Exploring South Africa’s Wine Valley

Mj 618_348_exploring south africas wine valley
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South Africa’s Cape Winelands, about an hour from Cape Town, blanket a broad valley surrounded by rugged mountains that, in concert with sea breezes from the South Atlantic, create a climate conducive to grape growing. The area’s 150-plus wineries have been divided into five manageable wine routes, Greater Simonsberg, Stellenbosch Berg, Heldeberg, Stellenbosch Valley, and Bottelary Hills. Rather than trying to make it to every winery on even one rambling route, smart travelers arriving in the quaintly Dutch university town of Stellenbosch, target two or three that offer both tastings and local adventures.

The best choice is Eikendal Stellenbosch, which opened in 1981 on the slopes of Heldeberg mountain and specializes in the production merlot, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, and chardonnay. The vineyard’s pinotage, a unique South African cultivar developed by a Stellenbosch University professor in 1925 by crossing pinot noir and hermitage, is a can’t-miss. The fruity, medium-bodied red is South Africa’s affordable signature wine. Winemaker Nico Grobler, who joined Eikendal in 2006, studied at the local university and his assistant worked his way up through a government program that qualified him as a junior cellar master. They serve as an advertisement for the seriousness of their product and excellent interpreters of the outdoorsy local scene.

Eikendal has two marked hiking trails exploring the vineyards. In February and March, visitors can participate in grape picking, but many visitors are distracted – rightfully so – by the two stocked fly-fishing ponds. Just across the parking lot from the cellar and tasting room, Winelands Fly-Fishing shop stocks all the requisite gear and accoutrements. It also books day trips to local freestone streams less than an hour away and multiday trips throughout southern Africa. Casting between sips is the stuff of true South African luxury.

Across the vineyards, Eikendal Lodge has nine rooms with private terraces overlooking the vineyards, valley, and mountains. A night’s stay includes a wine-tasting and gourmet breakfast, served on the patio, weather permitting. Most of the time, the weather both permits and facilitates.

Oenophiles looking to see a bit more of the region should book a guided mountain-bike winery tour at Adventureshop in Stellenbosch. The bouncy trails lead to the idyllic Jonkesrhoek Nature Reserve and out-of-the-way cellars. The route totals roughly 18 miles, with an optional seven-mile loop add-on, and takes four to five hours. Looking for a little less structure? Just rent a bike and wander the unpaved back roads as the spirit and spirits move you.

More information: Eikendal tastings cost $3; rooms start at $69. Overnight fly-fishing trips are approximately $240 per person per day, all inclusive.

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