The Winelands in South Africa



The Winelands is South Africa's oldest and most beautiful wine-producing area, a fertile series of valleys quite unlike the rest of the Western Cape. It is the Cape's biggest attraction after Cape Town, and its appeal is simple: it offers the chance to sample several hundred different wines in a historical and wonderfully scenic setting.

This was the first region after Cape Town to be settled, and the towns of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek are some of the oldest in South Africa. Today, their streets are lined with beautiful Cape Dutch and Georgian houses, although the real architectural gems are the manor houses on the wine estates. While the wine industry flourished during the 18th and 19th centuries, the farmers built grand homesteads with cool wine cellars next to their vines. Most of these have been lovingly restored and today can be visited as part of a Winelands tour - many have even been converted into gourmet restaurants or luxury hotels.

Getting to The Winelands

The N2 highway goes past Cape Town International airport, 22 km east of the city, and then continues along the northern fringes of the Cape Flats, home to the sprawling townships of Mitchells Plain, Nyanga and Khayelitsha. Beyond these the R310 left turning is the quickest route to Stellenbosch, the heart of the Winelands, 16 km from the N2. The N2 continues east splitting the towns of Strand and Somerset West before climbing over the Hottentots Holland Mountains into the Overberg via Sir Lowry's Pass . The R44 is an alternative route from Strand to Stellenbosch. Paarl and Wellington are best accessed by the N1 from Cape Town, and Franschhoek by either route. The wine estates in the region are far too numerous to list in full, but on an organized tour or a self-drive trip, there is ample opportunity to visit several estates in one day.

Tourist information

Tourist offices in Cape Town can provide brochures and maps; also visit www.tourismcapewinelands.co.za. Wine estates charge a small tasting fee of about R5-20, which often includes a free wine glass.

Background

The Cape's wine industry was started in earnest by Simon van der Stel in 1679. Previously, vines had been grown by Van Riebeeck in Constantia, Company's Garden and in the area known today as Wynberg. The first wine was produced in 1652, and there was soon a great demand from the crews of ships when they arrived in Table Bay as red wine was drunk to fight off scurvy and it kept better than water. As the early settlers moved inland and farms were opened up in the sheltered valleys, more vines were planted. Every farmer had a few plants growing alongside the homestead, and by chance the soils and climate proved to be ideal. Van der Stel produced the first quality wines on Constantia estate, with the help of Hendrik Cloete. These were mostly sweet wines made from a blend of white and red Muscadel grapes, known locally as
Hanepoot
grapes. The industry received a boost in 1806 when the English, at war with France, started to import South African wines. However, under Apartheid, sanctions hindered exports and the Kooperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging (KWV) controlled prices and production quotas. Since the lifting of sanctions, the KWV has lost much of its power, allowing the industry to experiment and expand. Today, South Africa has 120,000 ha of vineyards and produces some 800 million litres of wine each year.

Today, all major wine grape varieties are grown in South Africa, plus the fruity red Pinotage, a variety produced in Stellenbosch in 1925 by crossing Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Wine is now produced as far north as the Orange River Valley in the Northern Cape.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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