A Day in Stellenbosch
Firstly, you should allow yourself more than one day in Stellenbosch as you need more than a day to experience the entire region. Stellenbosch will wow you with its beautiful university while also feeling like an oasis tucked away beneath the mountains. At the end of the day, you will be kicking yourself that you did not have more time there, but if you only have a day like we did, here are some tips on how to spend it.
Tip 1: Hire a driver or tour company to take you around the region.
In the midst of wedding planning and honeymoon planning, I started to do research on Stellenbosch and realized there was too much going on for me to plan it properly. Enter Camino Tours, run by the lovely Antoinette, who allows you to book your tours and leave the rest of the planning to her! Being one of the prominent tour companies in the area, I trusted her judgment completely and she did not disappoint.
Lucky for us it was still the tail end of off-season, and spring brings fewer crowds to Stellenbosch than summer or fall. What was booked as a small group tour turned into a private tour with the skilled and knowledgeable Matthias and it was great to be on our own timeline.
Additionally, with a bounty of wineries to see and enjoy, having someone else drive so you can taste is the way to go!
Tip 2: Visit during off-season
Fall is when many vineyards recommend visiting so you can partake in the harvest, but I found spring to be the perfect time. In addition to having our small group tour turn into a private tour, we also enjoyed the wineries with no crowds. At two of the wineries, we were the only tasters and the other two only had a handful of people visiting. Wandering around the peaceful and empty estates with the sun shining, it felt like we had this magical place to all to ourselves. Max was thrilled because it allowed him to get some beautiful photos of the properties!
Tip 3: Visit a variety of wineries
Antoinette and Matthias get all the credit for the diversity of wineries we experienced, but I would not have done it any other way. We started at the picturesque Stark-Conde in the Jonkershoek Valley and it was love at first sight. Crossing over the bridge to get to the isolated, floating tasting room was the perfect way to kick off the day with smooth and smokey reds. Our favorite wine we tasted was the Lingen Red Blend, which was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot and was completely unique from anything we tasted the rest of the day. Sipping wine in the valley of the mountains made us feel like we were worlds away from Cape Town. If you are looking for somewhere to eat, the aptly name Postcard Café smelled delicious as we were leaving.
Next, it was off to Rustenberg Vineyards with its old Dutch inspired architecture. It had such a homey feel and you felt like you were visiting your friend’s estate. We met someone who was flying out to Boston that afternoon and got to exchange good conversation about his days at Harvahd Yahd. Our favorite wine here was the Unwooded Chardonnay. While Max and I are not usually Chardonnay fans, South African vineyards do not use heavy American wood barrels causing the Chardonnays to be lighter and fruitier. This is when being on a private tour had its perks because following our tasting we spent time wandering around this beautiful estate.
Our third stop was Muratie, with its historical past and beautiful farm. Dating back to the late 1600s, Muratie is one of the oldest wine estates in South Africa and décor of the tasting room works to convey that. Contrasted against the modern and bright tasting room at Rustenberg, stepping into Muratie’s felt like we were stepping back decades. One of our favorite wines here was the Laurens Campher, a white blend of four varietals which was light and airy while still retaining some acidity. Another favorite was the Lady Alice Rosé Methode Cap Classique, and it was here that we learned the Methode Cap Classique (or MCC) is used to signify a South African sparking wine which is made by the traditional champagne method. This classic French-style champagne cannot actually be called such outside of France. Lucky for our moms, these are the two favorites we brought home for them!
Last, but certainly not least, it was off to Meerlust, one of the most well-recognized estates both in and outside South Africa. Pulling down the long, tree-lined driveway lent itself to a dramatic entrance. As the only two tasters inside the classic tasting room, we got personalized attention and a wonderful history of the estate and wines. The obvious favorite here was the infamous Rubicon, South Africa’s first Bordeaux style blend, largely composed of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with smaller quantities of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Again, not being a huge fan of Merlot, I was not expecting to like this, but I am so glad I did not write it off without trying it. It won as the World’s Best Blended Red and the best “New World Red” in the early 2000s. It is best enjoyed aged a couple of years, so there is currently a bottle sitting on our shelves to be consumed for our second or third anniversary!
Each winery was different from the next and it was nice to have such a diverse and unique experience at each of them.
Tip 4: Partake in the delicious food culture
Most wine regions cultivate delicious food pairings to enhance their wines, and Stellenbosch is no exception. Each winery we visited had a restaurant of equal caliber and I am so glad we left the decision up to Antoinette – I never could have made the decision! Cuvée at Simonsig Estate was her choice, and it was spot on. There are certain meals I would return to if I could and this is one of them. The menu changes based on the season and available ingredients, and our meal was full of light and delicious spring flavors. Our hake, mussels and gnocchi were paired with Simonsig’s delicious MCC (champagne) and a Sauvignon and were enjoyed in the beautiful dining room – once again it was great to come in the off-season because we almost had the place to ourselves.
It was the perfect day full of beautiful scenery, delicious wines and informative and welcoming estates. It certainly goes down as one of the best days of our honeymoon and one I wish I could do over again and again. If anyone is visiting South Africa, I highly recommend a visit either to Stellenbosch or the neighboring wine region of Franschhoek. There is so much history in the production of South Africa’s wines and is a source of pride and tradition for them.
Have you ever been to Stellenbosch? Is it somewhere you would like to go?