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South Africa Wineries

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 29, 2004 9:54 am    Post subject: South Africa Wineries Reply with quote

Someone has just recently told me about South African wines and wineries, about which I knew next to nothing. Has anyone of ever been there? What is it like? Are the wineries very much spread out, or is there such a thing as a South African Wine Valley?
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2004 1:07 pm    Post subject: South African wineries Reply with quote

Now you're talking my language!! I am intimately acquainted with both South African wines and vineyards, having live there most of my life and having spent the better part of the last 10 years visiting the estates and tasting extensively. So read on...

South Africa has various well-defined wine routes (very much like the French Route du Vin), each within a defined wine producing area (like the French AC - only we call it "wine of origin"). These routes include the most famous, like the Stellenbosch, Paarl and Constantia wine routes, all within an hour or less of Cape Town as well as the more obscure ones such as Robertson and the Klein Karoo which are in the dry interior and would require you to stay overnight somewhere outside Cape Town. Some regions are better known for particular grapes or styles - the Constantia vineyards tend to make great Sauvignon Blancs while the Paarl vineyards excel at red Bordeaux-style blends. The Robertson area is known for its Colombards and the Klein Karoo for its sweet dessert wines and port-style wines.

If you are planning any sort of expedition, your first purchase should be John Platter's South African Wine Guide. This is the definitive, pocket-sized book on South African wines, containing hundreds of vineyards & thousands of wines with their tasting notes as well as extensive maps and info on accommodation and restaurants in the winelands. I suspect it is available on Amazon. If you want a little taster of what to expect in Platter, here is his website where you can register and obtain access to some of the 2004 edition free of charge (for more detail and older editions, you have to pay).

As far as the location of the various routes goes, here is a link to a clickable map of the wine regions, so you can see what is close to Cape Town and what is not:
99% of the vineyards are open to the public (some may be closed on Sunday - Platter will also give you this info) and are very well set up for both cellar tours and tastings. If you go to smaller boutique vineyards, you may get to meet the winemaker and get a personalised tour of the cellar, but in the big commercial concerns this is less likely, unless you are with a tour group. Some vineyards will charge you for tasting (usually a set price for 5 tastings) - these tend to be the "big name" vineyards in Constantia and Stellenbosch. My husband and I tend to avoid those though - and you can still taste PLENTY while avoiding the paid tastings. Some will check you out when you arrive and not charge for tastings if you appear to be a serious taster and not a drunk student (Stellenbosch is a unversity town and is full of drunk students who love to taste wine!!)

I can tell you loads more - just give me more specific questions and I'm off! For the record, some of my personal favourites are:

Fairview - they make cheese as well as a huge range of wine and you can taste both - and watch their herd of goats clamber about on the goat tower outside the tasting venue!!
Hamilton Russel - best known for their stunning Pinot Noirs, and the tasting venue is on a wooden deck overlooking a lake
Beaumont - a tiny boutique winery near the town of Hermanus where you meet the charming winemaker and are quite likely to get a cellar tour if you ask nicely
Delheim - on the slopes of a mountain with a stunning view down towards Cape Town and the ocean. They serve a fantastic lunch on their terrace in summer
Graham Beck - near Robertson - best known for their excellent sparkling wines, and their modern cellar and tasting venue has won design awards
Springfield - makers of my all-time favourite Cabernet Sauvignon (the 1996 vintage in particular) and Chardonnay (their Methode Ancienne is made with natural wild yeast and is unfiltered and unfined)

I could carry on - there are DOZENS - but I'll give it a rest so you can digest the info!! But feel free to ask anything else you'd like to know.
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