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Go on a Virtual Wine Tour From Home

Travels may be postponed, flights may be cancelled and passports may be collecting some (temporary) dust… but we here at Dame Traveler don’t believe that means adventure must end. We’ve become refined in the art of armchair exploration – either through the pages of an excellent book, viewing a travel documentary or a virtual tour of the world. While we can’t necessarily hop on a plane to experience the world – we wanted to curate a collection of resources and virtual experiences from the best wineries and wine shops around the globe. This is our virtual wine tour you can experience right at home!

Typically, we always love to add a wine tour to our itinerary – especially when we’re in an area that has a deep vineyard culture and history. Let’s raise a glass, remotely! Gather your wine glass, a cozy blanket and get comfy on your couch. Our virtual wine tour brings the beautiful wine destinations we wish we could experience right now. Cheers! You ready? Let’s go!

Under The Tuscan Sun

We had to begin our virtual wine tour with a little taste of Italy! Tuscan wines have drawn millions of tourists for centuries, and there’s no doubt why. The landscape? Insanely beautiful. The food and wine culture? Intentional, historic and downright delicious. Why not escape into “la bella vita” and learn a little bit about the history of Tuscany and its wines?!

Wine has been a part of Tuscan culture for over three hundred years. Some historians believe that the Etruscans brought Asian vines with them when they settled in the Tuscan area. However, others are convinced that the countryside was already ripe with wild graphs before the Etruscans ever settled there. Nevertheless, the Etruscans really mastered the art of cultivating and domesticating Sangiovese and Lambrusco grapes!

Flash forward to the Duke of Tuscany establishing a boundary to focus Chianti production to the Tuscan region, regulating the wine trade in 1716. Wine became a major agricultural product of Tuscany (and Italy!) – in fact, WW2 nearly devastated the region and the national debt when the winery land was decimated.

Tuscany has become more and more associated with excellent wineries! Travelers today flock to the Tuscan region to get a taste of the good stuff, right from the source, to learn about the individual winery practices passed on for generations. It’s simply a must when exploring the heart of Italy!

What To Sip

Tuscany’s rich and deep legacy of wine-making can seem overwhelming, especially when choosing a bottle! We love sifting through a Verve Wine’s  selection of Sangiovese wines because they really explain what and where individual bottles and vintages come from. Traditional, silky, aromatic and delicate – we love a Sangiovese glass to go with a savory dinner.

Verve Wine has the mindset we love – “best part of drinking wine is the discovery of it all.” As adventurous women, you better believe this speaks to our soul! Their commitment to giving access to great wine, regardless of experience and budget (and without any pretentious attitude!) as us so thankful. Their group sources excellent wines for guests and customers, making a curation of bottles that have us feeling excited and informed!

They have a great monthly wine club with delivery, winemaker events, seminars and tastings too. (P.S. Verve Wine has an excellent wine shop – with same day delivery – in NYC and San Francisco. Once we’re cleared to visit, you better believe we’ll be right there to pick up some of their classics!)

Tuscany Travel Inspo

Go on a Virtual Wine Tour From Home

Discover Rosé in Provence

Yes way Rosé! The pink stuff has slowly become one of our favorite wines. Crisp, citrusy, and fresh – its always been a dream of ours to experience a rosé in the sun-drenched, sunflower and lavender kissed land of Provence.

Rosé has an incredible history – aging all the way back to the ancient Greek age. Many of the first recorded rosés were made by watering down blends of white and red grapes. However, it wasn’t until the Romans brought over their field blends to the south of France that rosé really became coveted!

Now, rosé is synonymous with Provence’s rolling hills and rich parcels of land. Provence has been producing wine for over 2,600 years, making it the oldest wine region in all of France! Provence is committed to the art of rosé, as it is the only region to focus on its production and is home to the only research institute dedicated to it.

What To Sip

We’re absolutely obsessed with the legendary Miraval rosé! It’s full of freshness, well-balanced, fruity aromas and citrusy touches too. It’s both refreshing and flavorful, leaving us feeling elegant and celebratory all at once!

Issued from the Miraval Estate’s best parcels of land, right in the heart of Provence – there truly isn’t anything that comes close to having the real thing abroad than this! The château in which the grapes have been issued are the best of the whole of Provence. The vineyard has terraces of clay and limestone, soaking in the cold air pulling throughout the valley, which are truly excellent conditions to make a fresh and elegant rosé. The pure petal pink color have us oohing and ahhing even before our first sip!

Provence & South Of France Travel Inspo

Go on a Virtual Wine Tour From Home

Explore California Wine Country

California’s “wine country” is a gift that keeps on giving. It’s truly the perfect addition to any destination on the West Coast, especially for those who have a love and appreciation for vino! A California wine tour draws visitors from every corner of the world, seeking to soak up the sun and taste the delicious bounty of California’s delicious wineries. In fact, wine tours are the second most popular tourist activity in California (after a visit to Disneyland)!

California wine’s history starts with the Spanish Missions in San Diego, establishing themselves throughout the state and growing Criolla grapes to make low-quality wine. Later, French immigrants settled and planted the very first European grape varieties in the bountiful lands.

There was a huge turning point in California’s wine legacy – known as the Judgement of Paris on May 24, 1976. On this pivotal day, the world’s view of California wines forever changed. A legendary French judging panel titled California wines as higher ranking in Chardonnays and Reds than any other in the world… thwarting expectations and catapulting the production of California wines into a legendary status. Now, California is the leading wine producer in the USA, and the fourth largest producer in the world!

What To Sip

Empathy Wine’s bright and delicious white has us drooling! Its summery, light, with tones of lemon, anjou pear and peach. It has us dreaming of early summer temperatures, BBQing in the back porch, hosting friends and family.

We also love Empathy Wine’s transparency and commitment to sustainability and the quality of their wines. They know the absolute ins and outs of each of their wineries, all the way down to the names of the farmers and growers! Sipping on this fresh white gives us the peace of mind that we’re supporting a family (in this case, the white’s heritage comes from Lodi, California, made by Markus & The Mettler Family) and an industry that cares deeply about their product.

California Travel Inspo

Go on a Virtual Wine Tour From Home

Adventure To New Zealand’s Lush Wineries

New Zealand – its diverse landscapes, natural beauty and wondrous views have travelers awestruck. For those of us who aren’t quite able to hop on a plane to soak in the beauty of New Zealand, there’s so much to learn about its wine history!

At first glance, New Zealand’s wine culture seems short and sweet, but there’s so much to uncover. The first recorded planting of grapevines ages back to 1819, when Anglican missionaries planted them at the Bay of Islands. Despite the later prohibition movement, New Zealand wine development boomed during WW2 when imported wines became overly tasked. From there, wine production really blossomed until the 1960s (when restaurants were officially allowed to sell wine) and the 1970s improvements to the creation of the Kiwi-classic full dry wines. Less than thirty years ago, there were less than a hundred New Zealand wineries… and now there are over seven times that amount! Wine today in New Zealand are an essential part of growing its thriving food culture.

What To Sip

Cloudy Bay’s Sauvignon Blanc is the iconic wine we turn to when we’re craving a little slice of New Zealand’s good life. It truly defined New Zealand’s wine and established the Marlborough wine region globally, especially bringing the Cloudy Bay brand into popularity. Their vineyards are located along the gorgeous Wairau Valley, rolling along the Rapaura, Fairhall, Renwick and Brancott sub-regions. (We dream of taking a real wine tour in this region one of these days, but for now virtual will have to do!) Thanks to the iconic region’s stable warm weather during harvest, Cloudy Bay’s grapes are able to steadily ripen for much longer periods of time.

At first sip, we fell in love with its mouthwatering flavor, filled with lots of juicy stone fruit, tropical flavors and a little taste of lemon acidity. It has us dreaming of road tripping around the North and South Islands, windows open, soaking in a sunset by the beach.

New Zealand Travel Inspo

Go on a Virtual Wine Tour From Home

Explore Spain’s Catalonia Wine Country

Romantic, lush and downright dreamy than the Spain countryside. The Catalonia region on Spain is flanked by rolling mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, truly an idyllic setting to explore no matter what a traveler’s interests are. In between the modernist architecture of Barcelona, medieval history, verdant valleys and seaside towns – explorers who’ve experienced Catalonia know its undeniable charm.

Catalonia’s wine history has over ten dominant wine regions that focus on full bodied, high alcohol drinks with intense minerality because of its deliciously warm weather. It’s been said that Catalan wine is older than Catalonia itself! Wine production began in the Catalonia region when the Phoenicians and Romans planted the first vines over two thousand years ago. Monks throughout the Arab occupation of the area preserved the wine tradition throughout the region, and nowadays the exportation of Catalonia’s wine is a major part of the regional economy and draws 19 million wine-seeking travelers every year!

What To Sip

There’s nothing quite like a smooth, buttery red straight from heritage Spanish vineyards. Matt Parish’s Spanish Garnacha is intense with flavors of dark cherry and plum, savory and smooth. It’s sourced from the 35-year-old vineyards in the iconic Montsant region of Catalonia. It’s easy to drink, but endlessly bold and flavorful… and Matt was named 2017’s Winemaker of the Year by US Angels! We love serving this up at a dinner party with Spanish style tapas and paella – just like you’d have in Spain!

Nakedwines.com’s mission is to connect wine drinkers (like us!) to the world’s best winemakers, producing hundreds of unique, indie wines we just can’t find anywhere else. Unlike other wine clubs, customers can choose when they’d like to try a wine. Their “angel” members also fund and invest the world’s best independent winemakers by prepaying $40 a month towards their next order. It’s a passion project into discovering more about top-quality wines without inflated marketing costs, and peace of mind knowing that each winemaker is also getting a fair and sustainable deal. It’s one of our go-to resources when we’re feeling curious about distinctive wines out there in the world!

Spain Travel Inspo

Go on a Virtual Wine Tour From Home

The Heart of Organic Wine Movement

In recent years, there’s been a new trail blazed in the wine industry. Organic wines! What’s this? Essentially, the base of any organic wine must come from grapes from 100% certified organic vineyards. Organic wines reduce the use of dangerous chemicals, and it’s the next addition to any wine tour wine lover should investigate!

Organic wine creation methods began in Europe as early as the 1960’s. Later in the early 1980’s, US vineyards began to adopt and experiment with organic production. However, the acceptance of organic wines didn’t come easily! For years, traditional wine industries saw the organic movement as a threat and suppliers worried about them spoiling without preservatives.

What truly made the change? The purity of the wine in combination with the organic food movement. Artisanal cooking and the farm to table movement directly shifted the perspective of many food and wine aficionados. In the early 2010’s, fine dining establishments began boasting lists of organic wines on their menus… and the rest is history!

What To Sip

Bonterra Organic Winery has an excellent Merlot that we love to cork open when we’re longing for a real treat. Its 2017 bottle has an excellent balance, filled with notes of black cherries, smoke, plums and vanilla spice. Sourced from one of the oldest and most sustainable farmland, this Merlot is the definition of the organic wine movement… perfect for any wine-lover who’s hoping to learn a little bit more about their favorite drink.

Bonterra’s commitment to their wines is inspired by their biodiverse vineyards with extremely healthy soil, which creates flavorful organic wines. Their mindful farming and winemaking process all begins with their devotion to the backbone of their wines – the grapes. Grown organically from select growers, trading tractors for sheep for weed prevention and running on green power, Bonterra is the epitome of the organic wine movement.

Wine Education Inspo

  • SOMM – a documentary inside the intense world of wine and oil tasting
  • I’ll Drink To That! Wine Podcast 
  • Wine for Normal People Podcast
  • Other Virtual Wine Tours Around The Globe

Go on a Virtual Wine Tour From Home

Pacific Northwest Wines

The Pacific Northwest of America isn’t necessarily the first destination travelers think of when it comes to wine. But, in recent years Oregon and Washington have really made a splash in the wine industry! These two states have what many wine experts believe to be the “best of both worlds.” Meaning, their locations can support New World wines because of their warm weather (which results of ripe fruit) and their cool nights can maintain the acidity needed in Old World wines.

Washington’s wine history does not go back as far as California’s, but as the second largest wine producing state in the US, Washington had a tremendous increase in its quality curve.  Wine grapes weren’t really grown here until a while after Prohibition was repealed.  In fact, it was Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal that gave Washington a chance at viticulture.  The Columbia River Irrigation Project turned what were vast tracks of desert into fertile, agriculture-sustaining farmland.  Even then it took another 30 years for vitus vinefera (the species of grape used for wine making) to gain substantial plantings that supported commercial wineries.  The first guys on the block were the American Wine Growers.  They are now known as Chateau Ste. Michelle.

Washington’s wineries are filled with a large and diverse amount of grapes and areas to explore. Between its eastern region’s High Steppe Desert and the Columbia Valley’s major wine producing area’s six sub-regions west of the Cascade Mountains… there is a new world of wine tasting to be done in the Pacific Northwest!

What To Sip

Domaine Roy, located in the = Lined with vineyards from Bergström, Cameron, and Maresh, the estate’s 2310 vines per acre grow from some of the richest soil in the region. Their essential 2018 Iron Filbert Pinot Noir is a must-try! This vintage is an eclectic mix of florals, like lavender and sage, with aromas of orange and grapefruit citrus peel. It’s a polished yet rich wine with loads of raspberry, pine and rose that will remain one of our absolute favorites.

Pacific Northwest Winery Inspo

Go on a Virtual Wine Tour From Home


Looking for more wine and travel inspiration? Be sure to check out our round up of excellent travel destinations for wine-lovers (once it is safe to travel again)!

Go on a Virtual Wine Tour From Home

Food

Love Wine? Add These Destinations To Your Bucket List

Wine! Who knew fermented grapes could be such an incredible drink, filled with such rich notes, flavors and history? Today we’re sharing some of top destinations wine-lovers should add to their bucket lists!

Bordeaux, France

Wine buffs know that Bordeaux has got it going on! After all, Bordeaux touts some of the world’s biggest wine-tourism experiences and over a quarter million acres of vineyards. With six regions, 10,000 wine-producing (and simply stunning!) châteaux’s, ample wine routes, guided tours, cruises, tasting classes and more… you won’t be lost for experiences to have here.

Duoro Valley, Portugal

The Duoro Valley is magical. It’s not only a great spot for a life-changing solo trip, but incredibly stunning in landscape and delicious in its table and Port wines. The river that flows through the hills and valleys of the nourishes the vineyards on the hillsides is one of the oldest unmarked wine-region in the world. Plus, wine tours throughout the valley typically depart from beautiful Porto. (P.S. we’ll be doing a wine tasting in the Duoro Valley on our Portugal trip this July! Join us!)

Cape Town, South Africa

Situate yourself in Cape Town and you’re in the perfect location to explore South Africa’s bustling wine region. Besides its incredible food scene and coffee culture, Cape Town’s Table Mountain and Atlantic oceanic air provide next level wines. In Cape Town’s restaurants, you’d be hard pressed to find one without a fantastic wine list! Sip on South Africa’s famous sparkling wine Methode Cap Classique or Pinotage, a unique combination of Cinsaut and Pinot Noir.

Thessaloniki, Macedonia

Sure, you’ve probably heard of Santorini’s fantastic grapes… but have you heard of its next door neighbor’s up and coming wines? North of Greece is the world’s best hidden wine destination! In the port city of Thessaloniki, you’ll find rare grapes that have made this country “the next big thing” in affordable, international travelers seeking incredible wine.

Corsica, France

Island wine has a certain appeal to it, doesn’t it? Corsica’s coastal vineyards wrap around the whole island, which is why most wines created there are also consumed by locals. Traveling to Corsica for its delicious wine is a once in a lifetime experience, especially for this reason!

North Coast Of California, USA

Napa and Sonoma are notoriously famous wine destinations for good reason! With over 600 wineries dotting these two north coast counties alone, wine enthusiasts will be overjoyed at the vast selection of tours to choose from! This “wine trail” packs a punch, no matter your preference in wine varieties (and it’s a great place to get your feet wet in the wine tasting scene!). Plus, you can also double it up with a trip to Yellow Stone National Park or San Francisco.

Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand

Hawke’s Bay is the oldest wine region in New Zealand (and also the second largest!)… so why wouldn’t you add this area to your wine destination bucket list? Fun fact: Hawke’s Bay’s climate is very similar to Bordeaux’s! The area is famous for its full-bodied reds and Chardonnays. And it’s warm climate is a great escape for a traveler looking for a relaxing vacation filled with wine festivals and tours around New Zealand’s beautiful countryside.

Moselle Valley, Germany

Riesling lovers rejoice! The Moselle Valley is known as the best place in the world for classic Riseling whites. Its extremely steep hillsides are a treat for the eyes and also for its soil, which produces rich nutrients from the Moselle River below. It’s unlike most vino regions in the world for this reason!

Finger Lakes, New York, USA

Just 200 miles north of New York City is one of United States most underrated wine regions. The Finger Lakes is made up of many scattered, deep lakes that are incredibly relaxing and picturesque… perfect for a wine lover who wants to be treated by the beauty of nature in between exploring the region’s wine trails that are well connected and easy to navigate.

Tasmania, Australia

Tasmania is perfectly situated to produce some of Australia’s most incredible wines! Because of its cooler climate and grape varieties, wine lovers can savor some of the world’s best pinots, chardonnays, sauvignon blancs, rieslings, and more within one area. Tasmania delights visitors with its variety and its rugged parks and forests, so make sure you sign up for a winery tour or visit in between seeing Australia’s island wildlife!

Tuscany, Italy

Rounding out our list of vino destinations is a classic – Tuscany! It’s been said that it’s impossible to find a bad Tuscan wine. Now… it’s up to you to solve that mystery! But in the meantime, Italy’s biggest grape production region is well-loved by tourists and aficionados alike for its magical castles and ancient wineries with grapes dating all the way back to the Estruscans. Get lost in the splendor of Italy’s heartland, its rolling hills and absolutely mouth watering wines.


Have you had an incredible wine experience somewhere not on our list? Tell us where! 

Europe Food

The Aude Valley: Birthplace of Sparkling Wine

When you think sparkling wine, you might think of Champagne or Prosecco and the respective areas of northern France and Italy where they’re from. However, the title of “Birthplace of Sparkling Wine” is hotly contested by a lesser-known region in the south of France, the Aude Valley.

Situated along the Mediterranean, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, this region is home to dozens of wineries that specialize in bubbly. Talk to any of their owners, and they’ll tell you that long ago, when the countryside was a religious battlefield, fortified monasteries sat on the top nearly every mountain. The monks there lived simple lives and got by selling whatever they could make at provincial markets. Some focused on honey and mead, others on simple breads. One monastery that specialized in wine was particularly pious, and the monks were too busy praying to properly attend to their barrels, allowing their forgotten wines to go through the fermentation process a second time.

Sparkling wines use the same grapes as some traditional reds and whites, but go through a second fermentation process that takes them from flat to bubbly. Today, this process is pretty scientific, and involves changing temperatures and monitoring the pressure of the stainless steal containers in which the wine ferments. Back in the day, seasonal temperature changes and wooden barrels stored in cave-like basements could get lucky and end up with the same result, though less consistently. Legend has it, once the Aude Valley monks discovered how to make sparkling wine, prayer fell second on their priority list.

While the true birthplace of sparkling wine is hard to pin down, the Abbaye de Saint-Hilaire claims to be the first place in the Aude Valley to make it. Located off the beaten path, this monastery turned abbey turned museum brings you back in time. You can see where barrels of wine sat, waiting for the perfect moment all those years ago and a gorgeous courtyard where it must have been sipped. Plus, you can buy a bottle made the old fashioned way by the abbey, though it is now made off-site, and visit the little village center just outside the abbey’s walls.

If you want to go deeper into the 13th century, visit Carcassonne. This fortified city looks like something out of a history book, though inside is arguably more exciting. The stores and restaurants inside vary from medieval-themed to modern, and strolling around them takes a solid day. Travelers can check out the innermost castle, La Cité, to learn more about the fortress’s history before finding a seat outside to sip some local bubbly and snack on a local favorite like melted goat cheese salad or wild boar.

Another great day trip in the valley is Perpignan. This city mixes modern storefronts with ancient buildings. The Perpignan Cathedral and the Palace of the Kings of Majorca will bring you back to when this region was highly sought after by France and Spain. The influence of these two countries can be seen in the food and the culture of the city, which is proud to be part of the Catalan Region today. Be sure to visit one of Perpignan’s outdoor markets for fresh, local food and goods before traveling south to one of the seaside towns.

More focused on the region’s wine than its history? There are plenty of small, local wineries in the valley. My personal favorite, Salasar, has a tiny storefront in the small village of Campagne-Sur-Aude. Open to the public a couple days a week for informal tastings, this store also serves as the bottling plant for the company’s whole operation. If you’re looking for more of a wine tour, the drive from Limoux to Perpignan takes you past lots of wineries, and gives you a great view of the mountains and the Regional Park of the Catalan Pyrenees, Le Parc Naturel Régional des Pyrénées Catalanes.

Regardless of what brings you to the Aude Valley, know that you’re trip will be unique. While the region is technically in the south of France, it isn’t as well known as other areas in le Midi like the French Riviera or Provence. The coastal cities get crowded in the summer, but once you get a little inland, everything slows down. Bustling outdoor markets wind down to one-man village shops, long highways become narrow cobblestone streets, and the sounds of the city drop away to reveal the sounds of nature. It is a place for those looking to explore, relax, and taste some of the original sparkling wines.

Africa Food

A Complete Guide of the Wineries of South Africa

WATERKLOOF

Wine tasting is one of my favorite things to do – it’s indulgent, transformative and unique, and strongly  connected to the earth. From the innovative winemakers designing new blends and those grooming their terroir to create better tasting wine, to the established producers continuing their legacy varietals, the wine world has allowed for an endless expression of creativity and personal style. Through a deep understanding of what is organically presented to us year after year, since the beginning of time, winemakers and producers are our beloved artists of the vines.

From the first glance admiring the pour, contemplating the color, to sensing the notes and touches of where the grape has been and what it has endured, to alas, the taste where the ultimate judgement is made, the pleasure of tasting wine is undoubtedly a multi-sensory experience that is different every time.

As far as international wine production is concerned, Italy leads with 19.1% of the total, France is second with 16.3%, Spain third with 14.7% and South Africa seventh with 3.9%.  I lived in Italy for several years and did my fair share of tasting throughout Europe. And I can tell you, there’s wine tasting in the world’s most popular European regions, and then there’s wine tasting in South Africa.

The South African wine lands encompass nearly 30 diverse districts with nearly triple the amount of wards in total; all together the region is like another country in and of itself. With stunning nature, an endless stream of exquisite wine, unique tastings and pairings, a journey through the wine regions of South Africa is like experiencing a slice of heaven. Holding back is not an option, as the South African Rand is ~13:1 in comparison to the American dollar, so tastings net out to about $4 for 6-8 glasses (and no skimpy pours) which feels like a steal. You will find small batch wineries, established estates and trendy outposts throughout the regions; each one is truly unique which I love. Bonus points (always) if I’m surrounded by interesting art, a killer restaurant, incredible accommodations, or dare I say – a spa to boot. Well, South African wine estates have all of these things and more. But let me begin with the wine…

While I visited about 30 venues in total across several most notable districts; the following districts and wineries are the ones worth exploring the most:

CONSTANTIA

One of the nicest districts closest to the city, the Constantia valley within the Cape Town region is a 15-20 minute drive outside the city center. It’s on the southern slopes of the Table Mountain (officially, within the Cape Peninsula district) and became famous throughout Europe during the 18th century. While close to urban life, you feel completely distant from it all – you’re surrounded by mountains and massive trees amongst rolling green hills. White wines – Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon – are popular here, where the tradition of producing remarkable wines since 1685 continues on. Lourensford estate is a well established property that offers a nice chocolate and wine paring (my favorite being the Chardonnay with the orange chocolate and the Shiraz with chili chocolate!). One of the more popular estates, Klein Constantia also sits in this territory and is not to miss. There are also sprinkles of smaller wineries such as Constantia Glen, and Beau Constantia and that also offer both traditional and modern settings respectively, to sit and sip.

Must see:

Klein Constantia –  Home to the legendary Vin de Constance dessert wine, this venue has been famous for millennia. Both Napoleon Bonaparte and Fredrick the Great adored this Vin; Napoleon himself requested a bottle of on his death bed. I’d say that justifies a quick trip over to taste this delicious dessert wine. It was just the right amount of sweetness, a beautiful golden honey color, and is simply heavenly.

Must taste: Vin de Constance

CONSTANTIACONSTANTIA

STELLENBOSCH

This is the mother-wine-land of South Africa. The historical town of Stellenbosch (aka the ‘town of oaks’’ meaning good folk), features some of the finest examples of Cape Dutch architecture, and boasts a winemaking tradition which stretches back to the end of the 17th-century. The area is is also committed to academia that promotes the wealth of it’s indigenous assets: Stellenbosch University is the only university in South Africa which offers a degree in viticulture and oenology, and also is home to The Elsenburg School of Agriculture. The viticulture of the area is simply phenomenal – from the plentiful mountainous terrain, typical rainfall, and diversity of terroirs. Here you will find the most variety in venue style and wine making as the district is home to over 200 producers. The area is only about 40 minutes away from Cape Town, and is a lovely place to also live full time for many Capetownians. Stellenbosch was, to be quite frank, my very happy place.

Must see:

Delaire Graff Hands down the most luxurious estate I have ever been to. “Dealire” means “from heaven”, while Graff is the surname of the present owner, diamond and jewelry trader Laurence Graff. After his purchase of the estate in 2003 and armed with his wealth of experience in the luxury sector, he quickly turned his vision into reality with the development of property, which has also been called the jewel of the Cape Winelands. In 1974, Mr. Graff acquired the Star of Bombay, a 47.39-carat yellow stone that marked the beginning of his diamond legacy. Then in 2009, there was the discovery of a yellow diamond in the rough weighing 221.81 carats which was cut and polished to yielded the largest Fancy Vivid Yellow Square emerald cut diamond in the world at 118.08 carats! I saw a replica in the foyer of the estate and felt true love. Mr. Graff named the diamond the Delaire Sunrise, inspired by the glow of the sun across the valley. The wine estate’s top sparkling varietals are also named in honor of the diamonds; the yellow diamond representing love, prosperity, and joy.  The estate is fully accommodating from lodges, spa, and two applauded restaurants, boutiques and more.

Must taste: Coastal Cuvée, Cabernet Franc Rosé, Sunrise Brut MCC

GRAFFGRAFFGRAFFGRAFFGRAFF

Spier  This winery is so fabulous in so many ways. I first fell in love after their chocolate and wine pairing, then realized they are conservation and social impact champions which made me love them more. They are one of the WWF Conservation Champion Wine Estates, which is an accolade reserved only for the winemakers that are:

    • Committed to the conservation of the Cape Floral Kingdom’s unique biodiversity (home to over 9,500 different plant species, 70% of which occur nowhere else in the world).
    • Pursue long term conservation commitments and spearhead innovations in water and energy efficiency.
    • Welcoming and transparent in allowing tourists to experience the land first hand through activities in nature.

I love their commitment to social impact and the environment, which is clearly evidenced by a variety of programs they have spearheaded into development in the past years. Spier installed a wastewater treatment plant in 2007 that recycles 100% their wastewater; the cleaned water is then used to irrigate the garden and grounds. They also initiated a tree-preneurs program to empower people from some of the Cape’s poorest communities, whereby they are taught how to care for indigenous trees and plants, given seedlings to nurture. Once these have reached nearly a foot, they can be exchanged for vouchers for food, clothing, agricultural goods, tools, bicycles and educational support. Spier is also big on the arts, and there are so many more lovely, applaudable things they do. I’m certain they are continually innovating ways of not only bettering sustainable winemaking practices but doing their part to create a better world for mankind.

Must taste: The Chocolate and Wine pairing is the most delightful wine and food tasting I’ve ever had. Think white peppered plum chocolate paired with a rosé, white cardamom and passion fruit chocolate paired with a classic red; I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. But don’t miss their Pinotage, it’s a crazy good drinkable red!

SPIERSPIERSPIERSPIERSPIER

Tokara – This was my first South Africa wine venue and wow was it phenomenal. Tokara is incredibly peaceful, there are swooping smooth hills surrounding the property in addition to mountains just hugging the space. They have a fantastic art gallery with modern and traditional pieces, a beautiful restaurant with outdoor space encompassed by glass walls so you wont miss a second of the insane scenery. I had an inspiring affair with adjectives to describe the notes of their gorgeous rosé and chardonnay with one of the staffers, who was either impressed or scared by my overwhelming admiration for their wine. They have a “deli” and garden adorned with sculptures adjacent to the main tasting room and restaurant. Walking there through the vines we were surprised with peacocks meandering about. I rest my case with having stated that I found my happy place in Stellenbosch.

Must taste: Grenache Rosé, 2015 Chardonnay

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Lanzerac – My visit to Lanzerac was akin to seeing a mirage. I desperately needed a place to enjoy a nice coffee and do a bit of work after being on the road. I tucked in here to find a lovely cafe adjoined to the main tasting room – so I could do coffee and emails before I start sipping 😉 in a cozy chic wood cabin ambiance. I ate the best scones of my life, with cream, jam, and butter and cheese and to my massive delight found a spa also conveniently positioned a walk away from the tasting room. Game on. Lanzerac is the perfect place to do it all – it boasts a luxury hotel, famed restaurants, a deli and the spa quarters which are extremely accommodating – with a hot tub that looks out to the mountains, beds where you lay in to have your pedicure as you gaze out to the gorgeous mountains a stones throw away, a very sizable pool with breathtaking views of nature, and decor that is spa-perfect and should be featured in Elle Decor. The shower facilities in the spa even have bespoke products by Theravine named after the varietals, so you can shampoo your tresses post tasting and massage with a Sauvignon Blanc shampoo and Chardonnay conditioner. Next level.

Must taste: Chardonnay in the spa, of course!

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Waterkloof – This property is another outstanding creation of sustainable winemaking at it’s finest. The winemaker and owner searched for a piece of land where he could cultivate a farm that is truly alive and in tune with its natural environment. The property is tucked away about a miles off the main road, and feels like a little oasis as you approach the distinct glass cube jutting out into the sky, where the restaurant and tasting area is. The visionary owner, Paul Boutinot, made the strategic decision to farm bio-dynamically after observing the development of vineyards and wines belonging to other biodynamic producers throughout the world, over a period of decades. The reason being that this methodology will best enable them to achieve the goal of producing wines of vitality, which have a truly defining sense of origin. Waterkloof achieved Biodiversity Champion status in 2008, which compliments and integrates many of the key principles of biodynamic farming. 50% of the farm is set aside for conservation purposes, meaning, land will remain untouched until it is ripe again for producing grape to achieve vitality status. I also love that they developed their own earthworm farm using old wine barrels, and use horses instead of tractors to plow (reducing carbon emissions). The overall aesthetic is nothing short of stunning – it’s as if the top floor of Manhattan’s hottest high-rise had been chopped off with a samurai sword and perfectly positioned at the most idyllic outlook where you have the sea, mountains, and greenery wink at you and raise a glass.

Must taste: Circle of Life white blend (the name of this wine is Waterkloof’s message in a bottle), Circumstance Rosé (I adore this name for this line; the wine is directly and so shamelessly influenced by the terroir).

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Babylonstoren – I regrettably did not make it to this place so I can’t give my full review, but if I were you I would go! It is a historic Cape Dutch farm with a magnificent garden that is laid out over 8 acres, boasting a variety of fruits and veggies, bees for pollinating, indigenous plants, and livestock. They have a Farm Hotel & Spa, shop and bakery – and lovely greenhouse to enjoy. A real ecosystem of pure bliss.

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Regarded as the ‘culinary capital’ of the Cape, Franschhoek is a member of The Délice Network of Good Food Cities of the World. The Franschhoek valley is enclosed on three sides by towering mountains: the Groot Drakenstein and Franschhoek mountains which meet at the top of the valley and the Klein Drakenstein and Simonsberg mountains. While I did not frequent many wineries here, driving past the scenery was beautiful, with higher peaks that converge to the Berg River. The area is a “mini” Stellenbosch with less of the tourist and wine route crowd with a similar quality of experience.

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Terminology:

1. Biodynamic farming is an imperfect, natural agricultural process of cultivation based on the “sensitive intelligence” of an interconnected natural world. Biodynamic farmers work to create a diverse, balanced ecosystem that generates health and fertility as much as possible from within the farm itself. It’s important in winemaking because conventional farming methods (using chemical pesticides and fertilizers), combined with modern/standardized winemaking techniques (using aromatic yeasts to create an aroma profile in a given wine), breakdown subtle differences between various vineyards and wine growing areas. This results in an increased homogenization of the character of wines made from one place to another, evidenced over the past 30 years. That’s no fun. And it’s not healthy for the planet.

2. Biodiversity is the sum of all living things on earth, from genes to entire ecosystems. Therefore, in order to conserve biodiversity, we need to look after all its components. These include functioning natural habitats, the species that occur in these habitats, and the ecological interactions between species and their environments.

3. Ward – an area with a distinctive soil type or climate and is roughly equivalent to a European appellation.

To summarize:

The South African Rand is ~13:1 in comparison to the American dollar, so tastings net out to about $4 for 6-8 glasses (and no skimpy pours) which feels like steal. This is the best value you will get for wine tasting in the world’s most celebrated regions.

The closest winery is only 15 minutes drive from the center of Cape Town, and Stellenbosch is about 40 minutes. While there are a variety of wine tours, I’d recommend you consider what type of winemaker and estate you are excited to visit to cover the best to your liking (trending, classic, biodynamic, etc.).

Tasting wine in South Africa feels like a privilege, yet it is one of the more welcoming, friendly and delightful places I have ever been to enjoy the flavors of a region. Taking a trip and doing “the wine thing” is not a next-level treat reserved for adventurous vinophiles; all you need is a plane ticket to Cape Town and a desire to have your mind blown by the tastes of things and the endless beauty of nature. It’s a dream for those that love to be well and enjoy the simple things in life, in expertly crafted and curated South African havens.

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