch down either side of the coast. You get an excellent view of Robin Island and if it’s a clear day you can almost see as far as Cape Point.
Cape Point is a good day’s excursion and really one of the most scenic drives. Take the coastal road which meanders from Cape Town to beautiful settings of Clifton, Camps Bay and Lundudno Beaches, also worth a visit, especially if you enjoy soaking in the sun or walking along the beaches. You will find they are fully equipped with sun beds and umbrellas for rent. Take the Chapman’s Peak drive, which is a spectacular stretch of coastal road that takes you down to Haut Bay overlooking the beautiful sandy stretch of Noordehoek Beach. Chapman’s peak drive was constructed in the early 1900’s and took 7 years to complete. Despite the steep cliffs and ravines, the road was cleverly engineered building the road surface on solid 630 million-year-old Cape granite.
My advice is to stop on your way at Simons Town and visit Boulders Penguin Colony which is one of my favorite places to visit. Boulders is also one of the warmer beaches, as it is slightly protected by large, imposing boulders, and if you are lucky you might just get to take a swim with one of the penguins from the colony as they often play ‘spot the tourist’ and come and visit the beach which is just a short walk from their protected area and beach.
Simon’s Town is a quaint seaside town where time seems to have stopped. It’s nice to browse around the boutique shops and maybe stop a stroll and a sea-food lunch at the seafront harbor restaurant Bertha’s or the Salty Sea Dog Fish & Chips, more causal and quicker if you are on the go. Enjoy sitting al fresco watching the sailing boats and world go by with a refreshing glass of wine and maybe a dozen oysters. In season, it’s also possible to go whale-watching from Simon’s Town wharf.
Just off the Cape Point route near Fish Hoek is the wonderful seafront arty crafty town of Kalk Bay with its harbor, sea lions lounging around the port waiting for the fishermen to feed them. Be sure to book a table at the Harbor House for lunch, it is a must! The views are stunning and the fish is very good.
For one of the best views of Table Mountain with Cape Town nestled in its wings is to take a drive to Bloubergstrand where you can enjoy long walks on the beach. Depending on how much time you have, a trip down the Garden Route, a 300-kilometre stretch of the south-western coast of South Africa which extends from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the Eastern Cape. The name comes from the verdant and ecologically diverse vegetation encountered here and the numerous lagoons and lakes dotted along the coast. It includes some attractive towns such as Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Mossel Bay and the reserves of Nature’s Valley and Wilderness. You can also visit a number of animal sanctuaries on your way, such as the Knysna Elephant Park, where you can enjoy extraordinary elephant encounters and stay overnight in their visitors lodge which offers rooms with balconies viewing of the elephants at night time and tours and walks during the day. Other animal sancturies include Jukani the Big Cats, Birds of Eden and Monkeyland.
Best local market and art & crafts market can be found in Woodstock where on Saturday’s you can enjoy the Neighborhood market with an assortment of different ethnic foods, breads, pastries and locally grown veg and fruit.
One last piece of advice is to always take a wind jacket with you, the Cape is famous for its south-easterly, winds, especially in summer, and it can really blow!!!
Biscuit Mill – The Test Kitchen & The Pot Luck Club
Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road
Woodstock, Cape Town
+27 021 447 2337
Located at the trendy Old Biscuit Mill, just outside Cape Town in Woodstock, The Test Kitchen is a renowned world-class dining destination, and the winner of the Cacao Barry One to Watch Award in 2013 – you need to book months ahead! Run by Chef Luke Dale-Roberts, Saturday lunch at the Test Kitchen is particularly exciting as the Old Biscuit Mill is abuzz with its dynamic weekend markets offering the best of local foods and craft. If you don’t get a booking at the Test Kitchen then on the top floor of the Old Biscuit Mill you will find the more informal, but equally creative and appetizing dining The Pot Luck Club also run by Chef Luke Dale-Robert’s team. Both offer an evolving menu of innovative, artful and delightful dishes accompanied by a spot-on wine selection.
Silvermist Wine Estate, Constantia Main Rd
Constantia, Cape Town
A much-loved fine-dining restaurant nestled in Cape Town’s leading vineyard area Constantia, La Colombe has received a number of awards, including a coveted place in the San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants of the World Awards in 2010. Scot Kirton and James Gaag’s cuisine presents a fusion of contemporary and classic French and Asian influences, using only the freshest local produce in season. The wine list is impeccable, featuring the Constantia’s finest wine. With comfortable yet classy indoor and outdoor seating, a charming garden and scenic views, a visit to La Colombe is a truly unforgettable culinary experience. Must book even months ahead!
Simon’s Town, Cape Town,
+27 21 786 2138
Easy going, good simple seafood dishes (fresh oysters it you like them) and great harbor views.
Harbour House Restaurant
Kalk Bay, Cape Town
+27 21 788 4136
Great place for lunch with spectacular seascape views of the ocean’s crashing waves. The food is excellent and the cuisine is refined, great fresh fish, good wine list and professional service. Best to book.
3 Park Road
Gardens, Cape Town
+27 21 2862110
This is a stellar culinary experience inspired by the tastes, sights and scents of India. Opened by Liam Tomlin (of Chefs Warehouse fame) and with head chef John van Zyl in the kitchen, Thali presents diners with an eastern voyage through a set tapas menu ranging from sambals, poppadoms and tandoor, and leading through to the curries, which are the jewel in the culinary crown of the experience.
8 Regent Road
+27 21 433 0856
Henry Vigar, the chef patron of La Mouette, spent a number of years making a name for himself as an up-and-coming young chef in fine cuisine in London. After also working in Australia and France, and a number of other UK based top-ranked and Michelin starred establishments, Henry settled as head chef at Kensington Place in London’s affluent Notting Hill.
WINE LANDS WHERE TO STAY
Green Valley Rd
+27 21 433 0856
Just outside Franschhoek, the modern boutique winery and restaurant contrasts with the irresistible old-world charm of this property, housed in a romantic 17th-century Cape Dutch thatched manor.
6 Van Riebeeck Stereet
+27 21 883 9560
Perfectly located in the downtown heart of bustling Stellenbosch, this stately Victorian guesthouse is decorated with a mix of contemporary and Cape Dutch styles.
Elandskloof Private Road
Elandskloof Farm, Franschhoek
+27 (0) 21 876 4100
Located in the beautiful Franschhoek Valley on a private 30-acre estate, La Residence is a tranquil haven of luxury and relaxation. Surrounded by vineyards and plum orchards, with a spectacular mountain backdrop. Original artwork, plush colourful and stylish furnishings offer an air of sumptuous opulence. The 11 Suites at the hotel are ideal for couples while the 5 Vineyard Suites offer privacy and space for families and groups of friends.
Lanzerac Wine Estate & Spa
No. 1 Lanzerac Road
+27 (0)21 887 113
Steeped in a history dating back to 1692 and nestled in the foothills of the idyllic Jonkershoek Valley of Stellenbosch, the 300 year old Lanzerac Wine Estate is synonymous with old-world charm and rich Cape heritage. A mere five minutes from the historic town of Stellenbosch.
For more general information: Wines of South Africa, Wine Tourism
THE GARDEN ROUTE ANIMAL SANCTURIES
Junkani – Sanctuary for rescued big cats
Knysna Elephant Park – First facility in South Africa to house and care for orphaned African elephants
Birds of Eden – Free flight aviary
Monkey Land – Free roaming, multi-species primate sanctuary
MUSIC & THE ARTS
Kapula Authentic African Arts
Ceramics and hand painted candles There are many craft shops in and around the Cape, especially but none can beat Kalpula. Here you can see and experience some outstanding handmade crafts. To get there take a drive to Bredasdorp to visit Kapula’s Gallery. (180 km from Cape Town. It is not far from Arneston or Cape Agulhas which are both well worth visiting) Kapula is famous for its hand-crafted ceramics and hand-made painted candles. Save some space in your luggage as you will not walk away empty handed!
Artscape – DF Malan Street, Freshore, Cape Town
The Crypt Jazz Restaurant – Wale Street, Cape Town City Centre
Michèle Shah is an expert on Italian wine, she has lived in Italy for over 30 years and her activities, include, writing, seminars, wine judging, wine tastings & international wine events. Her writing experience includes: Meininger’s Wine Business International, Wine Spectator, Decanter, and a number of other International publications. Michele Shah has recently set up specialized travel to Italy check out her Facebook page ‘Exceptional Tailored Travel to Italy’.
She is also a regular contributor to TCO. Enjoy her previously published articles:
The Magical Flavors of the Dolomites
In Umbria: The Best of Montefalco
Vintage Tuscan Releases