There’s never a bad time of the year to visit the Winelands; each season offers its unique joys.
In spring, the vineyards begin to unfurl their tiny bright green leaves, filled with promise. As summer approaches, the new bunches of grapes make their appearance and the leaves fill out, forming a canopy for the newborn fruit.
By January, winemakers are beginning to think about harvest and the upcoming months of sweat and juice; and by early autumn, the new vintages are in their tanks and barrels, and we can all sit back, breathe a sigh of relief and savour the winter months.
The vineyards themselves are stark and bare; misty mornings and dewdrop spiderwebs will reward the early riser, and tasting rooms stoke their fires to entice guests with the comfort of reds.
The Western Cape is blessed with a proper winter (most of the time), with lots of rain but even so, it’s over before you know it. August and September will still have their wet chilly spells, make no mistake, but in between, we are richly compensated with glorious warm windless sunny days which are perfect for sampling the new vintage whites, especially Sauvignon Blanc which is always first out of the starting gates, with its fresh zingy promise of sunshine and laughter.
Wine farms are all about wine, obviously, but many have activities, dining and accommodation options to make a day - or more - of your visit.
Creation Wines, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley
In the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, famous for its Pinot Noir; Pinot Noir Day is on August 18 but there’s no reason to wait until then to open a bottle. Creation Wines is rightfully renowned for its food and wine pairings, and changes and flows with the seasons. For the Heritage pairing menu, the team worked with a doctor who is a nutritionist and a specialist in general wellbeing says co-owner (with her husband, winemaker JC) Carolyn Martin. “Based on the belief that what grows together, goes together, the Heritage menu blends a wealth of nostalgic tastes and textures with an even greater dollop of innovation and imagination.
“We’ve innovated our most loved dishes to bring our guests healthier options packed with layers of flavour and perfectly paired with our wines.”
Die Voormanshuis is the luxurious self-catering accommodation on the farm, for a relaxing, intimate or romantic getaway. It has its own private cellar stocked with Creation wines and if that’s not a massive selling point, I don’t know what is.
Ken Forrester Wines and Yonder Hill Wines, Stellenbosch
In Stellenbosch, almost directly across the R44 from each other are Ken Forrester Wines and Yonder Hill. Ken Forrester is famous for his Chenin Blanc, in particular the FMC. If you should be lucky enough to encounter him on your visit to the tasting room, ask him what it stands for. So many farms offer pairings of all kinds; at Ken Forrester you can sample something quite unusual: wine and liquorice, with Lakrids by Bülow - this is the real deal and nothing like the All Sorts. It makes for an interesting combination.
Over at Yonder Hill, you’ll be greeted by the sight of Ankole cattle with their massive sweeping horns, and in the tasting room you can tuck into three pies paired with three wines: chicken and leek with Benjamin Sauvignon Blanc, beef and mushroom with Ella Merlot, and pulled pork with Danilo rosé (which I personally recommend). The Ankole lend their name to the craft beer made at Yonder Hill, which is best enjoyed with the bobotie pie, available separately.
For all their bright cheerful yellowness, lemons - and other citrus - are not a summer fruit, but a winter one. The bounty has been abundant this year and if you stay at Boschendal in one of its various accommodation options from one-bedroom cottages to family houses, you can even pick your own from the trees outside your door.
Alternatively, a visit to the Farm Shop & Butchery at this Franschhoek estate is an absolute must. I am besotted with it.
Right now you can pick up a jar of lemon and lime marmalade or clementines in syrup, a gorgeous little lemon meringue tart or freshly squeezed orange juice.
There’s wonderful fresh produce from the farm, and the butchery sells all the Black Angus beef cuts, also from the farm. The ribeye is a winner on the braai. Don’t go without getting some lavender shortbread biscuits - they’re irresistible.
Boschendal has activities like horse riding, and a brilliant children’s area where little ones can learn and have enormous fun at the same time and does generous picnic boxes. On the wine side, the affordable Blanc De Noir is a must, and the S&M (Shiraz-driven, with Mourvèdre) is sublime.
Groot Constantia, Constantia
Established in 1865, the oldest wine farm of them all is Groot Constantia. It’s a beautiful estate for rambling walks and hikes, and there’s a VoiceMap available too if you need a bit of guidance. There are two tasting rooms and two restaurants - Simon’s and Jonkershuis. With cellar tours, museums and a Manor House, this legendary destination has something for everyone.
Weekends are best for families, who flock to the outside seating at Jonkershuis for breakfast and brunch. If you prefer to be far from the madding crowd, grab a brioche bun with bacon and hollandaise, and a coffee to go, then say hello to the ducks in the pond.
Cape Point Vineyards, Noordhoek
in Noordhoek specialises in Sauvignon Blanc which simply adores the cool sea breezes that drift up the hill, and the minerality of the terroir. You can see a wide sliver of ocean from the restaurant and tasting room, and if you drive from Hout Bay over Chapman’s Peak the view will take your breath away as you reach the top of the pass.
At the restaurant, the cheese soufflé with Sauvignon and Parmesan sauce, and apple and walnut salad, celebrates everything that Sauvignon Blanc stands for, and it’s a dish that will take you easily from winter into summer; by then we’ll see a whole new side of our beautiful Winelands.