South Africa: Reflections on an Amazing Trip

By John ~ March 31st, 2009.

John enjoying a glass at BoekenhoutskloofIt all began on February 3rd of this year with 22 hours of flying time from Seattle and a 10 hour time change until we landed in Cape Town, South Africa the following afternoon. Since then, I have posted thirteen times from the trip as we visited 33 wine farms (what they call wineries in South Africa), drank wines from 46 different producers, and sampled a total of 228 South African wines.

Obviously, I hope that you have read all of my posts from the trip and that they have helped you learn more about South African wines as well as pointed you in the direction of some good wines to try. But in case you haven’t read them all yet, you will find links to them at the end of this post.

John with Charles Back of FairviewBefore I summarize my thoughts on South African wine, I want to give special thanks to several folks who were especially generous with their time and their thoughts on South African wines: Neil Pendock, prominent South African wine writer and blogger who gave me a number of leads on wine farms not-to-miss on my trip and four winery owners and/or winemakers who helped make this a very memorable trip, Charles Back of Fairview, Chris Williams of Meerlust and The Foundry, Richard Mueller of Buitenverwachting, and Jose Conde of Stark-Conde.

Several general observations and thoughts:

  1. The Cape coastal areas and the Cape winelands are as beautiful an area as I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. If you have a chance to visit, do it!
  2. The South African wine industry is much older than I would have thought, 350 years old to be exact, and the wines are generally good.
  3. The people are great; their hospitality is wonderful.
  4. The price is right…if you live, buy, and drink your wine in South Africa. (Take the R___ price numbers in my posts and divide by 10. That’s what a bottle costs over there in US Dollars.)

Now my thoughts on South African wine from the perspective of an American consumer:

Best of the South African varietals:
Based on our Quality Ratings of the wines we tasted, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Blends are what South Africa does best, followed by Shiraz/Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc.

MeerlustBest South African producers we visited:
Jordan (Jardin in USA), Stark-Conde, Fairview, Meerlust/The Foundry, Boekenhoutskloof, and Warwick.

Top Winery Discoveries (wineries we weren’t familiar with before this trip):
Jordan (Jardin in USA) and Stark-Conde.

Biggest disappointment of the trip:
Discovering how much more South African wines cost here in the U.S. versus in South Africa and how difficult it has been for us to find a number of the wines we liked best once we returned home.

Good news to end on:
In each of the posts I’ve done on South African wines, which we have links to below, I’ve put in bold the wines I liked best that are available in the U.S. along with the name of a vendor and their price. You might also want to check out some of the value labels of the better producers widely distributed in the U.S. such as MAN Vintners (Back/Conde/Myburgh partnership), Goats do Roam (Fairview), and Porcupine Ridge (Boekenhoutskloof).

South Africa: An Old Wine Region Beginning To Realize Its Potential
South Africa: Nosing around Cape Town
South Africa: Wines of Constantia Valley
South Africa: A Day in the Paarl Region
South Africa: Day 1 in Stellenbosch
South Africa: Day 2 in Stellenbosch
South Africa: Day 3 in Stellenbosch
South Africa: A Day in Franschhoek
South Africa: Day 4 in Stellenbosch
South Africa: A Day in Durbanville
South Africa: Video Interview with Charles Back of Fairview
South Africa: Video Interview with Chris Williams of Meerlust

I hope you have enjoyed traveling with us by reading our posts during our trip. If you are curious about any of the sights we saw in addition to our wine stops, leave a comment and I would be happy to share those highlights with you as well.

Filed under: South African Wine, Wine Travel

Reader's Comments

  1. Paul Zitarelli | March 31st, 2009 at 11:58 am

    John –

    Truly enjoyable taking a vicarious trip to South Africa’s wine country. The travel aspect seems a little daunting, but if I can roll wine and World Cup together in 2010, that would be some trip.

    Excellent, excellent writing; thanks again!


  2. John | March 31st, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Thanks for the flattering comment. I really hope you can put together a wine and World Cup trip next year. I know you’d love it, despite the distance.

  3. Colyn Truter | June 18th, 2009 at 12:30 am

    Thanks for the wonderful and kind words of South Africa. Yes 2009 is the 350 year anniversary of our winelands but because of politics and so many other things the world has not yet had the opportunity to see and taste what we have to offer. Its a great pity that you couldnt come and visit the Robertson Wine Valley which is one of the best and second most popular route in SA, funny how wine writers never get guided our way. Anyway, it will be unfair to try and work the prices of our wine back in currency because it will always be much cheaper here than anywhere else in the world. Again, i hope that your trip and writings will also open USA consumers up to trying our wines.

  4. MIKE RATCLIFFE - WARWICK | June 18th, 2009 at 12:34 am

    Hi from South Africa, have been following your blogs with interest and appreciate all the deep insight and your thoughtful comments. It appears that you had a very special trip. I was really glad to hear about your excellent experience at Warwick – my team are good and we spend a huge amount of time on training.
    The WARWICK TRILOGY is widely available in the USA at about $28. It is called Warwick Estate RESERVE and is currently the only South African wine in the WINE SPECTATOR TOP 100 wines in the world.
    Thanks for giving Trilogy your highest rating – we always get excited when someone likes our wines!

  5. John | June 21st, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    Sorry we didn’t make it to the Robertson Wine Valley. I have heard good things about it and will certainly try to make it the next time we are down your way.
    Thanks for giving me the American moniker for Trilogy. My wife wants me to pass on that your Warwick Professor Black Sauvignon Blanc is one of her favorites and a now regular wine staple in our household.

  6. MIKE RATCLIFFE - WARWICK | June 22nd, 2009 at 1:02 am

    Glad to hear that Warwick ‘Professor Black’ Sauvignon Blanc is your preferred tipple – good news. BTW, a pity that you didn’t get a chance to visit Vilafonte the only South African and American winemaking joint-venture. Next time.