Just two decades ago, there were only about 150 winemaking operations in the Cape. Though the area was historically vibrant with viticulture and centuries-old tradition, the economic isolation of apartheid had hobbled the industry. But today more than 650 wineries are thriving, producing vintages that are gaining global attention and regularly winning honors—for example, Cape vintners have been awarded best Bordeaux blend in the world several times at top international wine trade show Vinexpo. Because the heart of production lies merely an hour outside Cape Town, in the neighboring towns of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, it’s easy for urbanites and visitors to imbibe on-site. Where to begin? After careful consideration and visiting—and drinking, we should add—these are the five that mattered most to us.
Recognized as the country’s top operation in 2012 by Platter’s, South Africa’s wine bible, Boekenhoutskloof is the brainchild of Marc Kent, who oversees production of various vintages, including an impressive Sémillon and the blockbuster Chocolate Block ($20), which takes coffee-tinged Syrah as a base, then blends in Grenache Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier and some Cinsault for a punch of lollipop fruitiness. It’s no wonder Kent’s wine was tapped by El Bulli when the restaurant was open. At Excelsior Rd., Franschhoek; boekenhoutskloof.co.za.
One of the oldest Cape wine estates and formerly the property of Cecil Rhodes himself, Boschendal offers a time-warping glimpse into the pioneering Huguenots’ wealth: Lavish H-shaped Cape Dutch buildings are pristinely whitewashed and topped with tidy thatched roofs. Come for the spicy, peppery 1685 Shiraz ($15), named after the date on the farm’s title deeds, or a standout MCC Grande Cuvée Brut ($25)—Méthode cap Classique, shorthand for South African sparkling wine. At Pniel Rd., Franschhoek; boschendalwines.com.
Maps and charts tracking Huguenot settlements line the walls of Chamonix’s rustic tasting room, which features a fireplace and rough-hewn wooden shelves. Winemaker Gottfried Mocke produces only from grapes grown on the estate, which sits mountainside, meaning the air is cooler than it is on the valley floor. This is ideal for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; try the 2011 Vineyard Reserve ($20), which spent 11 months in wood, 50 percent of that time in new French oak. At Uitkyk St., Franschhoek; chamonix.co.za.
Chic and minimalist La Motte is a passion project of Hanneli Rupert-Koegelenberg, opera-singing scion of the Richemont-owning dynasty. She invested in a tasting room sleekly designed with glass walls on one side, behind which rests a roomful of aging barrels. Try a bottle of the fruity, cinnamon-scented Millennium 2011 blend ($10) or the rarefied Pierneef Shiraz Viognier 2010 ($20). Rupert-Koegelenberg also repurposed the sturdy old Cape Dutch buildings of the historic farm with clear nods to their heritage; look for the woven leather bases on wood-framed seating known as riempie, a classic South African technique. At R45 Main Rd., Franschhoek; la-motte.com.
In Stellenbosch’s Jonkershoek Valley, Stark-Condé’s tasting room is a fairy-tale-like cottage surrounded by weeping willows on an island in the middle of a lake. Hand-built in Bali, it resembles a teahouse, a fitting nod to the half-Japanese heritage of Marie Stark, who runs the adjacent Postcard Café. At the winery, co-owned by her husband, José, and her father, Hans Schröder, the standout is the Field Blend (sold on-site for about $15), in which four white grape varieties are grown, picked and pressed together. At Jonkershoek Rd., Stellenbosch; stark-conde.co.za.
And Stay Here...
Jeweler Lawrence Graff’s Delaire is one of the wine country’s gems, in particular for its Platter’s five-star 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($30) but also because the luxury rooms are the ideal place to retire after a day spent sampling the region’s wines. At R310, Helshoogte Pass; delaire.co.za.