Touring the Vineyards of Franschhoek, South Africa
The combination of sublime food and wine tasting in Franschhoek reaches its pinnacle of excellence in this picturesque little valley in the Cape Winelands, making it the ultimate destination for modern hedonists.
Franschhoek comes with South Africa’s distinctive Alpine-style scenery and feels like the French Corner that its name refers to, with every signboard pointing to a French-named wine estate hugging the mountainside; Mont Rochelle, La Motte, Grande Provence, Chamonix, Haute Cabrière, to name but a few!
Any Excuse to Celebrate
With about 40 wine estates, it pays to have a plan before setting off for a day’s wine tasting in Franschhoek. And depending upon the time of year, you may well get caught up in one of the many festivals; grape stomping and harvest festivals in February and March, Franschhoek Literary Festival in May, Bastille Day in July, Franschhoek Uncorked in September, Open Gardens in October, and the Magic of Bubbles in December.
You get the idea….Franschhoek creates any excuse for a party where wine has an opportunity to flow. Most wineries have the same idea and frequently offer more than just wine-tasting.
So let’s take a little tour of a few wineries by one means of transport or another.
By Road (taxi or designated driver)
The single main road leading into Franschhoek village is literally lined with wine estates, but stop at La Motte, and you’ll be in for a treat. Owner-run by the ridiculously wealthy Rupert-Koegelenberg family, they have more style than mere money can buy and it shows in every corner of La Motte. Not only do they have a cosy Tasting Room showcasing their certified organic wines, but also a stylish Farm Shop and Museum with a collection of Rupert family contemporary South African art and a permanent exhibit of previously unseen Pierneef works and memorabilia–not to mention the Pierneef à La Motte Restaurant creating historically researched Cape Winelands food using ancient recipes. To walk off all this indulgence, there’s a historic walk, sculpture walk, sustainable walk and hiking trail.
Through the village and up the hill is Haute Cabrière Wine Estate, where every Saturday morning winemaker Achim von Arnim and his son Takuan perform the ultimate wine theatre of sabrage–opening Champagne using a sword. Once Achim has sabre in hand and a woman in his embrace (to steady them for the lift-off of course), he’s unstoppable! When asked about his famous Saturday morning cellar tours, Achim says, “Yes, they’re marvellous. I kiss all the ladies, and I open our Cap Classique sparkling wines using the sabrage method developed by French Cavalry Soldiers. They were prepared to die for their country–but not of thirst!”
Mount a beautiful Arab at Paradise Stables and commence a wine tasting in Franschhoek with a difference. This four-hour morning or afternoon jaunt takes you along mountain paths, between vineyards and along dusty back roads. At the point where you are feeling the need to dismount, you arrive at Rickety Bridge Winery to sample some of their fine reds and whites. With some Dutch courage, the next stretch by horseback is easy, and you trot into Mont Rochelle like a cowboy. Now part of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Limited Edition properties, Mont Rochelle is as charming as he is. More quaffing here results in your ability to ride a horse either much better or much worse! It’s worth knowing that no-one on this tour has yet been stopped for being drunk in charge of a steed!
Aboard the Wine Tram
An alternative way to get to Rickey Bridge is aboard the hop-on hop-off Wine Tram, which allows you to appreciate the true essence of the Franschhoek Valley. This open-sided tram potters along at jogging speed through rolling vineyards and you hop on and off at your leisure at five wine estates and the Huguenot Museum – you need a bit of culture to go with all that wine!
Just remember, the more you drink the less discerning you become, and everything tastes fabulous. It’s also worth noting that just because the experts say a wine is five-star, you don’t have to like it!
Wine Tasting the (Semi-Chic) Professional Way
Take some tips from this five-step method:
Step 1 – Tilt the glass and look at the colour for clarity and depth.
Step 2 – Swirl the wine to release its ‘nose’, and then put your own nose deep into the glass and take a good sniff. What does it remind you of? Don’t worry if it’s old socks, mouldy cheese, grass cuttings, bananas, cherries or any other strange thing. Trust your palate.
Step 3 – Look in the Platter’s South African Wine Guide to see if your impressions are correct and feel very proud of yourself when you get it right.
Step 4: Take a small quantity of wine into your mouth and suck air through it making the kind of noise your mother told you not to. Then swish it around your mouth and spit into a spittoon, or if you’re not driving, drink it!
Step 5 – Take a swig of water and repeat the process with the next type of wine.
Armed with the means and the method, you’re going to need more than a couple of days to do justice to Franschhoek and its endless wine estates. We suggest you book a week at Branson’s Mont Rochelle and savour it slowly. Cheers!