Climate and soil, plus economic conditions goes some way to explaining the growth in the South African wine industry. European input, which started with Huguenot refugees bearing vines in the 17th century, is visible from Dutch gabled housing, but there is also an entirely New World energy. South Africa now the seventh largest wine producer in the world. Another reason is that there are increasing number of vineyards showcased by luxury boutique hotels.
Babylonstoren offers abject luxury in a farmyard setting. Produce from the eight acre fruit and vegetable garden – where over 300 different varieties grow, all edible – heads straight to the kitchen. Babylonstoren is a full-on lifestyle experience with perfectly curated chickens scratching in the yard but any nostalgia overload is kept at bay with a dash of mid-century style and clean architectural additions.
There are only 13 rooms but feature large doses of tranquillity amid wood fires and white-on-white decor. The acclaimed wines match the setting. The newest, Babel is a blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Babylonstoren also runs courses; the money raised from them goes to support local schools and projects.
While other places in the Cape Winelands tend to look towards Europe in terms of decor, Mont Rochelle defies the trend with African-inspired furnishings that come as a pleasing contrast. There’s been a vineyard on site since the 17th century.
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The restaurant and the premier wines are named Miko Rwayitare, a former owner of Mont Rochelle and South Africa’s first black vineyard owner; other wines include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Just 22 rooms, but all are delightfully chilled. Thanks to the state of the South African rand, if you want to experience one of Richard Branson’s properties but are on a budget, his vineyard in Franschhoek is the best choice.
Between Cape Town and the Winelands, Hawksmoor is a particularly low key option; the 15 rooms have don’t have televisions or telephones (although there is wifi) but it’s very bucolic, a series of low-slung whitewashed buildings and two pointers who wander around the estate and houses. Breakfast is taken at a long table overlooking rose and lavender gardens, dinner is by arrangement; otherwise the nearest restaurant is a short drive away in Stellenbosch. Wines include Chenin Blanc from 25-year-old bush vines, and a range of Pinotage as well as Mourvedre. Soon a 2007 Bandol-style Rose will also be unveiled.
Founded in 1685, Boschendal is in the Drakenstein Valley. Bought by Sam and Rob Lundie in 2013, the range of wines on this estate takes in Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz. Notable wines include the Elgin Chardonnay; the 2015 vintage won two medals at the 2017 International Wine Challenge and the 1685 Merlot; 2015 was an excellent year for this as well.
Accommodation is in a series of cottages on the estate, all have self-catering facilities and farm produce can be picked up at the deli in the main building; meals are also available at the vineyard’s two restaurants.