Embracing the Western Cape Wine Culture

Western Cape Wine

Ever wondered what the wine craze is about amongst students? Or perhaps you just want to know more about how wine forms part of the Western Cape culture? Robyn delves into the world of wine discovery in the Western Cape.

Growing up, I always looked on in envy as adults were constantly spending their sunny Sundays wine estate hopping, wine tasting and looking absolutely elegant. Of course I wasn’t jealous of the wine tasting at that age.  This jealousy stemmed from them looking all grown up and elegant as they went off to spend the day in beautiful locations.

I soon joined the wine tasting culture and found myself spending weekends at wine farms with friends. We would have a great time and meet many new people. As I have now come to realise – the culture of wine tasting brought us together. Hopefully you’ll discover this too!

Wine is an integral part of South African society. It’s just as prominent as sport or music in creating a culture unique to South Africa. Wine plays a huge role in our economy and brings people together (think wine tasting and jovial conversations that follows).

My Quest to Uncover the Wine Culture

I decided that it was high time that I discovered the true culture of wine. Especially when it comes to students. And just like that I set off on a journey to one of South Africa’s most beautiful wine-lands and bustling student towns: Stellenbosch.

Side Note: The weather shouldn’t deter you from any wine tasting experience. If it’s sweltering hot outside you can sit inside if they have an aircon or you could sit under a tree with a cold glass of white wine. In the case of the opposite extreme – cold, rainy weather – you can opt for a glass of red that you can sip whilst absorbing the warmth radiating from a fireplace.

A Brief History

In order to get to the bottom of the wine culture, I decided to start right at the beginning of South Africa’s wine story. I was pleased to find that the first wine route in South Africa began 20 minutes from where I live, in the picturesque town of Stellenbosch.

South Africa’s wine culture starts about 45 years ago when one man, Frans Malan of Simonsig, was on holiday in France. Here he noticed how people would need to drive to a wine estate and taste the wine before choosing what they wanted to purchase. He saw the atmosphere it created and he was inspired to make a change to the world of wine in South Africa.

In 1971, Frans Malan started the first wine route in South Africa along with two other wine estate owners: Niel Joubert from Spier and Spatz Sperling from Delheim. These three men are known as the pioneers of the wine route. Their marketing genius and innovation led the wine culture to becoming what it is today. They created a wine route and had a map printed of it so people knew where to go and how to get to each of the farms as a part of the wine route adventure.

I chatted to Franscois Malan, the son of the late Frans Malan – he is now the CEO of Simonsig and has continued his father’s dreams of creating a wine culture unlike any other. At first, guests were allowed in the cellars to taste the wines from the barrels and to see how and where the wine was made. Now each wine estate has its own wine tasting room and a restaurant separate from the tasting room. Sales are booming, friendships are developing and wine estates are ever evolving to keep up with the increase in popularity.

Simonsig:

Frans Malan got the idea of the wine route from the wine culture in France. He also created a product called the Kaapsevonkel, the first MCC wine in South Africa.

Delheim:

Delheim’s popularity soared with the onset of the wine route. They saw a need to pair wine with food and the first restaurant was opened on a wine estate.

Spier:

Slightly more well-known than the others, Spier has boomed with business in the past years. They became more of a full-day stop than a wine tasting stop with their animal encounters, wine tasting, art gallery, restaurants and hotel.

 

While the three may seem vastly different, they’ve all kept their charm and are all well worth the visit. After all – this is the very beginning of the wine culture that we have come to love and enjoy.

Where Do Students Fit In?

The wine route is on the doorstep of Stellenbosch University. Stellenbosch is a vibrant student town where many of the students have moved away from home and spend their weekends in Stellenbosch.

Frans Malan fondly speaks of the students who laze on the lawn each and every Friday when the sun shines. With amusement in his eyes he tells us

“We brought students in to our farm on a bus (from Stellenbosch). And we told them to spend some time here, taste the wines and have a lovely wine tasting. And, of course, there were some that drank too much and some that stole the glasses. (Laughs). From that a big culture started. That students would come here and just have a nice time.”

Heinrich Adams-Witbooi, who conducted our tasting at Delheim and is the Cellar Manager, shared stories of students and international guests.  He did this as he poured us some of his favourite wines with a huge smile on his face and laughter in his voice. And at Spier… Well, the majority of guests there were students, even on the rainy day when we visited them. 

The Culture We Need to Embrace

I was extremely relieved when Heinrich gave me a small smile and shook his head when I asked if students live up to the drunken stereotypes. Delheim happens to be quite fond of the students who visit their estate.

Francois Malan, a truly genuine, kind man, also appreciates the students. As he says:

“If we get the students coming now, while they’re at university. They will come back when they have families and their kids are in universities. After all, they are the leaders of tomorrow.”

He also believes that the youth is important in ensuring the wine legacy and culture the pioneers created continues.  The younger generation of today need to embrace and be educated on the oenology (the study of wine and all of its aspects).

Frans and Heinrich both had similar thoughts when it came to the student wine culture. It’s not only about educating students on the wine making process and on how to appreciate wine. It’s all about creating memories, giving students a safe place to have fun as well as creating relationships with the wine estate and their peers.  This is so that they keep coming back, sharing stories of the good old, student days with the wine estate and their children.

How to Experience it to the Full

I know this may seem rather obvious. You drink wine, duh! Well… Not so much. If that were the case, we could purchase R20 bottles of wine from our nearest bottle store instead of going wine tasting.

To truly appreciate wine, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. Perhaps go on an adventure or two where your main focus isn’t drinking wine, but learning about the wine making process.

Now, the art of tasting the wine. (He may be a bit extreme but he has the basics covered).

Young Adults Wine Tasting Experiences

“My first sip of wine was taking in the heart of wine country- Stellenbosch. At first, it was just a 500ml box of Robertson Sweet Rosé (a standard drink at Bohemia) and eventually my taste buds developed and I now have a deep love for Merlot. What’s cool about studying in Stellenbosch is that there’s never a shortage of wine anywhere. And there are so many different tasting spots in a 30 km radius that you don’t have to go to the same farm twice.” – Sharna Hayes


“I’d say that the wine farms in the Western Cape, especially Stellenbosch, has a lot of character and ambience. But the wine farms in SA as a whole are very ‘visitor friendly’. It’s generally quite a good experience because our farms are on point!”– Charne Meaker


“The few times I have been, it was lovely. It is affordable and you learn awesome things about the wine making process too!” – Kelsey Carroll


“My experience with EduConnect was really cool because we had the guys explain to us the different wines. It felt quite personal which I haven’t had at other farms before. At Delheim and Simonsig there was definitely a sense of history and culture that has been preserved throughout the years, whereas Spier has become a lot more commercialised. I really like that it was personal with a sense of family and culture.” – Wesley Roos

There are so many beautiful wine estates out there, it’s incredible. There are also some places which have created events, markets and activities for you to do out of the wine culture which has developed in the Western Cape.

  • Stellenbosch Wine Routes: There’s three main routes. Stellenbosch has about 150 farms so it would be impossible to do even a quarter of them in one day. Definitely start off with the three pioneer farms.
  • Franschhoek Wine Tram: EduOne was fortunate enough to actually get to experience this! A quaint little tram takes you from farm to farm in the Franschhoek area. Read about our experience, you won’t be able to resist this one!
  • The Spice Route on the way to Paarl is a great experience. They have wine tasting, beer tasting, chocolate tasting, pizza and a whole bunch of other amazing places. Definitely give this place a try.

SA Venues has a list of each wine route in the Western Cape, you should definitely check it out.

Another truly amazing tool to use as a wine tasting lover is the Cape Wine Farms app. This app has every farm in the Cape listed on their app, a description of each, where to find them and what they have to offer. You can check in on the app, add a photo and post it to Facebook. To top it off, they have awesome competitions running for when you check in and you can earn points! 

As our wine tour came to an end I came to an important realisation. Wine isn’t simply around as an alcoholic beverage. Wine now connects people from diverse backgrounds and brings them together. When going wine tasting take a look at the people around you – you will see people from different countries and ethnicities chatting with a glass of wine in hand.

Wine educates people, keeps the economy going and results in stories and laughs being shared. That’s definitely a culture I want to be a part of.

Take a glimpse at our incredible wine tour: 

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