The Wine Route of South Africa is a very interesting activity to do if you are in the Cape Town area. With stunning landscapes, between mountains, rivers and valleys, we find a region where the vineyard is the main crop. That’s where South African wine is made; a wine that stands out internationally for its quality.
This region consists mainly of the cities of Paarl (in the north), Franschhoek (in the east) and Stellenbosch (in the west); where you will find hundreds of wine cellars and some very interesting routes to discover vineyards, try wines of local varieties and enjoy a beautiful environment. You can unwind and relax while enjoying a good glass of wine.
The town of Franschhoek, which in Afrikaans means “French corner”, has its origins in 1688, when Huguenot Protestants fleeing France settled in the Franschhoek area, bringing with them the tradition of cultivating vineyards and to make wine that they had in their country. It is a city located at the foot of the mountains and with a very green landscape. Today, there are more than 50 wineries located around this town; and is considered one of the most prestigious culinary corners in the country.
Consider that from the second half of the 17th century, many European settlers began to settle in the Cape Town region (if you want to know more about this city, you can click here). This was a good place to stop and rest on your way from Europe to Asia. The European settlers who began living in Cape Town expanded, and some of them settled in Stellenbosch. One of its founders, Simon Van Der Stel, decided to plant oaks to decorate the city, which is why it is also known as the city of oaks. In 1679 the first Stellenbosch vineyards were planted. This city is considered the capital of the vineyards of South Africa. The scenery around this city is spectacular, with vineyards set on small hills in front of majestic mountains, which now have more than 200 wine producers.
Finally, the town of Paarl is located north of the Wine Route, about 30 km from Stellenbosch. This is where the Afrikaans language was officially born, and is notable for being a place of wine production (with about 70 producers); but also, craft breweries, brandy wineries and olive oil production; among others.
Stellenbosch it is closer to the sun and closer to the sea, while Franschhoek is located in the middle of the mountains and the sun only touches it at noon. That’s why red wines are one of Franschhoek’s specialties, as less sun exposure means that the grapes do not have as many natural sugars. In addition, in Paarl you can do the Spice Route, a walking tour between different wine cellars, craft breweries and brandy distilleries that you can combine with a good olive oil and different types of chocolates.
So, as you can see, in the most important wine region of the country you can enjoy good food and a good experience related to the world of vineyards and wine production. An activity you can’t miss and that will allow you to unwind for a few days in a rural setting while learning new and interesting things about the world of wine.
How to get there?
The most important wine region in South Africa is located a few kilometers from Cape Town. The region is formed by the triangle formed by the following populations: Franschhoek, to the east; Stellenbosch, to the west; and Paarl, to the north.
If you are coming from Cape Town, you will need to leave the city on the N2, the route to Port Elizabeth and the Garden Route. Just off Klipfontein, on the outskirts of Cape Town, after the international airport exit the N2 to take, on your left, the R300 and drive for about 6 kilometers to the M12, also known as the Stellenbosch Arterial. This road will take you about 23 kilometers to the center of this village. However, during this route you will start seeing some vineyards and wine cellars. Welcome to the Wine Route!
If you are coming from the south, that is, from the coast, such as Hermanus or the Garden Route (if you want to read our experience, you can click here), you will have to follow the N2 towards Cape Town to Somerset West, where you will have to turn north following the R44. After about 20 km on this road, you will be in the center of Stellenbosch to start enjoying the local wines.
If you come from the east (from Bloemfontein or Johannesburg), the first place to arrive on the Wine Route will be Paarl. You will drive on the N1 which will take you directly next to the town of Paarl, in the north of the South African wine region. If you are coming from the north of the country, which is on the N7 route, you will have to drive to Malmesbury, where you will be able to take the R45 which will take you after 50 kilometers right to the town of Paarl, next to the N1.
To drive between these three towns that make up the country’s famous wine region, you can take the R45 to make the journey from Paarl to Franschhoek (25 km). If you are going from Paarl to Stellenbosch, take the R45 and after 10 km, turn right following the course of the river Dwarsrivier and where you will soon cross the Boschendal winery, and then drive for 15 km until get to Stellenbosch. If you want to go from Stellenbosch to Franschhoek, you have to follow the R310 which goes through several wineries and when you reach the end of this road, you will already find the R45. To the left, you will go to Paarl; and, to the right, you will reach the town of Franschhoek after 15 kilometers. So, as you can see, the distances between these three villages are relatively short in a landscape that is totally characterized by being vineyard land and wine cellars.
From Cape Town, there are many agencies that prepare organized tours to travel the Wine Route in one day round trip; or also with the option to sleep in one of the accommodations offered by the wineries. If you go with your own car, think that you will have to drive and that you will not be able to do many wine tastings. Therefore, we advise you to either take an organized tour, or, as we did, set up a base camp near these three villages so that you can reach different wineries without having to take the car. Especially when you have already visited three wineries…
How much it costs the Wine Route?
This region is notable for the large number of wineries that grow and produce wine in one of the most important areas of South Africa. If you want to visit them, many of them offer different programs such as wine tastings, extensive visits to their vineyards and even accommodation in their cellar. However, keep in mind the opening hours of the wineries, as many of them no longer offer wine tastings beyond 4pm to 5pm.
In order to have a reference of the cost of visiting the Wine Route, we have made a table where you can see what it cost to us in each of the five wineries we visited in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek (in Paarl, we did not visit any winery). In the section “The wineries we visited” you can find more information about the types of wines we tried, as well as the prices of the bottles:
Also, consider you can buy bottles of wine at each winery. Prices are really very cheap in relation to the quality they offer, and if we compare it, above all, with the prices we have in Europe. You can pay for both tastings and bottles with a credit card. Due to the good value for money of many wineries in this area, many people take the opportunity to buy a bottle of wine (and even whole boxes) and take home some South African gastronomic souvenirs.
The wineries we visited
In the wine region of Cape Town, we find a large number of wineries. This land is known to be very fertile in the cultivation of different varieties of grapes and, therefore, throughout all these hundreds of years, they have installed many wineries that have their own plantations and produce different types of wines.
Next, we will highlight the wineries we visited and where we did some tasting to discover the quality of their wines. However, in this area you will find many other wineries where you can try and discover the hidden treasures that are hidden behind the centuries-old wine barrels of this region.
– Spier wineries
This winery was established in 1692 in Stellenbosch. It is one of the oldest in South Africa and has more than 300 years of experience working in the world of wine. It is one of the most awarded wineries for their wines and also for the responsible tourism they try to promote through their winery. If you want, you can try wine tasting with chocolate. We only tasted six wines for a price of 50 Rands per person. For more information on the winery, you can click here.
We started by trying a Chenin Blanc, a typical South African grape that can only be found in the Loire Valley in France and Australia. Spier Signature Wines Chenin Blanc (priced at 68R) is a young, fruity wine that is ideal for drinking in the summer with high temperatures. Then, we tried a Chardonnay 2019 (Spier Seaward), priced at 120R, a wine fermented a year in fresh-flavored barrels with aromas of mango and ruby grapes, nectarine flavor and vanilla point at the end.
Then we tried a red wine (Spier Pinotage 2020) with a price of 78R. This is a young wine with a kind of local grape called Pinotage, reminiscent of plum and a little cinnamon. It has been in a tank for about 6/8 months and is the best wine in terms of value for money in the cellar.
Pinotage is a South African variety that emerged in 1925 after research by Professor Abraham Perold of Stellenbosch University. It is a cross between the Hermitage plant, also known as Cinsaut; and the Pinot Noir plant. This variety sprouts in mid-September, blooms during the first weeks of November and matures during the last weeks of February.
Finally, we tried some older wines, of a very good quality but more expensive than the others. We first tested Spier Creative Block 3, 2017 (priced at 185R). This wine has been in a French wooden barrel for 18 months and is a blend of three grapes: Shiraz, Mourvèdre and Viognier. Cherry flavor with a very interesting hot pepper background. Second, we tried the Spier 21 Gables Cabernet Sauvignon, a 2018 wine worth 310R. This wine has been in the barrel for 21 months and its taste is reminiscent of blackberry, graphite, chocolate and coffee. For this reason, at the end, you can find the tannins of this rough wine.
A very interesting first visit to start discovering this wine region of South Africa!
– Lanzerac wineries
This winery was founded in 1692, the same year as the Spier winery. It is located on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, in the Jonkershoek Valley; and there you can enjoy different experiences that will take you fully into this world. Some of these are walks through the vineyards, full tastings of wine, accommodation, tastings with chocolate… We tasted five bottles of wine for 75 Rands per person. We tasted it on the terrace of the restaurant, with direct views of the vineyard and a beautiful sunset. For more information on this winery, you can click here.
First we tested a white Lanzerac Chenin 2020, which costs about 85R. This is a young, fruity wine with a taste of apple and citrus. In the end it leaves a more floral touch, of orange blossoms. 500.000 bottles were made from this production. After this white wine, we tried a rosé wine from the same year: Lanzerac Pinotage Rosé 2020. With an off-white color, this fruity, cherry-flavored wine costs about 95R.
Later, we moved into the red wines, first with a 2020 Merlot: Lanzerac Merlot 2020. This young wine has been in oak barrels for about 12 months and has aromas of exotic spices and hints of vanilla. It costs 175R. Second, we tasted a 2019 Pinotage that costs 190R. Bodega de Lanzerac was one of the first in the area to cultivate this local grape variety, Pinotage. The 2019 one has been stored in oak barrels for about 14 months.
Finally, the best wine we tried in this winery was a Cabernet Sauvignon of 2018, which costs about 190 R. It is a wine with aromas of ripe summer fruit combined with flavors of young blackberries with hints of cocoa, almond and vanilla. An excellent wine produced in this winery!
– Boschendal Wineries
Boschendal Wineries is the second oldest winery in South Africa after Cape Town’s Groot Constantia. They were founded in 1685, and are one of the iconic wineries in the town of Franschhoek. We, with the friendliness and great kindness of sommelier Kuazi, were able to enjoy a good tasting of five bottles of wine accompanied by a table of cheeses for 209 Rands per person. For more information on this winery, you can click here.
We started by trying a 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape variety that is planted in large quantities in Stellenbosch. This particular wine, 225R, has been in French oak barrels for 16 months. Plum flavor and tobacco aromas and a touch of coffee bean at the end that makes you notice quite a bit of wine tannins.
Then we tasted the wine we liked best from this winery: Boschendal Nicolas 2018. It is an ideal red wine to accompany cheeses, which has been 16 months in barrel and blends 6 different grape varieties: 28% Shiraz, 25% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Malbec, 11% Petit Verdot and 9% Cabernet Franc. The name is a tribute to one of the winery’s founders. It costs about 199R. A very cheap price in relation to its quality.
Then we tried a red wine from Shiraz (65%), Cabernet Sauvignon (27%) and Cabernet Franc (8%), called Black Angus 2018. This is one of the best-selling wines of the winery that has been 18 months in French oak boot. Taste of cherry and black pepper. Its price is 345R.
Finally, we tried two more special wines. First, an organic wine where the grapes are harvested by hand from 14-year-old vineyards. This wine, Organic Wine Syrah 2014, has been in barrels for 18 months in barrels since 2009. It has a small production of 1.870 bottles worth 305R. Being organic, the tastes and smells vary depending on the evolution of the wine. Secondly, a sweet wine, the Boschendal Vin d’Or 2018. In this wine area, sweet wines are not very common but this winery has made this one that has been fermenting in the sun for 14 days and is a blend of Moscatel, Riesling and Cotton Candy. Tastes of honey, pineapple and citrus. Its price is 410R. It’s very interesting to try because it’s a completely different wine than the rest.
– Delaire Graff Wineries
This Franschhoek winery has 80% of the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. Because they are varieties that need more sun, the vines are aimed at the equator. Being in a mountainous area, most of the harvest is done by hand, guaranteeing a very good quality but at the same time, with higher costs that affect the final price of the bottle. There we were met by a very nice waiter, Lennox, and we were able to enjoy a tasting of six bottles of wine for 110 Rands per person. If you want more information about this winery, you can click here.
In this winery, we tasted exclusively red wines. First, we tasted a 2019 Shiraz that has been in oak barrels for 10 months. This wine has a mild taste with aromas of blackberry and a touch of pepper. Its cost is 325R. Then we tried a full-bodied red wine: the Delaire Graff Botmaskop 2018. This wine consists of 5 different grape varieties, has been in the barrel for 18 months and is priced at 640R.
Then we drank the Delaire Graff Banghoek Reserve Merlot 2018. This red wine is very difficult to make as it is removed before the fermentation process so that it has a higher alcohol content than usual in Merlot varieties. In this case, it contains 14.5% alcohol and has been stored in the barrel for 16 months. It is priced at 780R.
The wine we liked the most was the Delaire Graff Cabernet Sauvignon 2018. It is the most expensive wine we tried (1.550R). It is a full-bodied wine, although the smell is milder. Tastes of ripe fruit, spicy and long lasting at the end. A very good wine.
Finally, we tried two slightly different wines, a wine of Portuguese origin called Delaire Graff Cape Vintage 2019 and a sweet wine called Delaire Sunburst. The first is a sweet red wine that has been preserved in 20-year-old oak barrels for 12 months in barrels. It has been stored directly in the bottle for another 18 months. The second wine is a sweet wine that has been in the barrel for 16 months, a very good wine with an apple and apricot flavor. Both cost about 700R per bottle approximately.
– Oldenburg Vineyards Wineries
These vineyards are located in the Banghoek Valley with a privileged view of the mountains. Adrian and Vanessa are the founders of this winery, and there the vineyards grow in an ideal surrounding, at the foot of Rondekop; a beautiful, conical hill that rises 410 meters above sea level with ancient rocky soils. Stefan took care of us at the last minute and there we tried seven bottles of wine for a price of 200 Rands per person. For more information on this beautiful winery, you can click here.
First of all, we tried a white wine of the best we have tasted in this area. This is a White Chenin, a South African variety that is harvested in this winery two weeks later than in Stellenbosch due to the height of the vineyards. This makes it taste more fruity than other wines of this variety in the area. With hints of pear, apple and citrus, it is a very good quality wine. The price per bottle of this wine is 170 Rands.
Then we drank a wine from a variety that is very difficult to make in this area: Grenache Noir. We tried a 2016 wine, which stands out for its salty aromas and flavors of ripe blackberries. In addition, it leaves a very interesting spicy taste on the palate. The price per bottle of this wine is 310 Rands. We also tried a very good quality 2018 Merlot with 14% alcohol that costs 260 Rands.
Afterwards, we tasted a Cabernet Franc from 2017. This variety is widely grown in this area due to the height of the vineyards. They started making it in 2014, so we tried a third year wine. Stored in oak barrels for 18 months, you’ll be amazed when you try it. The price per bottle of this wine is 350 Rands.
Finally, one of the most special wines of this winery is the Oldenburg Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon of 2018. This wine with hints of chocolate, stands out for having body and being strong. They have sometimes used 15/20% of Cabernet Sauvignon total production to make this wine. The price per bottle of this wine is 270 Rands.
To finish our Wine Route and after tasting two wines more, we went for a walk around the vineyards of Oldenburg while enjoying a fantastic sunset behind the mountains and a landscape of hills full of vineyards after a second intense day trying different wines from the area. Really, we who like the world of wine were pleasantly surprised by its quality and the great value for money that these wines have compared to Europe.
Where to sleep in the Wine Route?
If you want to visit this wine area in peace, we recommend that you sleep in some of the accommodations located in Paarl, Franschhoek or Stellenbosch. If you have just time, you can visit some wineries and go to sleep in Cape Town. But keep in mind that if you have to drive, you won’t be able to taste a lot of wine bottles.
Most wineries in this wine region offer a variety of accommodation options among their vineyards. However, the prices are high and they were out of our budget. Consider that in some places they requested 3.000 Rands for a double room. For this reason, we decided to find other options that fit to our budget. Among these, we highlight:
– Orange Ville Guesthouse: Located between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek and a few kilometers from many wine cellars, this accommodation is one of the best places to be as a base camp to visit the various wineries in the area. It has rooms, private apartments and also a place for camping with toilets, swimming pool and a beautiful environment with different walking routes and vineyards located nearby. Harry, the owner, who lives there gave us a warm welcome. The price of the campsite is 150 Rands per person (about 8-9 euros). If you want to know more or book, you can click here.
– Franschhoek camping: Very nice space on the outskirts of Franschhoek. Overlooking the mountains and with swimming pool, this campsite has ten pitches at a price of 450 Rands for two people. It has wifi and barbecue space. If you want to know more, you can click here.
– Otter’s bend Lodge: Located in the center of Franschhoek, this accommodation offers rooms at a price of 350 Rands per room. It also has family rooms (double bed plus bunk bed) for 4 people for the price of 500 Rands; and camping for 250 Rands for two people. If you want to know more, you can click here or talk directly with Mark, its owner, on his Whatsapp +27 79 747 4632.
If you want to enjoy a different experience during your trip to South Africa, and delve into one of the most important areas in the world of wine, this is your choice. We enjoyed it a lot, being aware that there are so many wineries to visit and that you won’t be able to make them all. However, the surroundings between Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Paarl are spectacular, with mountains, valleys and landscapes full of vineyards that you can enjoy walking and touring while enjoying a good glass of wine surrounded by one of the most beautiful areas in the country.