South Africa has vast array of great wines. I usually base my choice on the attractiveness of the label, which is generally NOT the most failsafe way to choose a decent bottle. With this method, the danger is that you end up with a bottle of sauvignon plonk or mer(de)lo, which is a pity when SA has so many stunning wines to offer.
I have now found a much, much better way to discover great wines. Do you want to know what it is?
Visit Franschhoek. Down in the Western Cape, you will find a cluster of famous and not so famous vineyards nestled in a picturesque valley, hemmed by stunning mountains. It will take you a good hour to drive there from Cape Town International Airport, so it’s easy to visit in conjunction with a trip to the Mother City.
It used to be called Olifantshoek (Elephant’s corner), but as the viticulture developed, the elephants moved on. The latter day name, Franschhoek means French Corner and derives from the persecuted French Huguenot refugees that settled here at the end of the 1600s bringing the skill and knowhow from their native France to establish the vineyards that you see today.
Many of the vineyards offer tastings and sometimes cellar tours. Yep, that’s right, you get to try before you buy.
The vineyards are located is close proximity to one another and you are spoilt for choice. Book a driver or catch the hop-on-hop-off wine tram, because obviously drinking and driving isn’t cool.
We had a little over 36 hours to enjoy all the Franschhoek had to offer. For the full day that we were there we hired a driver for the morning. She was informative and facilitated us tasting a good number of wines. It also meant that once the kids had had enough we could bail out at a moment’s notice and head back to our accommodation for ice cream and a swim.
Our first port of call was La Motte. This is a fairly large and well-known estate. We picked this one as there is a family connection, it was once owned by Pierre Joubert who is seemingly a distant ancestor of Mr Incredible’s. Also, I’m a big fan of La Motte’s crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
Next we hopped across the road to Eikehof. This is one of the more bijou, family run vineyards with smaller scale production. It’s unlikely you’ll find their wares in liquor store.
At Eikehof we had a more personal experience sitting with the owner’s wife who gave us a plate of juicy peach slices to accompany the wines. I don’t like peaches very much, but these were to die for. We weren’t the only ones liking the peaches, the Eikehof team were engaged in an on going battle with a troupe of thieving baboons who were plundering the peach crop.
We rounded off our days’ tasting with a trip to Boschendal. There is an onsite restaurant, but if it’s a beautiful day – which it was, I highly recommend pre-booking a picnic basket. There are hammocks, bean bags and picnic rugs dotted about the giant lawn and of course the full selection of Boschendal wines is available to accompany your posh picnic.
After all that tasting, we spent a lazy afternoon wandering along Franschhoek’s main drag. It’s picturesque little place, with ample opportunities for shopping and stopping for an ice-cream.
The following morning we had time to squeeze in a trip to the Huguenot monument and museum AND a final wine tasting at La Bri, where – oh bliss- we had a chocolate and wine pairing.
Most vineyards will have a special blend that is only available in small quantities, we were deliberating whether or not we had space in our suitcase for a bottle of La Bri’s Cellar Door white when the sales lady handily mentioned that they could deliver a whole case to us in Jo’burg for a small fee. Sold.
Head to Franschhoek for a sip of paradise. If you have more time there are hiking trails and ….more vineyards.
Perhaps we’ll have to plan a return journey in the not too distant future. Parents please note, that although it might sound like visiting vineyards is not a terribly family friendly activity, we found that there was plenty of open space for our children to run about and explore. Most vineyards offered colouring books/toys/snacks/play areas or similar to keep the kids occupied and they enjoyed their stay almost as much as we did!
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