South African Wine Route Celebrates 40 Years

The original Stellenbosch Wine Route, arguably one of the Western Cape province’s most popular tourist attractions, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

The City of Oaks, as Stellenbosch is also fondly referred to, is seen as the pioneer of wine tourism in South Africa. The city is not only home to the country’s oldest wine routes but is the educational and research centre of the traditional Cape winelands.

Stellenbosch is South Africa’s second oldest town, and is also known for its university.

Visitors to this historic area have a choice of more than 200 wine and grape producers to choose from within the boundaries of the Stellenbosch Wine of Origin classification.

Trail-blazers

It all started in 1971 when three intrepid winemakers – Spatz Sperling of Delheim, Neil Joubert of Spier and Frans Malan of Simonsig – realised the potential and necessity of such an endeavour.

The original wine route was a network of just a few wineries at which tourists could taste the various products in a relaxing and almost homely atmosphere.

Much has changed since then. With visitor numbers to the winelands increasing every year and numerous cellars joining the fold, the need for a comprehensive and joint approach to marketing the different routes became necessary.

In 2002 the Stellenbosch American Express Wine Routes came into being to make the experience of wine tasting more user-friendly and accessible to tourists.

Today, the Stellenbosch Wine Route is divided into five sub-routes consisting of a network of more than 148 wineries, each offering a unique experience for the wine-lover and tourist, according to the official website.

Each sub-route has its own character and feel, with different types of wines, climate and geographic locations to choose from.

The sub-routes – Greater Simonsberg, the Stellenbosch Berg, Helderberg, Stellenbosch Hills and Bottelary Hills – offer daily wine tasting, tours, and sales at most cellars. Many of these estates also have restaurant and picnic facilities.

At celebrated estates like the majestic Spier, Simonsig and Vergelegen, visitors are taken back in time with wine tasting in traditional Cape Dutch buildings dating back three centuries.

And estate names like Le Riche, L’Avenir, Beau Joubert and Clos Malverne remind visitors that South Africa has to thank the arrival of the French Huguenots, who brought their excellent winemaking skills to the country in the 1600s, for the rich wine making culture we can experience today.

Routes galore

Wine tasting is not limited to the Stellenbosch area. Wine lovers are spoilt for choice when it comes to their favourite beverage, with 22 very unique wine routes to choose from in South Africa.

There is Route 62, the longest wine route in South Africa, which takes the traveller from the majestic peaks of the Western Cape to the heart of the Klein Karoo. Or just an hour’s drive from Cape Town, visitors can experience the hospitality and colloquial quirky Afrikaans so unique to the West Coast folk on the Darling wine route.

Or choosing to venture onto the quaint Hermanus Route, which encompasses the three aptly named Hemel-and-Aarde (Afrikaans, meaning “heaven and earth”) regions, will treat the visitor not only to wine tasting of distinction in spectacular surroundings, but at certain times of the year to sightings of the Southern Right whale.

Taste South Africa’s top spirit

Complimenting the wine tours are the two excellent brandy routes, the R62 and Western Cape route, which have been on offer for the last 15 years.

Although brandy is made from wine, distillation of the liquid follows its own science and the brandy tours offers a unique insight into the making of South Africa’s favourite spirit, says Ielanda Koen, manager for the South African Brandy Foundation.

“Brandy forms an integral part of the South African wine industry, with more than 40-million litres produced annually. South Africa is currently the fifth largest brandy producing country in the world.”

The Western Cape towns of Paarl, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Worcester, Wellington, Robertson, Barrydale, Calitzdorp, Ladismith and Oudtshoorn fall within the two brandy routes.

Coming out tops

In the meantime, Stellenbosch wine producers continue to fill their trophy cupboards. At the recent Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show Awards the region walked off with 10 trophies and two gold medals.

The Spier Private Cellar in Stellenbosch took the coveted Fairbairn Capital Trophy for the most successful producer at the same competition. It was also the second consecutive year that Spier was the country’s top achiever in the prestigious Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, an international competition considered to be the wine world championships.

Stellenbosch American Express Wine Routes are one of the six most popular tourist attractions in South Africa and are also connected to the global Great Wine Capitals Network through the country’s representative, Cape Town.

From 28 to 31 July 2011 Stellenbosch celebrates its 10th wine festival. Visit the event’s website for booking details and more information.