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THE WINELANDS

There are nearly 600 wine estates and cooperatives, and over three thousand wine producers throughout South Africa, but the overwhelming majority of vineyards are within a ninety minute drive in any direction of Cape Town, well within reach of the coast and cool, ocean breezes. These lush regions, collectively known as the Cape winelands, are as famous for their bounty as they are for the beauty.

The jaw-dropping scenery here is like something out of a fairy tale: endless, sloping rows of green vines carpeting the valley floors as they rise up to meet the mountains, thatched-roof farmhouses, and the sculpture-bedecked grounds of chic new estates. It is not hard to see why the winelands have earned their rightful claim to being the most beautiful in the world.

The winelands’ sights are only part of the region’s many sophisticated pleasures. It is here that some South Africa’s finest food and drink is to be had. Officially, Franschoek still holds the official title of “Gourmet Capital of South Africa,” but top chefs and award-winning restaurants abound throughout the region, and are more concentrated in this area than anywhere else on the continent. With so many offerings, one could spend weeks here wining and dining, and still not have scratched the surface of all the offerings.

There are over15 established wine routes, as well as many districts and wards with smaller pockets of production in the country. Because wine routes are, in the end, marketing tools, some of the larger routes have smaller sub-routes designated within them, and boundaries tend to blend, depending on who is defining the region. Among the largest and well known routes, and growing up-and-comers within striking distance of Cape Town that have given the term winelands special meaning are:

Constantia: The birthplace of South African wine, this route in the center of the Cape peninsula is the closest to Cape Town, and best known for several estates of long Dutch lineage – including Groot Constantia, the oldest working wine farm in the country, Klein Constantia, producer of world-famous Vins de Constans, and Buitenverwachting..

Stellenbosch: Probably the best-known wine route, Stellenbosch is also the largest, and in the minds of many, finest wine area in the country. A historic town, it is also home to Stellenbosch University, one of the most reputable viticultural institutions in the country. There are over one hundred producers located here, including some of the most famous international names in South African wines..

Franschoek: Nestled in a small valley ringed by picturesque mountains, this charming town founded by French Huguenots in 1688 has become a boutique region of old buildings, small producers and stylish shopping, wining and dining. True to its roots, it is one of the leading producers of Methode Cap Classique (MCC) – South Africa’s designation for sparkling wine, made French-style. such

Paarl: Yet another historic winemaking region, Paarl is also home to the once-dominant wine industry cooperative, KWV, and well-established brand Nederburg. While boutique and small cooperative cellars are still a major presence, this area has grown up with the industry, and larger producers are now a force here as well.

Walker Bay: To the uninitiated, the coastal town of Hermanus is known only as the whale watching capital of South Africa. But tucked in right behind the coastal shores of Walker Bay is another of the Cape’s most fashionable wine regions, a compact string of estates on the mountain ridge behind town, known as Hemel-en-Aarde – Afrikaans for “Heaven on Earth.” The heart of Walker Bay wine route is now often referred to as the Hermanus wine route, but there are also notable sub-route wineries in Overberg mountain region – Elgin to the west and Bot River inland. Blessed with the dueling oceans breezes of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, it has an ideal climate for pinot noir and chardonnay – and has been one of the most consistent producers of five star caliber wines in these categories..

Swartland: A small, sunny wheat-growing region about an hour north of Cape Town, Swartland used to be something akin to the capital of garage producers and boxed wines. While still dominated by small cooperatives and cellars, it is better known as a wine and olive route, and home to a few of the country’s consistently fine boutique wines – thus its growing reputation as an up-and-coming wine region. While outside the hard core of Cape winelands, this charming rustic area of increasing acclaim is one worth watching.

Wellington, Worcester and Tulbagh: These routes, bordering their better known winelands neighbors to the north, are a bit further afield and thus have much smaller markets. There are often good values for the money here – although the region is probably better known for brandies than wine – and as charming areas close enough to get to, the perfect place to get away from it all.

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