It was mere good fortune for a wine-lover like myself to have my sister fall in love with a South African from the heart of the Rainbow Nation’s wine country. A highlight of every trip down are our visits to the various wineries that are literally at her doorstep. This past time, I developed my South African wine appreciation and knowledge on a lovely afternoon with Kim Rabe of Boutique Winery Tours. I learnt so much, however, I was left craving more, so I’m taking you on the virtual tour of her experiences, with the bonus of some of her great tips on exploring wine country. Pour yourself a glass of pinotage and read on!
South Africa’s Winelands
Founded in 1659, South Africa’s wine roots are deeply entrenched. With Western Cape becoming a convenient 17th century “refreshment station” for the Dutch East India Company, wine naturally became an important element to their pitstop between Europe and Asia. Today, it’s the 9th largest producer of wine in the world, its 26 different regions spread mostly across the south and west of the country have around 100,000 hectares of vineyard leading to 830-million splendid litres of bacchus’s preferred beverage.
My sister lives in Paarl, which is roughly 50 km northeast of Cape Town. While it’s a little less tourist-oriented than nearby Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, it’s still a lovely town… and surrounded by some excellent vineyards. Since the rand is currently so low, I was able to splurge on the finer bottles at the vineyards my sister took me to on our little several times per week “outings.” Wine-lovers we are, experts we are not, so I jumped at the chance to spend a few hours discovering more about the country’s wine in the company of Kim.
Kim Rabe’s Passionate Tours
Kim Rabe started Boutique Winery Tours in June 2015. A big world traveler, Kim settled back in South Africa after traveling the world for ten years after her art’s degree. For the last three years she’s been pursuing her passion for wine by working in publishing on wine and culinary guides and magazines, working in tasting rooms at large and boutique vineyards and other whatever other ways possible to further develop her wine appreciation and knowledge of wine-making.
She organizes three different wine tours. Her “Best of the Boutiques” tour focuses on small family farms that produce small quantities of very high-quality wine. the experience is more intimate, may include private tastings where possible and will introduce visitors to great wines that many foreigners, and even locals, have not been exposed to. Her “Bespoke” tours is an opportunity to build a personalized ideal tour, which could include visiting your favorite farms, focusing on a specific cultivar, or adding on a specific activity or style of dining. Finally, “Off the Beaten Track” tours on the lesser explored wine routes taking us further afield to small towns just outside of Cape Town.
An Afternoon in the Winelands with Kim
One blissfully sunny afternoon my brother-in-law and I met up with Kim and her husband in Franschhoek for a revised mini tour. Knowing I’m often seeking out romantic places, Kim decided to start at the posh Le Lude winery (first set of tour photos above). Rather new on the local wine scene, they specialize in Cap Classique, high-quality sparkling using methods similar to those of France’s Champagne region, introduced here centuries ago by the French Huguenots. Le Lude is set on a picturesque estate, its tasting room-restaurant and bright orangerie exude the same elegance as their wines. You can order delightful appetizers to go with their sparkling tasting flight or dine under their crystal chandeliers for a romantic tête-à-tête with your chéri.
Next Kim took us to Glenwood (photos just above) to show us a mid-sized winery. Kim partially selected this winery for its gorgeous setting; facing rolling vineyards and the backdrop of the mountains. They also have a nice garden where you can do your tasting (or grab a good meal), alas this was full when we arrived, but we enjoyed a good tasting inside. They have a diverse range of wines featuring Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays, Merlots, Shirazs and Semillons, which can be sampled in their generous tasting flight.
It’s a good thing we left Glenwood when we did because we almost missed getting into our last (and my favourite) stop: Lynx (photos below). I love discovering gems like this small independent producer, in fact they are the smallest winery in the valley, producing less than 7,000 award-winning cases per year. We drove down the hidden lane and walked up to the tasting room just as they were about to close (see Kim’s tip about calling ahead below!), though Jason, the cellar manager, kindly let us in for a quick tasting. Our taste buds were seduced by the Shiraz and the Cab-Sauv, only to be completely knocked out by their star “Lynx,” three-barrel blend of Shiraz, Mourvèdre and Grenache.
Kim certainly opened my eyes, and my palate, to the wonderful intricacies of South African wine that I’d never sip a glass the same way again. In between pours Kim explained more about South Africa’s wine industry and some unique lesser-known regions, many of which I hadn’t heard of and will be eager to explore on a future trip. If you’re heading to South Africa, have a look at Kim’s useful tips and website details below.
Kim’s Expert Tips
- All the wine routes of South Africa have something unique, but if I had just one day available, I would visit Constantia, Franschhoek or Stellenbosch. All three are less than an hour’s drive from Cape Town and offer a diversity of wines, estates, restaurants in addition to dramatic scenery. If you have more time to play with then include an overnight at the Hemel Een Aarde valley, Elgin or Robertson for more scenic beauty and variety of wine styles or visit Tulbagh and Riebeek Kasteel for some small town country charm and yes, of course, more good wine.
- I would recommend serious wine drinkers, wanting to spend some time in the Winelands should get a copy of The Platter’ wine guide and check out their website. Platter’s lists all the wine producers in South Africa and rates all their wines that have been tasted by a Platter’s taster. The guide will give the visitor info on what wines the farm specialises in, whether they are a boutique or mass producer and what sort of reputation they have by their star rating. It also has maps of all the wine routes.
- You should also chat to staff at wine farms on where they would recommend. They will know more than the average person and may be able to recommend some real hidden gems in the area.
- Many smaller farms don’t open on weekends and are appointment only, so always call ahead.
- Tasting fees also vary considerably, from nothing in a small town to R80 at a fancy Stellenbosch or Constantia estate.
For those staying in Cape Town the city sightseeing buses are a good option for exploring part of the Constantia wine route.
If you are staying in Franschhoek you could also opt to use the Franschhoek wine tram, which will stop at many of the wineries in the area. I would, however, not advise self-drive unless you have a designated driver for the day, but let’s face it, that’s not much fun for them.
- Some good sites include www.capetownetc.com, this is a local guide to Cape Town and I am one of their regular writers. Also good are www.wineonaplatter.com and www.wosa.co.za.
Lastly, Kim recommends for anyone booking a tour, if you aren’t familiar with South African wine and not sure what farms to visit it’s best to give your guide as much info about what type of wine you like to drink and what your expectations are for your tour. Some people aren’t even wine drinkers, they just want to learn the basics and experience a bit of the scenic beauty and history of the Winelands. Others know exactly what they like and want to visit the most highly acclaimed estates. South Africa’s wine tourism has such a diverse offering these days visitors can include things like game drives, nature walks, food and wine pairings, wine making and blending experiences, bicycle and horseback tours etc.
Cheers! Or as they say in Afrikaans: Gesondheid!