Thursday, January 1, 2009

An Adventure in Stellenbosch Wine Tasting - South Africa

The Vineyard Hiking Trail in South Africa takes visitors through the rolling hills of Devon Valley - the perfect combination exercise and wine tasting, exertion and relaxation for my active husband and leisure-loving self. 
Only a 45-minute drive from Cape Town, Stellenbosch is South Africa’s oldest wine region. More than 200 years ago, Dutch and French settlers built large, distinctively European estates here and successfully planted both red and white grapes in what is now the best-known wine tasting region in the Cape. It’s a beautiful area surrounded by towering mountains, clear blue rivers and lakes, and vineyards scattered throughout the valley.
“Unfortunately,” I was told at Sugarbird Manor where permits were sold for the hike, “not all of the trail signs have been posted, but look for spray-painted markings on the ground. If you get lost, give us a call.”

Undaunted by the warning, we left the estate on a perfect fall day. We were immediately greeted by three wild dogs. The brochure had actually warned about this, so we did as we were instructed and ignored them. Two had barks much worse than their bites, but a mammoth Great Dane headed straight for us with his mouth wide open. As the dog bit down on our backpack, we quickly walked ahead and tried to stay calm. Eventually, the giant let go and we hurried on, missing our first set of spray-painted signs.

We happened to find a main road and headed to the east, trying to determine where the wineries were hidden. When we finally arrived at our first wine tasting (realizing we had already missed two others), we felt a bit under-dressed in our hiking gear as we were seated at a draped outdoor table at Sylvanvale Winery, part of the lush Devon Valley Hotel. But we were immediately set at ease by our host who was both knowledgeable and entertaining.

We tried the cool, crisp Chenin Blanc, a lovely Dry Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé and the 2002 Pinotage Reserve, a specialty of South Africa. (Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault vines yielding vibrant reds that can range from light and fruity to deep, velvety wines.) Our waiter poured the wines, elaborated on each one, even negotiated himself down on the price of their newly released dessert wine and before we knew it we were back on the trail with two bottles rattling in our backpack.

For the next five hours we weaved up and down the hills from scenic vantage points to quaint farms along the valley. From the hilltops, we could see many of the wineries we wanted to visit – like Meinert Winery, Devon Hill, and J.C. Le Roux – but somehow, could not find a way to get there once we were down below. With evening approaching, we focused on one and headed to it.

Clos Malverne was our last stop and arguably one of the best wineries in the area. We were buzzed onto the estate through huge, wrought iron gates into the winery’s tasting room. We tasted a dozen of their wines and loved them all, especially the 2001 Auret Cape Blend, a typical South African blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinotage that was absolutely excellent as the awards it has won suggest. We took three bottles home with us at a price of R115 each, just under $20.

With a stick in one hand and a full bottle of Pinotage in the other, we armed ourselves for the return past our canine friends. Fortunately, they left us alone as we limped by with little energy to run if they had decided to attack.

The full-day vineyard hiking tour is 24km and taking a car through Devon Valley would have given us plenty of time to try all of the wines in the area and probably the chance to try another group of wineries in Stellenbosch. However, the combination that the day offered was hard to beat: a few sips of excellent wine interspersed with a scenic walk in a beautiful valley. Looking back, we both found it to be a well-compromised vacation day.

Additional information:

Sugarbird Manor:, Tel: 021-865 2313, Fax: 021-865-2326,

Sylvanvale Vineyard (Part of the Devon Valley Hotel):, +27 21 865-2012 (tel), +27 21 865-2610 (fax),

Clos Malverne:, Devon Valley Rd, Devon Valley, Stellenbosch, SA, PO Box 187, Stellenbosch, 7599, SA, +27 (0)21-865-2022 (tel), +27 (0)21-865-2518 (fax),

Next time:
  • Dornier Cellar (Blaauwklippen Road Stellenbosch 7600, South Africa, +27 (0)21-880-0557, - Wine tasting and dinner at Bodega at this modern winery.
  • Le Quartier Francais Hotel and Restaurant (16 Huguenot Road, PO Box 237, Franschhoek,
    7690, South Africa, +27 (0)21-876-2151, +27 (0)21-876-3105 (fax),
  • NEW Tour of Kayamandi Township: In our on-going effort to continually update our posts with new and interesting travel ideas, check out this fascinating article from The Time Travel Turtle about a visit to Kayamandi Township just outside of Stellenbosch. 

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