When people ask me about my favorite wine country trip, South Africa always comes to mind. More specifically, visiting Stellenbosch wineries.
Not only do they have incredible wines that are a great value, but it’s one of the most beautiful regions I’ve been to. And did I mention the food is fantastic?
Plus, it’s in the heart of South Africa, where you can visit gorgeous beaches, go on a safari, and try shark cage diving. Well, that last one may only be a selling point if you’re into being dipped into the ocean in a tiny metal structure surrounded by large fish with very sharp teeth.
In any case, if you’re considering a trip to South Africa, Stellenbosch is one of those places that’s an unforgettable experience. Especially if you’re a wine lover.
To help you make the most of your time in the Cape Winelands, I’ve put together a list of my recommendations for the best Stellenbosch wine farms. And all the details to plan your visit.
BTW, if you haven’t yet, make sure to grab my free Wine Tasting Planner. It has 20+ wine night theme ideas, including the exact ones I’ve used for my wine tastings. Plus, a timeline, food pairings, games, free printables, worksheets, and more. Get your copy here.
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When to Visit Stellenbosch Wineries
If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, keep in mind that the seasons are reversed in South Africa. So, the grape harvest in Stellenbosch usually happens at the beginning of the year (January to March).
If you’re looking for warmer weather, visiting in the summer months between September and April is your best bet.
January and February are the hottest months, with average highs in the low 80°s F (26° C). November gets a bit more wind and rain than other months. Plus, these are also the busiest tourism months.
I’d recommend March, April, September, and December as the best months for great weather and avoiding peak season.
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History of South African Wine
South African wine is somewhere between Old World and New World. The country has been making wine since the 1600s. But they had a few hiccups along the way that have prevented them from gaining international popularity.
The first wines were made by Dutch settlers during the days when Cape Town was a stopover for The Dutch East India Company. At the time, wine was thought to prevent scurvy. We’re not sure how good the wine was, but it at least appeased all those drunken sailors!
Moving into the 1700s and 1800s, dessert wines were all the rage throughout the world. And South Africa became famous for Constantia, a sweet wine originally produced by the Governor of Cape Town.
Then South African wines took a big hit in the late 1800s when phylloxera arrived. The root louse wiped out pretty much all the vineyards.
And just when they were starting to recover, apartheid began in 1948. Many countries boycotted products from South Africa. So, the wines were essentially cut off from the rest of the world.
Since apartheid’s end in 1994, it’s taken some time to get visibility in the wine industry. But South African wines are on the rise.
Today, there are more than 500 wineries in South Africa, and it’s becoming a hot spot for wine tourism.
When you think Africa, you think hot, right? Based on its latitude, the Stellenbosch region should have a hot climate. In fact, it does have a Mediterranean climate, meaning temperatures are fairly consistent year-round. And summers (i.e., the growing season) tend to be warm and dry.
But there are several factors cooling the Western Cape of South Africa. And this makes it an ideal location for wine grape growing.
First, you have the Benguela Current. This brings icy-cold water up from Antarctica. It flows along the west coast of Africa, making the South Ocean pretty darn chilly.
Then there’s the Cape Doctor. What does a doctor have to do with wine you ask? Well, this isn’t your stethoscope-wearing-prescription-wielding kind of doctor. It’s the local name for the strong summer winds that bring cool air from the ocean further inland.
On top of all of that, you’ve got the surrounding mountains. These sky-scraping beauties channel the winds from nearby False Bay through the vineyards, cooling them further.
They also give plenty of options for planting at higher altitudes to get off the warm valley floors. And vines can be planted on south-facing slopes, which see less sun and heat than those that face north toward the equator.
Stellenbosch is best known for its premium red wines. The region specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which are often blended to create a Bordeaux-style wine. You’ll also see quite a bit of Syrah too.
For whites, Chenin Blanc is the most widely planted grape in South Africa. It’s made in both dry and sweet styles and sometimes sees oak. In cooler sites, they’ve been successful with growing high-quality Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay as well.
Love it or hate it, South Africa is also credited with creating the controversial Pinotage grape. This crossing between Pinot Noir and Cinsault is often described as having flavors of chocolate and coffee. And it’s the main component in what’s known as a Cape Blend.
If you want to try South African wines, my best source for getting them online in the United States is Cape Ardor. They have a great selection of all the top producers.
The Best Stellenbosch Wineries
Rust en Vrede
Remember that Governor who made the first sweet wine in South Africa? Well, he granted the land for the Rust en Vrede property all the way back in 1694. The current owners, the Engelbrecht family, didn’t acquire it until 1977, but it’s still a cool connection.
Jannie and Ellen Engelbrecht first tackled restoring the beautiful Cape Dutch buildings on the property to their former glory. And then produced their first vintage of wine in 1978.
They must have done something right. How many wineries can say Nelson Mandela selected your wine to be served at the Nobel Peace Prize dinner? Not to mention, they had the first South African red wine named to Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines in the World.
If you’re a serious oenophile, you’ll love their full-bodied red wines. Rust en Vrede specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
The vineyards are planted on the warmer north-facing slopes, ideal conditions for making some of South Africa’s best wines out of Cabernet. And the location of these Stellenbosch vineyards also results in Syrah with softer, fruitier black fruit qualities.
Enjoy a wine tasting on their picturesque terrace, overlooking the lush lawn. Then ask the tasting room staff for an informal tour to get a peek at the underground wine cellar.
And if you’re a foodie, don’t miss their award-winning restaurant. Named one of San Pellegrino’s Top 100 Restaurants in the World, they serve up contemporary French cuisine with inspiration from the chef’s Brazilian and Italian heritage.
Make it a stop for lunch with a glass of wine. Or splurge for the 6-course dinner with wine pairings. Just be sure to make a reservation well in advance.
Norma Ratliffe is credited with being the first female winemaker to operate commercially in South Africa. She, along with her husband Stan, bought the land for Warwick Wine Estate in 1964.
It took about 20 years to release their first wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon named La Femme Bleau. Not long after, they bottled South Africa’s first-ever Cape Blend, whose claim to fame is a cameo in a James Bond film.
Today, Warwick makes blends and single-varietal wines, many with their signature “lady” names. Highlights include the Three Cape Ladies, a Pinotage-based Cape Blend. And the award-winning Trilogy blend, dominated by the peppery Cabernet Franc.
You’ll also find some refreshing white wines made from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and even old vine Chenin Blanc.
Fun fact: The Wedding Cup symbol on their label comes from the legend of Princess Kunigunde. Her father disapproved of her love for a young goldsmith. He challenged the goldsmith to make a cup that two people could drink from at the same time.
The goldsmith’s love of the princess was so great that he succeeded in this seemingly impossible task within a matter of days. The two were able to marry and live happily ever after (or at least enjoy drinking wine together out of their new fancy cup).
While you may not be a princess, Warwick is the perfect place to picnic like one. The lawn is dappled with blankets and oversized pillows that you can recline on like royalty. Enjoy a gourmet picnic box with a bottle of wine. Or book the Harvest Table for a 4-course meal in their majestic forest courtyard.
For those seeking adventure, see if you can spot the “big five” on a wine safari. No, we’re not talking about lions, leopards, elephants, buffalos, and rhinos. These are the big five grapes! Hop on an open-top safari vehicle to tour Warwick vineyards and learn all about grape growing from your “safari guide.”
Simonsig Wine Estate
Do you like Champagne? Actually, why am I even asking? I mean, who doesn’t like Champagne?
For you bubbly lovers, you must try South Africa’s Méthode Cap Classique. And Simonsig Wine Estate is home to the OG version. Frans Malan, the founder, produced the first bottle in South Africa.
This sparkling wine is made in the traditional method used for Champagne. This is when a secondary fermentation happens in the bottle. This gives the wine its characteristic notes of toast and biscuit.
At Simonsig, you can try dry (Brut) and sweet (Demi-Sec) versions. Plus, they make it as a rosé and a Blanc de Blanc (meaning a white wine made from white grapes).
If you’re lucky, you may get to witness a Sabrage demonstration. This is a technique used to open a bottle of sparkling wine with a saber (yes, like a sword). You slide the blunt side of it up the neck of the bottle and, with enough force, it will break the top of the neck off.
It makes a great party trick. But maybe try it before you’ve had a few (and with some protective eye gear).
Beyond sampling bubbly and sabering bottles, Simonsig also makes some excellent still wines. You can try reds from Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, and Syrah. Or whites from Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and even Gewürztraminer.
Grab one of their artisanal cheese and charcuterie platters to accompany your tasting. And if you booked ahead, you can also learn about how Cap Classique is made on a cellar tour.
Delheim Wine Estate
The original vineyards of Delheim Wine Estate were planted in the 1940s. Michael Sperling, known as “Spatz” to those in the know, took over the winery in the late 1950s.
Spatz taught himself winemaking, began winning awards, and became a major player in South African wine. In 1971, he got together with Frans Malan of Simonsig and Neil Joubert of Spier Wine Farm and created the Stellenbosch wine route, the first in South Africa.
You’ll find some unique wines here, like the Spatzendreck dessert wine made from white grapes left on the vine to dry out (a technique called passerillage). This concentrates the sugars and, after barrel aging, results in luscious flavors of dried fruits, honey, and toasted almonds.
Their Pinotage Rosé was the first of its kind when released in 1976. And don’t miss the ageable Grand Reserve, a smooth Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.
A tasting on their garden patio is lovely, with a beautiful view of Table Mountain. But for some real character, head to the downstairs cellar. The old-bottle-lined walls and cobweb-filled windows give it an authentic feel you won’t see elsewhere.
While you’re there, you can indulge in dishes like Springbok carpaccio, lamb shank, and bacon benedict at their on-site restaurant. And for those with a sweet tooth, try the cupcake and dessert wine pairing!
Thelema Mountain Vineyards
From working as an accountant to selling out wines within a month of release in just a decade, Gyles Webb is the Cinderella story of Stellenbosch. That is if Cinderella’s glass slipper was a glass wine bottle.
After falling in love with Burgundy, Gyles and family founded Thelema in 1983. The first wines were released in 1988. And they became so successful that they bought a second vineyard in 2002, which is bottled under the Sutherland label.
Thelema is known for its bold and complex Cabernet Sauvignon, grown at high altitudes in Stellenbosch. They also produce single varietals and blends from Merlot, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Riesling. Plus, a late-harvest dessert wine from Muscat.
Sutherland wines are made from grapes grown in the cooler Elgin Valley, about a half hour Southeast of Stellenbosch. It’s a high-altitude plateau that’s surrounded by mountains and cooled by ocean breezes.
This makes it ripe for producing Sutherland’s cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay.
A comparative tasting of the Thelema and Sutherland wines is a great way to see how climate impacts the aromas and flavors of a wine. Plus, if you take any bottles with you, your tasting is on the house.
If you’re a fan of Pinotage, Beyerskloof is the place for you. Founded in 1988 by Beyers Truter, this Stellenbosch wine farm won best Pinotage at the 2018 International Wine & Spirits Competition.
They use bush vines and strive for smaller berries. This makes the wines more concentrated and complex.
Beyers’ son Anri currently runs Beyerskloof and focuses almost exclusively on Pinotage and Pinotage blends. You can try it as a traditional red wine, a dry rosé, and even as a white wine blended with Chenin Blanc.
Wine tasting flights include options for a mix of five white, rosé, and red wines, or all red wines. Want to try them all? Get the combined tasting to sample all 10. Or you can book a private tasting of their premium wines and older vintages in the Winemaker’s Cellar.
And if you’re hungry, check out the Red Leaf Bistro where you can dine while overlooking the vines. Don’t miss their specialty — the Pinotage burger with an onion reduction made with…you guessed it, Pinotage.
If you don’t make it to their winery, Beyerskloof also has a wine bar (called Wynbar) in downtown Stellenbosch where you can sample their wines and snack on some sliders and “sarmies.”
For a modern, yet family-friendly winery option, check out Tokara. The name comes from a combination of the founders’ children’s names, Thomas and Kara.
And if great wines, delicious olive oil, a farm-to-table restaurant, and an art gallery weren’t enough, they also have an outdoor play area for the little ones.
Tokara is perched on the side of a hill, with sweeping views of the surrounding vineyard-lined slopes. The first vines were planted in the mid-90s on the upper slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain. These sit next to their olive groves, from which they produce olive oil that rivals the ones I tasted in Greece.
For wines, they primarily focus on Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. But you’ll also find Chardonnay, Syrah, and Semillon. These are made as both blends from different sites and as single vineyard wines.
You can also try the Chenin Blanc-based brandy. And a dessert wine made from botrytized Sauvignon Blanc (aka Noble Rot).
Enjoy a cheese platter with your tasting or grab a bite from the delicatessen. Afterward, you can stroll through the art gallery and sculpture park to walk off all that food.
For a special treat, make a dinner reservation, which includes a four or six-course chef’s menu with optional wine pairings. But let’s be honest, are they really optional?
Other Great Stellenbosch Wineries
With more than 150 wineries in Stellenbosch, I couldn’t quite get to all of them in one trip. (And if I had, you probably wouldn’t want my recommendations for the best wineries after a few hundred samples of wine.)
But I wanted to add a few wine estates that deserve an honorable mention. I’ve had their wines before so I can vouch for their quality.
Vines have been grown on the Neethlingshof vineyards since the late 1600s. It’s changed hands a few times since then, but today the Schreiber Family owns it. And they produce a variety of different vegan-friendly estate-grown wines.
Tasting options include samples from their Estate Range of nearly a dozen white and red single-variety wines. Or you can try the Short Story Collection, with each wine representing a different tale from Neethlingshof’s history. They also offer fun food experiences like chocolate pairing.
If you’re looking for a good lunch spot, Neethlingshof has a deli and a wine garden with a selection of pizzas and platters. And you can enjoy live music on Wednesday evenings.
Meerlust is one of the oldest wine farms. The Myburgh family has been producing wine on the Meerlust Estate for eight generations. They specialize in red wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir.
Their flagship wine is the Rubicon, a Bordeaux-style blend inspired by Nico Myburgh’s trip to France in the 1970s.
You can taste their full range of wines and learn about the history of Meerlust in their wine tasting room. And if you’re looking for unique places to stay in wine country, check out their on-site accommodation options.
Kanonkop Wine Estate
For you Pinotage lovers, Kanonkop is a must-visit. This red-wine-only producer is known for making some of the best examples of Pinotage in South Africa.
You can even do a Pinotage-only tasting, including six different wines made from the grape. Other options include sampling Kanonkop’s full range of current vintage wines. And single samples of their premium Estate range.
While you’re there, you can also take self-guided cellar tours and visit the art gallery.
If you can’t make it to South Africa, but you’d love to try Stellenbosch wines, check out Cape Ardor. They have the best online selection of South African wines available in the United States.
Best Stellenbosch Wine Tour
Wine tours are a great way to explore the Stellenbosch region without having to drive yourself.
I’d recommend this private tour that allows you to customize your itinerary based on the wineries you’re most interested in visiting.
Or if you’re looking for a more affordable option or like the social aspect of a group tour, this is a great full-day tour that visits some of the top wineries.
Where to Stay for Stellenbosch Wine Tasting
The picturesque town of Stellenbosch is about a half-hour drive from Cape Town International Airport. It’s the second oldest town in South Africa, known for its Cape Dutch architecture. And it’s home to the University of Stellenbosch.
The Eendracht Hotel is a great boutique hotel option that’s also a fantastic value. It’s right in the center of town just steps from all the best restaurants and wine bars. The hotel also serves up a delicious complimentary breakfast.
You can find the Eendracht Hotel and many other great options on Booking.com. Just enter “Stellenbosch” and select your dates below to see available options.
Have you tried any of the wines from these Stellenbosch wineries?
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