There are hundreds of wineries within an hour or two’s drive of Cape Town, all eagerly waiting for you to come and visit. Here’s why you should:
- They’re located in one of the most beautiful wine regions on earth.
- Their owners and winemakers are among the world’s most charming and interesting people.
- They make wine!
To get the most out of a day in wine country, here are a few tips:
Designate a driver
- It’s highly likely that you will end up ‘tasting’ a little more wine than you intend to, probably before you’ve even had lunch. If no one’s happy to draw the short straw, find a tour company willing to take you to the wineries you choose, or book a driver from a company like Goodfellas, One Way, Scooter Angels or Smart Guyz to get you and your car home safely at the end of the day.
Pack a cooler-box
- Chances are, you’re going to buy a bottle or three of the wines you like best, so why risk spoiling them by cooking them in a hot car?
Take the kids
- Wine farms tend to be child-friendly places, even if all they offer is a big green lawn to run around on. These days many also have climbing frames, swings, sandpits, even supervised ‘activities’. If you specifically want them to sit quietly with you in the tasting room, take along some puzzles, colouring books etc. (If you’re a parent, you obviously don’t need me telling you all this, but the childfree folk out there might appreciate my advice attempting to minimise disruption…).
- Over weekends and during the holidays, tasting rooms can get quite crowded, and the nice people behind the counter won’t have much time to chat to you.
Seek out the little places you’ve never heard of
- Sure, you can go to the big names and buy the T-shirt, but you probably won’t meet the owner or winemaker or some other equally passionate family member – and that’s what makes a wine farm visit really special. Not to mention that you’ll have an opportunity to taste something new, something you probably can’t buy in your local bottle store.
Let the tasting room attendant guide you
- This is what he or she is (hopefully) trained to do. But almost invariably, you’ll be asked what you want to taste, or what kind of wine you like. Why limit yourself to what you already know? Rather respond by saying: ‘I’m open to trying everything. Where do you suggest I start?’
- Don’t be shy. At the same time, don’t try to show off. Seriously. Don’t ask about malo or brett unless you truly care about malolactic fermentation or want to stir up trouble about brettanomyces. On the other hand, questions like ‘How was this year’s harvest?’ or ‘What food would you pair with this wine?’ can lead to quite an interesting or useful little chat.
Try something different
- If you stick to grapes you know, you could miss out on the farm’s unique speciality. Gewürztraminer, Harslevelu, Barbera, Cinsaut – a whole new world awaits.
Remember that you’re here to taste
- This is not a bar. If you want a drink, go to the restaurant or buy a bottle and have a picnic. Even if you don’t take tasting seriously, plenty of others do. Don’t spoil it for them.
Buy the wines you like, but don’t get carried away
- You shouldn’t feel obliged to buy anything (especially if you’ve been charged a tasting fee) but chances are there’ll be a wine or two that you really like. Just remember that wine sometimes doesn’t taste as nice as it did when you were relaxed and happy and surrounded by beautiful scenery (precisely the joy of doing a wine route from time to time!). But if you believe you’ve found something really special, particularly if it’s a young wine you think will age well, consider buying a case so that you can track its development over time (and drink in its prime without regretting that you didn’t buy more when you had the chance…).
If you do get carried away, ask about shipping
- These days, most wineries do ship their wines to the major centres (and overseas). Many even have some sort of ‘wine club’ or loyalty programme, offering members discounts and/or the opportunity to purchase wines before they’re more widely released.
Stop to smell the roses, or the Fynbos, or the farm kitchen cooking
You haven’t done a wine route if you haven’t done lunch somewhere, whether it be a picnic you’ve packed yourself (here’s a list of BYO picnic spots), a gourmet hamper you’ve pre-ordered from a farm, or a meal at one of the many excellent wineland restaurants.