cape wine routes

The Cape and the greater Western Cape is a destination with international repute for its staggering natural beauty. The dramatic topography of the peninsula and the rugged mountains of the escarpment constitute an ever-present backdrop to the spectacular rolling vineyards of our Winelands, of which the Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Paarl, and perhaps Durbanville wine routes are the best known and most well-trodden.

Certainly, these are the wine routes that are most often promoted to foreign tourists and visitors from elsewhere in South Africa. But challenge any local to tell you the names of all the wine routes and most will be hard-pressed to come up with more than a handful of names –probably those I’ve mentioned above.

Did you know that the Western Cape is more criss-crossed with wine routes than a hot-cross bun? From where the rugged peninsula mountains meet the crashing Atlantic Ocean to the desiccated “moonscapes” of the Klein Karoo, the Cape’s winelands are far more extensive than the average Capetonian is aware of, and not only cover a vast area but also a great variety of landscapes, from the lush mountainous Constantiaberg to the rolling hills of the Tulbagh valley.

How many is many?

There are approximately 560 wineries and 4,400 grape producers in the Cape that are roughly shuffled into close to 20 different wine routes, including Darling, Wellington, Helderberg, Constantia, Cape Point, Tulbagh, Elgin, Robertson, Breedekloof, Klein Karoo, Hermanus (Hemel en Aarde), Elim (Gansbaai), and more. The contribution of these lesser-known, lesser-travelled paths through our winelands is enormous, with many of the wineries (both big and boutique) producing iconic wines that perform like heavyweight champions at national and international competitions. Let’s start a little closer to home…

The Helderberg Wine Route

Vergelegen is one of the country’s oldest and most beautiful wine estates with an award-winning repertoire of wines; Avontuur produces truly exceptional wines and is a working thoroughbred horse farm; Waterkloof is a biodynamic farm that boasts stunning views over Gordon’s Bay and Strand; in addition to delicious food and wine, Morgenster offers visitors olive oils tastings and chocolate pairings; Lourensford hosts weekend markets, an art studio, a coffee roastery, and loads of wine-and-food pairings. All of these estates (and more) are found in the Cape Helderberg basin, a spectacular region for its bordering Helderberg and Hottentots Holland mountain ranges and coastal views.

Waterkloof Estate
Image: Waterkloof Estate

The Elgin Wine Route

An hour’s drive outside of Cape Town, Elgin is perhaps best known as an apple-producing region but there are also 16 wine farms here, many of which are private and can only be visited by appointment. Highlands Road is a dog-friendly farm with a dam for swimming and a selection of award-winning Sauvignon Blancs; the family-run Paul Cluver Wines is part of a UNESCO world heritage site and hosts open-air summertime concerts that feature South Africa’s biggest music talents; South Hill Vineyards is home to a fabulous art gallery and offers visitors luxury accommodation, as well as a honeymoon cottage for newlyweds; and Charles Fox Cap Classique Estate is a go-to winery for bubbly-lovers, with its extensive repertoire of MCCs, breath-taking views, and MCC-and-food pairings.

Elgin Coolfest
Don’t miss the Elgin Cool Wine & Country Food Festival in April! (Image: Wines of Elgin on Facebook)

The Breedekloof Wine Route

Another route with 16 different wine estates is the Breedekloof wine route, which encompasses the Breede River, Rawsonville, Goudini, and Slanghoek areas. At Slanghoek, guests can blend and bottle their own wines; Jason’s Hill is a family-friendly estate in a gorgeous setting with hiking trails; the delightfully quirky winery at Kirabo has a wine-and-cupcake pairing; Bersig Estate is great for relaxed dining with spectacular vineyard and mountain views; and Du Toitskloof Wines is a multi-talented enterprise that produces award-winning wines, as well as craft beer and delicious food (half-price pizza happy hour every Friday evening).

Image: Jason’s Hill

Then there’s the:

This is only a sampling of the incredible number and variety of wine estates scattered throughout the Western Cape.

Barton wines
Barton Vineyards (Image: Bot River Wines on Facebook)

Where will you go next?

This article has been an ode to the unsung heroes of the Cape Winelands; the regions and wine routes that contribute enormously to the country’s winemaking traditions and heritage, and yet don’t receive the recognition they deserve. So, the next time you hit the N1 or N2, take a path yet untraveled to explore and discover the Cape’s hidden gems.