South Africa is one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of wine not only because of quality, but also regulated practices for sustainability and traceability. Its inimitable difference, however, lies in the diversity of its places, people and rare natural heritage. Here, majestic landscapes meet the fascinating cultures of warm and welcoming communities renowned for their hospitality.
The Cape winegrowing areas, situated in the viticultural zone of the southern hemisphere, mainly have a Mediterranean climate and the mountain slopes and valleys form the ideal habitat for the wine grape. Long, sun-drenched summers and mild, wet winters contribute to the ideal conditions.
Award-winning wines, a variety of events and festivals, a wide range of activities from hiking to mountain biking and whale watching, world-class accommodation, cutting edge restaurants, designer golf courses and stunning scenery are all part of the enticing mix. Travel to the place of origin to learn more about South African wine, to uncover regional secrets and simply to slow down and enjoy life's special moments.
Ten reasons to visit South African winelands
1. Taste wine under the African sun
South Africa has 23 wine routes, taking visitors into seven wine regions and districts across three provinces. Still, producers continue to pioneer new territories and experiment, both in the vineyard and winery.
Our wineries being celebrated by the World’s Best Vineyards in 2021 are located in the Coastal region, including the Constantia, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek wine routes, and the Cape South Coast, home to the Hemel-en-Aarde (heaven and earth) wine valley.
With diverse experiences, the Coastal region’s wine routes include many within minutes of the city of Cape Town, where well-preserved traces showcase the industry’s earliest steps. Cuisine, hospitality, and culture feature within landscapes from lush valleys to mesmerising flatlands.
There’s plenty to enjoy in the Cape South Coast too: tiny coastal regions, near famed breeding spots for whales; higher altitude vineyards linked by winding country roads; the windswept plains at Africa’s southernmost point; quaint villages; and, sociable farmers off the beaten track.
2. Dramatic Landscapes & Mountains
South Africa boasts some of the oldest viticultural soils in the world, traceable to the first super continent some one billion years ago, while its own history of viticulture is three and a half centuries old. The constant interplay between these ancient soils, soaring mountains, valley slopes and coastal breezes results in a natural environment exceptional in its biodiversity. The landscapes vary drastically, from the fynbos of the Cape Floral Kingdom, vineyards stretching along the Orange River in the Northern Cape, the arid Karoo, and indigenous forests near the coast to the reach of the Lion’s River ward in subtropical Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Table Mountain is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and also one of the most distinctive symbols of South Africa. This flat-topped mountain is one of the oldest on earth – millions of years old, it is six times older than the Himalayas, for example, and five times older than the Rockies. Weathering by means of wind, ice, fire and water has shaped this distinctive geographical feature.
South Africa’s varied landscapes are consistently marked by its mountains. From the Constantia Wine Route, situated on the slopes of Table Mountain, to Stellenbosch sheltered by four mountain ranges; Breedekloof flanked by the Slanghoek and Badsberg Mountains; the vineyards of the Olifant’s River region are among the highest in the country, located on plateaus of the Cederberg and Swartberg, all the way to the foothills of the Drakensberg, the second-largest mountain in Africa.
3. Hannuwa / Sustainability
A San word/verb that is associated with good fortune (as in having enough to eat or to gather) is ≠hannuwa, meaning to be ‘comfortable, happy, good, nice or fortunate’. It is a collective word suggesting a life of harmony and plenty; in other words, success in sustaining life.
Wines of South Africa is using ≠hannuwa to encapsulate the philosophy of the wine industry as embodied in the pledge signed by the producers: to farm sustainably; to be a custodian of the land and preserve it for future generations; to nurture a culture of respect among the people who work on the farms and in the cellars; to promote an environment of dignity, equality and upliftment for all; to protect the unique and valuable biodiversity of our winelands; and to safeguard the rich heritage of South Africa’s winelands.
In the Middle Ages wax seals were used to authenticate documents. South Africa’s own sustainability wine seal does a similar job. The seal guarantees that the information on the bottle label about the variety, vintage and origin of the wine is accurate and that the wine has been grown and made in an environmentally friendly way. To date, South Africa is the only country in the world with such an all-encompassing guarantee.
4. Wildlife: Big Six
There are many things that South Africa can boast about, but arguably, there are two things that sit on top of that impressively large list: wine and wildlife safaris. The next time you visit the South African winelands, be sure to pair the world class vintages with sightings of the might and beauty of the Big Six animals, the elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, lion, leopard and whale in the country’s many game reserves and along its coastline.
5. Regional Food
South Africa is a melting pot of cultures. Indigenous inhabitants, settlers, immigrants, slaves and miners – all have played a role in populating this country. Anyone who has visited cannot fail to notice the diversity and vibrancy of the people. This diversity and vibrancy is reflected in the regional food of your destinations. The Coastal region is the home of culinary excellence, this is where tradition meets cosmopolitan; African art meets Cape Dutch architecture; and, local delicacies are paired with Cap Classique. Here, in Stellenbosch, South Africa’s first – and biggest – wine route was born.
Try wine with chocolate, biltong (cured meat) or dishes infused with unique, heather-type fynbos. Dine with Locals in Stellenbosch to enjoy traditional African and Cape Malay food and don’t miss a braai or shisa nyama, the quintessential social barbeque tradition. In the Breedekloof Valley excellence is showcased through initiatives like ‘Makers of Chenin Blanc’, this is the place to seek out fine olives, traditional harvest-time mosbolletjies (bread buns made with grape-must) and waterblommetjies (water hawthorn). Mediterranean-style foods are served tapas-style and often al fresco in the Klein Karoo which is also the place to sample Karoo lamb, green fig preserve and milktart. Head out to food and wine pairing pioneers in the Cape South Coast region and don’t miss the seafood and foraging-specialist restaurants in this area.
For foodies, centuries-long co-existence of fishing and farming in the Olifant’s River make this the destination for wine, seafood like rock lobster and abalone, and traditional delights like skuinskoek fried dough. Head further north to the Orange River and order roosterkoek (grilled bread) and venison potjie (stew prepared outdoors) while you enjoy traditional Nama dances and tales.
As striking as the landscape is the cultural kaleidoscope of Kwa-Zulu Natal. Here reside Zulu royalty and one of the largest Indian communities outside India. Tuck into local food and wine at the area’s wineries, order Bunny Chow - curry served in a hollowed out half-loaf of bread – or taste Agua Zulu Cachaça spirit, made from the finest sugar cane at Durban’s Distillery 031.
6. Architecture & Art
Ranging from 1700’s Cape Dutch buildings with thatched roofs, to ultra-modern millennium brick, cement and glass buildings, the South African winelands offer a diverse range of architecture, the one more show-stopping than the next. Even more so, most of these buildings are either set against the backdrop of majestic mountains, lush green vineyards, designer crafted gardens and/or a sapphire ocean.
Wine farms’ architecture have come a long way since the early days of traditional thatched roofs and gables, with the modern trend being the inclusion of glass enhanced buildings that embrace the exquisite environment.
Art and outdoor sculptures are added to enhance and compliment the entire wine farm experience. It’s a completely natural fit, the blending of meticulously curated art with the picturesque winelands. Be it perfectly sculpted pieces that add character to landscaped lawns, galleries that showcase the best of the country’s classical artists or a space where contemporary art meets African fusion.
7. Family Friendly Wineries
Many of South Africa’s 533 wine estates cater for children, ensuring that they are the ideal destination for a day out or a relaxing farm-stay.
Jungle gyms and play areas are par for the course as are toy boxes and kiddies’ menus in restaurants. A commonly found facility at our wineries are mountain biking trails and this extends to smaller cyclists who can enjoy mini-trails and bike parks. City-dwellers will love the opportunity to reveal their children’s inner country mouse with experiences like tractor rides, farm animal petting zoos, kiddie quad bike rides, pony rides or watching a duck parade. For water-savvy kids there are one or two wineries that have swimming pools or a splash pad for hot summer days.
Explore a maze made out of vines in Elgin, or let your children join in the fun of a pairing experience comprising, for example, grape juice paired with jelly tots or flavoured milk and cookies. The Tree House edu-play centre at Boschendal, CU Kids at D’Aria, Wonderdal at
Hazendal, Franschhoek Cellar and Spier Kids’ Clubhouse all take catering to the family market to the next level.
8. Wine Experiences
The South African winelands offers incredible experiences for visitors beyond a traditional or vertical wine tasting. Get up close and personal with your wine, by blending and bottling your own. Many wine farms offer this unique experience to small groups where you get to see what it takes to create your own style of wine, first-hand. It’s informative, fun and you get to take home your very own blend.
You can go on a taste adventure by sampling a variety of wines and Cap Classique paired with an extended menu of complimenting dishes. The country's best restaurant rated by Eat Out is located on a wine farm. When coupled with the prominence of local wines, the achievement re-affirms the excellence inherent in South Africa's culinary landscape. Winelands eateries dominated the Top 10 in the most recent Eat Out Restaurant Awards.
Wine enthusiasts can get introduced to the masterminds behind their favourite wines by booking an experience to learn from the owners or winemakers themselves. For example, enjoy a fish braai and wine tasting with the farm owner and his wife. Enjoy a cellar or vineyard tour or safari, stomp your own grapes during the harvest season and learn the special technique of sabrage during your next wine farm visit.
Jump on board a bus, train, boat, bike, sidecar or even a safari 4x4 vehicle to enjoy an immersive and responsible group outing in the winelands.
If you come to South Africa, you should certainly celebrate your visit with a glass of Pinotage, our very own wine, “born” in South Africa over 80 years ago. Pinotage was developed by Abraham Perold, the first Professor of Viticulture at Stellenbosch University. He crossed the delicious Pinot Noir grape with the Cinsaut variety in an experiment designed to increase its yield and disease resistance.
9. Festivals Re-imagined
One of the areas in which the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been most felt was the extent to which it brought the range of exciting annual wine events to a grinding halt. The events ranging from large, family friendly shows to intimate, black-tie affairs are however being re-imagined and hosted as we speak.
Expect smaller events and de-centralised festivals but the same commitment that our food-and-wine events will be a celebration of terroir and heritage, will offer you wine tastings and wine safaris, live music, fun activities and the opportunity to meet winemakers and chefs.
There is no better way to end your winelands experience than by staying over at one of the many luxurious self-catering farm stays, camping or glamping or in one of many romantic boltholes. End your day by walking out at night, making the most of the lack of pollution and peripheral “noise” of urban lighting and try and spot the celestial “Big Five” – the brightest star, the closest star, the largest globular cluster, the most beautiful open cluster and the closest galaxies. Best experienced with a glass of South African wine or Cap Classique in hand.