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Wine tasting in Stellenbosch: Our fun Wine Flies tour

Please only travel when and where it’s safe, and follow all local guidelines. Also double-check what's open before your trip.

Stellenbosch is famous for three things: its wine, its university (30,000 students) and its oak trees,” said Ian.

But we know why you’re here today.

Ian, our Wine Flies wine tour guide and driver for the day, was introducing us to wine tasting in Stellenbosch; we were visiting five wineries in Stellenbosch.

Wine tasting in Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch is a pretty little town on the outskirts of Cape Town, with a mix of white Cape Dutch and Victorian buildings along its oak-lined streets.

It’s home to South Africa’s most developed winelands – some 186 wineries and counting, according to Ian.

Wine tasting in Stellenbosch is a popular Cape Town day tour.
Wine tasting in Stellenbosch is a popular Cape Town day tour

South Africa’s wine history dates back to 1659, when Dutch settlers pressed wine for the first time from French Muscadel grapes.

The country is the 8th top wine producer in the world; the fresh and fruity white Chenin Blanc is the most widely planted grape.

The first vineyards in Stellenbosch were planted in 1679
The first vineyards in Stellenbosch were planted in 1679

You no doubt like the wine South Africa produces?

When we did our first “big 5” safari in South Africa, we tried the country’s signature red Pinotage for the first time and fell in love with its bold juicy taste. Now when we head to the local liquor store, South African wines strut to the top of our “Maybe we should buy this wine?” list.

So it was a given that on our recent visit to Cape Town we’d go on a wine tasting tour. Being so close to Cape Town (about a 45 minute drive away), Stellenbosch is easy to visit on a day tour.

Stellenbosch has almost 200 wineries.
Stellenbosch has almost 200 wineries

About Wine Flies wine tours

We initially had a few reservations about Wine Flies. Google, and you’ll find that it gets nothing but rave reviews.

Still, we thought their tour might be a bit kitschy. Their guides are called “wine lords,” and pictures on their website showed them wearing top hats. When we emailed Wine Flies, we heard back from “Lady Sue.”

Having experienced some great wine tours around the world on our travels, we were a little apprehensive. Would this be a boozy day of tippling cheap wine and listening to poor jokes? Are Wine Flies’ wine tours in Stellenbosch any good?

Our doubts were quickly put to rest. It turns out the “lord” and “lady” references are really just to take the snobbery out of wine tasting. Ian was a fount of wine knowledge (nor did he wear a top hat or call himself “Lord Ian”).

Cool Ian tip

Avoid paying restaurant prices for wine in South Africa.
It’s normal to take your own bottle of wine to a restaurant and pay a corkage fee of roughly $3 to $5 ($8 at the most).

Our fellow visitors on this Wine Flies wine tour were also a lively international mix.

There were 12 of us all-told – including a young medical doctor from London in Cape Town on a conference, a family from Pennsylvania (whose university-aged daughter was entering med school), a UN soldier from India stationed in Sudan, and a young couple from Mexico City studying international affairs in the U.S.

Needless to say, when we weren’t talking wine, our conversations covered the world!

Stellenbosch wine tasting
Guests on our Wine Flies tour extract wine from a barrel using a pipette

BTW, notice we’re wearing jackets in this pic above.

That’s because South Africa can be cool in their winter, which is when we traveled. So you have to think about some warm clothing when packing for South Africa if traveling say, between May and September.)

Stellenbosch wine tasting – a whole lot of wine!

We visited five wineries on our Wine Flies tour – tasting 25 glasses of wine (and even more at lunch at a 6th vineyard winery).

Of the five essential “s’s” of wine tasting – see, swirl, smell, sip and savor – we unfortunately  had to add a 6th “s” to that, spit. At least we did a little spitting, or we wouldn’t have made it through the day!

Wine Flies tour of Mitre's Edge
Known for its Bordeaux, Mitre’s Edge tasting room is in this lovely Cape Georgian-styled manor house (Credit: Mitre’s Edge)

A pairing of five cheeses and wines at the boutique family-owned Mitre’s Edge eased us gently into our wine tasting day (the cheese and crackers substituted for breakfast).

Wine Flies wine tour
Cheese and wine for breakfast at Mitre’s Edge? Sure, we could handle it :-).

At the “green” Villiera Farms – where zebra and antelope roam freely and a flock of 1,000 Peking ducks are responsible for natural pest control – we tasted some bubbly and paired different cured meats with wine.

The beef biltong went very nicely with Villiera’s 2007 Cab Sauv/Merlot/Cab Franc blend!

Wine tasting in Stellenbosch
Quaffing very drinkable bubbly at Villiera Farms

At another winery, we paired wine with chocolates.

Best winery in Stellenbosch?

The most unique and best wine tasting in Stellenbosch – Annandale – was naturally saved for last.

In a rustic barn at Annandale, complete with a bull mastiff sitting by a crackling fire, we tasted aged red wines made in an old-world style. And it was a privilege to meet the winemaker, Gerhard (Hempies) du Toit, a fifth-generation South African Huguenot wine-maker!

Wine tasting in Stellenbosch at Annandale
Annandale’s legendary winemaker Gerhard du Toit and his pet bull mastiff (Credit: Annandale)

Annandale traces its winemaking heritage back to the founding of South Africa; there’s still a 1700’s manor house on the Annandale estate.

The wines are aged in oak barrels for at least eight years giving them a rich full-bodied flavor; a couple we tasted had a hint of a burnt amber color, a classic sign of an aged wine.

Annandale winery in Stellenbosch
Gerhard checking out the grapes in his vineyards (Credit: Annandale)

The barn in which we tasted the wines was certainly very atmospheric – cobwebs stretched overhead from corner to corner, and the barn was filled with everything from rusted farm implements to a stuffed antelope. (We read somewhere that Gerhard has never allowed a broom to enter the room.)

But Gerhard, formerly a world-class rugby player, is a seriously accomplished winemaker whose wines are even coveted by royalty around the world.

When Prince Albert of Monaco married Charlene, Gerhard was asked to create a special wine for their wedding; Annandale’s “Chalbert Merlot 2005” was made in their honor and shipped to Europe for the wedding celebration.

And Annandale’s 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon was voted the best Cab Sauv in South Africa.

Stellenbosch wine tasting
A bottle of the famous 2005 Chalbert Merlot that Annandale made for the Prince of Monaco’s wedding

With a 5 o’clock shadow and rumpled clothes, Gerhard was most unassuming, welcoming and down-to-earth, and the whole experience at Annandale felt very real and authentic.

And oh, the luscious wines!

We were just sorry our Canadian customs laws only allowed us to buy one bottle each to take home…

Wine tasting in Stellenbosch at Annandale
Gerhard signing the bottles we buy to take home

Booking this Stellenbosch wine tour

Stellenbosch wineries:

The five wineries selected for your Stellenbosch wine tasting tour may change from day to day. But Wine Flies aims to always include at least a couple of small, off-the-radar boutique wineries you might not have heard about or couldn’t otherwise visit on your own.

Food:

You won’t go hungry on this Stellenbosch wine tasting tour. A hearty lunch (with more wine!) is included. (Our lunch: vegetable soup, grilled sausages, chicken kebabs, potato salad, green salad and, as if we weren’t full by then, grilled cheese-and-tomato sandwiches.) Throughout the day, you’ll be nibbling on cured meats, cheeses and chocolates too.

Transfers:

Pick-up from your Cape Town hotel is sometime after 8:00 am. You’ll arrive for your first wine tasting in Stellenbosch about 10:00 am. Drop-off back to your hotel is around 5:00 pm.

Details:

For more information, visit the Wine Flies website.

Explore more of South Africa!

Stellenbosch | Check out where to eat and other sights in Stellenbosch .

Cape Town | There are 5 must-see places to visit in Cape Town. Table Mountain is tops on the list. We loved hiking Table Mountain! Also check out these other great things to do in Cape Town.

Where to stay in Cape Town | For a luxury retreat, the 12 Apostles Hotel offers amazing ocean views, walking trails and divine dining.

Shopping | Discover the best South African souvenirs to take home.

Ultimate Africa guide

How to choose where to go on safari? What’s the best way to hike up Table Mountain in Cape Town? Where to stay in Victoria Falls?

Get the full scoop on planning a luxury trip to Africa, complete with fabulous itineraries, in our free:
Africa Travel Guide & Safari Planner


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Here’a a good pin :-).


Photo credits: 6, 8, 9, 12 and 13 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase


Our Stellenbosch wine tour was complimentary for the purpose of this review. But we never accept media invitations in exchange for positive stories, and our words are always our own.


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Anda

Saturday 23rd of September 2017

We've heard many good things about South Africa and especially about their wines. You make visiting these wineries so appealing that I would surely go visit them if I ever make it to Cape Town. As for taking home some wine, I know how crazy your Canadian laws are. That's too bad.

Janice and George

Tuesday 3rd of October 2017

South Africa is definitely worth visiting -- combining a visit to Cape Town with a safari makes for a great trip :-).

Victoria

Tuesday 5th of September 2017

'Love this!

I've been to South Africa only once, but that was all of 13 years ago, when a German girlfriend of mine bought a house in Cape Town, as she used to take corporate German women, on women-only tours to Namibia! I went to visit her and stayed for a fortnight in March. Sadly, we didn't have time for a wine tour but we went on safari, saw the penguins, went on a cooking course, Mandela's Island, etc.

I must say that I was enormously impressed with their food. At one point, we found a hipster place that made the most delicious roast lamb. I was so affected that we drove back again 20 minutes later, and had the same dish again!

Janice and George

Wednesday 6th of September 2017

Well, you got to do a lot! We unfortunately missed the penguins on our visit to Cape Town. The weather was a bit unpredictable (being their winter) for planning a full day Cape tour -- we didn't want to go if it was just going to rain all day (better to sip wines by the fire). We agree with you about the food -- some great restaurants there!

Irene Levine

Tuesday 5th of September 2017

Sounds like a great "flight" to visit. Don't know how you managed to taste, photograph and take notes! :-)

Janice and George

Tuesday 5th of September 2017

It helps there are two of us :-). And we swear, we spat several times, so we didn't get as tipsy as some of our fellow visitors...

Carol

Monday 4th of September 2017

What a fun experience. Really fun after 26 samples! I wish I'd made time for a visit when I was in Cape Town.

Janice and George

Tuesday 5th of September 2017

And then after 26 samples, the youngest guest in our group -- the pre-med student (of drinking age, of course) -- bought a bottle of the Annandale for all of us to share on the drive in the van back to Cape Town. More fun again :-).

Frank

Sunday 3rd of September 2017

Love this. We spent 3 months in the Cape region a couple of years ago, including a long weekend in Stellenbosch where we visited most of the wineries. Best wines in the world in my opinion. Add to that great food (some of the wineries have onsite restaurants) and spectacular views. And all quite affordable compared to anywhere else in the world. Even in Cape Town supermarkets the shelves are lined with incredible wines. A wine lover's paradise. Love the mastiff!! Frank

Janice and George

Sunday 3rd of September 2017

We loved wining and dining in South Africa too (at least Cape Town and the day in Stellenbosch). And compared to our Canadian prices here on the liquor shelves in Canada, the South African wine prices are a bargain -- super quality also, as you note :-).

It must have been a great experience to spend a full 3 months in South Africa, and really explore the local area, not just the tourist hotspots :-).