The Cape Winelands: a haven for wine-lovers from across the globe
From the ocean kissed vineyards of Hermanus to the vibrant valleys of Stellenbosch, anyone who is looking for the wine experience of a lifetime will find it in South Africa’s winelands.
Starting out as a “cellar rat” and growing to be the wine connoisseur that he is today, Andre Morgenthal is a guru when it comes to all things wine-related. He has a lifetime of experience in the wine industry under his belt, including being communications manager for Wines of South Africa for 16 years as well as his involvement in the heritage initiative The Old Vine Project. His passion and enthusiasm for the wines of the Western Cape (and beyond!) make him the perfect person to discuss the ever-growing love that travellers have for the Cape Winelands.
Andre spoke to us about the glamour that comes with being involved with the wine industry as well as the challenges that wine makers face.
“Winemaking is like a contact sport. If you watch rugby, it looks glamorous, they look like rock stars but it’s hard work, the training is hard every day. As a winemaker, it’s glamourous when you’re on stage and you present your wine or when you travel overseas, but it’s hard work when you have sleepless nights about rain or frost or mildew and all the other challenges in the vineyard or cellar. It’s a very industrial job, but it’s sexy too because you’re selling wine. You’re selling stories and experiences”
The day to day life of a wine guru can take him anywhere with visitors and guests of the Winelands.
“I run the Old Vine project which is a heritage initiative protecting old vines. We did a helicopter tour yesterday, so that’s very glamourous.”
However, it’s the simpler parts of the job that he enjoys the most.
“The best part of my job is sharing the experiences and stories with people. I love working with people who are really into wine and I love working with food. Wine, food and tourism are the most exciting parts for me. To pull everything together and get to share the beauty that we have in the Cape winelands.”
The best way to see the Winelands
Andre has some advice for those looking to really make the most out of their trip to the wine regions of South Africa.
“When people come to the Western Cape, they often base themselves in Cape Town and then do day trips. I think that they should stay in Cape Town for a couple of days and then move out to the Winelands and actually stay in Stellenbosch or Franschhoek. They should base themselves in the Winelands and really immerse themselves in the experience. You don’t get the full experience if you don’t stay over. We have over 20 wine routes in the Cape winelands, so it’s very difficult to navigate your way within a day, or even within a week.”
Taking a guided tour of the winelands is the best way for visitors to really have the experience they are looking for. Andre believes that tours should be tailored to the individual to have the best results.
“I listen to the guest beforehand and see what their preferences are. It’s very important to understand what kind of wines they prefer to drink at home, what other experiences they’ve had before and what their expectations are. I want to build something that will meet their expectations. We would usually do a vineyard or cellar tour, to explain the wine making process in the South African context and then visit some wine farms to taste wines and meet the people there. Then obviously lunch or dinner. Everything is so specific to the people, it’s difficult to specify one type of experience.”
Enjoy the diversity and options on offer
Andre still gets surprised by how varied and diverse the Winelands area is.
“We’ve got such a diverse region. I saw it yesterday, flying over the mountains and the valleys by helicopter. Everything changes. We took off from a winery called Creation, which is in Hermanus. Hermanus has the best land-based whale watching. You can literally stand on the seaside shore and the whales are just a couple of metres away. We took off from there, and geographically the weather changed four times as we flew the helicopter through three regions.”
It’s that diversity between the regions that make the South African Winelands so appealing when compared to other wine regions throughout the world.
“When you go to a particular wine region, let’s say in France or Australia or California, it’s very much the same. While in South Africa, you have an extreme diversity between the different wine regions. It’s been written, these aren’t my words – it’s one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world.”
Because the regions are relatively close to each other, travellers can enjoy several different experiences on one trip.
“Apart from its beauty, it’s the proximity of everything - we have a beautiful city like Cape Town, which is like San Francisco or Vancouver, and it’s got the iconic Table Mountain that has this energy. We’ve got the ocean and the beaches, we’ve got smaller fishing villages on the coast line and then we’ve got the wine lands which are so diverse. Some are close to the ocean and others are inland and they are so different from each other. You come to one country for one experience and within a three-hour radius drive from Cape Town you can see all the wine regions in the Western Cape. That makes it quite unique.”
“People typically couple a wine region visit with a game safari. They usually stop over in Johannesburg, either on the way in or out, and do a safari experience. You can pack quite a bit into a holiday by coming to South Africa.”
Great food to go with great wine
Great wine deserves great food, and the Western Cape will not disappoint its visitors.
“The gastronomy tourism is huge in South Africa. There is an international influence, if you look at the San Pellegrino Top 50 - all those guys are inspiring our chefs. We’ve got a mix of molecular gastronomy in our restaurants, but then we’ve got the opposite which is very traditional, very locally informed and inspired.”
Where food comes from and how it is prepared is a huge part of the process for chefs in South Africa.
“I can see that there is a generation that is interested in travel, wine and food who are concerned about heritage, pollution, health, ethical sourcing, where your food comes from, what you put in your body and also investment back into where the food comes from.”
“The farm-to-table or the garden-to-fork concept is very strong in South Africa. Food sourcing is very important to the integrity of what chefs are creating for the visitors. Most of our winery restaurants are very much farm-based and farm-sourced. They have their own chickens and cattle that they source from to build their menus. There’s a big focus on natural, free range and organic.”
Although you may be forgiven for assuming that Andre could be biased in his opinions on how good the food is in South Africa, it is an opinion that is echoed and verified throughout the food industry worldwide.
“Wolfgat restaurant recently won the best restaurant in the world and is based in a very small fishing village along the west coast here. The chef grew up here in Stellenbosch and opened up a very small restaurant in Paternoster. He started foraging both in the ocean and in the sand dunes. He built his menu items around foraging on the west coast and around ocean-based resources.”
Using what the land provides is top on the list of priorities for South African people and they certainly know how to make the most of it.
“The food here is seasonal. In the winter we have a flower that grows on the dams here called Water Hawthorn. It’s almost like a pod with a little white flower and you can stew that with lamb and finish it off with pepper and lemon juice. It’s a poor man’s dish that has become a cuisine.”
So if delicious, locally-sourced food paired with exquisite wines from the vines of the valleys you are visiting sound good, then look no further than the South African Winelands.
Book your holiday to South Africa now.