Top 10 Wine Estates to visit in South Africa’s Cape Winelands
South Africa’s Western Cape province is practically synonymous with wine. The region is home to literally hundreds of vineyards, and wine tasting along one of its many wine routes – ideally in the company of a local guide or other designated driver – is a perennially popular activity there. And it isn’t all about the wine, by any means. Many of the more historic estates boast fine examples of Cape Dutch architecture, a regional specialty characterized by thatched roofs, whitewashed exteriors, and imposing decorative gables. Most of the top estates also have spectacular settings in vine-planted valleys surrounded by tall mountains, and many include exceptional restaurants. It can be daunting to know where to start, so here we highlight a few of the most historic, scenic, and enjoyable estates in the Cape Winelands.
This is where it all started. Founded by Governor Simon van der Stel in 1685, Groot Constantia stands in the scenic Constantia Valley, below the mountains of the same name, 10km south of central Cape Town. It was van der Stel who planted the first vines at Constantia, and by the late 18th century the estate’s renown was such that, in the words of a British naval officer named Robert Percival “every stranger who arrives at the Cape…makes a point of visiting the village of Constantia and those famous wine plantations” (a list that included the likes of Anthony Trollope and King Edward VIII). Bought by the Cape Government in 1885, the estate is centered on a gabled Cape Dutch manor that was originally built by van der Stel, expanded over subsequent centuries, and now houses a museum. Groot Constantia still produces some world-class wines, which can be sampled at the superb Jonkershuis Restaurant, a converted outbuilding that dates from van der Stel’s time.
Wine to try: The Constantia Valley is known for producing fine sauvignon blanc and the unwooded, lees-aged Groot Constantia Estate Sauvignon Blanc ranks among the best of them.
Find out more: https://grootconstantia.co.za
Vying with Groot (Big) Constantia as the birthplace of Cape wine, Klein (Little) Constantia formed part of the original 1685 estate founded by Van der Stel prior to it being divided between two brothers in 1823. This beautiful estate is best known as the producer of a Muscat-based dessert wine called Vin de Constance, a favorite of Napoleon Bonaparte that’s namechecked in the writings of Charles Dickens, Jane Austin, and Charles Baudelaire. Klein Constantia’s majestic Cape Dutch homestead, surrounded by giant oak trees, dates back to 1793 and has been described as one of the top architectural treasures of the Cape Winelands.
Wine to try: Revived in 1986 after a century-long hiatus, the legendary Vin de Constance is widely regarded to be the world’s greatest sweet wine.
Find out more: https://www.kleinconstantia.com
Founded in 1700 by Simon van der Stel’s son Willem, Vergelegen stands on the slopes of the Helderberg (literally ‘Clear Mountains’) outside the small town of Somerset West, 20 miles east of Cape Town. As suggested by its name, which loosely translates as ‘Far Away’, Vergelegen was then thought of as a remote outpost of the Cape Colony. Today, it is arguably the loveliest estate anywhere in the Cape Winelands and notable for its gracious old Cape Dutch manor house, pretty octagonal garden, gnarled camphor trees planted by van der Stel, and exceptional range of award-winning wines.
Wine to try: This estate is known for its superb but pricey reds; the highly rated Vergelegen Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon hits a sweet spot on the scale of price vs quality.
Find out more: www.vergelegen.co.za
Another venerable winery founded in the late 17th century, Boschendal is a perennially popular estate with a convenient and very beautiful location roughly halfway between the historic old towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. The Cape Dutch architecture here ranks among the finest examples of this uniquely South African genre and is enhanced by the lavish period furniture. Now focused on organic crop farming methods as much as wine production, this lovely estate is renowned for its lavish picnic hampers, which can be enjoyed on an oak-shaded lawn, but it also has an excellent wine-pairing restaurant. The estate’s stylish farmhouse-like cottages form a characterful and convenient base for exploring the rest of the wildlands.
Wine to try: A chilled glass of the iconic Boschendal Blanc de Noir, a rosé-like white made with merlot and pinot noir grapes, is the ideal accompaniment to a lunchtime picnic.
Find out more: https://boschendal.com
Founded in 1692 under the name Scoongezicht (Clean Face), Lanzarac is a pretty estate that retains a stately old-world feel, despite lying within walking distance of central Stellenbosch. The old Cape Dutch manor has been restyled as a five-star hotel, and the restaurant is known for its relaxed Saturday seven-course dinners, with each course paired with a different wine from the estate. In 1959, this pioneering estate produced the first bottled Pinotage, a uniquely South African red wine grape first cultivated 30 years earlier as a cross between pinot noir and cinsault.
Wine to try: Lanzarac pinotage remains an exemplary example of South Africa’s full-bodied flagship red varietal.
Find out more: https://lanzerac.co.za
Like all the above estates, Spier was founded in the late 17th century, but today it places less emphasis on the past than it does on a peerless array of contemporary and forward-looking attractions. Situated on the R310 southwest of Stellenbosch, this family-friendly winery has a swimming pool, spa, playground, craft shop, and two onsite restaurants. Other attractions include a raptor center, horseback excursions, self-guided walking and mountain bike trails, Segway adventures, and one of the country’s finest contemporary art collections. Groups can even try their hand at amateur vinification by booking the immersive Wine Blending Experience.
Wine to try: It’s typical of this progressive estate that it produces some of South Africa’s only vegan wines; try the Spier Creative Block 5, a stellar Bordeaux blend of five different grapes.
Find out more: https://www.spier.co.za
Another winery that gets it right when it comes to family-friendliness, unpretentious Fairview is a family-run estate situated just outside the town of Paarl. Children of all ages will enjoy the laidback farmyard atmosphere, while foodies can choose between dining at the Goatshed Restaurant or enjoying a rustic picnic that includes a delicious selection of handcrafted goat milk cheeses and other fares from the onsite deli.
Wine to try: Fairview is most famous for a budget-friendly easy-drinking range called Goats do Roam (a pun on Côtes du Rhône) that includes red and white blends as well as a rosé.
Find out more: www.fairview.co.za
The spectacular estate in the mountains overlooking Franschhoek is one of South Africa’s top producers of sparkling Cap Classique wines (which taste much like champagne but can’t use that name for legal reasons). It was founded in 1694 by Pierre Jourdain, one of the Huguenot settlers alluded to in the name Franschhoek (‘French Corner’), and is extensively planted with pinot noir and chardonnay. The restaurant here is a culinary highlight of a region known for its excellent continental fusion cuisine, and the view from the terrace is unsurpassed anywhere in the Cape Winelands.
Wine to try: Haute Cabrière is the place to try South African bubbly; there are plenty of different varieties, but you can’t go wrong with the sensibly-priced evergreen Pierre Jourdain Brut.
Find out more: https://cabriere.co.za
Situated on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, Kanonkop is a relatively young estate (its first wines were released in 1973) that has grown to become one of the Cape’s most highly-regarded producers of serious reds. It is named after a koppie (hill) on the slopes of the Simonsberg where a cannon used to be fired in the 17th and 18th centuries to let local fruit and vegetable farmers know that a foreign ship requiring fresh produce had arrived at Cape Town’s Table Bay. A replica cannon marks the entrance to the estate, which offers excellent guided tours introducing visitors to the craft of winemaking.
Wine to try: The five-star Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage is possibly the finest example of this uniquely South African varietal in existence, It’s also eye-watering expensive – a single bottle costs more than an entire case of its perfectly acceptable entry-level cousin Kanonkop Kadette Pinotage.
Find out more: www.kanonkop.co.za
Named as one of the world’s top 50 vineyards in 2020, this estate on the main road between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek is worth visiting simply for its stunning views. Perched high on the crest of the Helshoogte Pass, it also has a fabulous restaurant, serves popular picnic hampers, and boasts some of the most luxurious boutique accommodations available in the Cape Winelands
Wine to try: For a well-priced lunchtime companion, try the Delaire Graff Shiraz or Coastal Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc.
Find out more: www.delairewinery.co.za