Wine Tasting in Stellenbosch, South Africa
// August 24th, 2010 // South Africa
Imagine sipping a glass of Cabernet, nibbling on a variety of cheeses, and watching the sun set over the rolling hills in the Cape Winelands. Sounds amazing, right? One of Cape Town’s most popular day trips is a wine tour to Stellenbosch. A university town set in a hilly region, Stellenbosch is home to loads of wineries and vineyards. I think most people, myself included, can appreciate a few glasses of fine wine, and a trip to Stellenbosch was just what I had in mind. I wanted to go on a wine tour, however, it was a bit pricey for my budget. After going gorilla tracking in Rwanda, skydiving in Namibia, and taking a flight to Malawi on a whim, I was a bit more restrained in South Africa. So, I did the next best thing- I took the train out to Stellenbosch and stopped at the Tourist Information Office. These friendly folks showed me a map of all the wineries and vineyards in the area, and I found out that there were a couple of wineries within walking distance. I wandered around town in the morning and stopped by the University’s greenhouse and a few historic buildings in the area. After lunch at the quaintest little cafe called The Birdcage (with quite possibly the world’s best cheesecake), I headed over to Bergkelder at 1:30pm for my wine tour.
Winery vs. Vineyard
By going on a wine tour, you will most likely visit a couple of vineyards, where the grapes are actually grown. Unfortunately, there were no vineyards within walking distance of town so I went to a winery. In the case of Bergkelder, they buy grapes from many vineyards and only process and produce the wine. I did a wine tour in Napa Valley, California a few years back, so I wasn’t too bummed about missing out on vineyards this time around.
At Bergkelder I had my own private tour since no one else showed up at my time slot. My guide started going over the history of winemaking in the Cape as well as information about Bergkelder. South Africa is the oldest wine region in the New World. It produces Bordeaux varieties, Shiraz (one of my favorites), and its own local variety called Pinotage. Pinotage is a combination of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. In South Africa, Cinsaut is known as Hermitage, hence the combined name Pinotage.
Bergkelder was founded in 1967 and is famous for its Cellar in the Mountain. Literally built into the mountain, the cellar provides a cool temperate place to store the wine for maturation. In 1998, Bergkelder developed a wine line called the Fleur de Cap. New to me, this line has an Unfiltered Series, maximizing the preservation of color and flavor. I expected the unfiltered wines to have a much more distinct, maybe tart taste, but I was pleasantly surprised. After viewing a short video, I was allowed to try four different wines from the Fleur de Cap collection. Although I like wine, I’m not exactly a wine connoisseur (yet). I felt like an eager student when my guide described oak and specific fruit flavors in the first wine that I was able to pick up on.
My train ride to Stellenbosch for $2 and my private cellar tour at Bergkelder, including wine tasting, for $3.50 was a steal. Although lacking in scenic vineyards, I was able to do a wine tasting at a fraction of the cost and see a wine cellar structure that’s not too common.
If you have a chance to visit Stellenbosch, I definitely recommend taking an organized wine tour. If you are traveling in a group, it is possible to rent a car for about $25/day and visit whichever wineries and vineyards you choose. However, if you’re a solo traveler and strapped for cash, take a train ride to Stellenbosch and walk to one of the nearby wineries. Wine tasting and the cellar tour at The Bergkelder definitely made for a fun day trip out of Cape Town.