Cardinal Richelieu is reputed to have asked the question: “If God forbade drinking, would He have made wine so good?” Nowhere is this more true than in the Stellenbosch wine region of South Africa, where delicious wine mixes with gorgeous landscape and three centuries of architecture and cultivation.
Stellenbosch is affectionately known as ‘Eikestad’, the town of oaks. Early settlers were encouraged to plant the trees to supply the shipping trade passing by en route from the East Indies. Unfortunately the oak is no good for wine maturation because the trees grow too quickly in the South African climate, making the wood too porous.
This proud and leafy university town owes its pleasing architecture to a historical parade of Cape Dutch, Georgian, Regency, Victorian and Cape Dutch Revival styles. It is certainly a wonderful place to spend a day or more while touring in South Africa, being less than an hour from Cape Town.
Quite apart from the beautiful scenery and elegant architecture, no trip to Stellenbosch would be complete without visiting a few vineyards and tasting South African wine. I did a self-drive tour and these are my highlights:
My favourite Stellenbosch wineries
Just on the outskirts of Stellenbosch is Die Bergkelder, sited on the slopes of the historic Papegaaiberg. This winery has a good wine tour and tasting, offering Fleur du Cap and Stellenryk in a good year.
The Muratie Estate is north of Stellenbosch and one of the oldest privately owned wineries in the region, from 1685. Cobwebs, dusty art and holes in the walls reinforce the centuries-old charm. Muratie was responsible for creating the first Pinot Noir in South Africa.
Uitkyk is on the slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain and enjoys views across the Cape Flats to Table Mountain. The rose garden glows in the sun around the French-designed manor house (see photo at top).
Very near to Stellenbosch is the village of Franschoek, which counts as its own little South Africa wine region thanks to a group of Hugenot refugees who settled here in 1688.
The fields of vines climb the slopes of the mountains in mist and sunshine – the coastal weather means a long, slow ripening process. Franschoek also boasts some of South Africa’s best restaurants.
I loved my tour of the wineries of Stellenbosch, it is certainly the most spectacular wine region I have visited in the world.
By Natasha von Geldern
What’s your favourite wine region? Read about my visits to wine regions in Australia here.