It was a flash of brilliance that established South Africa’s first official wine route. Prior to the 1970s, very few private wineries existed, and you generally didn’t go because farms weren’t open places to visit.
Since Stellenbosch started the revolution, many have followed. Now, the formalised route has become an indispensable tool for almost every wineland visit. But not all visits may be defined by official road-markers and new “routes” have arisen by pure volume of travellers. Take the Cape’s R43, for example, which is bound to be a-buzz again this holiday.
The R43 is an unassuming country road that connects Wolseley in the Swartland with Bredasdorp near the continent's southernmost point. But over holidays, the stretch between its intersection with the N2 and the coast gets particularly busy as families head out to the favourites of Hermanus, Franskraal, De Kelders and Pearly Beach.
At these times, the R43 becomes its own de facto wine route - not by traditional evaluations of terroir or climate, but because of the many of these regions the road traverses. In this example, there are also several world-class wine experiences along the way too.
This then becomes the invitation not only to stock up for the coming weeks of relaxation, but to replenish the home cellar by filling the Ventertjie on the return trip.
Departing from Cape Town, a journey might first lead up the N2 through Helderberg and over Sir Lowry's Pass, past Elgin, where you’ll pass Paul Cluver Wines and be within short distance of many other wineries too. Then, the turnoff leads towards Hermanus, Stanford and Gansbaai where wine routes of Walker Bay, Hemel en Aarde and the Agulhas Wine Triangle await.
The R43 specifically passes the gates of Daphne Neethling’s Paardenkloof Ecology EstatePaardenkloof Ecology Estate, then Wildekrans; Heimo and Maria Thalhammer’s Rivendell Estate; Kobie Viljoen’s Villon Family Wines; and, Barton Vineyards.
Benguela Cove Estate
Our own first stop is Benguela Cove - the first or last winery where the road meets the sea, depending on your perspective. The winery was established by British national Penny Streeter, whose background in hospitality is reflected in the diverse visitor offerings that include being pet and family-friendly. Interlinking, wide-windowed and furnished spaces allow different interests to be served, whether dining, formal wine tasting, as a function, simply lounging or enjoying fresh air outdoors. A next-level play area sits away from the buildings, but also accommodates parents wanting to keep an eye on the kids.
As might be expected, wine is always the focus with activities such as cellar tours and a special boat-cruise tasting being among the most popular. They must be booked.
For wine-lovers, Benguela Cove will be a revelation. Johann Fourie heads the team, producing wines from pioneering vineyards. The flagship Catalina Semillon recalls the nearby bay’s history as a base for the WW2 “boat-planes” while the Vinology series represents Benguela Cove’s experimental edge.
From there, the R43 leads into the greater Hermanus, with the next wine hub located at the entrance to the Hemel-en-Aarde. Here you’ll find Whalehaven winery; the all-wines-in-one-place Hermanus Wine Village; and, Hermanuspietersfontein.
The wine experience is enhanced in Hermanus thanks to a large range of wine and food restaurant experiences, suited to diverse budgets and levels of interest.
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve
Continue out of town and the next concentration of wine enterprises is to be found near Stanford. The road passes Misty Mountains wine estate and distillery; the Sir Robert Stanford winery; Welgesind, the tiny winery of Chris and Amanda de Wit; and, the fynbos-rich Stanford Hills Estate of Peter and Jami Kastner, whose lawns and restaurant will provide a few pleasant and leisurely hours by themselves.
From there, the fynbos gets higher and closer to the road. Settlements are sparser; this is holiday country. Minutes on, a new wine highlight awaits at Grootbos Private Nature Reserve. Grootbos is an ecosystem of its own, funded largely by five-star accommodation that has given life to several conservation and turn-key community initiatives. Two complexes comprise secluded cottages dotted around a lodge building: the selling point, spectacular views of Walker Bay and the immersive biome.
Its centre of operations for example provides a home to environmental researchers as well as a plant nursery and training college. It is part of a tour available to guests.
As for wine, sommelier Nicole Croombe says the Grootbos collection is “a passion project” for owner Michael Lutzeyer. The Forest Lodge restaurant has three winelists available - one with wines purchased at the Cape Winemaker’s Guild auctions (Grootbos is one of its biggest customers); another with a more general selection; and, a third, offering wines from Grootbos’s private maturation cellar. A special bottled called The Last Syrah, made for Michael by Paul Cluver Wines’ Andries Burger, is on the list too; and similar projects from Michael’s partnership with JC Martin at Creation are in the pipeline.
As might be expected, Grootbos is a holder of Diner’s Club Winelist Awards. And for additional interest, the property occasionally hosts winemaker dinners too.
Back on the road, the R43 swerves away from the coast at Pearly Beach, heading inland to pass through its last wine territory of the Agulhas Wine Triangle and the southernmost vineyards on the African continent.
“Wine for the explorers,” proclaims the route’s advertising. Indeed, at this point, the traveller is within striking distance of The Giant Periwinkle at Baardeskeerdersbos; the Human family’s Black Oystercatcher Wines; and, nearby Strandveld Vineyards, before the R43 halts at Bredasdorp.
By this time, the boot is packed to the brim with exciting new finds. All that remains is to kick back and work on making some space for the trip back home.