You can’t visit South Africa without sampling the wine, but to be perfectly honest, I really don’t know much about wine. Like, I don’t mind the taste and can certainly appreciate chats with friends shared over a bottle of wine, but usually it’s the quality of the conversation I’m there for, not the quality of the wine.
Which is all to say that I don’t really feel equipped to tell you much about my Stellenbosch wine tasting tour beyond that I found it really fun, and I particularly loved when they paired the wine with chocolate!
But luckily I was there with Danielle, who does have opinions on wine, and since nostalgia is all the rage right now I convinced her to revisit WordPress and write a blog post about our Stellenbosch wine tour. (And by convinced her, I mean I paid her, because she works as a freelance journalist now.) Remember when Danielle and I used to blog together? Those were the days.
And so I’ll let Danielle take it from here.
Oh wait also, speaking of friends doing amazing things, I wanted to mention that if you’re dreaming of South Africa but feel unsure about planning a trip there, my dear friend Helen runs the most incredible group trips to Africa, including one to South Africa! I went on her two week trip to Uganda, Mozambique, and the Congo and it was seriously one of the best trips of my life, so I know you will love traveling with her and her team. Her Mozambique, Eswatini and South Africa tour looks incredible, and helped inspire my own trip to this part of the world.
Ok, now over to Danielle:
The internet is full of tips for preventing, or at least minimizing jetlag: get a lot of rest before travel, stay hydrated, gradually adjust your schedule before you leave, and so on. They seem simple enough, right?
But I mean, who actually packs and runs errands in a timely manner before a big trip? And who drinks the recommended two liters of water per day? If that’s you, congratulations on being a more evolved human than I am.
Since I’m a perpetually dehydrated procrastinator and Silvia and I both love to hit the snooze button, we needed to find a plan B to avoid wasting what little time we had in Cape Town sleeping. And what better way to force ourselves to get out of bed than to schedule a winery tour that departs at 9 am?
It may not come as a surprise that Silvia and I like to plan as little in advance as possible when we travel together. I think tight itineraries can be restrictive, and you end up missing out on spontaneous adventures that sometimes make the best memories (see: basically our entire three months in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which weren’t countries we planned on visiting at all and are now so special to us).
On the other hand, a lack of planning means that sometimes I don’t get around to doing things I read about in my research that sound really great. That’s why I always try to have one nonnegotiable; something I make time for no matter what. For South Africa, my nonnegotiable was wine tasting.
Listen, I’m no sommelier (and confession: I only recently stopped purchasing Two-Buck Chuck), but I love drinking wine, and learning about it is pretty fun too (and learning while drinking?! Even better).
Wine production in South Africa
The history of South Africa as a wine producing region stretches back to 17th century, with the arrival of Dutch settlers who believed (falsely) that drinking wine would prevent scurvy and other diseases. Several centuries passed without anything notable happening in industry, and even through most of the 20th century, South African wine didn’t have a place on the world stage. This was of course exacerbated by apartheid, during which time many South African products were boycotted.
Since the end of apartheid, the South African wine industry has been thriving, and it consistently ranks as one of the world’s top ten wine-producing countries. That being said, South Africa’s complicated (and very recent) past is still palpable in everyday life. While the industry has been becoming more inclusive, the majority of owners are still white, and battles over land ownership in wine country endure.
Wine Flies Stellenbosch wine tasting day tour
Our tour departed for Stellenbosch wine country on a cold and rainy Tuesday morning – pretty typical winter weather. Stellenbosch lies about 50 kilometers east of Cape Town, and even on a gloomy day is stunningly beautiful, with the region’s signature jagged mountains the most perfect backdrop to the endless rows of grapes.
While there are several companies that offer wine tours, we went with Wine Flies due to their wildly good reviews, which we quickly learned were well-deserved. They did offer us a complimentary tour when Silvia sent along her media kit, but to be honest we planned to go with them regardless of how they felt about digital marketing.
Our tour group consisted of nine people from four different countries and our guide, Lord Kobus. It was the perfect sized group and Kobus was the perfect guide, extremely knowledgeable about wine and equally personable.
Vergenoegd Löw Wine Estate
One of Stellenbosch’s oldest farms, Vergenoegd was the perfect introduction to South African wine.
They started with the basics, also known as the “5 S’s of Wine Tasting: sight, smell, swirl, sip and savor. We tried a variety of red and white wines, including Pinotage, the country’s signature variety. It’s a blend of pinot noir and hermitage and it’s bold, tannic and so, so delicious.
I loved all of the wine we tasted at Vergenoegd, and it’s quite possible it was my favorite estate of the day, but it may just have had the advantage of being first. Either way, the delicious wine wasn’t even the highlight of the visit – it was the ducks! Yes, the ducks.
Vergenoegd is home to more than 1200 Indian Runner ducks, which are tasked with the important job of eating all the snail and bugs that invade the vineyards. It’s important to note that Indian Runner Ducks, with their long necks and upright waddle, are much goofier looking than regular ducks. “Duck Parades,” as they are called on the estate, occur three times a day and are reason enough for a visit (and make a great Boomerang, but that’s beside the point).
Lovane Boutique Wine Estate
Our second stop of the day was at Lovane Boutique Wine Estate. The term “boutique” is typically applied when the estate produces fewer than 50,000 bottles of wine per year, and Lovane produces just 10,000. In addition to being a wine estate, Lovane also has a super charming guesthouse that I would love to stay at someday.
As at Vergenoegd, we sampled a mix of reds and whites, though this time they were thoughtfully paired with different types of artisanal chocolate. It was a decadent experience and we loved every minute of it.
Middelvlei Wine Estate
Middelvlei wins for best animals in a big way (do you see a theme in how I rate wineries?). We were greeted by baby cows, wallabies and a beautiful Great Dane named Merlot, the latter of which accompanied us on our tour where we learned about the barreling process.
Honestly, I spent most of the tour trying to get Merlot to pay attention to me, and subsequently paid very little attention to the tour. But you don’t really care about the barreling process, do you?
More importantly, we had the most delicious lunch of traditional South African braaid (their version BBQed) meat and grilled cheese with soup because, winter.
Mitre’s Edge Wine Estate
Shockingly, by wine estate number four, the quality of notes I was taking to help me write this blog post went seriously downhill.
In fact, all I wrote about my experience at Mitre’s Edge was “sheep’s milk feta with Viognier.” Whatever that means. I guess it makes sense given the wine and cheese paring we enjoyed there.
Guys, I knew South Africa had great wine, but I wasn’t expecting the cheese to be amazing too. I mean, France who? Actually I was blown away by Cape Town’s food scene overall and could honestly rave about for hours, but you can read more about that in Silvia’s Cape Town post.
The cool thing about the cheese we tasted was that it all came from Dalewood Fromage, a local farmstead that raises dairy cows and produces everything on premise.
Villiera Wines was the last stop of the day, and where all the beverages we consumed finally caught up with us. That doesn’t mean we were going to forgo tasting some local bubbly though.
We finished our day with some sparkling wine (which you can’t technically call Champagne as it doesn’t come from the Champagne region of France) and a platter of cured meats, because is there even a better combination? (well, possibly sheep’s milk feta with Viognier, according to my notes.)
And the wine drinking didn’t stop there. Our guide Lord Kobus encouraged the group to grab a few bottles for the ride home, which may or may not have led to a very fun night out in Cape Town with new friends, but I’ll save that for another blog post.
Even if you’re not a big drinker or even a drinker at all (remember, professionals spit their wine out after they taste it, so you can technically experience everything and drink nothing), the Wine Flies tour is such a fun and surprisingly educational way to spend a day experiencing a beautiful region in the Western Cape. Plus it will get you up early! That being said, no guarantees it will do you any favors the following morning, if ya know what I mean…
Where to stay in Cape Town
We stayed at The Backpack hostel in Cape Town. We opted for a private room so that we could enjoy the fun hostel atmosphere while having the comfort and privacy of a hotel. It’s central, within easy walking distance to all the shops and restaurants on Long Street and Bree Street, and a 5-minute Uber from the V&A Waterfront and Table Mountain cable car. Check current rates and availability here
Our Wine Flies minivan picked us up and dropped us off at our hostel, so we didn’t have to stress about getting to a specific meeting point. So easy!