South African Tourism is justifiably proud of “the Stellenbosch winelands, [which] are considered to be the capital of the South African wine industry. With more than 60 estates currently operating, it’s the leading centre for viticulture and viticultural research. Simon van der Stel arrived at the Cape as commander in 1679 and soon after was appointed its first governor. Later that year he undertook his first tour of inspection, which brought him to ‘the most charming valley he had ever seen’ – the Stellenbosch winelands. So enchanted was he that he set up camp in a grove he named Stellenbosch, and there decided to establish a second settlement after Cape Town. He grew to love the town, spending his birthdays there. And he ordered the planting of the oaks, which is why it is sometimes referred to as Eikestad, or ‘town of oaks’. Today these massive trees shade the historic Dorp Street, which runs through the well-preserved old town. While initially established as a centre to produce fruit and vegetables, van der Stel had a hunch that its Mediterranean climate would be ideal for wine growing. He was right.”
We spent the initial part of a morning in the Winelands at Root 44 Market that showcases a number of food choices in beautiful wine farm surroundings, including a number of outdoor traders. We then drove over to one of the most picturesque winery settings any of us had seen, around the world.
Stark-Conde Wines is located in the picturesque Jonkershoek Valley in Stellenbosch. It is a dramatic valley with steep changes in vineyard elevation from 492-1970 feet (150 – 600 meters), making for a range of sites with distinct characteristics.
The wines are hand-crafted in small volumes using traditional methods: hand sorting, open-top fermentations, hand punch downs and manual basket pressing. Winemaking is overseen by owner Jose Conde.
The focus is Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Pinot Noir for reds and Chenin Blanc (the most widely planted varietal in South Africa, accounting for over 20% of all production in the country), Roussanne and Sauvignon Blanc for white wines.
The unique Stark-Conde tasting room is small and intimate, built on its own little island (see photograph, above).
A small group of us from the ship, with our head sommelier (who previously worked in the wine industry in the Cape Winelands) met with winemaker Jose Stark for a tasting and then luncheon on the terrace, overlooking the pond and surrounding mountains.
We particularly enjoyed the “field blend” white wine with our luncheon, as the blend of Roussanne, Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Verdelho was light and crisp and a nice accompaniment to the food.
Following our midday visit to the winery, we had a few hours to walk around the town of Stellenbosch and enjoy the shopping, wine stores, and local cafes and pubs for refreshments prior to the hour-long drive back to Cape Town and the V&A Waterfront where the ship was berthed.