Like most people who enjoy a glass of red for good value, I knew of course that South Africa has a good rap for wines. I did not, however, expect it to be so incredibly exquisite in its offer!
I mean, I see now there’s a solid reason behind the fact that South Africa has the longest wine route in the world. 850km long, to be more precise!
While we merely scratched the surface (see the blue dots area above) and the experience left us wanting more, our two wine tasting trips should give you a fairly good idea of the amazing things South Africa’s wine route has to offer!
Say Hello to Franschhoek Wine Tram
This little gem I found on CNN Travel, then researched on Twitter, and I couldn’t be happier that I did!
Follow the wine route tram. The tram and its five buses offer a hop-on-hop-off service to 14 wine estates in Franschhoek and other 4 routes. We chose the Blue Line – although for no obvious reason.
There’s decent value for money in buying a Wine Tram ticket, which costs the equivalent of 14€ and includes access to up to 8 estates, depending on the line you choose.
While there are many estates with any given tour, from a practical point of view (there’s a 1h minimum stay at each) you’d want to avoid turning your tasting into a marathon. Here’s the schedule of the Blue Line, so you can get an idea of how it works:
While it’s called a Wine Tram experience, the tram itself is only used for getting to the last 2 estates, Rickety Bridge and Grande Provence. For all the rest, a bus looking like a tram will be your designated transport.
And while we started with the intention to check out 6 of the estates, we gloriously changed our minds when we got to La Bourgogne. You’ll see why that happened in a minute.
Starting off: Le Lude
As we boarded the tram on our first wine route stop, our tour guide explained the wine tram concept and schedule for the day, along with a brief audio summary for each of our stops.
Tip: let the crowd go down at the 1st stop & stay on board to get an intimate head start.
We decided to go down to the second stop, Le Lude. A family-owned boutique winery situated on the edge of Franschhoek Village and specializing in bottle-fermented sparkling wines – Cap Classique.
We had the canapé, brut & rosé tasting menu at 190 ZAR (or 12€) which we later found to have been slightly expensive… Still, this was more than wine, and the canapes were very, very tasty.
And we loved the fact that all the other people in the tram had stopped at the estate before Le Lude – which gave us the place all to ourselves! The setting was all glamour and fancy, the service impeccable. But I felt it was missing a certain.. appeal?
Chocolate pairing at La Bri
This boutique winery is one of the first farms granted to the Huguenots in 1688. Today, they offer chocolate & wine paired tasting, with the chocolate handcrafted by a local chocolatier and carefully selected by their winemaker to complement and accentuate the wine’s characteristics.
Of course, I got the chocolate & wine tasting. Even though it came at only 65 ZAR or 4 €, I felt that they went a bit cheap on the amount of wine… Actually, turns out that’s a good thing!
With this being our 2nd wine route stop, if you go beyond tipsy at this point, you won’t get to enjoy the rest of the experience all that much. But then again, that’s just me 🙂 maybe you will!
There’s also a cozy fireplace where you can enjoy the tasting, and the views from this estate are perfection!
I did enjoy their Shirah accompanied by dark mint chocolate (excellent pairing!) so out of curiosity, I asked them if they export to Europe (which they do). I wasn’t expecting the prices to range between 15 – 40 € though…
The Highlight: La Bourgogne!
Officially my favourite wine route stop. Now here… we had the best time and decided to stay another hour. Then another 🙂
La Bourgogne is a subdivision of the original Bourgogne farm which was among the first Huguenot farms in 1694. It’s shaded by 150-year-old oaks, and the leaflet advertised “a warmth & charm which captivates all who visit”. Well, I’m happy to report that it was completely true!
The first thing you’ll notice hopping off the tram-bus – and you’ll probably not expect this one, as I know I wasn’t – are the five friendly family dogs, so friendly they will basically jump on your lap.
They also offer 2 complimentary tastings, which we both found very… tasteful of them 😉
La Bourgogne offers both wine tastings and olive oil tastings, and if you want to spend the night, you can do that as well. Although, when chatting with the owners, we asked about their lovely cottages & the option to book one for the Christmas/New Year’s, only to find out that they are is such a big demand, you basically have to book more than one year in advance…!
Wine tasting at La Bourgogne comes paired with caramels, each one designed especially for the wine you taste. Their portions are quite generous; you go well beyond tasting here. And then we got our tasting by the fireplace which they lit up especially for us!
We also had lunch – a huge platter of cheese, fruit, cold cuts, sable biscuits, and nuts -which we just could not manage to finish. We got to taste their olives and oil: delicious!
I was only sorry we didn’t have the brandy & chocolate pairings.
Value for Money: Excellent! We spent 300 ZAR or ~18€ at La Bourgogne, on a huge lunch for two & 2 caramel & wine tastings! Get off the tram when you get here!
Parlez vous Franschhoek?
Le Lude, La Bri, La Bourgogne… what’s with the French names, you might wonder? Between 1688 and 1690s the Cape Colony experienced an influx of French Huguenots, who were forced to leave France following the Edict of Fontainebleau. They settled in Cape Colony and eventually got the right to set up farms in Franschhoek, known as the French corner. Of course, the Huguenots brought their winemaking skills with them and, nostalgic about France, started to recreate some of the things they missed dearly. Namely: wine!
They are said to have the most beautiful corner of the Franschhoek wine route valley, surrounded by mountains and enclosed by two rivers, the Estate offers award-winning wines, al fresco dining in the midst of the vineyards and an exclusive country house retreat in the manor house.
Perhaps biased after the whole La Bourgogne experience, we didn’t enjoy this place as much. The atmosphere seemed a bit impersonal and in a bit of a rush…
We didn’t do a tasting at Holden Manz, but instead chose one of their famous reds. And even though the wine was very good, it came with a hefty price of 6€ / glass. That’s expensive for Franschhoek. On a different day, with a different mindset… who knows. But as it stands, Holden Manz sits at the bottom of my wine experiences.
Getting to Franschhoek
If you’re thinking of giving this wine route a try, come from Cape Town and you don’t want to drive all the way to Franschhoek – why would you, anyway, unless you’re planning to spend the night after all that wine 😉 – know that the Wine Tram also offers optional transport at 550 ZAR pp/ return. That’s 35€. Or better yet: you can book with Cape Comoot at only 99 ZAR pp/ one way. That’s 13€/return.
For Something Different: Bach, Bubbles & Brunch
Montpellier de Tulbagh Off the beaten wine route track.
This amazing place I found on Twitter as well! I’ll be making Twitter a solid travel planning assistant from now on 😉
The event was advertised locally, so we made quite a sensation when our brunch companions (two couples in their 50’s and 70’s) asked us is we’re from Cape Town and found out we’re actually from Europe and only visiting.
In their words, we were very lucky to come across the brunch, as most of the people coming to Montpellier de Tulbagh are locals and regulars. Hidden Gem? Yes, please!
Still, around 100 people showed up at the Saturday brunch, most having spent the night at the estate’s lodges. The highlight of the event was, of course, the cello concert of Bach’s Sonatas. I’ve never before been so close to a cello that I could hear the pinch and churn of the cords under the fingers of the musician. It makes for a strangely much more intimate experience.
But I promised Bacchus worthy information – and this Bach experience deserves a feature on its own anyway; so I’ll get on with that.
The Montpellier Estate was established back in 1714 by, well, 2 French men (obviously) and sits in a gorgeous valley almost completely surrounded by mountains, making for a special terroir which gives their wines prestige – and significant awards.
The owner of Montpellier de Tulbagh is also a dog lover (I counted at least 4 very friendly dogs) and the settings for both the concert and the brunch were excellent! Check out the rural setting below, cows and everything.
While we had to leave earlier than planned and actually skipped the actual wine tasting, I can confidently tell you their sparkling is as good as it gets. Jenna did offer to arrange for a private tasting, but we were feeling just too comfortable at that brunch table in the sun and in pleasant chatter with the locals, to care for the cold space of a cellar.
So we stuck to the sparkling. And the food. Did I mention the food?
I could have spent my whole week there…! ❤️ ❤️ ❤️
Words of Wisdom
Dig deeper into your destination when you visit someplace new. You will always be surprised at the incredible amount of choice that comes with getting some of that local intel!
And you can easily do that on Twitter, as I fortunately found out :). Just follow some of the official Twitter accounts, check out who they follow to find the influencers, and enjoy the ride down the rabbit hole! It’ll take you to amazing places like the ones you just read about!
Have you done wine trasting in South Africa? Share your best tips with us !