Stellenbosch wine route- the Simonsberg
As soon as you arrive in the Stellenbosch wine valley you are met by majestic mountains; the Simonsberg, Jonkershoek and Helderberg mountain ranges painting the picture perfect backdrop. Thereafter you notice the continuous valleys and hills under vine, each season announcing a new spectacle. You will be astounded by the sheer abundance of wine farms, over 150 members belong to the Stellenbosch wine route, which was the very first official wine route in South Africa. These include historic farms with their Cape Dutch monuments; luxury modern showpieces and small family farms not always open to the public.
The town of Stellenbosch, the 2nd oldest in South Africa has grown considerably yet retains much of its old charm: oak lined streets, historic white washed buildings, museums, not to mention all schools and the University that give the town much of its unique character. Stellenbosch is also the heart of viticultural and oenological education in South Africa and could perhaps be called the wine capital.
The Stellenbosch wine route has been divided into sub- routes to make it more navigable and I have undertaken the almost impossible task and listed just 5 of my favorite farms, starting in this post with the Simonsberg route.
Oldenburg Vineyards is located in the Banghoek Valley; a little off the beaten track one must venture up a long and bumpy mountain road to find it. It is worth the effort; the beautifully designed tasting room is cradled by mountains and takes full advantage of the spectacular views. Pair this beautiful mountainside location with premium handcrafted estate wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.
Oldenburg is owned by Adrian van der Spuy, who purchased the farm from his family trust in 2003. Adrian had grown up on a neighboring farm until his family left South Africa during the turbulent 1960's. Every year they would return to visit his grandmother who lived at Oldenburg with Helmut Holmann. After Holmann's death, the farm was put into a trust until Adrian and wife Vanessa decided it was time to bring her back to life and set about replanting vineyards with a view to creating premium hand quality wines.
Muratie is a magical place; it all began with a love story between a slave girl Ansela Van De Caab and a soldier Laurens Campher, who became the first owners of this historical Stellenbosch farm. Tastings take place in the old cellar which has numerous nooks and crannies, cobwebs, wine barrels and paintings depicting the colourful characters of its past and their stories are brought to life as part of the tasting experience.
The wines are also incredibly good; from dark rich fruit driven Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends to fabulous oaked Chenin and Chardonnay and a selection of dessert wines and ports. Interestingly fact: Muratie was the first farm in South Africa to plant Pinot Noir back in 1927.
Thelema and neighbor Tokara are both such wonderful farms to visit and for many of the same reasons: beautiful location, excellent wines both in quality and selection and despite their status and esteemed address at the top of the Hellshoogte pass are both humble in attitude and offer good value.
Thelema is owned by Gyles Webb and family who transformed what was once a run-down fruit farm into a South Africa’s success story. In 2002 they purchased another farm, in the cooler region of Elgin and one can now taste the full spectrum of wines from both the Stellenbosch and Sutherland vineyards at their Stellenbosch tasting room.
This pretty family farm belonging to the Boustred’s has become a firm favorite of mine. I like to sit in the back garden and take in the views which surprisingly include wild game such as Zebra and Wildebeest which are kept on the farm. Remhoogte is well known for their Reserve Honeybunch Chenin Blanc produced from a 22 yr old vineyard but don’t ignore the lifestyle range Chenin which is both delicious and good value. Most of their vineyards are dedicated to red varietals; Merlot, Pinotage, Cabernet and Shiraz and if that weren’t enough they also make craft beer onsite under the Wild Beast label.
Rustenberg has one of the most impressive entrances in the wine lands, taking you on a lengthy meander through the farm to finally arrive at the Cape Dutch styled tasting room. It’s also one of the oldest farms, with a wine-growing history dating back to 1682. The farm has been in the Barlow family for over 70 years with father Simon and son Murray currently at the helm. Murray has had much praise in the last few years winning the Diners Club young winemaker of the year competition in 2013 for his Chardonnay 2012 and being shortlisted again 2015 for both his Five soldiers Chardonnay 2012 and Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2014. We know they can make Chardonnay but lucky for us their reds are equally gorgeous. Interesting fact: a previous owner of the farm includes the last Prime Minister of the Cape John X Merriman.
If you enjoy reading about the Stellenbosch wine route you may also like this post I wrote for Cape Etc magazine: The Big the Bold and the Beautiful in wine country