The Stellenbosch Wine Route and it's Founding Wine Estates.
Updated: Jan 2
The World renowned Stellenbosch Wine Route, founded in 1971, by three wine estates was the first of it's kind in South Africa and has become the Capital of the South African Wine Industry. Planning a trip to Stellenbosch?Make sure you visit the three founding Wine Estates!
The History of the Stellenbosch Wine Route
The Stellenbosch Wine Route was founded by three wine producers, Frans Malan (Simonsig Wine Estate), Spatz Sperling (Delheim) and Niel Joubert Spier Wine Estate).
In August of 1969, Frans Malan accompanied by his wife and friends were travelling in Europe. Their trip included famous wine routes , the German Weinstrasse and Du routes de Vin in France. While visiting the town of Morey St Denis, Burgundy, Frans had the excellent idea that Stellenbosch should have it's one wine route, strongly supported by Niel Joubert.
Returning from Europe with his new idea , Frans contacted wine estates in the Stellenbosch wine growing region. Spatz Sperling, from Delheim was thrilled and eager to get involved . Together Frans, Spatz and Niel worked hard to convince wineries to participate in the Stellenbosch Wine Route.
Sometimes greeted with scepticism from wine producers and little support from the bigger wine companies, they pursued their dream, to make the wine route a reality. They handed out maps, guiding tourist and university students to visit the participating wineries (17 wine estates). In 1971 their hard work paid off as the Stellenbosch Wine Route was founded.
The Original Map of the Stellenbosch Wine Route
The Stellenbosch Wine Route Today
Stellenbosch Wine Route is the predominant South African wine route with 150 members, producing wines of origin, Stellenbosch. It has been divided into 5 sub routes, each have their own characteristics in terms of prominent wine styles, climates and geographical location. They are Bottelary Hills, Greater Simonsberg, Helderberg, Stellenbosch Valley and Stellenbosch Berg.
The Founding Estates:
Patriarch of the Sperling Family, Micheal Hans "Spatz" Sperling, arrived from Germany in 1951, to work on his uncle's farm on the foothills of the Simonsberg mountain, just outside Stellenbosch.
The farm (De Drie Spring), produced a variety of products including a bit of wine. It was later renamed Delheim.
Spatz had no wine knowledge, but he became a student of travelling German wine experts who came to South Africa to teach the locals. Eager to learn, he absorbed as much wine knowledge as possible during the 1960s and perfected his wine making techniques by trail-and error. In 1976 Spatz, with the help of his Dutch-born wife, Vera, opened the Vintner’s Cheese Lunch Restaurant to cater to the arriving tourist, visiting the Stellenbosch Wine Route. In 2012 Spatz was awarded the prestigious Medal of Honour industry award for his life-long contribution to the South Africa Wine Industry.
Today Spatz and Vera's children, Victor and Nora continue their father's legacy, by ensuring that Delheim continuous to be one of South Africa's favourite wine estates.
Leopard info Sign at Delheim Wine Estate
They don't only produce great wines, but also support their local community and environment conservation projects. The wine estate is the founder of the Greater Simonsberg Conservancy, WIETA Accredited, IPW Accredited and a WWF Champion.
The Fynbos and Cupcake Pairing
Delheim's new cupcake and wine pairing can be experienced in their cozy downstairs tasting room. These divine cupcakes with their distinctive fynbos flavours were all inspired by the indigenous vegetation. Fynbos is a distinctive vegetation only found on the Southern tip of Africa. The cupcake line-up: Fynbos honey cupcake paired with Delheim Merlot, Honeybush cupcake and Delheim Sur Lei Chardonnay, Buchu cupcake paired with Gewurztraminer andRooibos cupcake paired with Delheim Pinotage. My favourite was the Gewurztraminer paired with the Buchu cupcake.
Cupcakes and Wine? What more do you need?
The wine had citrus blossom, Turkish delight and lychee on the nose. The palate is fruity/ zesty and it pairs perfectly with the fresh crisp bite of the Buchu. Delheim also has a garden restaurant or a riverside picnic option, if you would like to join them for lunch.
Frans Malan, patriarch of Simonsig, grew up on a fruit farm in Wellington, South Africa. During his first year at University, he enrolled for an agricultural degree in viticulture and oenology. He decided to further his studies by studying for a master’s degree, where he performed most of his trails and experiments at Elsenburg Agri-cultural college. While writing his master’s thesis, he also started working as assistant subject matter expert, where he was responsible for the vineyards and making wine in the Elsenburg cellar.
Frans and Liza, planting one of the first signs
In 1952 he got engaged to his university sweetheart, Liza, the daughter of a well know wine grower in Stellenbosch, Piet van Niekerk. Piet made Frans an offer he could not resist; he could take over the farming and winemaking of the wine farm (De Hoop) on a 10-year lease agreement. In 1962, Frans bought the farm from his farther-in-law, marking the start of his pioneer years in the South African wine industry.
During his first years of ownership of De Hoop, Frans was determined to improve the quality of his wine, by wine making trails and investing in a proper cooling system for his wine cellar. The 1969 vintage was of high quality and Frans was disappointed when he was not able to get a higher price from wine merchants. He decided to keep some of his wine and sell it under his own label. Simonsig was the first private wine estate to become popular among South Africans. Frans was a pioneer in improving the South African wine industry, being involved in the wine of origin classification planting new varietals and being known as the Father of the Stellenbosch wine route. In 1971 he was the first South African winemaker to produce a sparkling wine made in the Method Cap Classique. He named it Kaapse Vonkel and released it to the public for the first time in 1973.
Today Simonsig produces a Kaapse Vonkel Brut, Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rose and a Kaapse Vonkel Demi Sec.
Today, his legacy lives through his sons (Francois and Johan) and grandson (Francois-Jacques). Simonsig ascribes to Wieta, BWI, HACCP IPW and CVC standards that ensure responsible and ethical wine production.
The perfect place to relax with a glass of Kaapse Vonkel!
There are 3 must-do activities you to tick off your list when visiting Simonsig: Go on a guided cellar tour, have breakfast or lunch at Cuvee restaurant and go wine tasting. Be sure to taste the Kaapse Vonkel , Chenin Avec Chene, Frans Malan (Cape blend), Redhill Pinotage and the Garland (Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon).
Spier Wine Estate is one of the oldest wine estates in Stellenbosch. It was first granted by Governor Simon van der Stel in September 1692 to Arnout Tamboer. After Arnout Tamboer, it changed ownership several times. Some of these families included Hans Hendrik Hatting (from Germany), the Cartwrights , the Rhodes and the Keppels families. Neil Joubert bought Spier in 1965 and played an important role in building up Spier's reputation to one of the most loved wine estates and tourist attractions in Stellenbosch. Although limited information is available about this founder of the Stellenbosch wine route, Neil Joubert played an important role in the South African wine and tourism industry. He invested his time and money into restoring Spier's old buildings, introducing new grape varietals and improving wine quality.
The award-winning 21 Gables Chenin Blanc