Known by the locals as “Oak Town,” Stellenbosch is the second oldest town in South Africa—and one of the most charming. Established in 1679, Stellenbosch is lined with colonial, Cape Dutch-style homes, which are still called “Alphabet Houses” because if you look closely, they’re structurally shaped like the letter A or H, and so on. Stellenbosch is also a university town—the school is just over 100 years old, and the academic population gives it a similar feel to Harvard Square, Princeton, or another classic college town. And of course, perhaps above all, Stellenbosch is known for their wineries. South African wine has always had a notable presence on the world wine stage—thanks in large part to their prized Pinotage. Here’s how you can plan a perfect Stellenbosch wine tour.
The Best Stellenbosch Vineyards
Waterford Wine Estate is known as the original purveyors of Stellenbosch’s classic wine and chocolate tasting. In Stellenbosch’s Blaauwklippen Valley, you can reserve a library tasting, Waterford’s wine and chocolate tasting, or enjoy their sunset courtyard concert series on Fridays. Be sure to sample Waterford’s Estate collection; they make an estate Cabernet Sauvignon, an estate Chardonnay, and their signature Waterford Estate The Jem bottle.
Lanzerac Wine Estate is a beautifully landscaped property featuring Cape Dutch-style buildings and sprawling grounds. Visit their tasting room, where you can choose between a premium tasting, heritage tasting, or their wine and chocolate pairing (South Africa may be known for their Pinotage, but Lanzerac’s Sauvignon Blanc and peach white chocolate is exceptionally memorable).
Delaire Graff Estate is one of Stellenbosch’s superstar wineries—they also have a hotel on the vineyard grounds, which is a Relais & Chateaux property. You can book a wine tasting on their patio; be sure to sample their rosé, made entirely from Cabernet Franc grapes, and their Sunrise Brut MCC. MCC stands for Methode Cap Classique, which is the preferred name of South African sparkling wine. It’s made in much the same way that Champagne is, but of course, not being able to call it Champagne, the South African wineries chose to brand it as Cap Classique or MCC.
Finally, visit Thelema Mountain Vineyards, one of the highest elevation wineries in Stellenbosch. The altitude impacts their grape-growing soil, making them “leaders in Cabernet Sauvignon.” Taste their Cabernet Sauvignon, Mountain Red, Merlot Reserve, and Methode Cap Classique in view of the mountain vineyards.
How to Get Around
Stellenbosch is only about an hour from Cape Town, and of course, you can rent a car and do a self-guided tour of the Stellenbosch wineries. But it’s best to take a day tour of Stellenbosch such that you a) have a designated driver, b) don’t have to worry about car rental logistics, and c) have a local to provide context around this historical and wine-rich region. The easiest way to plan a guided day tour of Stellenbosch is to work with your tour operator. Luxury safari operator African Travel, Inc., for example, can seamlessly add a wine tour to any South African itinerary. You can inquire about adding a day trip to Stellenbosch, and African Travel, Inc. will work with a local tour company to provide an authentic food and wine experience in Stellenbosch or the neighboring town on Franschoek.
Where to Eat
Stellenbosch is a foodie hub as much as it’s a wine destination. The locals place a premium on growing and making their own wares, especially at Back’s, in the center of town. Back’s is a perfect lunch spot—they have a farm not far from Stellenbosch where they source wheat for their freshly baked bread, olives for their in-house olive oil, milk for their cheese, and of course, grapes for their wine. (Look out for their adorable pun-tastic wine Goats Do Roam.)
Also a great place for lunch—or even just a to-go pastry—is SCHOON, the shop that pioneered artisan baking in Stellenbosch. For coffee, you won’t do better than Blue Crane Coffee Co. South Africans take their independent coffee houses very seriously; Blue Crane is a small, family-run establishment roasting beans in house.
Indochine is a fine dining restaurant within Delaire Graff Estate, serving a South African take on Pan Asian fare. The restaurant sits in full view of the estate’s sprawling vineyards, and when they open the floor-to-ceiling windows, the restaurant transforms into a luxurious patio. Dinner here is the perfect way to wrap up a day in South African wine country.
Where to Stay
If you plan to stay overnight in Stellenbosch, book a charming room at River Manor House, a boutique hotel built in the Cape Dutch colonial style. From the chic pool deck to the well-decorated lounges, every corner of this hotel feels simultaneously luxurious and homey. After you book your room, call to reserve your in-suite spa treatment ahead of time.