This April our wine writer Greg Landman heads along the Helshoogte Pass to find all the best places for wine tasting.
There exists – in an area of the Cape noted for spectacular scenery – a beautiful drive that links the town of Stellenbosch to Franschhoek. Helshoogte winds higher and higher as one goes along it, passing some of the most fabulously situated wine estates we have. The highest point is reached as you get to Delaire Graff on the right and then drops ever so gently past the quaint little town of Pniel onto the road that takes you to Franschhoek. On the way one can pull into some great places to taste wine and, if you really feel up to it, have a nibble or two. Some of them have accommodation options – we are talking top end here – but one thing they all have in common is great wine.
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These are some of my favourites, so fire up the jalopy and get out and about soon. These are in the order you will find them as you come out of Stellenbosch onto the pass. There are various tasting charges at each and some will waive these on purchase so check it out before going so you know what you are in for. Not all are open on Sundays either.
Here’s where to go
1. Neil Ellis
Neil has been making wine for years and can very much be called one of the doyens of the industry. Today his son Warren is taking care of things very much aware of the big shoes he has to fill. The tasting room is modern and has sweeping views over this historic area. The range is large but the friendly staff will talk you through it perfectly. Don’t miss the dark, rich and delicious Jonkershoek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – it’s perfect in every way – and the Whitehall Chardonnay, with an ever-so-discreet touch of oak. Others that carry their name proudly are the Piekenierskloof Grenache – full of dark berry flavours – and the Amica, a crystal clean Sauvignon Blanc. The reds in particular are just delicious. Charcuterie platters keep the tasting journey moving along nicely.
+27 (0) 21 887 0649; [email protected]
Fabulous views down into the valley are the first thing you will notice. The tasting room is a haven of taste with just enough sophistication to make it really special. One notices the displays of art which speak of the formidable combination of taste and money. Long the domain of winemaker Miles Mossop, today the winemaking is under the sure hand of Stuart Botha, watched over by GM Karl Lambour, a celebrated winemaker in his own right. The wines are spectacular and their brandy is superb. Try the Director’s Reserve Red, a fabulous Cabernet led Bordeaux style blend, the Reserve Collection Chardonnay, a delicious barrel fermented charmer, and the Reserve Collection Sauvignon Blanc Noble Late Harvest, a tangy treasure packed with marmalade notes – heaven. To crown it all, they have a great restaurant, a deli for lighter fare, and the most superb olive oil. Take some home and have fun.
+27 (0) 21 808 5900; [email protected]
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At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, here you will find even more spectacular views, this time on the other side that goes down to Franschhoek. Delaire Graff Estate is owned by international jeweler Laurence Graff, and of course there is a fabulous diamond jewelry store if you feel the urge to splurge on something special for your other half. Also here, is the original Tretchikoff painting of The Chinese Girl, one of the most reproduced art works in the world. Mr. Graff bought it for a lot of money and sent it back to the country of its birth, South Africa. There is a very fancy restaurant with once again—views to die for—and another one that does Asian food called Indochine. The tasting room is elegant and if the weather is good can be done outside. The range, from winemaker Morné Vrey, includes some superb wines like their Banghoek Chardonnay, rich and smooth, the Botmaskop, a Cab led blend, packed with dark red fruit, and the Coastal Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc, lively and fresh. If you are loaded, the luxury accommodation here is some of the finest in the country so go ahead and splash out, you will not be disappointed.
+27 (0) 21 885 8160; [email protected]
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4. The Tasting Shed At Bartinney
One of our most experienced women winemakers, Ronell Wiid, has been turning out some great wines here for many years. The tasting room is cozy and has picture windows that look out into the valley. The farm is very environmentally sensitive and has a close relationship with the fynbos of the area. They have a very interesting tasting which involves tasting three of their wines alongside native fynbos from the farm. Sounds strange, but it is fascinating how one’s concept of the flavours in the wine is enhanced by the smell of the fynbos, very different and worth trying. There are plates of cheese, meat and biltong on offer as well. Wines to try include a great Cabernet, deep, dark and mysterious and a fabulous Chardonnay, vivid, vibrant and rich. The Reserve Range has a delicious Cabernet and the Hourglass Chardonnay from high up the mountain slopes, superb.
+27 (0) 21 885 1013; [email protected]
The red wines here, in particular, are really good but there are one or two whites lurking on the sidelines that are worth your time. Try the delicious and fresh Chardonnay and the smooth but fruity Chenin. In the reds the one not to miss is the Rondekop Per Se Cabernet – elegant and sure of itself. Don’t leave out the classically styled Oldenburg Cabernet Sauvignon, the Grenache Noir that’s packed with dark red fruit, and the Barrel Select Cabernet Franc – it’s full of red berry compote flavours, delicious. The tasting room is elegant and has a glorious view onto the Banghoek Valley. A major attraction here is the excellent accommodation, The Homestead, six beautiful suites which can be booked for your exclusive use. The house sleeps 12 comfortably and is really special, so if you have a group that wants to get out of town and make an event worth remembering, try it.
Missed our last Wine Town of the Month? Take a look at Greg’s round up for Paarl here.
Words Greg Landman
As the wine writer for Country Life magazine for the last 15 years, Greg has met and interviewed more than 150 of the country’s top wine makers. His articles offer unique insights into where to eat, what to drink, and where to go all over the Western Cape. With his dining companion Beryl Ormsby Browne, he has also reviewed more than 60 country restaurants for the magazine and has been a reviewer for the prestigious Eat Out Guide for 12 years. His passion for everything the winelands has to offer has led him into the world of wine tours. To find out more, visit his website Magic Grape Tours.