It was a complete fluke that we ended up in Stellenbosch, one of South Africa’s many wine regions, on my birthday, but very fortuitous! It should have taken around 40 minutes to reach from Cape Town but we got stuck in traffic and arrived at the hotel after lunch. We were bowled over by how welcoming and tranquil the River Manor was and they very helpfully suggested to us the first vineyard we visited as we wanted somewhere to have a lovely birthday lunch.
We arrived at Guardian Peak in the nick of time just before they finished taking lunch orders at half past three, after driving through beautiful wine country in glorious weather and it was worth the trouble we had finding the turn off. An all glass restaurant looked out over the mountains around Stellenbosh and some of the most incredible views I have ever seen, all in full autumnal flush of golds and reds and orange and green. I really had to pinch myself that I was spending my birthday in such incredible surroundings. The Guardian Peak restaurant served bistro style food and after stuffing ourselves we settled down in the bar/lounge for a wine tasting. As we were driving Pete made use of the spittoons provided and we did the full tasting of a white, a rose and 6 reds – definitely too many for my palette as I barely drink any red but it was a fun way to spend a birthday and costs next to nothing at around £3 each!
Stellenbosch was a highlight of the trip for us as it had a very young vibe, being a university town. That evening we were able to walk to dinner (the hotel was only about 2 minutes walk from the main drag, Church Street) and the only problem was choosing somewhere for dinner. We fancied something casual and settled upon a Lebanese grill Manoushe, (on Andringa Street, off Church Street) overseen by the big personality that was the Lebanese owner and chef. The portions were HUGE and we could easily have shared the kebab and flat bread dishes but it was great to eat something different.
For our second day, after breakfast in the sun we took advice from the hotel staff who were endlessly helpful in recommending wineries. After a walk around Stellenbosch admiring the public art installations and Cape Dutch architecture we ended up choosing our own wineries, but the best recommendation we received was to visit the weekly food market (Slowmarket) that ran at the Oude Libertas winery on the edge of town each Saturday. I’d highly recommend a visit there to anyone visiting and I’d even go so far as to suggest timing your visit so you can go. The market operates year round and is full of local organic and gourmet food growers and chefs selling their produce fresh, or artisan street food made in front of your eyes. Wineries are part of this and you can buy wine and wander around drinking it too, listening to music and browsing the craft stalls. We ate an italian flat bread creation, Pete drank homemade lemonade and I sipped MCC (see below) in the sun absorbing the atmostphere.
After lunch we set off to visit a couple of wineries. There is a ‘wine bus’ called the Vinehopper which we initially planned to get but it only visits certain vineyards and after our experience of all the reds the previous day I wanted to go somewhere where I would enjoy the tasting. We chose Viliera (famous for Method Cap Classique or MCC, which is sparkling wine produced in exactly the same way as Champagne, but which can’t be called ‘Champagne’ because it’s made outside of the Champagne region in France,) and Waterford, where they do a wine and chocolate paired tasting.
All the vineyards are beautiful but slightly different and at Viliera we didnt have to pay anything for the tasting of 6 different MCC’s: an organic, a light (9% alcohol), a rose, 2 traditional blends and their flagship vintage which we sampled in the shaded courtyard and chatted with the owner. You can actually look out for Viliera in M&S if you want to try it! After a self guided tour of the cellars where the wine is made (where we learned all about how MCC is different to other sparkling wines,) we headed for Waterford.
The Wine and chocolate pairing is clearly a big draw to Waterford but the estate itself is incredibly beautiful and well worth a visit – it costs R40 (about £3) for 2 reds and a dessert wine paired with a spicy, salty and floral flavoured chocolate. Even though I don’t like red I loved the flavours that they produced when combined and the beautiful courtyard we sampled them in, around a fountain inside the Winery itself.
That evening we ate at Apres (corner of Church and Mill Street) where we had a fabulous steak. This place was also very casual and was full of people watching local team rugby on the big screens which added to the feeling that we were experiencing local Stellenbosch.
Here are a couple of pointers for visiting the wineries in Stellenbosch in case you’re planning a trip:
- There are LOADS of vineyards (although not all make wine from grapes they have grown, instead buying them in,) so take advice on where you want to go thinking about the type of wine they focus on, the direction they face (some are sunnier in the morning or afternoon so worth timing your visit) or perhaps going to one where they allow you to take a picnic or have a restaurant on site (not many do) to enjoy with your wine.
- The tastings are very cheap (£2-4) or free. There’s no pressure to buy and you’re not rushed. We did buy 2 bottles at Guardian Peak, a bottle of bubbly in Viliera and 2 of the dessert wine and chocolate at Waterford, (some as gifts) but they’re often very cheap too.
- Although I’ve focused on wine in the sun(!) they all have fireplaces and lounge area’s that I imagine would make for a lovely tasting environment in colder months.
- Not all the wineries have restaurants but most offer a cheeseboard or similar snack if you want to eat with your wine and all offer a spittoon so you can drive and taste them. You are also encouraged to ‘pour’ ie – pour away the wine once you have tasted it, as they provide quite big glasses each time!
- The wineries are spread out but not far from Stellenbosch centre – Viliera was the furthest we travelled at around 15-20 minutes outside of Stellenbosch. It had been suggested to us to hire a bike and cycle to some of them but looking back, although it would have been an option as there are plenty closer to town, it also would have been quite limiting not to mention tiring!
We just loved Stellenbosch and I would definitely go back if we were visiting Cape Town or even transiting through again, as it’s so close. It’s hard to find anything wrong with wine and beautiful scenery!
The next day we headed off to Swellendam for a one night stop before we went to Plettenberg Bay so I’ll be back with the next instalment tomorrow!