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The picturesque valleys of the Cape Winelands – like Constantia, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch - are renowned for producing international award-winning wines at centuries-old estates. The area is a very popular tourist destination and usually a must-do on most Cape Town holiday itineraries. But if you’re willing to travel a bit further past the most obvious choices, your taste buds might just be rewarded with sensational varietals grown and produced in some of South Africa’s most inconspicuous wine routes.
This off-the-beaten path area punches well above its weight when it comes to producing world-class wines. Nestled in the Overberg region – less than two hours from Cape Town, about an hour from Hermanus, and the gateway to the gorgeous Garden Route – this sleepy country village has always been a favourite weekend getaway for locals. Greyton was put on the viticulture map when Californian winemaker, Samantha O’Keefe, discovered the region’s perfect terroir and started producing award-winning wines from her Lismore Estate Vineyards.
It’s a young wine region compared to most in South Africa but growing in stature every day. Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc thrive here, and the cool climate gives the grapes more time to ripen on the vines. Greyton has three boutique wine producers:
Andy Mitchell Wines
This family-run garagiste winery produces top quality wines in small quantities from selected parcels of grapes brought in from premium winegrowing areas, and from their own vineyards in Greyton. They grow their own Syrah, Chardonnay, and have recently planted Grenache vines. The range currently consists of a dry Rosé, barrel-fermented Chenin blanc, Pinot noir, Syrah, and a newly-released first vintage Bordeaux style blend, called Décolletage 2013.
Lismore Estate Vineyards
Tucked into the foothills of a dramatic mountain range, Lismore produces classic cool-climate varietals that are complex, rich and hand crafted with love. O’Keefe’s winemaking passion combines beautifully with the vines planted at 300 metres (984 feet) above sea level. Be sure to taste her superb Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc and Viognier.
Swallow Hill Single Vineyard Wine Estate
Dianne and Brian Dawes planted their vines between 2008 and 2010 on their estate just outside Greyton. Their Viognier and Tempranillo vines are farmed organically, and they produce their wines as naturally as possible.
What makes Elim so unique is that it’s situated near the southernmost tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. The area’s vineyards are located close to the ocean, so they benefit from the cool sea breezes. Steeped in history and ambiance, Elim (meaning ‘place of God’) was established by Moravian missionaries in 1824. Vineyards were planted here over 100 years ago for sacramental wine but ceased for many decades until viticulture resumed in the 1990s.
The region’s extreme climate and cool winds from the sea help Sauvignon blanc to flourish here. The small town of Elim boasts missionary houses with white-washed walls and thatched roofs, and award-winning wineries like:
This family-run wine farm produces crisp yet elegant flavours, formulated by the cool coastal winds and the area’s unique soils. Try their Sauvignon blanc, white Bordeaux blend, and a splendid Syrah, Cabernet sauvignon and Cabernet franc blend.
This is Africa’s southern-most winery and its range is crafted from only the finest grapes grown on very specific blocks on the farm. Standouts are its award-winning Sauvignon blanc, Pinot noir and Syrah.
Ghost Corner Wines
Ghost Corner Wines are produced from a small quantity of grapes taken each year from vineyards in Elim. The winemaker takes inspiration from Cape Agulhas’s extreme and mysterious landscape, and the more than 130 shipwrecks strewn along its coastline to create award-winning varietals like Pinot noir, Sauvignon blanc and Semillon.
One of the best-known Elim wine brands, Land’s End pioneered winemaking in the region when they planted vines here in 1996. Four years later, they released the first wine of origin Elim, a Sauvignon blanc. Today, their Syrah and Sauvignon are highly regarded by many connoisseurs.
Elim is about a 2.5-hour drive from Cape Town which makes a day-trip possible, but we’d recommend staying in the nearby De Hoop Nature Reserve – just over an hour from Elim. Chat to one of our Africa Safari Experts about availability at the sensational Morukuru Beach Lodge or Morukuru Ocean House…
3. Cederberg Mountains
Some of South Africa’s most remote and highest-altitude vineyards are found in this beautiful region, around three hours’ drive from Cape Town. The picturesque Cederberg Mountains, the indigenous home of South Africa’s rooibos tea, is another favourite getaway destination for locals who love the outdoors. The area boasts 360-degree views of spectacular rock formations, crystal-clear rivers and a night sky beyond words. The Cederberg is one of very few mountain ranges in the Western Cape that sees snowfall between about June and August, which promotes the ‘shut down’ of vines to ensure a healthy life cycle.
Cederberg Private Cellar
Dwarsrivier is the only wine farm in the Cederberg and the highest above sea level in the Western Cape. Home to Cederberg Private Wine Cellar, the farm enjoys a unique terroir in a pure, virus-free environment. Winemaker David Nieuwoudt produces award-winning wines like Cabernet sauvignon, Syrah, Sauvignon blanc, and fabulous Chenin blanc.
It’s no secret that Hermanus is home to what is arguably the world’s best boat- and land-based whale watching. Every year, thousands flock to this picturesque town lying on Walker Bay about 90 minutes’ drive from Cape Town to be enthralled by the mating and calving antics of southern right whales as they conduct their ancient migration from the icy Southern Ocean to the balmy shores of the Garden Route.
And while that’s no secret, Hermanus does have secret that delights those who stumble upon it: a gorgeous wine route that runs parallel to the sea and harbours laid-back estates offering extremely quaffable vintages.
Hamilton Russell Vineyards and Southern Right
While the larger wine-producing areas of the Cape, like Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Constantia, have been grabbing a lot of the limelight, the Hermanus wine Route has been slowly getting off the ground since about the late-80s. Back then, Hermanus was little more than a classic one-horse town popular with retired folk. One of the viticultural pioneers was Anthony Hamilton Russell who took over the land from his dad in the early 90s and set about planting vineyards for Pinot noir and Chardonnay.
Today, he oversees not only the successful Hamilton Russell Vineyards – where guests can enjoy dinner in the atmospheric cellar by special arrangement or sit out on the lake and watch black-necked herons glide by – but also neighbouring Southern Right, obviously named for the whales that put Hermanus on the tourism map. Southern Right is known not only for its zingy Pinotage and smooth Chenin but also for delicious fynbos honey and a roaming herd of Nguni cattle, the mottled, speckled and multi-coloured cows and oxen that are so synonymous with southern Africa.
Watch us chat to Anthony Hamilton Russell and get his tips for wine-tasting in the Hermanus Wine Valley…
The Hermanus Wine Route
Southern Right and Hamilton Russell Vineyards lie near the start of the Hermanus Wine Route, which is five minutes’ drive from the centre of Hermanus and threads its way along the R320 in the aptly named Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (Heaven-and-Earth Valley). The valley is protected from the sea breezes but benefits from the moist air and plentiful sunshine, making it seem like a little slice of ‘heaven’. There are 15 wine farms, starting with Hermanuspietersfontein, wending past top-rated Bouchard Finlayson and ending in a cluster that includes Ataraxia, Creation Wines and Domaine des Dieux, where you can toast your holiday with a flute of methode cap classique (MCC) – South Africa’s home-grown ‘champagne’.
The great thing about the Hermanus Wine Route is its very close proximity to town. If the weather turns and the whales decide to lay low (like all animals, they’re most active in windless, warm conditions), then it’s easy enough to take a tour through the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.
Some estates arrange superb food-and-wine pairings, where you can explore how different flavours enhance each other. Creation Wines really push the boat out when it comes to pairings: their chocolate and wine – two flavours traditionally thought to clash – is sought-after by foodies but they’re also known for their ‘vineyard safari’ where you can wander the vines in search of fynbos flowers and birds before ending with a picnic. For non-drinkers, Creation Wines put on a tea-and-canapé pairing while drinkers can play at being alchemists to create their own personal vintages and learn the art of wine blending.
At Ataraxia, the tastings take place in an idyllic chapel perched on a mountain-top; even if you aren’t a wine aficionado, it’s worth the drive just to see the breath-taking views. In fact, the views are pretty spectacular all-round: from Hamilton Russell Vineyards, follow the dirt road up to the ridge and there will be Hermanus laid out in front of you, with the ocean beyond that. It’s a tranquil spot enlivened by birds sucking on the nectar of colourful spring flowers and – if you’re lucky – small mammals like hyraxes (known locally as ‘dassies’, pronounced ‘dussies’) and mongooses scurrying in the undergrowth.
Although it lacks some of the historical ‘grandeur’ of its big cousins in Stellenbosch, Constantia and Franschhoek which can, after all, trace some of their origins back to the 1600s, the Hermanus Wine Route is fun, unpretentious and welcoming. It’s an easy day or two out and the best thing is that you can return with a bottle of your new favourite tipple to enjoy on your hotel room balcony while you scan the horizon for a breaching whale. Book a room at…
5. Drinking and Driving in South Africa
The first thing to do, if you’ve driving yourselves, is to decide on a designated driver. The legal limit in South Africa is:
- a breath-alcohol content of 0.24mg per 1 000ml
- or a blood-alcohol limit of 0.05g per 100ml
- These equate to 75ml of red or white wine per hour with an alcohol content of 12 to 14 percent.
Unless there is a teetotaller in your group who is happy not to sample any wine at all, it’s definitely worth asking your Safari Expert to organise a shuttle transfer for you. Not only will you have complete safety and privacy but the driver will happily collect you from your hotel and take you to any estates you like the look of – all in a spotless, comfortable mini-bus or air-conditioned SUV. Bear in mind, too, that the legal drinking age in South Africa is 18, meaning you may like to bend the rules a little and allow the under-21s but over-18s a special vacation treat of imbibing with the family. It’s a great way to begin educating their palates and teaching responsible drinking.