Just north of Cape Town and the country’s better-known vineyards, the Swartland region is having a ripe moment.
What it is
A strikingly beautiful region of mountains and whitewashed Cape Dutch architecture, the Swartland—literally "black land," for the color of its tangled undergrowth—extends north along the Atlantic coast from just beyond the outskirts of Cape Town. Wheat is the staple crop, but the mineralrich soil (shale, cobble, granite) is also ideal for making wines with real character.
Why Go Now
After years of selling Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and some of the country’s best Chenin Blanc to top producers in Stellenbosch and Paarl, Swartland’s grape growers are now making their own wines. Weekending Cape Towners, who revel in the area’s tranquillity, have brought with them a measure of sophistication, and a nascent restaurant scene is gaining momentum.
Where to sample Swartland’s best bottlings: Allesverloren Wine Estate (Rte. 311, Riebeek West; 2722/4612320; Allesverloren.co.za; lunch for two $35) Five generations of the Malan family have harvested and vinified grapes on this farm, dubbed All is Lost after a 1704 fire. Now Danie Malan has converted a turreted 18thcentury cottage, formerly used as a dairy and a pigpen, into a tasting room. Sample their port, a sweet yet refreshing sevengrape field blend. And don’t miss the Allesverloren pizza (grilled calamari, fresh tomatoes, and avocado) at the winery’s restaurant. Kloovenburg (Rte. 46, Riebeek Kasteel; 2722/4481635;Kloovenburg.com) Perfectionist Pieter du Toit crafts only 14,000 sixbottle cases per year on his idyllic estate, but the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernetbased blends are worldclass. Of special note is the stylish, structured Eight Feet, so named because du Toit’s four sons help bottle all 200 cases. Du Toit’s wife, Annalene, sells handmade jams, tapenades, pestos, and chutneys onsite.Pulpit Rock (Rte. 311, near Riebeek West; 2722/4612025;PulpitRock.co.za; appointments required on Saturdays) This fastrising, threeyearold winery, one of the area’s most modernlooking, focuses on singlevariety wines, including one of South Africa’s most lauded Pinotages and a warm, rich Shiraz. The small selection of tastingroom treats includes droewörs, a dried sausage made from local game (springbok, oryx) by owner Ernest Brink. Sadie Family (Aprilskloof Rd., Paardeberg; 2721/8698349; appointment required) Behind Paardeberg Mountain, at the end of five miles of rutted dirt road, is a shed with an old brick barrelroom and no tourist amenities. It’s worth the trip. After traveling the world in search of winemaking wisdom, Eben Sadie, 35, returned to his native South Africa, where he’ll tell you all about soil composition and the importance of vintage variation, then serve you two of the best wines made in South Africa, including the incomparable Columella, a Syrahbased blend.
When to go
October and November, late spring in the antipodes.
It’s a 40 minute drive up the N7 highway from Cape Town.
Royal Hotel (33 Main St., Riebeek Kasteel; 2722/4481378;RoyalInRiebeek.com; doubles from $88). The new owners of this 145yearold manor house have completed the first stage of an ambitious renovation, with 30 more suites and an amphitheater to come.
Bartholomeus Klip Farmhouse (Bo Hermon Rd., off Rte. 44, Hermon; 2722/4481820; BartholomeusKlip.com; doubles from $381, allinclusive). A manicured oasis with hardwood floors, clawfoot tubs, and gourmet meals, set on a 17,000acre farm and game reserve beside the Elandsburg Mountains.
Royal Kitchen (33 Main St., Riebeek Kasteel; 2722/4481378; dinner for two $60). The Royal Hotel’s restaurant gives dishes such as springbok pie and oxtail bobotie (a curryspiced meat bake) the whitetablecloth treatment, and the colonialstyle bar is the area’s social epicenter.
Crisp Fine Produce (Short St., Riebeek Kasteel; 2722/4481008). A fresh vegetable boutique on a tiny culdesac, across from the Royal Hotel.
The Wineyard (Short St., Riebeek Kasteel; 2722/4481769) A great stop for picnic supplies: valleygrown olives, cheese, and a strong selection of local bottlings.
What to Drink Back Home
Swartland wine only recently entered the world market, but many of the region’s best releases—from the crisp Pulpit Rock Brink Family Chenin Blanc ($8) to the chocolate-tinged Sadie Family Sequillo Syrah ($32) and majestic Sadie Family Columella (from $70)—are already available around North America, albeit in small quantities. In coming years, look for reds from 2006, which ranks among the best of recent vintages.
The John Platter South African Wine Guide ($18), published annually in November and sold in bookstores, wineries, and airports, is so helpful and widely consulted that it tops South Africa’s nonfiction bestseller lists.