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I’m not a big wine drinker, and David doesn’t drink at all, so when I tell you that Stellenbosch is still the top of my list for great things to do in Cape Town, it means there’s great wine but so many more reasons to go out to Stellenbosch, South Africa’s biggest wine country.
David and I had been to Stellenbosch before. In 2010, we went on a three-week trip to South Africa for the FIFA World Cup. In between the three first-round games, we visited Kruger National Park and came to Cape Town.
I don’t remember a lot of specifics to our visit to Cape Town, but do I have fond memories of Stellenbosch and exploring Cape Peninsula. We stayed at least a night in the Stellenbosch area, with a rental car so that we could visit three vineyards (Tokara, Kanonlop, and JC Le Roux) and celebrate David’s birthday.
This visit to Stellenbosch, we were spending five weeks in Cape Town, and with David’s brother, Thomas, and our friend Kimi, we set off in a rental car to explore South Africa’s biggest wine region.
How to Plan a Visit to Stellenbosch
We planned our trip fairly last minute – I think I made a lunch reservation just the day before we left.
It’s hard to pick wineries to visit in Stellenbosch – there are over 100 wineries that are members of the Stellenbosch Wine Route. The Stellenbosch Wine Route downloadable map divides the wineries into five regions: Greater Simonsberg, Stellenbosch Berg, Helderberg, Stellenbosch Valley, and Bottelary Hills.
Because we were booking our trip so last minute, I based our whole day around lunch – I used Dineplan, which is an online reservation system, to find a place that would have a table for us at 1 pm. From there I looked at the Stellenbosch Wine Route map, and we picked a few wineries on the way to the restaurant to visit, and a few deeper into Stellenbosch. We stuck to the Stellenbosch Valley region.
I did not make reservations for any wine tastings. If I was going to, I’d be sure to space them out two hours each, so we could get 3-4 wineries in one day. If you know which wineries are more of a standing tasting, then you could hit one winery an hour doing that.
Despite not having reservations, we were able to have two full tastings, a fantastic lunch, and a glass of bubbly overlooking a scenic view. It was a spectacular day!
Our first stop was Meerlust, the southwestern-most wine estate in the Stellenbosch Valley region. It’s a small, classic vineyard with a tasting room that’s converted from an old barn. The winery has history, and is one of the older farms to produce wine in the region. We sampled five wines; a chardonnay and four reds, including their most famous Rubicon. The tasting room was cozy and inviting, with big comfy chairs. Our server was absolutely fantastic; this being our first stop, and Thomas being a vino newbie, she gave us a basic lesson on the region, grapes, and nuances of the wines. We learned a lot!
Next, we traveled a few miles up R310 to Spier. Also an old winery, Spier was like the total opposite of Meerlust; the sprawling grounds were big business, including falconry, segway tours, and art installations. Since we didn’t have a reservation for a proper “tasting”, we sat outside on the patio instead. We were still able to buy a tasting though. If you make a reservation, you sit inside, have table service, and a more formal tasting. It is a really nice place, but I think I liked what we did better. A bar was set up on the patio, and when we were ready, the attendant took one of our tickets and poured us the next glass, explaining the wine.
Here we tried two whites, two reds, and a sparkling. They even had a non-alcoholic “kid’s” tasting, so David had some sparkling grape juice.
Our reservation for lunch was at 1 pm at Sansibar restaurant on the Asara Estate. We didn’t actually have any wine here – the Sansibar is a gin bar, so we had some killer gin-based cocktails. I was able to get us a table out on the patio. We were in the shade, with an absolutely glorious view overlooking the mountains, with clouds teasing the peaks and sunny skies elsewhere. The grounds included a lovely lake with ducks and a pool.
And then there was the food: Thomas had ribs; Kimi, a burger; David a pizza; and I had roasted salmon, but we also shared several appetizers. Portions for our main courses were so much bigger than I expected. It was a fantastic meal, with great service too.
Before we left, we wandered through some of the vines, enjoying the view.
JC Le Roux
Our last stop was JC Le Roux, a winery David and I had visited on our 2010 tour. The tasting room was closed for a private event, but we managed to snag a glass of wine anyway and sit outside on the patio. JC Le Roux producing sparkling wine, and was a lovely, light, post-lunch treat.
Alternatives to a Wine Tour
The Stellenbosch Wine Routes map also includes lists of other tours, like olive oil tastings, chocolate tastings, and charcuterie tastings.
While there’s not a craft beer map like the wine route has, there are many craft breweries in Cape Town worth visiting if beer is more your speed.