Sipping Wine in Stellenbosch
Winemaking has a 350 year history in South Africa. In exile Napoleon enjoyed South African wines from Constantia and even Jane Austen was a fan. Despite a long history of wine production, South Africa is classified as a new world wine producer much to the consternation of local winemakers. Stellenbosch is the largest wine producing region in the country and the perfect weekend getaway. While it’s easy enough to rent a car in Cape Town and drive 35 minutes to the wine lands, since I wanted to actually sample the wines, I arranged for Cape Fusion Tours to collect me on Saturday morning at my hotel in Cape Town. My usual spot, Derwent House, was fully booked and so I made a reservation at The Three Boutique Hotel which is housed in an historic mansion. The hotel has an incredible roof deck that must be one of the best places in Cape Town for a sundowner. The view of Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain, and Lion’s Head is simply unrivaled.
Since we were getting an early start and many of the wine farms don’t open until 10:00AM, we first stopped at the Oranjezicht City Farm, a community organic farm that hosts a weekly Saturday market that caters to locals who want to socialize while stocking their pantries. The market is small, but has one of everything from coffee, to sweets, to cordials, to homemade foods, to piles of fresh and delicious looking veggies. If you want to spend an unhurried morning mingling with locals, this is a perfect Cape Town destination.
Our next stop was Morgenster Wine Estate in Sommerset West which primarily produces bordeaux-style wines and more importantly, at least for me, good quality extra virgin olive oil. There are over 50 olive varietals planted on the estate that are blended to form the signature Morgenster Extra Virgin Olive Oil. As a part of the olive oil tasting, you can sample this award winning oil along with their lemon and truffle olive oils, a balsamic vinegar that is produced in Modena, Italy specially for Morgenster, two olive pastes, and a smattering of olives. Like wine tasting, there is a ritual to tasting olive oil. First you warm the bottom of the glass in your hands and cover the top of the glass. Two minutes later you sniff and then sip (or rather slurp) the oil adding oxygen to enhance the taste. Of course, you will need some wine to wash down all of those olives and this estate has some excellent options.
Vergelegen Wine Estate was the second stop on our wine tour and is the site of the original estate of Willem Adriaan, the second Governor of the Cape Colony when it was ruled by the Dutch East India Company. It’s amazing that a company ruled over a territory, but that is the subject of a different blog post on a different type of blog. You can easily spend an entire day wandering the gardens; admiring the historic camphor trees; touring the original homestead, library, and outbuildings; sampling the fine wines; and eating at one of the two restaurants on the grounds. The estate is a nice addition to any wine lands tour because of the estate’s historic significance and because of the diversity of activities on offer. We strolled through the grounds and were lucky enough to spot one of the pair of owls that has made a camphor tree its home.
Lunch was a three course meal at Restaurant Overgaaw. The menu is set in advance and the only decision you have to make is what wine to pair with your food. We lingered for three and a half hours over a charcuterie platter, roasted lamb with couscous, lentils and roasted pumpkin, baby beet salad, and a meringue roulade all served family style under the shade of an enormous flowering tree. The food was unpretentious and cooked perfectly. These are the kinds of unhurried meals that appear in films and seem to rarely occur in life.
After lunch, which extended into the early evening, it was time to retire to Middedorp Manor just a few blocks from the heart of downtown Stellenbosch. The old victorian manor is lovely and the perfect base for exploring the wine lands. I wish I had more time to explore the area and with over 150 wine farms, I would need several days.
If you are in the Cape Town area and want a speciality tour with a food and wine focus, I can’t recommend Cape Fusion Tours enough, especially the Cape Town Eats tour. If you want to understand the confluence of cultures and the history that influenced the diverse cuisines in South Africa, I highly recommend dedicating a day of your trip for this tour – just don’t plan on ingesting a morsel of food until the next day.