About an hour outside Cape Town you come across fertile hills and rolling valleys, all covered by the lovely tangle of grape vines. This is Stellenbosch, the Cape winelands region.
If you get anything out of what I’m saying today it should be this- South African wine is severely under-appreciated on the world stage. This is mainly because for years no one bought the stuff because of an international trade embargo against the apartheid government, but nowadays the exchange rate is good and the wine is better. In a few years when South African wine becomes really popular (and it’s only a matter of time) don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I went to the Stellenbosch area twice, once with my family because my dad was giving a talk for some engineers from the University of Stellenbosch (they held the talk at a winery by the way which made me jealous- I think we’d no longer have attendance rate issues if we held our colloquiums at a winery!) and once on a wine tour on a backpacker tour that resulted in 27 tastings at five wineries. At least I’m pretty sure it was 27, no one spits out the wine on the backpacker tour so there were quite a few “where the hell did that picture come from?!” moments when reviewing my photos, as the end was quite fuzzy. But because it was a wine tour that means we were being classy about it, right?
The one winery whose name I remember from the backpacker tour was the Fairview Winery– part because my elementary school was called Fairview, and mainly because it was first. The above tower for their mountain goat mascots is their symbol on all their wine label (they make some mean goat cheese as well!), called Goats Do Roam. I was also very excited to discover my local liquor store here in Cleveland carries bottles from this winery, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for them!
Switching gears, this was lunch at the winery after my dad gave his talk- no, all those glasses were not mine. Rather I am taking this moment to give you the general advice about South African wines is that their reds are far better than the whites from this region- in particular you should keep an eye out for a variety of wine called pinotage made only in South Africa. It is a cross between pinot noir and cinsaut, and I’m sort of in love with it.
Speaking of things I am in love with, I don’t think I’ve introduced you to the sunbird yet. They are a lovely nectar-drinking bird found down here that I never ceased being happy to see the whole time I was in the country.
Finally, Dutch-style architecture typical of the Stellenbosch region, complete with European trees planted around here so you fully feel like you’re a few thousand kilometers north (the peaks around here even get snow in the winter!). I was confused about the whole history of the area for a little while- what on Earth were the Dutch doing running vineyards when they don’t know the first thing about the craft? But it turns out this area was settled by French Huguenots in the seventeenth century fleeing persecution in Europe at the time. Back then the Dutch colony was really only the size of Cape Town so they sent the Huguenots out into the boonies of Stellenbosch, where they proceeded to make delicious wines. Funny how these things work out.
In short, if you are out in the store and see a bottle of South African red, particularly a pinotage, do yourself a favor and buy it. I promise it’s worth your while…