The wine tradition in Paarl is older than the roots of the aging Oak Trees that line its Cape Dutch streets. The first European settlers arrived at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652, planting the seeds that solidified the Cape’s reputation as a wine growing heaven.
Now that the work has already been done, what else can you and I do but savour the delicate fruits pressed with decades of winemaking experience and travel the newly formed routes leading us to the finest wines in the world.
Forget the majesty of the Drakensberg Mountains, try to ignore the historic monuments perched loftily upon pearly hills, the kind of wine tasting to be done in Paarl will require every ounce of your concentration.
Now that we know what we are going to be doing in Paarl, apart from enjoying the scenery, let’s make a journey into the winelands, delving into present day winemaking communities, uncovering their interesting attributes and tracing those lively wines to hideaways so often missed by the multitude.
Along the way, if we’re lucky, we may make the acquaintance of a genuine Garagiste, a class of heretic garage winemakers shunned in France by the old school traditionalists because of the stir their independently crafted wines create. There might be a hint along the way as to where we might discover one of those who make these “Vins de Garage”. The mixture of Paarl’s perfect climate and their special skills is sure to be very rewarding.
We start our journey at the entrance of the Hugenot Tunnel, the breach to the longest wine route in the world, also known as Route 62. But we go no further; what we are mostly concerned with is the infamous Red Route…
The Red Route
The Red Route, as you can imagine, is named because of the large amount and quality of red wines along its relaxing meander. It was formed by a collaboration of wine producers known as the Paarl Vintners (Wine Merchants). The Vintners diligently plotted a wine route for an estimated 24 participants, all found within the Paarl Valley. One or two of these include the De Zoete Inval Estate owned by the Frater family, who have been making wine here for more than 115 years. The Rhebokskloof Estate has also been producing wine since 1692. Unfortunately, the wine from that early period has already been consumed.
The Red Route is without question a collection of the most renowned wine producers in the world. Any effort made in finding them would not in any way be an inconvenience to your taste buds. The Red Route’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are undoubtedly the best in the world.
Not strictly a wine route, the Red Route is also, by happy coincidence, a cheese route. Which brings us to our next stop along our journey – Fairview.
Fairview is South Africa’s largest producer of speciality cheeses. For over 25 years, dairy goats have supplied milk for a variety of cheeses ranging from Jersey Milk, Brie and Camembert to a wide variety of Italian and French-style cheeses.
If however that is not enough of an incentive to visit Fairview, a little historical rundown should serve to amplify your interest…
Fairview not only produces speciality cheeses, but also award-winning wines. In 1693, Simon van der Stel, the second governor of the Cape of Good Hope, allocated the original land at Fairview to Steven Vervey, a French Huguenot. The first wine was made on Fairview in 1699 and a long tradition has long since developed. Fairview started its own bottling in 1974 and auctioned its first bottled wines at the very first wine auction ever held in the country, pre-dating the now famous Nederburg Auction.
The Nederburg Auction
The Auction is Paarl’s largest wine festival and is like the World Cup for winetasters. Held at the end of every summer, the auction epitomises what fine wine is all about. The very essence of the event lies in the tasting of 147 award winning wines, perhaps even those of the Garagistes, but you will have to wait and see!
The auction is a benchmark of quality for South African Wines and serves as a showcase for African wines to the international trade. Because of this, any label proclaiming “sold at the Nederburg Auction” is regarded as having an official stamp of approval, worldwide.
Too much talk about wine is liable to make a person a little obsessed. It is after all only fermented grape juice. But Paarl makes it well and the Red Route is the best place to find it.
Good wine naturally goes well with good food and Paarl offers some of the best restaurants in the Cape, serving a variety of foods that mingle well with a bottle of your favourite tipple.
Paarl is also a place rich in history with its architectural wonders. They seem to represent the concrete and stone versions of its fine wines. Each wine estate has a unique attraction – a gable, a special goat tower like the one at Fairview or even a gargoyle waiting for the flash of your camera.
Because tunnel vision limits the mind, many things can be missed along the Red Route. Take olive tasting for instance. This is becoming a major attraction on some of the estates, many of whom now grow Olive Trees for the export of olive oil.
The rest is up to you. Whether you get down to the specifics and finer details of wine tasting or broaden your horizons gazing over the Paarl Valley from Paarl Rock depends on which side of the tunnel you’re on. Enjoy Paarl!