Since Jan van Riebeeck planted the first grapes in 1655, vines have spread across the hills of the Cape. Today, wine is big business in South Africa with vineyards as far afield as Upington in the Northern Cape, the Free State and Mpumalanga. South Africa has over 60 Wine of Origin regions.
The Cape Winelands
While the vines might have spread, the area known as the Winelands is more specific. This is a well-defined area of the Western Cape, all within about an hour's drive of Cape Town, based mainly around three wine-producing towns of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek. Although Constantia, on the Cape Peninsula, produces some of the finest vintages in the Cape, this is treated slightly differently in tourism terms. So are peripheral towns, from Tulbagh and Worcester to Montague and Robertson.
Like California's Napa Valley, this is old, cosy territory - a rolling green landscape of magnificently manicured vines, stately old Cape-Dutch mansions, quaint bed and breakfast inns and chic boutique hotels, and charming small towns filled with antique shops and cafés that are perfect for strolling and shopping - between wine tastings!
What to do
There are plenty of activities of all sorts. This is the oldest area of European settlement in South Africa and there are some wonderful museums in every town, Franschhoek Museum is dedicated to Huguenot history, Stellenbosch Museum takes in several local houses, completely furnished in style and period, while Worcester Museum is a living agricultural experience. There are nature reserves, a lion park and butterfly farm, places to walk, ride and play golf, go whitewater rafting or canoeing. You can go up in a hot air balloon, take a ride in an ox wagon or go quad biking. And as well as wine, you can feast on olives, cheese and at many of South Africa's finest restaurants.
You can, of course, tour the winelands on your own. Every wine-growing area in South Africa has organized itself a wine route complete with website, information hub, wineries and other local activities. The easiest way to find them is via the excellent website, South African Wine.co.za, which has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things about South African wine, including links to all the different regional routes.
If you choose to do an organized tour there are plenty to choose from, with many variations from straight tasting tours to shoppers specials and adventure sports activities. Tsiba Tsiba Tours & Travel run private and small group wine tasting tours, led by specialist guides. Andulela Tours run specialist tours with the added option of being able to have a go at blending your own wine. New Fusion Tours do a two-day tour of brandy distilleries involving tasting some of South Africa's 50 local brandies. Cape Adventure Tours offer wineland tours by mountain bike and tours that combine wine-tasting and a vineyard tour with horse-riding through the vineyards.