Visiting a Cape wine farm is a multi-layered, interactive experience and it’s definitely not just about the wines. In fact, wine itself is not just about the wine, and that is what makes tasting wine such a fascinating and enriching experience.

Bosman Vineyards

Essentially, wine is simply grape juice fermented with yeast, but then that doesn’t explain why there are so many wine farms selling so many bottles of red and white wines, each with their own label. That’s where that fancy French word ‘terroir’ (pronounced tear-wahr’, with the accent on the last syllable and rolling all the “r’s”) comes in. This term refers to all the environmental factors that affect the wine that eventually ends up in your glass. Every vineyard on earth has its own unique ‘terroir’ because each vineyard has its own unique combination of soil, microclimate, slope, aspect, clone and rootstock. Hence a Chenin Blanc vineyard on one side of Wellington, could produce a wine that tastes totally different from a Chenin Blanc grown on the other side of the village. The winemaker’s challenge is to get the signature of that ‘terroir’ to be expressed authentically in the wine in your glass. The wine taster’s challenge is to figure out where the wine comes from.

Bosman Chenin Blanc sitting on a wall

Added to that there is the complexity of human nature. We each have different tastes and preferences, and our senses respond differently. Some people like big wooded red wines, others like crisp, fresh whites – there is no right or wrong. 

Then of course, wineries are not just about the wines they offer, it is the whole experience of the visit that matters from the heritage of the farm, the décor in the tasting room, the activities on offer, the experience of the staff and the quality of the service.

Best Wineries in South Africa - tasting room

That is why pinpointing the ‘Best Wineries in South Africa’ is such a tricky task, because it depends so much on who’s asking.

For a tourist, the best wine in South Africa could easily come from a tiny, hard-to-reach cellar which is not open to the public, so in their terms, this would not be considered a ‘best winery’.

For a top end, fine dining restaurant, acquiring the same wine to list on their bespoke wine list, the sommelier could put this very same winery on his or her ‘best’ list.

Bosman Adam with a glass of wine

Similarly, it’s hard to pinpoint where is the best wine area in South Africa. Traditionally, Stellenbosch is considered the best wine region, but the reasons for this are mostly historic. True, the ‘terroir’ in the Stellenbosch region, which is predominantly mountainous terrain with a relatively good rainfall and moderate climate, is able to produce some of the country’s best wines, but that doesn’t mean all this region’s wines are good.

Some of the best wines in South Africa hail from places where the climate is not ideal. The Swartland is much hotter and drier than Stellenbosch, yet several standout wines have been grown and made there, and in many places in between.

However, it’s really interesting tasting wines from different regions and trying to figure out what their salient features are. While the Cape generally enjoys a Mediterranean climate, there are hotter, drier regions, like Paarl, Wellington and even hotter further north east like Worcestor and Robertson, but take a drive along the south-eastern coast and you’ll find areas such as the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley and Agulhas where temperatures are much cooler.

Bosman Rosé being poured into a wine glass

The aforementioned Swartland is also warm but cools down as you get closer to the West Coast producing wines that smack of the sea and express the desolation of that rugged coastline.

The Cape Winelands stretches from north of Vredendal on the West Coast down past Saldanha and Darling towards Cape Town. It then follows the coast through the Overberg and further south towards the chilly southern tip of Africa at Agulhas moving towards Mossel Bay. The border then turns inland, in line with the climatic zone, up past Oudtshoorn and the Klein Karoo area. But the heart of the Cape Winelands remains the Boland (meaning ‘high land’ because it is higher than the coastal regions). This area incorporates the towns of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Wellington but then also stretches over the Drakenstein Mountains to Worcestor, Robertson, Montagu, Villiersdorp across to the Breede River Valley. Essentially these wine farms are distributed along the Breede and Berg River Valleys.

This area is ideally suited to wine production because of its Mediterranean climate, and mountain slopes and valleys which create the ideal terroir for grape growing. Long, dry, sun-drenched summers followed by mild, wet winters are what the grape vine needs to thrive.

Mountains and Hills of Vineyards

So wine has been produced at the Cape continuously thanks to the Huguenots and their descendents. It enjoyed much success in the Napoleonic wars the British turned to the Cape for their wines as the French were no longer on offer, and it suffered extreme losses when the vineyards were decimated by phylloxera in the 1880s but found it’s feet again in the early 20th century with the advent of co-operative wineries. It limped through apartheid inspired sanctions, but it was only in 1994, at the birth of democracy in South Africa, that the winery industry started thriving. Numerous small wineries opened up, offering interesting boutique wines with attractive labels which caught the attention of consumers worldwide. Today wine exports are around 300 million litres produced by around 2 500 farmers on roughly 90 000 hectares of land. This translates into over 1 million tons of grapes or just under 1 million litres of wine involving the employment of some 2 500 farmers and their extensive working communities.

Best Wineries in South Africa - Grapes being Harvested

The South African wine industry is under-pinned by various organisations. On the educational side, aspirant winemakers can study at Elsenburg, the University of Stellenbosch and the Cape Provincial University of Technology. These institutions also conduct extensive research which progresses the entire industry. There is also a Wine & Spirit Board that certifies wines therefore ensuring a standard of quality and traceability.

Wine producers fall into various categories including wholesalers, co-operatives, estates and wineries. Wholesalers buy in grapes or ready-made wine from various producers, whereas co-operatives make wine from grapes supplied by their member farms. 

Under the original legislation, an estate must be one contiguous piece of land. Traditionally, an estate wine was considered the best wine, because the winemaker had control over the production of the grapes. But over time wine farmers have bought land in various regions, so although not technically an estate, they still have the control over their various vineyards.

Bosman Family Vineyards is one such wine farm. It began in 1699 when the French Huguenots first arrived in the Bovlei of Wellington. The Bosman Family have been producing wines in the original cellar since 1810 but their operation has spread beyond the borders of their original farm. Over the generations, their wine growing operation has extended their vineyards along the slopes of the Groenberg Mountain, and they have acquired land on the opposite side of Wellington, in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde and in the Voor-Paardeberg where an additional cellar, named Schoon, also vinifies grapes.

Best Wineries in South Africa - Bosman Vineyards

So Bosman wines are made solely from grapes grown on their properties. The various farms allow the Bosmans to cultivate grapes in the terroir best suited to that cultivar.

In addition, the Bosmans own the largest vine nursery in South Africa and their own Plant Improvement Facility where plant pathologists propagate clean material to produce healthy grapes for the entire industry. So in terms of provenance, Bosman Wines can trace their origins back to cell level.

Best Wineries in South Africa - Vines being grown

Bosman Family Vineyards could also be considered the best winery in South Africa, it even has an award to prove it. Late last year, this winery was awarded the Platter Guide’s Editor’s Choice:  Winery of the Year 2024 which recognized this winery for its track record of top scoring wines, but also as a role player in the industry, setting the bar high for its inclusive business model where the workers own 26% of the business, as well as its regenerative farming practices where 28% of the land is under conservation management and encouraging biodiversity is paramount.

Best Wineries in South Africa - Platters Award

So back to the question of the best winery. Perhaps start at Bosman and work your way around: pick a route, pick a day, gather some friends and venture forth. It’s bound to be entertaining, challenging, fun and interesting.