While the natural beauty, fascinating locals and gourmet food vie for your attention, the highlight of the Franschhoek Valley is, undeniably, the wine.
With a history dating back to the French Huguenots, Franschhoek’s wine culture is just that, a culture. Food and wine form an integral part of many social gatherings in South Africa, and in Franschhoek this is taken to a whole ’nother level.
You could easily spend weeks sipping your way from farm to farm, admiring the views of the mountains and eating course after course of gourmet deliciousness. I spent three days in the valley, meeting with winemakers and farm owners to find out what it is that makes it such a special wine region.
Whether you’re new to wine or have a fully-stocked home cellar, there are more than enough wine farms to choose from in the Franschhoek Valley. One of the best things about Franschhoek is the opportunity to taste wine with the winemaker, as many of the farms are small and run by the owners or their families.
Getting the story behind the wine: Black Elephant Vintners
The tasting room at Black Elephant Vintners is at the home of farm owner Kevin Swart. Arriving for my 9am tasting, I was warmly greeted by Kevin and we sat down in the tasting room for a chat about his wine. Over an hour later, I had tasted all his wines and we’d chatted about everything from wine to marketing, and everything in between.
Tastings are hosted either by Kevin or winemaker Jacques Wentzel. Sitting at the long table in the tasting room, Kevin told me the brand was named after the three partners in the business: Black after Kevin’s last name, Swart; Elephant, which is the English translation of the last name of business partner Raymond Ndlovu; and Vintners, which describes Jacques’s role as winemaker. Two of the lables, the Timothy White and Nicholas Red, are named after Kevin’s sons.
A tasting at Black Elephant is an opportunity to learn about wine from start to finish, and I guarantee that you will not leave without purchasing at least one bottle.
Hours: By appointment only
Don’t leave without trying (or buying): The Amistad Syrah
A bubbly experience: Môreson
The road leading to the tasting room at Môreson is aptly named Happy Valley Road. The knowledgeable and friendly staff members introduce you to their wines, the story of Miss Molly – the family Weimaraner – and the popular Miss Molly Bubbly. The Méthode Cap Classique wines could easily compete with the best French Champagne.
While you’re there, book a table for lunch at my favourite winelands restaurant, Bread & Wine, next to the tasting room. He will hate me for saying this, but Chef Niel Jewell has somewhat of a cult status in the foodie community and his food speaks for itself as to the reasons why. (Tip: Start with the charcuterie board with home-cured, pasture-reared pork.)
Hours: Open 7 days a week, 9:30am to 5pm. Tastings cost R30 per person, but are waived upon purchase.
Don’t leave without trying (or buying): The Mercator Premium Chardonnay (a wine Môreson is famous for)
A family experience: Leopards Leap
If you’re travelling in a family or group, you’ll find something for everyone at the sprawling Leopard’s Leap estate.
In the library area at the entrance, an interactive projection wall explains the story of the Cape Mountain Leopard and the conservation efforts that the farm actively supports.
The modern tasting bar and light, open space invites you to venture further; into the restaurant and outdoor patio. Exciting cooking demonstrations and lessons are held in a large, shiny kitchen, while the harvest table is laden with fresh, seasonal salads, and a rotisserie with a selection of succulent meats.
The atmosphere at Leopard’s Leap is inviting, relaxed and unpretentious – a reflection of their wines. It is the perfect place for a family day.
Hours: Tuesdays to Saturdays, 9am to 5pm, and Sundays, 11am to 17pm
Don’t leave without trying (or buying): The Culinaria Brut Méthode Cap Classique
A tasting steeped in history: Chamonix
In a tasting room that dates back over 150 years, you cannot help but be absorbed into the history of Chamonix. Situated adjacent to celebrity-chef Reuben Riffel’s first restaurant, Racine, you’ll taste the farm’s iconic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as the smell of delectable food whets your taste buds.
At Chamonix it is believed that any food tastes better with a glass of wine, and I tend to agree. For those who are pressed for time, Racine also offers an express menu, so you get the opportunity to sample the cuisine while enjoying the tasting.
Hours: Open 7 days a week, 9am to 5pm. A tasting costs R35 per person and a reserve tasting R55 per person.
Don’t leave without trying (or buying): The Pinot Noir Reserve
Not to be missed: Babylonstoren
The moment you arrive at Babylonstoren, you will see why this is described by locals as one of the most beautiful gems in the crown of the Western Cape. Every detail, from the symmetrical gardens to the tastefully “slapdash” presentation of the sandwiches at the Glass House, has been carefully thought through to create the ultimate winelands experience.
The wine-tasting experience also introduces you to the various elements of the farm: the water system (more interesting than it probably sounds), the olive press, wine cellar and more.
Whether you’re there to taste the wine, see the gardens or dine at the restaurant, you are guaranteed to leave with a heart full of joy.
Book well in advance for the restaurant or enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of a lunch or tea at the Green House. Make sure that you allow ample time to discover the interesting property.
Hours: Open 7 days a week, 9am to 5pm, but wine-tasting, cellar tour, garden tour and restaurant bookings are essential
- Daily garden tour, 10am
- Daily cellar tours
- Garden walk, 7am (only in summer)
Don’t leave without trying (or buying): The flagship Chardonnay