South African Wine Safari

This spring, WineMaker readers joined Publisher Brad Ring exploring South Africa’s beautiful wine regions before ending with a thrilling wildlife safari experience. Each day the group visited a new, distinct wine region hearing firsthand about how the location determined the best grapes to grow and wines to make. We also learned new winemaking techniques and tips meeting with outgoing local pro winemakers happy to answer questions from North American home winemakers while we enjoyed sampling their wines and walking through their cellars still very active from the annual grape harvest that had just wrapped up. And along the way, we enjoyed South Africa’s delicious cuisine including local favorites like springbok and ostrich paired with local wines.

In addition to sampling South African wines made with popular grapes grown around the world such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, we had the chance to dig in deep on the country’s two signature grapes: Chenin Blanc and Pinotage. Many wineries barrel ferment their Chenin Blanc or experiment with both concrete eggs and amphora fermenters, so it was fun seeing how these winemaking choices with the same grape were reflected in the glass. Pinotage is a grape originally bred in South Africa. Like Chenin Blanc, it is often grown locally without any trellising in rows of low bushes (see photo above). We did vertical tastings of just Pinotage as well as Pinotage-heavy blends to get to know the local grape better during our stay.

The scope of winemaking history in South Africa is surprisingly deep and we visited several wineries that got their start in the 1600s. We spent our nights in the beautiful city of Cape Town and the fun university town of Stellenbosch, both easy jumping off points for short trips into different wine areas. From the cooler Constantia wine country within a few miles of the ocean to the warmer inland regions of the Stellenbosch Winelands, Franschhoek, and Paarl, each wine area had something besides great wines and friendly winemakers: Stunningly scenic backdrops. Jagged ancient mountains were never far from rolling hillsides covered with vines. South Africa has perhaps the most dramatic wine country setting in the world.

After six days packed with unique and special wine experiences, we switched gears and headed over to the other side of South Africa for a once-in-a-lifetime, three-day safari. Staying in a luxury lodge, in the morning and then late afternoon we climbed into specially outfitted Toyota Land Cruisers and set out into the wild and the experience exceeded all of our expectations. Each safari drive brought new up-close viewings of rhinos, lions, giraffes, hippos, water buffalo, and more. It was a thrilling way to wrap up a memorable WineMaker trip to South Africa.

Our next WineMaker trip with space available will be to Australia during the Southern Hemisphere grape harvest March 6–14, 2025. Details on exploring the world-famous South Australia wine regions including Eden Valley, Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, and Adelaide Hills can be found at www.winemakermag.com/trip. This Australia wine adventure will be our only WineMaker trip scheduled for 2025, so don’t miss out. We hope you can join us on a future WineMaker tour as we visit different world-class regions and learn from local winemakers. Cheers!