The Cape winelands are a treasure trove of precious experiences and hidden gems. If only you knew a local to show you around! Our Insider’s Guide is like your long-lost best friend in each of the Cape’s 10 wine-producing regions. And you’ve been invited over.
This month we explore one of the more recently developed wine regions in South Africa. The Cape South Coast region covers a fairly large terrain that includes Elgin, Bot River, Hermanus, Elim and Napier. The ocean is never far away, making for a distinctive terroir not unlike that of Burgundy in France. With vines rooted in seven soil types, grapes ripen slowly in the cool climate to produce elegant wines such as Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.
Dipping into the Elgin Valley from Sir Lowry’s Pass you’re instantly transported into another world characterised by craggy mountains and apple orchards. The Elgin Valley is a popular tourist destination, thanks to the lovely surroundings and easy distance from Cape Town. Further afield lie Bot River with its eclectic feel, the seaside town of Hermanus, Napier with its village charm and Elim, a former Moravian mission settlement that has more recently established itself as wine country. It’s a diverse region with beautiful landscapes to inspire its entrepreneurial thinkers with fresh ideas.
THE FOODIE’S GETAWAY
Elgin’s annual Apple Blossom Festival, hosted in spring, is a hugely popular event. Like the apple trees the entire valley dresses up in its Sunday best to welcome guests. At Terra Madre you can harvest your own vegetables, enjoy a picnic lunch, buy a box of bee-friendly seeds or sample the pressed apple and pear juice. The valley hosts its annual Elgin Cool Wine & Country Food Festival from 28-29 April.
Nearly four years ago many weekenders were devastated by the news that the popular Peregrine Farm Stall had burnt down, but it’s back and is bigger and better than before. Established in the ’60s as a farm stall, it now also offers visitors a café, bakery and plenty of space for kids to play.
The Elgin Valley is famous for its apples, so it comes as no surprise the craft cider movement has taken off. Visitors can taste Sxollie, Cluver & Jack, Everson’s, Windermere and Terra Madre on the Elgin Valley Cider Route. The valley’s cider pioneers have formed the South African Craft Cider Guild and members pride themselves on protecting the integrity of the term cider, producing cider fermented only from fresh pressed apples.
Oak Valley Estate is known for mountain biking, wine, flowers and quality free-range beef and pork. Visitors can book a picnic lunch from November to April or enjoy a country feast at The Pool Room. Another gem is the informal Hickory Shack where you can tuck into Texas-style meats slow-cooked in the smokehouse.
Elgin is home to one of only three certified biodynamic wines in the country. Brian Smith of Elgin Ridge Organic Wines says they farm sustainably and use only natural compost from grape skins and stalks and household waste, and biodynamic fertiliser from their herd of Dexter cows. Dorper sheep keep the grass between the rows of vines in check and during the harvest a Percheron stallion pulls the cart with the grapes. Biodynamic farming is stricter than organic production as all ferments are natural and the use of settling or colour-extracting enzymes is prohibited. “In our opinion biodynamic wines show a true expression of place, including climate and soil,” Brian says. “They allow the natural flavours of the grape variety to shine and show purity of fruit.”
Bot River is no stranger to festivals, albeit a little more eccentric than most. The annual Bot River Barrels & Beards Festival draws loads of visitors, as much for a spectacular array of facial hair as for the wine auction. The Botrivier Hotel offers a great lunch in an old historic building.
Another gastronomic delight is the restaurant at Gabriëlskloof. Besides the good food, it’s also known for its wine and olive oil. The restaurant is planning a special Sunday lunch on 11 February to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a French theme. “Expect to be blown away,” chef Frans Groenewald says. “Cupid’s arrow never tasted this good.” Booking is essential. The winery’s latest offering is a trio of reds: a Cabernet Franc, Syrah on Sandstone and Syrah on Shale. The wines come from the excellent 2015 vintage and form part of the Landscape Series.
Hermanuspietersfontein in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley runs a food and wine market every Saturday from 9:00 to 13:00. Offering everything from savoury and sweet treats to olives and oysters, the market lives up to its promise of “Real plates and real cutlery. Real cups and real glasses. Real hangout for real people.”
Birkenhead Estate is home to a microbrewery and was the first winery in the Southern Hemisphere to also brew beer. Visitors can go on a tour of the brewery and enjoy lunch at the restaurant.
Hamilton Russell Vineyard’s fynbos honey and olive oil are just as sought-after as their award-winning wine. Near Africa’s southernmost point, Cape Agulhas, you can sample wine and craft beer at the Black Oystercatcher estate. There are also cycling routes for outdoor enthusiasts and cottages that you can rent for weekend getaways.
THE OUTDOOR ENTHUSIAST’S GETAWAY
Africa’s first bike hotel, Trail’s End, can be found in the Elgin Valley. Besides the bike trails there’s a climbing wall for kids, gym, wellness centre and Pilates studio. Oak Valley is synonymous with the Wines2Whales cycle challenge and offers mountain biking 365 days a year.
The popular zipline Cape Canopy Tour, where you sail over breathtaking landscapes in the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, is another fun outing for adventurers. Lonely Planet named the tour the world’s second hottest new experiences for 2015. SA Forest Adventures also offers a zipline experience through the treetops near Hermanus.
If you love game viewing, there’s no better place in the area than Cornell Skop where you can go on walking tours for close encounters with lions, cheetahs, zebra, baboons, monkeys and buck. Klein Paradys in Bot River offers scenic horseback trails through the vineyards or on Kleinmond beach. Or head to Hermanus for whale watching. The town is abuzz with excitement during with the annual Whale Festival and Kalfiefees.
Beautifully situated on the Bot River lagoon, Arabella Hotel & Spa has a world-class golf course and spa to rejuvenate your soul. Bot River is known for its fly-fishing, while Maremmana Estate has a 22 ha dam stocked with trout for fishing. Birders can head to Rooisand Nature Reserve for some spectacular sightings. When in the area don’t forget to stop at the nearby Houw Hoek Farm Stall to stock up on fresh produce.
Plan your trip: Arabella Hotel & Spa: arabellacountryestate.co.za • Botrivier Hotel: bothot.co.za • Cape Canopy Tours: canopytour.co.za • Cornell Skop: cornellskop.co.za • SA Forest Adventures: saforestadventures.co.za/index.php/hermanus/ • Klein Paradys: kleinparadys.net • Maremmana: firstname.lastname@example.org, 082 834 6487 • Rooisand Nature Reserve: 028 271 5138 • Trail’s End: trailsend.bike
Plan your trip: Apple Blossom Festival: elginvalley.co.za • Birkenhead Estate: walkerbayestate.com • Black Oystercatcher: blackoystercatcher.co.za • Bot River Wines: botriverwines.com • Elgin Cool Wine & Country Food Festival: ecwcf.winesofelgin.co.za • Elgin Ridge Organic Wines: elginridge.com • Gabriëlskloof: gabrielskloof.co.za • Hamilton Russell: hamiltonrussellvineyards.com • Hermanuspietersfontein: hpf1855.co.za • Hickory Shack: hickoryshack.co.za • Peregrine Farn Stall: peregrinefarmstall.co.za • South African Craft Cider Guild: craftcider.co.za • Terra Madre: terramadre.co.za • The Pool Room: oakvalley.co.za/the-pool-room
THE ART-LOVER’S GETAWAY
De Geheime Kelder Gallery at the Botrivier Hotel showcases local talent in curated exhibitions throughout the year. Almenkerk Wine Estate in the Elgin Valley also hosts regular outdoor art installations. The Hope @ Paul Cluver Amphitheatre concerts, presented in collaboration with the Thembalitsha Foundation, have established themselves firmly on the Overberg summer social calendar. Artists perform on stage surrounded by a beautiful eucalyptus forest. To see the summer festival programme go to the Paul Cluver website.
Plan your trip: Almenkerk: almenkerk.co.za • Cluver Amphitheatre: cluver.com/amphitheatre